United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
WINFRED G. BEASLEY PLAINTIFF
WARREN UNILUBE, INC. DEFENDANT
MARSHALL JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Beasley, an African-American gentleman, received his degree
in industrial engineering from Mississippi State University.
He later became certified as an International Standards
Organization quality control manager. In 2012, Warren Unilube
hired him as an ISO quality control manager for its West
Memphis facility. No 26-2 at 22. Warren manufactures various
automobile fluids - the oils one sees in plastic bottles at
places like AutoZone. No. 23-3 at 2. Beasley's
job, as Warren's only quality manager, was twofold: to
maintain the company's ISO certification; and to help
make sure that the oil was properly packaged, labeled, and
capped. No. 13-3 at 3; No. 16-1 at 28-29. In
reality, though, Beasley was Warren's failsafe for
ensuring that its products left the warehouse in correct
condition. No 16-1 at 28-29, 35-37; No. 16-3 at 59-60.
2015, a series of quality control mishaps - primarily
mislabeled bottles of oil - caused AutoZone to sever its
relationship with Warren. No. 16-2 at 30. Family Dollar and
Carquest also complained of defects. Warren says that these
strained customer relations threatened the survival of its
West Memphis facility. In response, the company investigated
and reorganized. All this happened in the summer of 2015. No.
16-2 at 20. So did an ISO audit, which cited the company for
several infractions. No. 16-4 at 24. Warren says that the
auditor informally warned that the company's ISO
certification could be revoked if its production problems
continued. No. 16-2 at 26.
Estok, the Vice President of Warren, fired Beasley in August
2015. Estok replaced Beasley with Ty Smith, a white man.
Beasley wasn't offered a demotion, reassignment, or
reevaluation. A few months later, in early 2016, Beasley
filed an EEOC charge against Warren for employment
discrimination. He alleged that he was treated differently
from his white peers and that his race was the real reason
behind his firing. That charge was dismissed in August 2016.
Beasley then filed this case, alleging discrimination and
retaliation. Discovery is complete, all the evidence is now
in, and Warren seeks judgment as a matter of law. Beasley
presses for a jury trial.
is entitled to summary judgment on Beasley's retaliation
claim. Beasley didn't make that claim in his EEOC charge.
No. 1 at 16. Title VII requires exhaustion. Cottrill v.
MFA, Inc., 443 F.3d 629, 634 (8th Cir. 2006). And
Beasley doesn't argue the Title VII point, or any factual
basis for a retaliation claim arising from other applicable
agrees that there's no direct evidence of racial
discrimination in this case. The circumstances thus start the
familiar McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S.
792, 802-03 (1973) machinery.
argues that Beasley hasn't shown the prima facie
elements. But his burden here is minimal. Gibson v.
Geithner, 776 F.3d 536, 540 (8th Cir. 2015). It's
uncontested that Beasley is black, was qualified for his job,
was fired for reasons that he disputes, and was replaced by a
white male. Grant v. City of Blytheville, 841 F.3d
767, 773-74 (8th Cir. 2016). Plus, on this issue, the Court
must give Beasley the benefit of every reasonable inference.
The deep and dispositive issue is why Beasley was fired.
Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1046
(8th Cir. 2011)(en banc). That goes beyond the elements, to
stated reason for firing Beasley is strong. Warren says that
its plant had quality control problems; Beasley was the
quality manager; and these problems hurt the business.
That's a legitimate and non-racial reason to fire
someone. The record shows many quality control problems and
strained customer relations, all of which support the
company's rationale. Muor v. U.S. Bank National
Association, 716 F.3d 1072, 1076-77 (8th Cir. 2013).
response, Beasley points to white managers, who he believes
were similarly situated to him, and who were reassigned or
reevaluated instead of fired. He also points to some black
managers that were demoted or fired. Here, the parties
skirmish about who the best comparator is. E.g., No.
16-2 at 95-97. The Court concludes that there is none:
Beasley's job was unique. He was the only quality
manager. He's surely correct that other managers
weren't fired for similar quality problems- or for
similar problems in their respective fields. The difficulty
for Beasley, though, is that none of these other managers
were as specialized in the area in which Warren was
struggling. Beasley's job was quality control, and that
was the problem. This makes any comparison to employees in
different roles - or similar roles at different times
-strained. Rusty Brown, for example, wasn't as
specialized in quality control as Beasley was; Estok
testified that he reassigned Brown to test his "bench
strength" in other roles. No. 16-2 at 16. There simply
aren't other employees "similarly situated [to
Beasley] in all relevant respects." Johnson v.
Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., 769 F.3d 605, 613
(8th Cir. 2014)(en banc).
a sufficient comparator doesn't close the case, though.
Beasley's role was unique and his core argument goes
beyond it: he says that the problems at Warren weren't
his fault. Was he disproportionately blamed because of his
race? He points to various manufacturing errors that he
caught, told other departments about, and instructed them on
how to fix. There's solid evidence of this detection and
instruction. E.g., No. 16-4 at 33-35. Because of his
role, however, Beasley couldn't fix the problems by
himself. No. 16-1 at 34-35. The various defective products
that Beasley stored in his office speak to the fact that
Beasley was finding and identifying defective products.
finding defects was only half the battle for Warren. The
company also needed them fixed. Even though Beasley
couldn't correct them on his own, it was reasonable for
Warren to point the finger at its quality manager for
persistent quality problems. So, while the Court understands
Beasley's frustration, it also understands Warren's
response when the defects continued. By the time Warren lost
AutoZone's business and got the warning shots from Family
Dollar and Carquest, a strong response was justified. Warren
investigated. It found that many of the quality problems
could have been dealt with earlier and, needing a quick ...