238 F.3d 674 (5th Cir. 2001), 99-50742, Medina v Ramsey Steel Co.

Docket Nº:99-50742, 99-51171
Citation:238 F.3d 674
Party Name:ARTURO P. MEDINA, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. RAMSEY STEEL COMPANY, INC. AND DOUG RAMSEY, JR., Defendants-Appellees, ARTURO P. MEDINA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. RAMSEY STEEL COMPANY, INC. AND DOUG RAMSEY, JR., Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:January 29, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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238 F.3d 674 (5th Cir. 2001)

ARTURO P. MEDINA, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

RAMSEY STEEL COMPANY, INC. AND DOUG RAMSEY, JR., Defendants-Appellees,

ARTURO P. MEDINA, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

RAMSEY STEEL COMPANY, INC. AND DOUG RAMSEY, JR., Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 99-50742, 99-51171

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

January 29, 2001

REVISED, JANUARY 31, 2001

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Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Before REYNALDO G. GARZA, STEWART, and DENNIS, Circuit Judges.

REYNALDO G. GARZA, Circuit Judge:

Arturo P. Medina brought suit against his employer Ramsey Steel Company, Inc. ("Ramsey Steel") and Doug Ramsey, an employee of the corporation, alleging that they refused to promote him because of his age and terminated him in retaliation for complaining of age discrimination. Medina began working for Ramsey Steel in 1968 when he was thirty-two years of age. Six years later, he left Ramsey Steel in search of other career opportunities which included a job selling real estate for a Century 21 franchise. In 1978, Medina returned to Ramsey Steel and worked as a detailer just as he had prior to leaving the company. A detailer prepares shop drawings for the steel components that Ramsey Steel sells to its customers.

Although Medina worked as a detailer for the balance of his employ at Ramsey Steel, from 1978 to 1994, he sought promotions on three occasions. A few years after his return to Ramsey Steel, Medina expressed interest in an outside sales position. Although Ramsey Steel never officially stated that the position was open, Ramsey Steel awarded the job to Joe Menchey, a man twenty-five years Medina's junior. Sometime in 1989 or 1990, Menchey resigned and Medina again expressed interest in the outside sales position. According to Medina, Ramsey Steel's president,

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Greg Ramsey, told him that he did not have the right "ingredients" for the job. After offering the job to an employee who declined it, the position remained open for several years until Ramsey Steel hired Fred Chavarria, a man twenty-five years Medina's junior.

During the time that the outside sales position was vacant, Ismael Legarreta, an Assistant Vice-President at Ramsey Steel, held a meeting to discuss the newly created lead detailer position. Medina claims that during this meeting the issue of productivity arose and that Lupe de la Cruz believed that the solution was to "get rid of all the old people." De la Cruz received no reprimand for this comment and, in fact, was promoted to the new lead detailer position. Ramsey Steel claims that Medina never applied for the lead detailer position but Medina says that Legarreta told him and other detailers that they would all be considered for the position.

After he was passed over for the lead detailer position, Medina began complaining about age discrimination to his fellow workers. Medina contends that prior to these complaints, his personnel record contained only one complaint about his work. After he complained, Medina's supervisors entered at least eight complaints in his personnel file, and, on November 22, 1993, Doug Ramsey placed him on probation for ninety days.

On December 3, 1993, Medina mailed a charge to the Texas Commission on Human Rights ("TCHR") alleging age discrimination. Medina amended this charge on December 7, 1993. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") received notice of the charge on December 20, 1993. According to Medina, in February of 1994, he attended a meeting at which Ismael Legarreta told Medina about Ramsey Steel's chain of command and then said, "I don't care if you have been with the company five years or fifty years. And I don't care if you sue me or take me to court. It's going to be hard for you to collect." Doug Ramsey, one of Medina's supervisors, terminated him and memorialized the decision in a memorandum dated March 10, 1994.

On November 29, 1994, Medina filed his Original Petition in state court alleging discriminatory non-promotion and retaliatory discharge under Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code. Ramsey Steel and Doug Ramsey removed the action to federal court claiming that it was preempted by the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). The federal court remanded the case to the state court on February 2, 1995.

After an initial trial setting and the granting of two continuances, the case sat idle for thirty-three months until it was transferred to another judge who set it for trial on May 10, 1999. In May of 1999, Medina amended his petition to assert a claim for back pay and liquidated damages. After this amendment, Ramsey Steel and Doug Ramsey removed the case to federal court which immediately scheduled the case for trial on July 26, 1999. Medina moved to remand the action back to state court and the federal district court denied the motion. On July 27, 1999, the district court granted Ramsey Steel's and Doug Ramsey's motion for summary judgment on all of Medina's claims.

The district court held that Medina failed to raise a fact issue on whether he was qualified for the outside salesman position. As to the lead detailer position, the district court held that Medina failed to carry his ultimate burden of demonstrating that the failure to promote was based on Medina's age. In granting summary judgment on Medina's retaliation claim, the district court held that Medina had failed to establish that his complaints of age discrimination were the cause of his termination. Medina also appeals the district court's denial of his motion to remand to state court. Ramsey Steel appeals the district court's denial of its motion for attorney's fees. Because they relate to the

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same set of facts, we consolidated the appeals.

I.

The district court denied Medina's motion to remand this case to state court. Medina argues that remand was appropriate because his original pleadings alleged discrimination and retaliation under Texas law only. However, Medina seeks unlimited back pay and liquidated damages. We review de novo the denial of a motion to remand. See Carpenter v. Wichita Falls Indep. Sch. Dist., 44 F.3d 362, 365(5th Cir. 1995).

The plaintiff is "the master of her complaint," and, as such, "[a] determination that a cause of action presents a federal question depends upon the allegations of the plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint." Id. at 366. When a plaintiff has a choice between federal and state law claims, she may proceed in state court "on the exclusive basis of state law, thus defeating the defendant's opportunity to remove." Id. (emphasis added). Thus, to support removal, the defendant must show that a federal right is an essential element of the plaintiff's cause of action. See id.

Medina's amended pleadings seek back pay and liquidated damages as provided under the ADEA. See 29 U.S.C. § 626(b). Texas law caps lost earnings at two years and does not provide for the award of liquidated damages. Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 21.258(c)(Vernon 1996). From the face of Medina's well-pleaded complaint, it is clear that Medina is not proceeding on the exclusive basis of state law. Instead, the damages he seeks are authorized only by federal law. See id.; 29 U.S.C. § 626(b). Therefore, the district court's denial of Medina's motion to remand was appropriate.

II.

Medina's age discrimination claims are based on the fact that he was passed over for promotion on three separate occasions. The district court granted summary judgment against Medina on these claims. We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. See Bodenheimer v. PPG Indus., Inc., 5 F.3d 955, 956(5th Cir. 1993). As to Medina's age discrimination claims, we reverse.

A.

Two of Medina's three age discrimination claims are based on Ramsey Steel twice passing him over for promotion to outside salesperson. The district court granted summary judgment against Medina on the ground that he failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether he was qualified for the position in that he did not demonstrate how he met Ramsey Steel's "substantial sales experience" requirement.

We analyze employment discrimination claims under a three-step, burden-shifting framework.1 See Lindsey v. Prive Corp., 987 F.2d 324, 326(5th Cir. 1993). First, the employee must raise a genuine issue of material fact as to each element of his prima facie case. See id. Then, the employer must articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its employment decision. See id. Finally, the employee must raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the employer's proffered reason was merely a pretext for age discrimination. See id.

The first issue for our discussion is whether Medina has raised a genuine issue of material fact as to each element of his prima facie case. In an age discrimination, failure to promote case, the employee must demonstrate that 1) he belongs to the protected class, 2) he applied to and was qualified for a position for which applicants

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were being sought, 3) he was rejected, and 4) another applicant not belonging to the protected class was hired. See id. at 326-27.

It is undisputed that Medina is within the protected class, that he sought promotion to the job, that Ramsey Steel rejected him, and that individuals not within the protected class filled the outside sales position both times it came open. The focus of Ramsey Steel's attack on Medina's prima facie case, and the basis for the district court's...

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