United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Holmes, III, Judge
the Court is Defendant Karcher North America, Inc.'s
(“Karcher”) motion (Doc. 31) for summary
judgment, brief (Doc. 32) in support, and statement of facts
(Doc. 33). Plaintiff Charlene Crawford has filed a response
(Doc. 35) in opposition, a brief (Doc. 37) in support, and a
statement of facts (Doc. 36). Karcher filed replies to
Crawford's response (Doc. 42) and statement of facts
(Doc. 41). For the reasons set forth below, Karcher's
motion for summary judgment will be GRANTED.
Karcher North America, Inc. is a “manufacturer of
commercial, industrial, and consumer cleaning
equipment.” (Doc. 36, p. 1, ¶ 2). Karcher is
headquartered in Denver, Colorado and has a distribution
center in Fayetteville, Arkansas that employs ninety workers.
Id. at ¶¶ 2-3. Ed Taylor is the Director
of Operations at Karcher's Fayetteville facility.
Id. at ¶ 6. This is the top leadership position
at the Fayetteville facility. (Doc. 33-1, p. 13). Plaintiff
Charlene Crawford worked at Karcher's Fayetteville
facility as warehouse manager. (Doc. 36, p. 2, ¶ 10). In
this role, Crawford reported directly to Taylor and managed
fifty-nine employees. (Id. at ¶ 11; Doc. 36, p.
20, ¶¶ 66-67). Crawford was recruited to Karcher by
Taylor. (Doc. 36, p. 1, ¶ 8). Crawford and Taylor had
worked together at a different company before Taylor began
working at Karcher. Id. at ¶ 7. Crawford was
hired at Karcher as a shipping supervisor. (Doc. 33-1, p. 4).
Taylor promoted Crawford to her position as warehouse manager
in May of 2012. Id. At the time, Crawford and Taylor
had a “good working relationship.” (Doc. 33-1, p.
5). However, Crawford began complaining of issues with
Taylor's management of the facility to Amber Hollinger,
Karcher's on-site human resources generalist, around July
of 2013. (Doc. 36, p. 2; Doc. 33-1, p. 5). Crawford
complained on many occasions of Taylor's demeaning
communication with her and other employees. (Doc. 33-1, pp.
5-6). Crawford alleges that Taylor was demeaning regardless
of who was around. Id. at 6. When Crawford
complained to Hollinger, she “discuss[ed] the issues of
the people that were having issues with him. And that was all
women.” (Doc. 33-1, p. 7). Crawford also complained
about Taylor's lack of professionalism and frequent
absences. (Doc. 33-1, p. 149). However, Crawford does not
recall specifically complaining to Hollinger that she felt
that Taylor treated women differently than men. Id.
Hollinger did not believe that Crawford was complaining that
Taylor treated her differently because she was a woman.
Id. Despite Crawford's complaints spanning as
far back as 2013, Crawford did not believe that her initial
complaints to Hollinger led to her firing. (Doc. 33-1, p.
10). Rather, Crawford believes that her firing was a result
of the incidents that occurred from April 12, 2016 until she
was terminated. Id.
April 12, 2016, after a weekly meeting with the managers and
team leads, Taylor asked Crawford, Hollinger, Blaine Ahrents,
and Franci Wood to stay after to discuss an upcoming facility
town hall meeting. (Doc. 36, p. 6, ¶ 25). During the
discussion, Crawford asked Taylor for more details regarding
the meeting and Taylor responded, “It'll be 30- or
40-something.” Id., ¶ 26. Crawford then
said “Ed, I need to know.” “Ed, I need to
know how much, because our people are working overtime, and I
need to be able to account for it.”
Id. Taylor then stated, “it's going
to happen anyway.” Id. Crawford replied by
saying “You don't have to be hateful in your
response.” Id. Taylor retorted, “I'm
not the one being hateful. You are.” (Doc. 33-1, p.
14). Crawford then “turned around, walked off, . . .
[and] said Dude.” Id. After the meeting ended,
Hollinger went to Ahrents office to assist him with a
personnel issue. (Doc. 33-1, p. 50). Ahrents brought up the
earlier incident to Hollinger. Ahrents said that if Crawford
“w[as] any other person/manager we would have been
written up for that behavior.” Id. Hollinger
also stopped by Wood's office to see how she had
perceived the interaction. Id. Wood felt that
Taylor's demeanor during the incident was not rude but
firm in direction when challenged. Id. Wood also
interjected that “she was not going to be bullied
anymore” by Charlene. Id. Hollinger later met
with Taylor and brought up the earlier incident. Id.
Hollinger recommended to Taylor that he address
Crawford's inappropriate behavior during the meeting to
prevent the behavior from continuing to occur. Id.
Hollinger also discussed the concerns and issues that had
arisen regarding Charlene's conflict-centric leadership
style and complaints that Charlene and others
had raised about Taylor's lack of professionalism and
seeming disinterest in his job responsibilities. Id.
Taylor decided to discuss the issues with Crawford and
Hollinger and Taylor discussed strategy and approach for
coaching Crawford. Id. Taylor drafted a talking
points memorandum for his meeting with Crawford. (Doc. 33-2,
April 13, 2016, Taylor and Hollinger met with Crawford to
discuss her behavior at the previous day's meeting. (Doc.
36, p. 9, ¶ 31). Taylor read straight from his talking
points. (Id., ¶ 32; Doc. 33-1, p. 16). The
meeting was intended to be a coaching session, rather than a
disciplinary action. (Doc. 33-1, pp. 150-51; Doc. 33-1, p.
108). Crawford was “shocked” by the feedback she
received from Taylor and believed that it was
“retaliation” for speaking up to Taylor the day
before. (Doc. 33-1, p. 16; Doc. 33-1, p. 21). During the
April 13 meeting, Crawford requested an investigation into
the allegations that she was a “bully” and had
“steamrolled” fellow employees. (Doc. 33-1, p.
17). Crawford specifically requested the identity of the
individual making the allegations and examples of her
conduct. Id. Crawford reiterated her request for the
investigation in a follow-up email on April 13 at 4:49 p.m.
(Doc. 33-1, p. 64). On May 2, 2016, Lauren Choate, Executive
Vice President of Human Resources at Karcher, emailed
Crawford and notified her that Hollinger had informed her of
the April 12th incident, the April 13th meeting, and
Crawford's request for an investigation. (Doc. 33-2, p.
32). Choate's email affirmed that Karcher was looking
into Crawford's concerns and that Karcher would honor the
confidentiality of the employees who raised those concerns.
Id. In response, Crawford sent an email explaining
that she believed her issues with Taylor should have been
addressed before and that she felt like Taylor was
retaliating against her for speaking up at the meeting. (Doc.
33-2, p. 32). Dan Spickard, Executive Vice President of
Operations and Integrated Supply Chain and Taylor's boss,
then responded to Crawford and told her that they would
discuss the issues in their one-on-one meeting they would
have the following week when he was at the Fayetteville
facility. (Doc. 33-2, pp. 33-34). Spickard explained that
Crawford's email came across as unprofessional and
disrespectful to the people attempting to bring her issues to
an acceptable resolution and that he would not tolerate
personal attacks or a demanding tone in the upcoming meeting.
Id. Spickard met with Crawford and Crawford
explained her side of the story. (Doc. 33-1, p. 23). Crawford
claims that Spickard threatened her not to pursue
investigation into who made the allegations against her.
(Doc. 33-1, p. 23).
in 2017, Crawford was involved in two incidents that raised
concerns from Karcher leadership. On February 1, 2017,
Crawford was given a verbal warning for failing to inform
Taylor about an incident in the warehouse that occurred on
January 27, 2017. (Doc. 36, p. 14, ¶ 51). On that day,
Taylor Stroud, one of Crawford's subordinates damaged a
vendor's trailer at the Karcher Fayetteville facility.
(Doc. 36, p. 13, ¶ 44). Crawford was at work on the day
of the incident and was notified by Jose Avila, a team lead
for Crawford, that an incident occurred at 10:13 a.m. (Doc.
33-2, p. 45). However, Crawford failed to notify Taylor, the
vendor, or any other manager at Karcher Fayetteville about
the incident. (Doc. 33-1, p. 93). Taylor was not informed
about the incident until the vendor told him about the damage
to the trailer. (Doc. 33-1, p. 92). Taylor, Kristin Conlon,
Dan Spickard, and Lauren Choate collectively decided to give
Crawford a verbal warning because as the manager on-site, she
had the “ultimate responsibility for [Karcher]
equipment and . . . the equipment of [Karcher's] vendors
. . . [and] she did not do her role as the leader
on-site.” (Doc. 33-1, p. 127; Doc. 33-1, p. 70).
March 11, 2017, Annette VonAch, Crawford's subordinate,
fell in the bathroom at the Fayetteville facility and hit her
head on a metal beam. (Doc. 33-1, p. 78). VonAch was unable
to get the door open to exit the stall and Jose Avila had to
climb into the stall to help her out. (Doc. 36, p. 14, ¶
53). VonAch was slurring her words and her eyes were shaky.
(Doc. 33-1, p. 78; Doc. 33-1, p. 32). Michelle Hernandez,
another employee in the warehouse, called Crawford, who was
not on-site on that day, to notify her of the incident. (Doc.
33-1, p. 78). Crawford asked to speak with Avila because he
was the trained first responder on duty. (Doc. 33-1, p. 32).
Avila explained the situation to Crawford and then allowed
Crawford to speak with VonAch. Id. Crawford asked
VonAch if she needed to go to the doctor, and VonAch said no.
Id. VonAch said that she was fine and that she just
had a headache. Id. Crawford directed Hernandez and
Avila to move VonAch to her office and when Annette suggested
taking a fellow employee's aspirin, Crawford directed
VonAch to go ahead and take it. Id. After waiting
for a period of time, Hernandez and Avila drove VonAch home.
Id. Crawford did not notify human resources of the
injury until March 14, 2017, three days later. (Doc. 33-1, p.
76). Karcher's worker's compensation policy required
that an on the job injury report, including the
“Supervisor's Accident Investigation Report”
be forwarded to human resources within twenty-four hours of
the time the injury occurred. (Doc. 33-1, p. 74). Karcher
Executive Vice President of Human Resources Lauren Choate
felt that Crawford had mishandled the situation by failing to
inform human resources or Taylor of the incident in a timely
manner. (Doc. 33-2, p. 54). Choate also believed that
Crawford incorrectly failed to consider the incident as a
Worker's Compensation incident. Id.
March 14, 2017, Choate emailed Dan Spickard recommending that
Crawford's position be terminated and the Fayetteville
facility move forward with the reorganization because of
Karcher's CEO's directive to shrink the company's
workforce, “this recent incident, and the plethora of
other issues . . . .” (Doc. 36, p. 17, ¶ 60).
Taylor notified Crawford of her termination on March 28,
2017. (Doc. 33-2, p. 60). Crawford's separation notice
informed her that her separation was due to
“organizational changes within the department.”
(Doc. 36, p. 25, ¶ 76).
2016 moving forward, Karcher had begun looking for ways to
increase organizational efficiency. (Doc. 36, p. 19, ¶
61). Plant managers “were being forced to look for ways
to be more cost efficient.” (Doc. 33-1, p. 90).
Restructure of the Fayetteville warehouse had been in the
plans for two years. (Doc. 33-1, p. 26). Karcher was
struggling financially, leading Dan Spickard to begin
evaluating the company's organizational structure.
Id. In December of 2016, Taylor proposed to Spickard
the elimination of the warehouse manager position and
promotion of the current team leads to
supervisors. (Doc. 36, p. 20, ¶ 71). Taylor
believed that respected former employee John Schafer would
not have left if Crawford's position would have been
eliminated. (Doc. 33-2, p. 56). The reorganization plan
reduced headcount at the facility by one. (Doc. 36, p. 21,
¶ 72). Karcher considered the warehouse manager position
in the Fayetteville facility as unnecessary. (Doc. 33-1, p.
133). On March 9, 2017, Dan Spickard, Lauren Choate, Kristin
Conlon, a Karcher human resources generalist, and Ed Taylor
all agreed on the elimination of the warehouse manager
position. (Doc. 36, p. 22, ¶ 74; Doc. 33-2, p. 9).
Terminating the warehouse manager position allowed Karcher to
meet their “financial goals, ” and remove
Charlene from the Fayetteville facility. (Doc. 33-1, p. 132).
Karcher is closing its Fayetteville facility in 2019 due to
financial considerations. (Doc. 36, p. 12, ¶ 78).
party moves for summary judgment, it must establish both the
absence of a genuine dispute of material fact and that it is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); Nat'l Bank
of Commerce of El Dorado, Ark. v. Dow Chem. Co., 165
F.3d 602 (8th Cir. 1999). In order for there to be a genuine
issue of material fact, the nonmoving party must produce
evidence “such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Allison v.
Flexway Trucking, Inc., 28 F.3d 64, 66-67 (8th Cir.
1994) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Only facts “that might affect
the outcome of the suit under the governing law” need
be considered. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
“[T]he non-movant must make a sufficient showing on
every essential element of its claim on which it bears the
burden of proof.” P.H. v. Sch. Dist. of Kan. City,
Mo., 265 F.3d 653, 658 (8th Cir. 2001) (quotation
omitted). Facts asserted by the nonmoving party “must
be properly supported by the record, ” in which case
those “facts and the inferences to be drawn from them
[are viewed] in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party.” Id. at 656-57.
Gender Discrimination Claim
complaint alleges that Karcher discriminated against her on
the basis of her gender and retaliated against her for
reporting instances of gender discrimination in violation of
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2,
and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act (“ACRA”), Ark.
Code Ann. § 16-123-107. These laws prohibit employment
discrimination on the basis of protected class
characteristics-and relevant to this case, on the basis of
gender. In a gender discrimination action, a plaintiff's
case survives summary judgment if the plaintiff presents
direct evidence of discrimination showing a specific link
between discriminatory animus and the adverse action, and if
that evidence could support a reasonable finding that the
discriminatory animus motivated the adverse action.
McGinnis v. Union Pac. R.R., 496 F.3d 868, 873 (8th
Cir. 2007) (citing Russell v. City of Kan. City,
Mo., 414 F.3d 863, 866 (8th Cir. 2005)). Direct evidence
is “evidence of conduct or statements by persons
involved in the decision-making process that may be viewed as
directly reflecting the alleged discriminatory attitude . . .
sufficient to permit the factfinder to infer that the
attitude was more likely than not a motivating factor in the
employer's decision.” Radabaugh v. Zip Feed
Mills, Inc., 997 F.2d 444, 449 (8th ...