Barnes v. Mars Pet Care, Inc.
MEMORANDUM OPINION OF THE COURT. Signed by District Judge William L. Campbell, Jr on 11/17/2021. (DOCKET TEXT SUMMARY ONLY-ATTORNEYS MUST OPEN THE PDF AND READ THE ORDER.)(jm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
CALVIN J. BARNES,
MARS PET CARE, INC.,
MAGISTRATE JUDGE FRENSLEY
Pending before the Court is Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 23).
Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition (Doc. No. 24) and Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. No. 25).
For the reasons discussed below, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment will be DENIED.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff Calvin J. Barnes (“Barnes”) began working for Defendant Mars Pet Care, Inc.
(“Mars”) in August 2014 as the Supply Chain Business Systems Manager. (Doc. No. 24-1 ¶ 1). In
July 2018, Amee Green (“Green”) began working for Mars and became Barnes’ immediate
supervisor. (Id. at ¶¶ 4-8). Green conducted Barnes’ mid-year review on August 29, 2018. (Id. at
¶ 38). On or about October 25, 2018, Green issued Barnes a Performance Improvement Plan. (Id.
at ¶¶ 60, 62). On November 26, 2018, Green conducted a 30-day review of Barnes’ progress on
the Performance Improvement Plan. (Id. at ¶ 76). Barnes was terminated on January 2, 2019. (Id.
at ¶ 90). Mars hired a white male to replace Barnes. (Id. at ¶ 131).
On April 24, 2020, Barnes filed suit against Mars, alleging violations of Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1) et seq. and the Tennessee Human
Rights Act (“THRA”), Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-101, et seq. (Doc. No. 1).
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STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(a). The party bringing the summary judgment motion has the initial burden of informing the
Court of the basis for its motion and identifying portions of the record that demonstrate the absence
of a genuine dispute over material facts. Rodgers v. Banks, 344 F.3d 587, 595 (6th Cir. 2003). The
moving party may satisfy this burden by presenting affirmative evidence that negates an element
of the non-moving party's claim or by demonstrating an absence of evidence to support the
nonmoving party's case. Id.
In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the court views the facts in the light most
favorable for the nonmoving party and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving
party. Bible Believers v. Wayne Cty., Mich., 805 F.3d 228, 242 (6th Cir. 2015). The Court does
not weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of the matter.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). Rather, the Court determines whether
sufficient evidence has been presented to make the issue of material fact a proper jury question.
Id. The mere scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party’s position is insufficient to
survive summary judgment; instead, there must be evidence of which the jury could reasonably
find for the nonmoving party. Rodgers v. Banks, 344 F.3d 587, 595 (6th Cir. 2003).
To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under Title VII and the THRA, a plaintiff
must show that: (1) they are a member of a protected group; (2) they were subjected to an adverse
employment decision; (3) they were qualified for the position; and (4) they were replaced with
someone outside of the protected class or similarly situated non-protected employees were treated
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more favorably. See Smith v. City of Toledo, Ohio, 13 F.4th 508, 515 (6th Cir. 2021); Russell v.
Univ. of Toledo, 537 F.3d 596, 604 (6th Cir. 2008).1
A. Qualified for the position
Mars argues that Barnes cannot establish the third element of his prima facie case – that he
was qualified for his position – because Barnes was not satisfactorily performing his job or meeting
Mars’ performance expectations. (See Doc. No. 23-1 at 12-19 (citing McDonald v. Union Camp
Corp., 898 F.2d 1155, 1160 (6th Cir. 1990)). However, “[a]t the prima facie stage, a court should
focus on a plaintiff's objective qualifications to determine whether he or she is qualified for the
relevant job.” Wexler v. White's Fine Furniture, Inc., 317 F.3d 564, 575 (6th Cir. 2003) (emphasis
in original). Objective criteria that courts may consider in determining whether a plaintiff can
satisfy the qualification prong of their prima facie case include the employee's “education,
experience in the relevant industry, and demonstrated possession of the required general skills.”
George v. Youngstown State Univ., 966 F.3d 446, 464-65 (6th Cir. 2018) (quoting Wexler, 317
F.3d at 576). Mars does not claim that Barnes lacked such qualifications, and the record shows
Barnes worked for Mars in the position of Supply Chain Business Systems Manager for over four
years until his termination. Accordingly, the Court finds that Barnes has satisfied his prima facie
burden of proof as to the third element of his discrimination claims.
B. Replaced by Someone Outside of Protected Class
Mars argues that Barnes cannot establish the fourth element of his prima facie case because
he has failed to set forth any evidence of similarly situated associates who were treated more
favorably. (Doc. No. 23-1 at 19-20). As noted above, a plaintiff can also satisfy this element by
“The analysis of claims brought pursuant to the THRA is identical to the analysis used for Title VII
claims.” Austin v. Alexander, 439 F. Supp. 3d 1019, 1024 n.2 (M.D. Tenn. 2020) (quoting Bailey v. USF
Holland, Inc., 526 F.3d 880, 885 n.1 (6th Cir. 2008)).
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demonstrating that they were replaced by someone outside of the protected class. See Russell v.
Univ. of Toledo, 537 F.3d 596, 604 (6th Cir. 2008). Here, it is undisputed that Barnes was replaced
by someone outside of the protected class. (Doc. No. 24-1 ¶ 131). As such, the Court finds that
Barnes has satisfied his prima facie burden of proof as to this element.
Mars claims that Barnes was terminated for failing to make consistent and significant
improvement. (Doc. No. 23-1 at 12-19). Because Mars put forth a legitimate, nondiscriminatory
explanation, the burden shifts back to Barnes to identify evidence from which a reasonable jury
could conclude that the proffered reason is actually pretext for discrimination. An employee can
show pretext “by offering evidence that (1) the employer's stated reason had no basis in fact, (2)
the stated reason did not actually motivate the employer, or (3) the stated reason was insufficient
to warrant the adverse employment action.” Loyd v. Saint Joseph Mercy Oakland, 766 F.3d 580,
590 (6th Cir. 2014).
To show pretext, Barnes points evidence that his team received recognition as having
multiple successes across various programs, but that upper-level management repeatedly failed to
acknowledge Barnes’ efforts in leading his team to those successes. (Doc. No. 24 at 14-15 (citing
Doc. No. 24-2, PageID # 366, 369, 398-99)). Additionally, Barnes argues that Mars deviated from
its policy and normal course of business in its dealings with him. (Id. at 15-17). He asserts that
Green imposed an arbitrarily heightened disciplinary action on him during September 2018 instead
of providing coaching or a Performance Improvement Plan. (Id. at 16-17 (citing Doc. No. 24-3,
PageID # 444)). Barnes points to evidence that David Colyott, who served as his supervisor from
January 2018 until July 2018 (see Doc. No. 24-2, PageID # 358-59), did not express any concerns
about Barnes’ performance or provide any feedback that Barnes’ performance was trending to
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Below Expectations during their one-on-one meetings in February 2018, April 2018, or June 2018.
(Doc. No. 24 at 15 (citing Doc. No. 24-6, PageID # 477)). Barnes also contends that Mars cannot
point to someone outside of the protected class who was terminated in the middle of their
Performance Improvement Plan like he was, arguing that this irregular application of policy is
further evidence of pretext, the validity of which is an issue of material fact to be decided by a
jury. (Id. at 17-19).
Viewing the evidence and drawing all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to
Barnes, the Court finds that a reasonable jury could determine that Mars’ proffered reason was
pretext for discrimination. Accordingly, Mars’ motion for summary judgment will be denied.
An appropriate order will enter.
WILLIAM L. CAMPBELL, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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