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Clark v. Tyson Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

October 25, 2018

CORA CLARK PLAINTIFF
v.
TYSON FOODS, INC.[1] DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Susan O. Hickey United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant Tyson Foods, Inc.'s (“Tyson”) Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 18. Plaintiff Cora Clark (“Clark”) has not responded to the motion, and the time to do so has passed. The Court finds this matter ripe for consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case is an employment discrimination action brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) 42 U.S.C. § 12112 and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act (“ACRA”) Ark. Code Ann. §16-123-107(a)(1). ECF No. 1, p. 5-6. Clark alleges that Tyson, her former employer, manipulated its absence policy in an effort to terminate her employment because of disabilities she incurred as the result of workplace injuries. Id. at 7.

         On August 21, 2012, Clark was hired as a chicken breast inspector at Tyson's Hope, Arkansas chicken processing plant. ECF No. 20, p. 1. Clark worked consistently at the plant until February 10, 2015, when she was granted a leave of absence for health reasons. Id. Clark's leave was eventually extended until August 17, 2015. Id. While on leave, Clark underwent surgeries on her neck and back. Id. On August 17, 2015, Clark returned to the plant with a full release to return to work without any restrictions. Id. Clark never requested an accommodation when she returned from leave. Id.

         Tyson's Hope plant uses what amounts to a demerit system for tracking employee absences. ECF No. 18-3. When an employee is going to be late or absent from work they call into an automated system to report their absence. ECF No. 18-1, p. 20. Employees who are absent or late for more than half of a shift are given a point, and employees who are absent for less than half of a shift receive one-half a point. ECF No. 18-3. Under this system, if an employee accumulates fourteen total points, their employment is terminated. Id. An employee may “work off” points by showing up for work on time and working a full shift for twenty-eight consecutive days. ECF No. 20, p. 3. Additionally, jury duty, bereavement, work-related injury, and other pre-approved absences, are excused and do not result in an employee being assessed points. Id.

         As of October 27, 2016, Clark had accrued fourteen points worth of absences, and Tyson subsequently terminated her employment. Id. Clark then filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). ECF No. 1-2. On August 8, 2017, the EEOC sent Clark a notice-of-right to sue letter. ECF No. 1-3. On August 31, 2017, Clark filed this suit, alleging claims of disability discrimination in connection with her termination from Tyson. ECF No. 1.

         On August 16, 2018, Tyson filed its motion for summary judgment and supporting documents (ECF Nos. 18-20), arguing that it is entitled to summary judgment on all of Clark's claims. Clark did not respond to the motion, and her time to do so expired on August 31, 2018. On September 27, 2018, the Court entered a Show Cause Order giving Clark twenty-one days to either show cause why she had not responded to Tysons's summary judgment motion or to file a response to the motion. ECF No. 25. The Show Cause Order warned Clark that failure to respond to the motion could result in the Court granting summary judgment and dismissing her case. As of the date of this Memorandum Opinion, Clark has not filed a response to Tyson's Motion for Summary Judgement.

         Local Rule 7.2(b) of the United States District Courts for the Eastern and Western District of Arkansas provides a fourteen-day period for nonmoving parties to respond to a summary judgment motion. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e) states that a court may deem undisputed a party's asserted fact if it is not properly controverted by the other party pursuant to Rule 56(c). Similarly, Local Rule 56.1(c) states that all material facts asserted in the moving party's statement of facts shall be deemed admitted if they are not controverted by the nonmoving party's own statement of facts. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(1) provides that a party asserting a genuine dispute of material fact must support the assertion by either citing to materials in the record or by showing that the cited materials do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute.

         Clark did not respond to Tyson's summary judgment motion or properly dispute any of Tyson's asserted facts within the Court extended response period. Therefore, all facts asserted in Tyson's statement of facts are deemed admitted for the purpose of deciding summary judgement. See Chaffin v. City of Fort Smith, No. 05-cv-2061 JLH, 2005 WL 3805977, at *1 (W.D. Ark. Oct. 19, 2005).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         “Summary judgment is appropriate if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Hess v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 898 F.3d 852, 856 (8th Cir. 2018) (citation omitted). Summary judgment is a “threshold inquiry of . . . whether there is a need for trial-whether, in other words, there are genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they reasonably may be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). A fact is material only when its resolution affects the outcome of the case. Id. at 248. A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party. Id. at 252.

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must consider all the evidence and all reasonable inferences that arise from the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Nitsche v. CEO of Osage Valley Elec. Co-Op, 446 F.3d 841, 845 (8th Cir. 2006). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Enter. Bank v. Magna Bank, 92 F.3d 743, 747 (8th Cir. 1996). The nonmoving party must then demonstrate the existence of specific facts in the record that create a genuine issue for trial. Krenik v. Cnty. of LeSueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995). However, a party opposing a properly supported summary judgment motion “may not rest upon mere allegations or denials . . . but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256.

         “There is no ‘discrimination case exception' to the application of summary judgment, which is a useful pretrial tool to determine whether any case, including one alleging discrimination, merits a trial.” Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1043 (8th Cir. 2011). Accordingly, the Court ...


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