Harris v. Planned Parenthood
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER; IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendant's motion for summary judgment [Doc. # 49 ] is denied. Signed by District Judge Carol E. Jackson on 02/06/2013; (DJO)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
Case No. 4:11-CV-2023 (CEJ)
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
Plaintiff, who proceeds pro se, has not filed a response in opposition to the motion and
his time for doing so has expired.
Plaintiff Edgar Harris, who is African-American, was employed by defendant
Planned Parenthood as an armed security guard. He brings this action pursuant to
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq.,
alleging that defendant improperly terminated his employment based on his race.
Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary
judgment shall be entered if the moving party shows “that there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”
In ruling on a motion for summary judgment the court is required to view the facts in
the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must give that party the benefit
of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts. AgriStor Leasing
v. Farrow, 826 F.2d 732, 734 (8th Cir. 1987). The moving party bears the burden of
showing both the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and its entitlement to
judgment as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986);
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986).
Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party may not rest on the
allegations of his pleadings but must set forth specific facts, by affidavit or other
evidence, showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. United of Omaha Life
Ins. Co. v. Honea, 458 F.3d 788, 791 (8th Cir. 2006) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)).
Rule 56 “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery
and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish
the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will
bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322
Plaintiff was employed by defendant as an armed security guard from March 30,
2009 to September 28, 2011.
Because plaintiff was scheduled to be in court on
September 28, 2011, he asked his supervisor, Tom Hemingway, to find coverage for
his shift on that date.1
On September 27, 2011, Hemingway told plaintiff that no
coverage was available. According to Hemingway, plaintiff became angry and made the
statement, “I should shoot this place up.”
Hemingway states that he became
concerned and asked another employee to speak to plaintiff. Hemingway left the
premises and plaintiff completed his shift. On September 28, 2011, Cathy Williams,
defendant’s Vice President of Human Resources, informed plaintiff that his employment
was terminated for making a threat.
Plaintiff filed a claim for unemployment benefits which was initially denied based
on the finding that plaintiff had been discharged for misconduct. Decision of Appeals
Plaintiff claims that he gave Hemingway notice of his court date on September
13, 2011; defendant asserts that plaintiff did not give notice until September 27, 2011.
Tribunal, Dec. 16, 2011 [Doc. #10]. Plaintiff appealed the denial. After receiving
testimony from plaintiff and a witness from defendant, the Appeals Tribunal determined
that plaintiff did not make the threat for which he was terminated and that plaintiff was
not disqualified from unemployment benefits.
Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC), in which he alleged that he was terminated because of his race.
According to plaintiff’s sworn statement to the EEOC, Williams told him over the
telephone that he was terminated because he threatened “to shoot up the place.”
Plaintiff denied making the statement and pointed out to Williams that Hemingway
would not have allowed plaintiff to complete his shift if he had made such a threat.
Plaintiff states that Williams refused to consider plaintiff’s argument or conduct an
investigation and opted to believe Hemingway, who is white, instead of plaintiff.
Despite terminating his employment for making a violent threat, Williams told plaintiff
that he could come to the facility to pick up his paycheck. Plaintiff states that before
his termination, he “always had excellent job performance.”
Title VII makes it “an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to
discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation . . . because of
such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
Absent direct evidence of discrimination, a plaintiff’s Title VII
discrimination claim is analyzed under the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell
Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802–03 (1973). Under this framework, the
plaintiff initially has the burden to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Pye
v. Nu Aire, Inc., 641 F.3d 1011, 1019 (8th Cir. 2011). A prima facie case creates a
rebuttable presumption of discrimination. The burden then shifts to the defendant to
provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its decision. If the defendant provides
such a reason, the presumption disappears, and the burden shifts back to the plaintiff
to show that the proffered reason was pretext for discrimination. Id. (citing Lake v.
Yellow Transp., Inc., 596 F.3d 871, 873–74 (8th Cir. 2010)).
To establish a prima facie case of discrimination, plaintiff must show (1) he is a
member of a protected class, (2) he met his employer’s legitimate expectations, (3) he
suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) the circumstances give rise to an
inference of discrimination. Id. (citing Wierman v. Casey’s Gen. Stores, 638 F.3d 984,
993 (8th Cir. 2011)). “The required prima facie showing is a flexible evidentiary
standard, and a plaintiff can satisfy the fourth part of the prima facie case in a variety
of ways, such as by showing more-favorable treatment of similarly-situated employees
who are not in the protected class, or biased comments by a decisionmaker.” Id. (citing
Lewis v. Heartland Inns of Am., L.L.C., 591 F.3d 1033, 1039–40 (8th Cir. 2010)
(internal quotation and citation omitted).
Defendant does not dispute that the first three elements of the prima facie case
With respect to the fourth element, plaintiff asserts that the
decisionmaker terminated his employment without conducting an investigation and that
she did so solely based on race. This circumstance is sufficient to give rise to an
inference of discrimination.
The burden thus shifts to defendant to proffer a legitimate, nondiscriminatory
reason for plaintiff’s termination. Here, defendant asserts that plaintiff made a threat
of violence. In support of its assertion, defendant submits statements of employees that
purport to be contemporaneous accounts of the events leading up to plaintiff’s
termination. However, these statements were not made under oath or penalty of
perjury. There is no indication that they were made part of plaintiff’s personnel record
and, even if they were, there is no affidavit or declaration from the record keeper
attesting to their authenticity. The statements were identified in defendant’s responses
to plaintiff’s discovery requests, but the responses were not signed under oath. In the
absence of competent documentary evidence, the Court finds that defendant has failed
to meet its burden for the purposes of summary judgment.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendant’s motion for summary judgment [Doc.
#49] is denied.
CAROL E. JACKSON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated this 6th day of February, 2013.
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