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Lopez v. Reser's Fine Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

December 16, 2013

OCTAVIANO LOPEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
RESER’S FINE FOODS, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

ERIC F. MELGREN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Octaviano Lopez brings this case against his former employer, Defendant Reser’s Fine Foods, Inc., alleging that Defendant discriminated against him on the basis of age and ancestry. Plaintiff seeks relief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), and the Kansas Act Against Discrimination (“KAAD”). Defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis that Plaintiff cannot make a prima facie case of discrimination and that Plaintiff cannot show that Defendant’s alleged legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its treatment of Plaintiff is pretextual. Because the Court finds that Plaintiff has not established a prima facie case of ancestry or age discrimination, the Court grants Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 19).

I. Factual and Procedural Background [1]

Plaintiff Octaviano Lopez is a fifty-nine year old Hispanic male. Defendant Reser’s Fine Foods, Inc., is a manufacturer of fresh foods sold through wholesalers and grocers throughout the United States and Canada. Defendant operates twelve plant sites, five of which are located in Topeka, Kansas.

Plaintiff worked for Defendant at one of its Topeka plants on three separate occasions. His most recent employment with Defendant began on December 1, 2005, when he was fifty-two years old. From April 2008 to his resignation in July 2011, Plaintiff worked as a mixer on second shift in the spice room of Defendant’s production department. Plaintiff voluntarily resigned from his employment with Defendant on July 28, 2011, during a mediation session between the parties conducted by the Kansas Human Rights Commission (“KHRC”).

This case arises from a dispute between Plaintiff and another Hispanic employee of Defendant known as Guillermo Ayala. From November 2009, Ayala was Plaintiff’s equivalent on first shift in the spice room at the plant. Plaintiff generally claims that the workers on first shift, including Ayala, did not complete their work, leaving second shift to complete their work and first shift’s work as well. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that the workers on first shift did not fill their spice buckets at the end of their shift and that they only filled the lighter, smaller duty bags leaving the heavier lifting for second shift. According to Plaintiff, when he spoke to first shift about finishing their work, first shift would complain to Defendant’s human resources department (“HR”) and his supervisor, John James, would “get on to him” for talking to first shift.[2] In addition, Plaintiff asserts that when he complained, HR told him that if he didn’t like how he was being treated, he could quit. Plaintiff also asserts that James would yell at him using swear words and profanity when Ayala and the rest of first shift did not complete their work.

In July 2010, Ayala complained to Defendant’s Human Resources Department about Plaintiff. Ayala claimed that Plaintiff was not filling the spice buckets at the end of Plaintiff’s shift and that Plaintiff used insulting language towards him. Defendant asked Plaintiff to respond to this complaint, and Plaintiff claimed that it was not him but Ayala who was not filling the spice bucket as required and that he did not use insulting language towards Ayala. After reviewing Ayala’s complaint and Plaintiff’s response, Defendant determined that neither party was responsible for filling the spice buckets at the end of their shift as a matter of course but that both shifts were required to fill the spice buckets when they became empty.

In July 2011, Plaintiff complained to HR regarding another encounter with Ayala, alleging that Ayala snatched paperwork out of his hand during a shift change. As a result of this complaint, Defendant conducted an investigation by interviewing several employees. During the investigation, Defendant learned that Ayala had two encounters with a white female employee named Amanda Johnson. Defendant’s interview notes state that on one occasion, Ayala “got upset” with Johnson about “switching scales” and Ayala “physically unplugged” her scale.[3]Johnson’s perception was that Ayala was concerned about her being in the HR office too much and making complaints and trying to take over his job. Defendant’s notes also reflect that “she [Johnson] is not sure if it is because of a gender issue or not.” Defendant ultimately disciplined Ayala for his actions against Plaintiff by giving him a final written warning and suspending him from work for three days.

Plaintiff’s last day of work with Defendant was July 27, 2011. Plaintiff asserts that he resigned because he was suffering “humiliation” from his supervisor and HR and because his supervisor and HR always took Ayala’s “side” over his.[4] Plaintiff also asserts that after he resigned, he was replaced by a white employee named James Scarsella. Scarsella testified that he thought management was trying to force Plaintiff to quit but that he also thought that management wanted him to quit too. He also testified that he believed that the pressure from management on him after Plaintiff resigned was less than what management placed on Plaintiff.

After exhausting his administrative remedies with the KHRC and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court for alleged violations of Title VII, the ADEA, and the KAAD. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant discriminated against him in his employment based on his Mexican ancestry and age to the extent he was constructively discharged. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claims.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[5]A fact is “material” when it is essential to the claim, and issues of fact are “genuine” if the proffered evidence permits a reasonable jury to decide the issue in either party’s favor.[6] The movant bears the initial burden of proof, and must show the lack of evidence on an essential element of the claim.[7] If the movant carries this initial burden, the nonmovant that bears the burden of persuasion at trial may not simply rest on its pleading but must instead “set forth specific facts” that would be admissible in evidence in the event of trial from which a rational trier of fact could find for the nonmovant.[8] These facts must be clearly identified through affidavits, deposition transcripts, or incorporated exhibits—conclusory allegations alone cannot survive a motion for summary judgment.[9] The Court views all evidence and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment.[10]

III. Analysis

A. Plaintiff’s Ancestry Discrimination ...


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