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Obregon v. Capital Quarries Company, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Northern Division

December 20, 2019

CAPITAL QUARRIES COMPANY, INC., owned or held by Farmer Holding Company, Inc. DEFENDANT


          DP. Marshall Jr., United States District Judge.


         Obregon and Waters worked at a Capital Quarries mine near Pocahantas. Obregon was there for several years, Waters a few months. The company fired Obregon based on two days in a row of safety violations. It fired Waters based on a safety violation and an unexcused absence. The former employees say they were set up. Obregon is Hispanic, a naturalized citizen. Waters is Caucasian. Both sought Saturdays off to keep the Sabbath. Obregon claims he faced a hostile work environment because of his national origin and request for religious accommodation. Waters claims he was targeted for supporting his co-worker on the Sabbath-keeping. Obregon also says he was paid less than Waters and others for equal work. According to Obregon, supervisor Jesse Doran led co-workers in the campaign of hostility. Waters faults Doran, too. Capital Quarries seeks summary judgment, while the former employees say genuine disputes of material fact require a jury trial. The Court takes the record where genuinely disputed in the light most favorable to Obregon and Waters, drawing all reasonable inferences in their favor. Oglesby v. Lesan, 929 F.3d 526, 531-32 (8th Cir. 2019).

         Constitutional claims.

         Obregon's and Waters's constitutional claims fail. Capital Quarries isn't a state actor, and they haven't shown any joint activity between it and any state actors. Magee v. Trustees of Hamline University, Minnesota, 747 F.3d 532, 536 (8th Cir. 2014).

         Unequal pay.

         Obregon's Equal Pay Act claim fails because he's not claiming wage discrimination on the basis of sex. 29 U.S.C. § 206(d).

         Religious accommodation.

         Obregon says he asked in February 2016 not to work on Saturdays, as required by his religion. The company has no record or recall of his request at that time; Obregon doesn't have any record of it either. But Obregon and Capital Quarries agree he made the same request in September 2016 and they discussed it. Around that time, Obregon filed an EEOC charge claiming Capital Quarries had denied him a religious accommodation. Before getting notice of that charge, the company wrote Obregon a letter saying he couldn't have every Saturday off, given the number of staff on hand and the level of production required. Instead, the company offered him every other Saturday off, and it gave him the overall work schedule so he could ask others to step in for him voluntarily on his assigned Saturdays. Obregon acknowledges he didn't work any Saturdays for almost two years, between late September 2016 and early August 2018, when Waters was hired. No. 46-1 at 19; No. 59 at 3; No. 48-1 at 12. Between then and when he was fired in December 2018, Obregon says he worked some Saturdays. Capital Quarries, however, says he didn't work any Saturdays at least through 6 October 2018.

         The parties do not focus on accommodation of Waters. The basic facts are these. About two months after he started, a truck Waters was driving malfunctioned; in response, supervisor Doran yelled and threw his hard hat at Waters. No. 57-10 at 1; No. 48-1 at 82-84; No. 59 at 9. Soon afterwards, Waters asked to have Saturdays off for religious reasons. At his deposition, Waters said another reason he made the request was to spend less time with Doran. No. 48-1 at 65-66. And he said that before the yelling incident, working on Saturdays "wasn't ever an issue." No. 48-1 at 65. The company responded to Waters's request like it did with Obregon: every other Saturday off, and the schedule for possible substitutions. No. 48-1 at 182. Waters worked the first two Saturdays after his request because the company said it needed time to consider and respond to it. No. 48-1 at 182. The record doesn't show how many other Saturdays, if any, Waters worked thereafter; about two months' worth are in question. Waters couldn't remember how many Saturdays he worked after he made his request. No. 48-1 at 65.

         The law obligated Capital Quarries to reasonably accommodate Obregon's and Waters's sincere religious beliefs unless it could show that doing so would impose an undue hardship on the company. Harrell v. Donahue, 638 F.3d 975, 979 (8th Cir. 2011). Obregon ended up having almost all Saturdays off after his firm accommodation request. Capital Quarries provided him a path to do so. On this record, there's no genuine factual dispute for trial as to whether the company reasonably accommodated Obregon's beliefs. It did, as a matter of law.

         As for Waters, the company also responded to his request and articulated a reasoned basis for its proposed accommodation. It didn't give Waters every Saturday off because it said only he and Obregon were assigned a certain truck driving role, and Obregon had already requested every other Saturday off. No. 48-1 at 182. At his deposition, Waters questioned this reasoning. He mentioned unnamed employees who didn't work Saturdays despite being "just as qualified" to drive the truck as he and Obregon were. No. 48-1 at 67, 69. Waters agreed that he and Obregon were the two employees who primarily drove the dump truck. No 48-1 at 31.

         Waters hasn't presented sufficient evidence to support a verdict that Capital Quarries's proposed accommodation was unreasonable. Capital Quarries wasn't required to give Waters exactly what he asked for. Instead, the law required the company to make serious efforts to accommodate him. Sturgill v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 512 F.3d 1024, 1033 (8th Cir. 2008). Its consistent responses to Obregon's and Waters's requests indicate a serious effort. Also, having workers swap days can be a reasonable accommodation. Sturgill, 512F.3d at 1032. The governing law requires cooperation from both sides. Chrysler Corp. v. Mann, 561 F.2d 1282, 1285 (8th Cir. 1977). There's some murkiness, but no genuine factual dispute for trial on this issue as to Waters. Bedford v. Doe, 880 F.3d 993, 996-97 (8th Cir. 2018).

         Disc ...

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