Dedeaux v. R. J. Reynolds American, Inc.

Filing 22

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER; granting in part and denying in part 9 Motion for Summary Judgment as set forth. This matter remains set for trial on 11/22/10. Signed by Honorable Robert T. Dawson on November 12, 2010. (lw)

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS HOT SPRINGS DIVISION LAUREN DEDEAUX v. R. J. REYNOLDS TOBACCO COMPANY MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER Plaintiff October 19, Lauren 2010, Dedeaux filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) on the Civ. No. 09-6099 DEFENDANT PLAINTIFF naming "RJ Reynolds American Inc." Defendant.1 Plaintiff alleged that she was discriminated against Plaintiff asserted on the basis of her age and disability. claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA")as amended, 29 U.S.C. 621 et seq.; Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.; disability harassment and hostile workplace, Tort of Outrage, and wrongful termination policy . Subject matter jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's State law claims is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1367. Venue is proper in violation of Arkansas common law and public in the Western District of Arkansas under 28 U.S.C. 1391, as a 1 The Court changed the caption to reflect Defendant's accurate name; the misnomer issue is addressed below. Page 1 of 12 substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claims occurred in this district. Before Judgment Response supporting and to the Court are Defendant's (Docs. for and Motion 9-11), for Summary supporting Defendant's documents Motion Plaintiff's and to Summary Judgment Reply documents (Docs. 16-18), Defendant's Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 21). In her Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 16), Plaintiff seeks to voluntarily dismiss her ADA, Tort of Outrage, and disability claims. Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion to dismiss these claims will be granted and the claims dismissed. The remaining claims for consideration on Summary Judgment are Plaintiff's age discrimination claims. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 9) is GRANTED, in part, and DENIED, in part. I. Background Plaintiff, who was born on April 16, 1965, began full-time employment as a sales representative/territory manager for Defendant on March 6, 1989. Plaintiff alleged that on or about Page 2 of 12 November 2007 through March 2008, she received medical treatment and underwent surgeries for tumors on her spine. In or around December 2007, Pamela Bratton was assigned as the new Division Manager for Plaintiff's region (Fayetteville Division). was Plaintiff alleges while supervised by Bratton, she to harassing the treatment is a because part of of her age. subjected Plaintiff alleges harassment Defendant's policies to discriminate against older employees. Plaintiff alleges Defendant's policies serve Specifically, purpose of the replacing older employees with younger inexperienced employees who are willing to work for less money and benefits. On November 24, 2008, in an attempt to evidence the harassment, Plaintiff recorded conversations with Bratton while the two were off company premises. Plaintiff contacted Andrea Garrison in Defendant's human resources department, who learned of the recording and requested a copy. On November 25, 2008, Plaintiff sent Garrison a copy of the recording via email. On December 16, 2008, Manager her Defendant Scott met with At Garrison the and Defendant's Plaintiff Regional Payne. meeting, was delivered termination letter. Plaintiff's termination letter indicated termination was due to violation of generally accepted standards of business conduct, violation of Page 3 of 12 HR Policies and Practices General Rule 1.03, and acting in a manner contrary to company values. Violation of HR Policies and Practices General Rule 1.03 is set out in the employment manual as a terminable offense. On March 11, 2009, Plaintiff filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") charge. On July 30, 2009, the On EEOC issued Plaintiff a notice of right to sue letter. October 19, 2010, Plaintiff filed her Complaint (Doc. 1) naming R.J. Reynolds American Inc., as the Defendant. II. Standard of Review Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." 56(c). Fed.R.Civ.P. The court must view the facts and inferences from the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the burden is placed on the moving party, to establish both the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); Page 4 of 12 Nat'l Bank of Commerce of El Dorado, Arkansas v. Dow Chem. Co., 165 F.3d 602 (8th Cir. 1999). Once the moving party has met this burden, the non-moving party may no longer rest on the allegations in its pleadings, but must set forth specific facts by affidavit and other evidence, showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); City of Mt. Pleasant v. Associated Elec. Coop., 838 F.2d 268, 273-74 motion (8th for Cir. 1988). In order to withstand must Defendant's his summary with judgment, Plaintiff probative substantiate allegations "sufficient evidence that would permit a finding in his favor on more than mere speculation, conjecture, or fantasy." 974 F.2d 1006, 1010 (8th Cir. 1992). III. Discussion A. Failure to Properly Name Defendant moves the Court to dismiss the Complaint Gregory v. Rogers, Defendant contending Plaintiff sued the wrong company. Throughout the process and pleadings, Plaintiff refers to Defendant as "R.J. Reynolds American, Inc." as opposed to "R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company". Defendant contends that notices of the error were provided but Plaintiff failed to timely amend her Complaint to correct the misnomer. Plaintiff argues the Court should not Page 5 of 12 dismiss the action but rather, relying on Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, amend the Complaint to add RJ Reynolds Tobacco as the defendant. Plaintiff sets forth several reasons for the error, and urges the Court to take remedial action. The Court finds that no harm will result to the Defendant, and finds good cause warranting remedial action. Pursuant to Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court will construe Plaintiff's argument as a motion for leave to amend the Complaint to correct the misnomer, and simultaneously grant the motion. F.3d See Fed.R.Civ.P. 15; see also Roberts v. Michaels, 219 777-78 (8th Cir. 2000)(misnomer principle most 775, appropriate in instances where Plaintiff sues corporation but misnames it). Accordingly, Defendant will be addressed and referred to as "RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company". See Id. B. Age Discrimination Under the ADEA, it is "unlawful for an employer . . . to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, because terms, of such conditions, individual's or privileges 29 of employment, 623(a)(1). age." U.S.C. The act applies to "individuals who are at least 29 U.S.C. 631. When a plaintiff alleges 40 years of age." Page 6 of 12 disparate treatment, "liability depends on whether the protected trait (under the ADEA, age) actually motivated the employer's decision." Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins, 507 U.S. 604 (1993). The plaintiff's age must then have "actually played a role in [the employer's decision making] process and had a determinative influence on the outcome." Id. Plaintiff's claims are based on circumstantial evidence and are therefore analyzed under the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Riley v. Lance, Corp. v. Green, Inc. 518 411 U.S. 792, 804 (1973). 996, 1000 (8th Cir. F.3d 2008)(citations proceeds sufficient in omitted). stages. to The McDonnell Douglas first case analysis present of age three Plaintiff a prima must facie evidence establish discrimination, thereby creating a legal presumption of unlawful discrimination. 506 (1993). St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, The burden then shifts to Defendant to articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Id. at 506-07. Once Defendant satisfies its burden of production, Plaintiff must establish a question of material fact as to whether the employer's proffered reason was pretextual and that she was the victim of intentional discrimination. at 508. Throughout, the burden of persuasion See id. with remains Page 7 of 12 Plaintiff. See Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981). To establish a prima facie case, Plaintiff must show: (1) that she was a member that of a was was protected otherwise class when she for was the terminated; position (2) she she (4) rise qualified (3) that from which and terminated; her an Defendant in terminated her; that to "discharge inference occurred of circumstances discrimination. giving unlawful Rothmeier v. Investment Advisers, Inc., 85 F.3d 1328, 1332 n.7 (8th Cir. 1996). The Court finds that Plaintiff has submitted sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case for age discrimination. First, Plaintiff was 43 years old when terminated and a member of a protected class under the ADEA. otherwise Defendant Plaintiff's qualified for a for her position number Second, Plaintiff was (having of worked for significant was years). Fourth, Third, the employment terminated. circumstances surrounding Plaintiff's discharge give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination, e.g., a younger and less experienced employee replaced her. Keathley v. Ameritech Corp, 187 F.3d 915, 920-21 (8th Cir. 1999)(citations omitted). Page 8 of 12 Accordingly, evidence that the burden was Id. shifts to Defendant "for a to produce Plaintiff terminated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason." To satisfy its burden of production, Defendant has offered evidence of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating Plaintiff, i.e., violation of a terminable offense under company policy by secretly recording her manager. The Court finds that Defendant's proffered reason for terminating Plaintiff is legitimate and nondiscriminatory, i.e., violation of HR General Rule 1.03(6) is a terminable offense. Accordingly, the burden shifts back to Plaintiff to present evidence that creates a fact issue as to whether the employer's proffered reasons are mere pretext and that the termination was an act of intentional discrimination based upon Plaintiff's age. Id. (citing Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 143 (2000)). Plaintiff can avoid summary judgment "only if the evidence considered whether created in its entirety (1) created a fact issue as to (2) Defendant's a proffered reasons that are age pretextual was a and reasonable inference determinative factor in the adverse employment decision." at 1336-37. A plaintiff shows that a Rothmeier, 85 F.3d is pretextual reason Page 9 of 12 "directly by persuading the court that a discriminatory reason more likely motivated the employer or indirectly by showing the employer's Texas Dept. proffered Of Cmty. explanation Affairs v. is unworthy 450 of U.S. credence." 248, 256 Burdine, (1981). In opposition to Defendant's stated reason, among other points, Plaintiff contends her unauthorized recording did not fall within the confines of Rule 1.03(6) therefore Defendant had no reason to terminate her. Specifically, Plaintiff argues the recording took place off company premises whereas Rule 1.03(6) is limited to recordings on company premises. Plaintiff submits that in 2006, Rule 1.03(6) included the "on company premises" limiting language, but by 2010, after Plaintiff's termination, Rule 1.03(6) was amended to remove the limiting language. support, Plaintiff points to her termination letter In which reflects she was terminated for violation of Rule 1.03, the "unauthorized use of recording devices on the premises of the Company." In (Plaintiff's Ex. 10). Plaintiff argues that the purpose of Rule addition, 1.03(6) removes its application to her because it is meant to prevent the unauthorized dissemination of proprietary information. Plaintiff also argues that even if Rule 1.03(6) Page 10 of 12 were applicable, policies her and termination history, is a inconsistent similarly with Defendant's i.e., situated See employee was not fired for violation of the same conduct. Erickson v. Farmland Indus., Inc., 271 F.3d 718, 727 (8th Cir. 2001)(Plaintiff can show pretext by proving that an employer did not follow its own policy when terminating the plaintiff). Defendant termination, argues Rule that at was the not time of to Plaintiff's unauthorized 1.03(6) limited recordings on company premises. Defendant also argues that Rule 1.03(6) was revised months prior to Plaintiff's termination and includes a notation Ex. that it was revised on March 1, 2008. that (Plaintiff's 5). Furthermore, Defendant argues Plaintiff has failed to produce sufficient evidence to establish that similarly situated employees were treated different. Viewing the evidence, in its entirety, the Court finds Plaintiff has provided sufficient evidence which creates a fact issue as to whether Defendant's proffered reasons are pretextual and a reasonable inference that age was a determinative factor in the adverse employment decision. Rothmeier, 85 F.3d at 1336. Accordingly, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's age discrimination claims is DENIED. Page 11 of 12 IV. Conclusion Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff's motion to dismiss her ADA, tort of outrage, and disability claims is GRANTED. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's age discrimination claims brought pursuant to the ADEA and State law is DENIED. 2010. IT IS SO ORDERED this 12th day of November, 2010. This matter remains set for trial on November 22, /s/ Robert T. Dawson Honorable Robert T. Dawson United States District Judge Page 12 of 12

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