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Walker v. Aldi Food Market Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

December 27, 2018

ALDI FOOD MARKET INC., et al., Defendants.



         Defendant Aldi Food Market Inc. moves for summary judgment on the Plaintiff's only remaining claim. For the following reasons, that motion (Doc. 26) is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Tracy Walker started working at Aldi as a store associate on April 15, 2016. Doc. 28-5 at 34:7-23. Aldi hired her to work at a new store in Milledgeville, which was set to open in May 2016. Id. She trained at Aldi's location in Covington, Georgia, under Deb Shupe. Id. After ten days she was promoted to shift manager by Shupe and Synticee Denmark, a regional manager.[1] Id. at 34:24-35:1, 36:1-37:4; Doc. 26-5 ¶¶ 3-4. A shift manager would typically continue to work some shifts as a store associate, while working some shifts as a shift manager. Doc. 28-5 at 41:19-43:12. For instance, a shift manager would work a store associate shift (meaning a shift with store associate duties and pay) if a store manager was scheduled to work at the same time. Id. at 41:19- 43:12, 79:21-80:1. If two shift managers were scheduled, one would work as a store associate instead. Id. at 43:3-12. When working a shift as a manager, a shift manager would often be responsible for opening or closing the store. Id. at 41:7-18.

         On May 2, 2016, the Plaintiff was transferred to a new store in Milledgeville. Id. at 43:13-44:3. Shupe was also transferred to the Milledgeville store for its opening. Id. Shupe testified that shift managers on closing shifts were expected to complete work and clock out by 8:30 p.m., due to low sales, even though they were scheduled to work until 9:00 p.m. Doc. 26-5 ¶¶ 16-17, 19. Shupe says that she communicated this expectation to the Plaintiff during June and early July of 2016. Id. However, on several occasions, the Plaintiff clocked out after 8:30. Doc. 26-4 at 52. Because she was scheduled until 9:00 p.m., the Plaintiff testified that she now believes the expectation was to work until 9:00 p.m., but that she cannot remember whether Shupe or anyone else told her to leave at a certain time. Doc. 28-5 at 55:11-59:6. She testified that she does remember conversations with Shupe about being out of the store by 8:30 p.m., but does not remember when those conversations took place. Id. at 64:11-24.

         The Plaintiff, Shupe, and other employees had a meeting on July 26, 2016, and Shupe claims she reiterated her expectation that employees close out by 9:00 p.m. Id. at 63:18-64:16; Doc. 26-5 ¶¶ 23-24. According to Aldi's time records, the Plaintiff clocked out at 9:06 p.m. that night. Doc. 26-4 at 52.[2] The Defendant has adduced evidence that at a meeting on July 28, 2016, the Plaintiff was told she would receive one-on-one training with Shupe to observe Shupe performing her closing duties, during which time she would be assigned store associate shifts. Docs. 26-5 ¶¶ 26-29. The Plaintiff acknowledged there was a conversation about being retrained but disputed that it was at the July 28 meeting. Doc. 28-5 at 66:4-67:15. The Defendant says the Plaintiff was told that she would get more management shifts once she was able to clock out on time. Doc. 26-5 ¶ 28; see Doc. 28-5 at 66:4-67:15. The Plaintiff was allowed to keep her shift manager shirt and keys. Docs. 26-5 ¶ 34; 28-5 at 70:23-71:11. The Plaintiff, however, testified that Shelby Ward-Fitzgerald, the regional manager who replaced Denmark, told her she was being demoted. Doc. 28-5 at 65:21-23, 71:22-76:1.

         In late July, the Plaintiff requested a transfer to a different store. Docs. 26-6 ¶ 17; 28-5 at 131:3-132:24. That transfer was granted and was effective on August 15, 2016. Id.; Doc. 28-5 at 135:16-136:5. After the transfer, the Plaintiff continued to work until November 2016, when she was terminated for missing work. Doc. 28-5 at 172:19-178:17.[3]

         The Plaintiff brought this lawsuit pro se against Defendant Aldi Food Market, claiming her alleged demotion in July 2016 was the result of discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. See generally Docs. 3; 6; 8. After screening and the Court's dismissal of two individual defendants, only the Plaintiff's racial discrimination claim against Aldi remains. Docs. 9 at 2; 21 at 1-2. The Defendant now moves for summary judgment on that claim. Doc. 26.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         A court shall grant summary judgment “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). In determining whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (citation omitted). A material fact is any fact relevant or necessary to the outcome of the suit. Id. at 248. And a factual dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non[-]moving party.” Id. (citation omitted). Accordingly, “the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the non-moving party.” Johnson v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Ga., 263 F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir. 2001) (citation and punctuation marks omitted).

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden to show that there is no issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may make this showing by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, ” or by showing that the non-movant cannot produce admissible evidence to support the issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). If the movant meets this burden, the non-moving party must produce evidence showing that an issue of material fact does exist. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324. To do so, the non-moving party must “go beyond the pleadings” and identify “specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.” Id.; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2)-(3). However, “[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (citation omitted).

         Upon receipt of the Defendant's motion for summary judgment, the Court notified the Plaintiff that Local Rule 56 requires a party opposing summary judgment to file a concise statement of material facts responding to the numbered paragraphs of the moving party's statement. Doc. 27. The Plaintiff's response fails to comply with Local Rule 56. See Docs. 28; 28-1; 28-2; 28-3; 28-4; 28-10; 28-11. However, as required, the Court has still “review[ed] the movant's citations to the record to determine if there is, indeed, no genuine issue of material fact.” Reese v. Herbert, 527 F.3d 1253, 1269 (11th Cir. 2008) (citation and quotation marks omitted). And despite the deficiencies in the Plaintiff's response, because the Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, and because summary judgment would lead to dismissal of her claims with prejudice, the Court has fully considered her claims for relief regardless of these failings and insufficiencies in her response. See United States v. 5800 SW 74th Ave., 363 F.3d 1099, 1101 (11th Cir. 2004) (“[T]he district court cannot base the entry of summary judgment on the mere fact that the motion was unopposed [or improperly opposed], but, rather, must consider the merits of the motion.” (citation omitted)). Therefore, if evidence in the record shows that a fact is disputed, the Court draws all justifiable inferences in the Plaintiff's favor for purposes of summary judgment.


         A. McDonnell Douglas

         A Title VII plaintiff may prove her case circumstantially when there is no direct evidence of discrimination. The framework for analyzing circumstantial evidence to establish discrimination is found in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Pursuant to McDonnell Douglas, a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. If a plaintiff establishes that prima facie case, the burden of production, but not the burden of persuasion, shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employment action. Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254-55 (1981). This burden of production means the employer “need not persuade the court that it was actually motivated by the proffered reasons” but must produce evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of fact as to whether it discriminated against the plaintiff. Kragor v. Takeda Pharm. Am., Inc., 702 F.3d 1304, 1308 (11th Cir. 2012) (emphasis added) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         A plaintiff then has the opportunity to show that the employer's stated reason is a pretext for discrimination. This may be done “either directly by persuading the court that a discriminatory reason more likely motivated the employer or indirectly by showing that the employer's proffered explanation is unworthy of credence.” Burdine, 450 U.S. at 256. “If a plaintiff produces sufficient evidence that the employer's proffered reason is merely pretextual, that evidence may sometimes be enough to preclude summary judgment in favor of the employer.” Kragor, 702 F.3d at 1309.

         In the case of termination or demotion based on race, the McDonnell Douglas framework requires proof of four ...

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