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Maldonado v. Mattress Direct, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 27, 2015

FELIX MALDONADO,
v.
MATTRESS DIRECT, INC., SECTION

ORDER AND REASONS

IVAN L.R. LEMELLE, District Judge.

I. NATURE OF MOTION AND RELIEF SOUGHT

Before the Court is Defendant's, Mattress Direct of New Orleans, Inc. (previously incorrectly referenced in the (Complaint and the caption of this case as Mattress Direct, Inc.), Motion for Summary Judgment, which seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's claims. (Rec. Doc. 29). Plaintiff, Felix Maldonado, opposes the motion as to certain of the claims asserted in his Complaint (Rec. Docs. 31, 1) and Defendant has filed a Reply (Rec. Doc. 35). For the reasons that follow, IT IS ORDERED that the Motion is GRANTED.

II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Defendant is a retail business that employs a sales force to sell mattresses and related accessories in stores located in Louisiana and other states. (Rec. Doc. 29-6 at 3). Plaintiff was employed by Defendant during two separate periods in the capacities of both salesperson and store manager. (Rec. Doc. 29-6 at 3). Plaintiff was first hired by co-owners, Ty Hingle and Lee Burns, in March of 2010 as a sales associate. (Rec. Doc. 29-6 at 3). He resigned from that position in December of the same year. (Rec. Doc. 31 at 1). Thereafter, he was re-hired on the decision of Hingle, Burns, and Myra Guillot, Defendant's Vice President of Sales in August of 2011, a position he retained until his discharge on August 28, 2013. (See Rec. Doc. 32-2 at 3).

On May 19, 2013, during the course of his second term of employment with Defendant, Plaintiff filed a charge with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging, inter alia, that he had been subjected to disparate treatment on the basis of race/national origin (Plaintiff identifies as ethnically Hispanic and of Puerto Rican nationality) relating to an allegedly involuntary transfer between two of Defendant's stores in February 2013. (Rec. Doc. 1-1 at 1). This charge was the subject of a mediation proceeding arranged by the EEOC, in which both parties participated, and which culminated in Plaintiff's filing a "Request for Withdrawal of Charge of Discrimination" on July 8, 2013. (Rec. Doc. 1-2). That request was approved by the EEOC on July 12, 2013. Id.

Following mediation of the initial EEOC charge, on August 27, 2013, managerial employees of Defendant received a report from a customer that Plaintiff sold her a mattress cover for $50 cash without recording a cash register transaction or providing a customer receipt. (Rec. Doc. 29-6 at 4). Hingle (a co-owner and Vice President of Defendant) and Guillot (Defendant's Vice President of Sales) allegedly visited Defendant's Houma location the following day to discuss the incident with Plaintiff. (Rec. Doc. 29-6 at 5). Upon discovering that Plaintiff was not at the store, which had been left unattended, Hingle and Guillot resolved that Plaintiff was to be terminated. (Rec. Doc. 29-6 at 5). Upon Plaintiff's return, Hingle communicated the fact of his termination to him and provided him with a notice of termination, stating as grounds: theft, leaving the store unattended, and employee and customer complaints. (Rec. Doc. 29-6 at 5).

Following his termination, Plaintiff filed a second charge with the EEOC on August 29, 2013. (Rec. Doc. 1-3). In that charge, he alleged discrimination based on race, national origin, and religion, as well as retaliatory discharge relating to his initial EEOC filing. Id. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that, in May 2013, he requested but was denied permission to attend church services, even though other employees were allowed to take Sundays off for different reasons. Id. He further alleged that his discharge resulted from the customer complaint referenced supra but that he was never afforded an opportunity to explain the incident while other, non-Hispanic/Caucasian, employees had not been terminated for allegedly "more severe infractions." (Rec. Doc. 1-3). Finally, Plaintiff claimed his discharge was the result of retaliation for the filing of his first EEOC charge.[1] Id. The EEOC issued a "Dismissal and Notice of Rights" on September 27, 2013 (Rec. Doc. 1-4), clearing the way for the filing of the instant suit pursuant to the procedural prerequisites of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e, et seq ("Title VII").

III. CONTENTIONS OF MOVANT

Defendant argues summary judgment is appropriate because Plaintiff is unable to make out prima facie cases for either of his claims of discriminatory or retaliatory discharge. Further, Defendant argues that even if Plaintiff succeeds in establishing the prima facie elements of his claims, Defendant has presented legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for his discharge under the familiar McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework, and that the burden therefore reverted to Plaintiff to prove that such reasons were mere pretext (or, while true, were only part of the reason for the discharge - a motivating factor of which was unlawful discrimination). Because, Defendant argues, Plaintiff has failed to establish the pretextual nature of the reasons asserted for his termination, his claims must be dismissed.

IV. CONTENTIONS OF OPPONENTS

Plaintiff argues, apparently in complete reliance upon his own and Declarations by former employees Kirk Graham and Wayne Jonker, that triable issues remain as to whether non-Hispanic/Caucasian employees received favorable treatment as to disciplinary actions taken against them by Defendant's management personnel. Plaintiff further argues that the temporal proximity between the filing of his first EEOC charge and his ultimate discharge (a period of roughly three months) suffices for purposes of the causal element of an unlawful retaliation claim.

V. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, interrogatory answers, and admissions, together with any affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986). A genuine issue exists if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Although the Court must consider the evidence with all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the nonmovant must produce specific facts to demonstrate that a genuine issue exists for trial. Webb v. Cardiothoracic Surgery Assocs. of N. Texas, 139 F.3d 532, 536 (5th Cir. 1998). The moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The movant must point to "portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). If and when the movant carries this burden, the nonmovant must then go beyond the pleadings and use affidavits, depositions, interrogatory responses, admissions, or other evidence to establish a genuine issue. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). "[W]here the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant may merely point to an absence of evidence, thus shifting to the non-movant the burden of demonstrating by competent summary judgment proof that there is an issue of material fact warranting trial.... Only when there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party' is a full trial on the merits warranted." Lindsey v. ...


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