Brown v. Farmland Foods, Inc., No. C00-4139-MWB.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
Writing for the CourtBennett
Citation178 F.Supp.2d 961
Docket NumberNo. C00-4139-MWB.
Decision Date28 December 2001
PartiesCarl BROWN, Plaintiff, v. FARMLAND FOODS, INC., Defendant.
178 F.Supp.2d 961
Carl BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
FARMLAND FOODS, INC., Defendant.
No. C00-4139-MWB.
United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division.
December 28, 2001.

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Dennis M. McElwain, Smith & McElwain, Sioux Cuity, IA, for plaintiff.

Eric W. Smith, Brent N. Coverday, Shook, Hardy & Bacon, L.L.P., Kansas City, MO, for defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

BENNETT, Chief Judge.


 TABLE OF CONTENTS
                 I. INTRODUCTION ......................................................965
                 A. Procedural Background .........................................965
                 B. Disputed And Undisputed Facts .................................966
                II. DISCUSSION ........................................................968
                 A. Standards For Summary Judgment ................................968
                 1. Requirements of Rule 56 ...................................968
                 2. The parties' burdens ......................................969
                 3. Summary judgment in employment discrimination cases .......969
                 B. Brown's Disability Claims .....................................971
                 1. Actual disability claim: 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A) .....972
                 2. Perceived disability claim: 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(C) ..974
                 3. Failure-to-accommodate claim ..............................978
                 C. Discharge In Violation Of Public Policy Claim .................978
                 1. Analytical framework ......................................979
                 2. Prong one: Protected activity .............................980
                 3. Prong two: Adverse employment action ......................980
                 4. Prong three: Causal connection ............................981
                 5. Farmland's stated legitimate reason for dismissing Brown ..984
                

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 6. Pretext ...................................................984
                 D. Supplemental Jurisdiction Of State-Law Claim ..................985
                III. CONCLUSION ........................................................986
                
I. INTRODUCTION

In this employment discrimination and discharge in violation of public policy case, the plaintiff, Carl Brown ("Brown"), contends that his discharge from Farmland Foods, Inc. ("Farmland") violated the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., the Iowa Civil Rights Act ("ICRA"), chapter 216 of the Iowa Code, and Iowa public policy. The plaintiff filed a charge with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission ("ICRC"), which was cross-filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), on January 5, 2000. He received his right-to-sue letter from the ICRC on July 24, 2000 and from the EEOC on July 31, 2000. This lawsuit was filed on October 20, 2000 and, therefore, is timely.

A. Procedural Background

The complaint contains four counts: (1) illegal discharge because of an actual disability and failure to accommodate in violation of the ADA; (2) illegal discharge because of a perceived disability; (3) illegal discharge and failure to accommodate in violation of Chapter 216 of the Iowa Code; and (4) illegal discharge in violation of Iowa public policy. In essence, therefore, the plaintiff avers four causes of action. First, he contends he was terminated because of an actual disability in violation of the ADA and the ICRA. Second, he argues the defendant's failure to accommodate his disability violated both the ADA and the ICRA. Third, he maintains that the defendant regarded him as disabled and illegally discharged him because of this perceived disability in violation of the ADA and the ICRA. And fourth, the plaintiff contends he was discharged in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim in violation of Iowa public policy.1

Subject matter jurisdiction over the federal claims is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question) and 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a) (referencing powers and remedies of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5, which, in turn, provides for original jurisdiction of claims under Title VII in the United States district courts). The court has jurisdiction over the state law claims alleging violations of the ICRA and public policy under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), which confers "supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to the claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution."

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On October 1, 2001, the defendant moved for summary judgment. The defendant argues it discharged the plaintiff for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason, i.e., for excessive absenteeism. After a lengthy extension was granted, the plaintiff resisted the defendant's motion. Although the plaintiff does not address whether he was actually disabled in his brief, his Resistance To Motion For Summary Judgment reveals that he is resisting the defendant's motion on the ground there exist genuine issues of material fact regarding (1) whether plaintiff had a qualifying disability; (2) whether the defendant perceived the plaintiff as having a disability; and (3) whether the defendant retaliated against the plaintiff for suffering a work-related injury and pursuing workers' compensation benefits. Neither party has addressed the plaintiff's failure to accommodate claims.2 This case is scheduled for a jury trial on March 11, 2002.

B. Disputed And Undisputed Facts

Although the court will not attempt an exhaustive discussion of the undisputed and disputed facts presented by the record in this case, some discussion of the factual background is required to contextualize Brown's claims and the parties' arguments for and against summary judgment. Those facts include a synopsis of the nature of Farmland's business, Brown's employment with Farmland, and the circumstances under which Brown was terminated from that employment.

The parties have conducted extensive and thorough discovery, and the undisputed facts are refreshingly well-documented. Farmland operates a pork slaughter and meat processing plant in Denison, Iowa. The plaintiff began working for Farmland as a production worker on the loading docks on July 2, 1999. Farmland's employee relations are governed by a labor contract, and new hires are subject to a forty-five working day probationary period before being offered regular employment. Probationary employees' attendance is monitored according to Farmland's attendance policy for all regular, full-time employees, which utilizes a points system. However, although points are assessed in the same manner for regular and probationary employees, Farmland contends it does not apply the points system to probationary employees. Instead, Farmland maintains that it informs new hires that attendance is critical and that a single absence during an employee's probationary period can lead to discharge. Farmland adamantly argues that its probationary attendance policy gives broad discretion to the employer, because it is intended to help Farmland evaluate whether the employee will be reliable if hired as a regular employee.

On July 14, 1999, after only a week and one-half on the job, Brown suffered a crush injury to his foot that required medical attention. This injury resulted when plaintiff's foot became stuck between a wall and a "mule," which is also known as a pallet jack or a forklift. The plaintiff sought medical attention from the company nurse, who referred the plaintiff to Dr. John Ingram. Dr. Ingram diagnosed the plaintiff as having a fractured foot. Dr. Ingram provided Brown with an air cast

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splint and instructed him to use crutches. Dr. Ingram also placed restrictions on Brown's working conditions, instructing him to perform sitting duty tasks. Farmland assigned Brown to work in the lab while his injury prevented him from his regular duties. In fact, Farmland complied with Brown's restrictions "100 percent." Defendant's App., Tab 1, at 23 (Brown Depo. pg. 122, 1. 6). Moreover, Brown filed for and received workers' compensation benefits for this injury.

On a follow-up visit on July 19, 1999, Dr. Ingram advised the plaintiff to continue with his sitting duty at work. Light duty restrictions continued until August 27, 1999, when Dr. Ingram advised that the plaintiff's work duties could be liberalized, and he established a schedule with increasing regular duty that would have resulted in total regular duty within approximately one month. However, when the plaintiff returned to work after his August 27 appointment with Dr. Ingram, Farmland advised Brown that he was being terminated because of excessive absenteeism. Brown contends that, at the time of his termination, the Human Resources Director, Denise Baldwin, showed obvious frustration at his continued restrictions.

Farmland and Brown do not dispute the days that Brown either arrived late at work or called in sick. Instead, their dispute centers on whether Farmland should have counted these absences against Brown and whether Farmland treated Brown harshly because of his injury. Brown argues that most of his absences were related to his injury and, pursuant to what Brown alleges to be Farmland's attendance policy, should not have been counted against him. He contends that the absences and Brown's tardy that were unrelated to his injury did not rise to the level of "excessive absenteeism" warranting termination. Consequently, Brown contends that Farmland's assertion that it discharged Brown because of his poor attendance is nothing more than a pretext for unlawful discrimination. Farmland counters this argument by referring to its purportedly strict attendance policy for probationary employees, which provides that "if [new hires] have an attendance problem during [their] probationary period, [their] employment will be terminated." Plaintiff's App. Tab 5, at 15.

The absences in question occurred on July 16, July 20, August 5, and August 26 of 1999. In addition, Brown was approximately three hours late for work on August 13, 1999....

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13 practice notes
  • Crock v. Sears, Roebuck & Co, No. 4:01-CV-40435.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
    • May 8, 2003
    ...(8th Cir.2001) (citing Kiel v. Select Artificials Inc., 169 F.3d 1131, 1135 (8th Cir.1999) (en banc)); Brown v. Farmland Foods, Inc., 178 F.Supp.2d 961, 971 (N.D.Iowa 2001). Summary judgment is appropriate if a plaintiff fails to establish any element of a prima facie case. Kellogg v. Union......
  • Johnson v. Dollar Gen., No. C 11-3038-MWB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • July 30, 2012
    ...conduct or the reasonable inferences to be drawn from the conduct, the jury must resolve the dispute.'" Brown v. Farmland Foods, Inc., 178 F. Supp. 2d 961, 981 (N.D. Iowa 2001) (citing Fitzgerald, 613 N.W.2d at 289) (in turn citing 2 Henry H. Perrit, Jr., Employee Dismissal Law and Practice......
  • Raymond v. U.S.A. Healthcare Center-Fort Dodge, No. C 05-3074-MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • December 22, 2006
    ...policy. Id. (citing Wallace v. Sparks Health Sys., 415 F.3d 853, 860 (8th Cir.2005)); see also Brown v. Farmland Foods, Inc., 178 F.Supp.2d 961, 985 (N.D.Iowa 2001) (concluding that failure to apply the policy on which the employer relied to employees who did not file workers' compensation ......
  • Beekman v. Nestle Purina Petcare Co., No. C07-3079-MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • June 25, 2009
    ...conduct or the reasonable inferences to be drawn from the conduct, the jury must resolve the dispute.'" Brown v. Farmland Foods, Inc., 178 F.Supp.2d 961, 981 (N.D.Iowa 2001) (citing Fitzgerald, 613 N.W.2d at 289) (in turn citing 2 Henry H. Perrit, Jr., Employee Dismissal Law and Practice § ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
13 cases
  • Crock v. Sears, Roebuck & Co, No. 4:01-CV-40435.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
    • May 8, 2003
    ...(8th Cir.2001) (citing Kiel v. Select Artificials Inc., 169 F.3d 1131, 1135 (8th Cir.1999) (en banc)); Brown v. Farmland Foods, Inc., 178 F.Supp.2d 961, 971 (N.D.Iowa 2001). Summary judgment is appropriate if a plaintiff fails to establish any element of a prima facie case. Kellogg v. Union......
  • Raymond v. U.S.A. Healthcare Center-Fort Dodge, No. C 05-3074-MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • December 22, 2006
    ...policy. Id. (citing Wallace v. Sparks Health Sys., 415 F.3d 853, 860 (8th Cir.2005)); see also Brown v. Farmland Foods, Inc., 178 F.Supp.2d 961, 985 (N.D.Iowa 2001) (concluding that failure to apply the policy on which the employer relied to employees who did not file workers' compensation ......
  • Johnson v. Dollar Gen., No. C 11–3038–MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • July 30, 2012
    ...conduct or the reasonable inferences to be drawn from the conduct, the jury must resolve the dispute.’ ” Brown v. Farmland Foods, Inc., 178 F.Supp.2d 961, 981 (N.D.Iowa 2001) (citing Fitzgerald, 613 N.W.2d at 289) (in turn citing 2 Henry H. Perrit, Jr., Employee Dismissal Law and Practice §......
  • Gaston v. The Restaurant Co., No. C02-3015-MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • May 5, 2003
    ...29, 2002); Kallich v. North Iowa Anesthesia Assocs., P.C., 179 F.Supp.2d 1043, 1049-51 (N.D.Iowa 2002); Brown v. Farmland Foods, Inc., 178 F.Supp.2d 961, 979-80 (N.D.Iowa 2001); Kish v. Iowa Cent. Cmty. Coll., 142 F.Supp.2d 1084,1092 n. 3 (N.D.Iowa 2001); Mercer v. City of Cedar Rapids, 104......
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