Edwards v. Van Diest Supply Company Inc
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 14 Motion for Summary Judgment (See Order Text). United States Magistrate Judge Leonard T Strand shall conduct a trial scheduling conference with the parties to select a new trial date/deadlines. Signed by Senior Judge Donald E OBrien on 11/14/2012. (des)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF IOWA
VAN DIEST SUPPLY COMPANY,
Currently before this Court is Defendant’s Motion for
Summary Judgment (Docket No. 14).
The parties appeared via
telephone for hearing on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.
hearing the parties’ arguments, the Court took the issues
under advisement and now enters the following:
The Plaintiff, Shirley Edwards [hereinafter Ms. Edwards]
began working for Van Diest Supply Company in Webster City,
Iowa, on October 5, 2004. She was a production plant operator
at Van Diest from October 12, 2004, to October 21, 2007.
October 21, 2007, at the age of 56, Ms. Edwards was promoted
to the position of production team leader and remained in that
position until her termination on December 23, 2009, at the
age of 58.
The Defendant contends that Ms. Edwards was
terminated because she used foul and abusive language towards
terminated because of her age and her use of Family Medical
Leave Act [hereinafter FMLA] leave.
The Defendant argues that on December 18, 2009, Ms.
employees including Patrick Dencklau, Marcus Wilson and Jack
Those employees alleged that Ms. Edwards used
extremely foul language to reprimand them after Anderson made
a mess in a recently cleaned work area.
After the incident,
Ms. Edwards was confronted by Van Diest’s management.
admitted that she should not have reacted as strongly as she
did, although she denied using the exact profane language the
other employees alleged.
The Defendant alleges that Bob Van
Diest, President of Van Diest Supply Company, reviewed the
incident and made the decision to terminate Ms. Edwards based
upon language in Van Diest’s Personnel Policies and Procedures
Ms. Edwards contends that she was dismissed because of
her advanced age and in retaliation for using FMLA leave. Ms.
Edwards took FMLA leave from October 28, 2009, until November
20, 2009, as a result of illness.
Ms. Edwards alleges that
Van Diest inappropriately attempted to penalize her for taking
FMLA leave including attempting to, or at least discussing,
taking away her “white hat” (supervisor’s) status because of
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Summary judgment is appropriate only if the record shows
“there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
R. Civ. P., Rule 56(c).
A fact is material if it is necessary
“to establish the existence of an element essential to [a]
party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of
proof at trial.”
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322
There is a genuine issue as to a material fact if,
based on the record before the court, a “rational trier of
fact” could find for the non-moving party.
Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587
When considering a motion for summary judgment, a “court
must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party . . . .”
Hutson v. McDonnell Douglas Corp.,
63 F.3d 771 (8th Cir. 1995).
This requires a court to draw
any reasonable inference from the underlying facts in favor of
the nonmoving party and to refrain from weighing the evidence,
making credibility determinations, or attempting to discern
the truth of any factual issue in a manner which favors the
moving party unless there is no reasonable alternative.
Chillicothe, 512 F.3d 1013, 1018 (8th Cir. 2008) (citing
Thomas v. Corwin, 483 F.3d 516, 526-27 (8th Cir. 2007)).
Procedurally, the movant bears the initial burden “of
informing the district court of the basis for its motion and
identifying those portions of the record which show a lack of
a genuine issue.” Hartnagel v. Norman, 953 F.2d 394, 395 (8th
Cir. 1992) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323). Once the movant
has carried his burden, the non-moving party is required “to
go beyond the pleadings” and through “affidavits, or by the
‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file,’ designate specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial.’”
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 (citing
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)).
The Defendant first argues that Ms. Edwards cannot
satisfy her burden of proof on the FMLA retaliation claim.
The Defendant next argues that Ms. Edwards has failed to show
that age discrimination was the ‘but for’ reason for her
A. FMLA Claim
The FMLA entitles eligible employees to take a total of
twelve weeks of leave during a twelve-month period due to a
serious health condition that makes the employee unable to
perform the functions of their job.
Thorneberry v. McGehee
Desha County Hosp., 403 F.3d 972, 977 (8th Cir. 2005).
discriminating against any individual for asserting his or her
rights under the FMLA.
29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2) and Hite v.
Vermeer Mfg. Co., 446 F.3d 858, 865 (8th Cir 2006).
two types of claims under the FMLA:
(1) “interference” or
employer denied or interfered with her substantive rights
under the FMLA; and (2) “retaliation” or “(a)(2)” claims in
which the employee alleges that the employer discriminated
against her for exercising her FMLA rights.
Scobey v. Nucor
Steel-Arkansas, 580 F.3d 781, 785 (8th Cir. 2009).
Ms. Edwards asserts an FMLA retaliation claim.
direct evidence, an FMLA retaliation claim is evaluated under
the burden shifting framework in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973).
Sisk v. Picture People,
Inc., 669 F.3d 896, 899 (8th Cir. 2012).1
The employee must
presumption of unlawful retaliation.
To establish a
prima facie case of retaliatory discrimination, Edwards must
1) she engaged in protected conduct; 2) she suffered a
materially adverse employment action; and 3) the materially
For the purposes of the burden shifting framework, the
Plaintiff seems to concede there is no direct evidence of FMLA
discrimination in the present case.
Rather, the Plaintiff
relies on circumstantial evidence to prove her FMLA claim.
adverse action was causally linked to the protected conduct.
See id. at 900.
If Edwards establishes a prima facie case,
the burden shifts to Van Diest to articulate a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for its actions.
See id. at 899.
The employer’s burden is one of mere production, not proof.
If the employer meets this burden of production, the
employee must then identify evidence sufficient to create a
“The employee bears the ultimate burden of
proving that FMLA leave was the determinative factor in the
negative employment action.”
Bumgarner v. Grafco Indus., LP,
581 F. Supp. 2d 1052, 1060 (S.D. Iowa 2008).
At the outset, it is important to note that in this type
Hite v. Vermeer Mfg. Co., 446
F.3d 858, 865 (8th Cir. 2006).
It is undisputed that Ms.
Edwards engaged in protected conduct and suffered a materially
adverse employment action.
She took FMLA leave and was
The next question is whether the termination was
connected to the taking of FMLA leave.
It is undisputed that
Ms. Edwards was terminated a month after using her FMLA leave.
It is also undisputed that, at the very least, there was
supervisors were not notified that she was on FMLA leave.
adverse actions to take against Ms. Edwards, including taking
away her supervisor status and lowering her pay. Accordingly,
Ms. Edwards has proffered sufficient evidence for the burden
to shift to the Defendant.
Once the burden shifts to the Defendant, the Defendant
must produce a nondiscriminatory reason for the termination.
The Defendant argues that Ms. Edwards used foul language and
This allegation is supported by appropriate
documentation in the record. See Docket #14, Appendix, p. 4959.
Since the Defendant has produced a non-discriminatory
reason for the termination, the burden shifts back to Ms.
Edwards, who must show that there is a genuine issue of
material fact whether the employee’s proffered explanation is
merely a pretext for unlawful retaliation.
alleges that the employees who ‘reported’ that she used foul
language did not make the report on their own.
Appendix, p. 27. Rather, they were approached by managers who
worked for the Defendant and encouraged to file reports.
Moreover, it seems undisputed that the Defendant did not
always terminate employees after there first infraction.
Docket # 17, Appendix, p. 30, 51-52.
inappropriate behavior before he was terminated.
In spite of
the fact that other employees got warnings for inappropriate
behavior, Ms. Edwards was terminated for one instance of using
profane language, even though she had a clean disciplinary
professional in the workplace.
Docket #17, Appendix, p. 23.
The Court is persuaded that Ms. Edwards has met her
burden to show there is a genuine issue of material fact
regarding whether her termination was pretextual. Ms. Edwards
had no history of discipline at work.
However, she had taken
understand what FMLA leave meant and considered sanctioning
her for being gone. See, as an example, Docket #17, Appendix,
Then, shortly after she returned to work, one
employees did not file written reports on their own.
employees to file written reports.
Ms. Edwards was then
terminated, in spite of the fact that she took responsibility
for her misconduct.
This occurred when other employees, such
as Tony Izzo, who refused to take responsibility for their
It is for the jury, not the judge, to weigh that evidence
and determine if the Defendant fired Ms. Edwards for using
At the hearing, Defendant argued that the supervisor in
question did not know Ms. Edwards was on FMLA leave because
Ms. Edwards had not completed the paperwork. The Defendant
argued that because the supervisor believed Ms. Edwards was
otherwise absent, his inquiry was proper. The Defendant also
argued that some of the inquiries into Ms. Edwards’ status
were the result of normal annual reviews.
disagreed. This is exactly the kind of evidentiary dispute
that should be resolved by a jury. It is possible this was an
innocent misunderstanding and the Defendant never intended Ms.
Edwards lose attendance points, lose her white hat status, or
have her pay grade affected for taking FMLA leave. It is also
possible that this is evidence of the Defendant’s intention to
punish Ms. Edwards for taking leave. The jury must make that
The Court cannot rule as a matter of law that the
circumstantial evidence, cited above, is insufficient for Ms.
Edwards’ claim to proceed.
Accordingly, the Defendant’s
Motion for Summary Judgment regarding the FMLA claim must be
discharged because of her age, giving rise to cause of action
under both the ADEA and the Iowa Civil Rights Act [hereinafter
ICRA]. However, in her response to the Defendant’s Motion for
Summary Judgment, Ms. Edwards failed to address the age
indicating that it is entitled to summary judgment because Ms.
Edwards failed to resist their Motion for Summary Judgment.
During the hearing, Plaintiff’s counsel conceded that Ms.
Edwards was not resisting the Motion for Summary Judgment on
the age discrimination claim. Accordingly that claim shall be
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is denied in part
and granted in part, consistent with this Order.
As discussed during the hearing, the Court’s schedule
requires that a new trial date3 be established.
Magistrate Judge Leonard T. Strand shall conduct a trial
scheduling conference with the parties to select a new trial
IT IS SO ORDERED this 14th day of November, 2012.
Donald E. O’Brien, Senior Judge
United States District Court
Northern District of Iowa
The jury trial is currently scheduled for December 10,
2012 (Docket No. 8).
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