Coleman v. Swift & Co., 4-98-30014.

Decision Date20 May 1999
Docket NumberNo. 4-98-30014.,4-98-30014.
Citation88 F.Supp.2d 966
PartiesByron Lee COLEMAN, Plaintiffs, v. SWIFT & COMPANY, f/k/a Monfort, Sipco Inc., Swift Independent Packing Co., Con-Agra, Inc., d/b/a Swift and Company, Monfort Pork, Monfort, and Swift and Company, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Iowa

Philip F. Miller, West Des Moines, IA, for Byron L. Coleman, plaintiff.

F. Richard Lyford, John K. Vernon, Dickinson Mackaman Tyler & Hagen, Des Moines, IA, for Swift & Company, defendant.

Russell L. Samson, Dickinson Mackaman Tyler & Hagen, Des Moines, IA, for Con-Agra, defendant.

RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND PLAINTIFF'S CROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

WALTERS, Chief United States Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on defendants' motion for summary judgment and plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff originally brought this lawsuit in the Iowa District Court in and for Marshall County, on October 16, 1997, in two counts against Swift & Company and Con-Agra, Inc., their related corporate entities and individual defendants. Plaintiff alleged wrongful discharge and fraudulent misrepresentation in connection with his termination from employment. On December 17, 1997, an Order dismissing the individual defendants was entered by the Iowa district court. On January 9, 1998, the remaining defendants Swift & Company ("Swift") and Con-Agra, Inc. ("Con-Agra") removed this lawsuit to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) as the plaintiff and remaining defendants were now diverse, giving the Court original jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge and the case was assigned to the undersigned on April 2, 1998. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

I.

The standards for summary judgment are well known and the Court will not dwell on them at length. Defendants are entitled to summary judgment if the affidavits, pleadings, and discovery materials "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that [defendant] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "Although we view the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party cannot simply create a factual dispute; rather, there must be a genuine dispute over those facts that could actually affect the outcome of the lawsuit." Carter v. St. Louis University, 167 F.3d 398, 401 (8th Cir. Feb.1, 1999).

Though this is not an employment discrimination case, like such cases it involves the employer's motivation for taking an alleged adverse employment action. The Eighth Circuit has cautioned that summary judgment may not be suitable in employment cases because the proof "often depend[s] on inferences rather than on direct evidence." Crawford v. Runyon, 37 F.3d 1338, 1341 (8th Cir.1994) (citing Johnson v. Minnesota Historical Soc'y, 931 F.2d 1239, 1244 (8th Cir.1991)). See also Webb v. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 51 F.3d 147, 148 (8th Cir.1995); Hardin v. Hussmann Corp., 45 F.3d 262, 264 (8th Cir.1995); Kunzman v. Enron Corp., 902 F.Supp. 882, 892 (N.D.Iowa 1995). Still, even in employment cases summary judgment "remains a useful tool to determine whether or not any case ... merits trial." Berg v. Norand Corp., 169 F.3d 1140, 1144 (8th Cir.1999). See Nesser v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 160 F.3d 442, 445 (8th Cir. 1998) ("summary judgment is proper if a plaintiff fails to establish any element of his or her prima facie case"); Snow v. Ridgeview Medical Ctr., 128 F.3d 1201, 1205 (8th Cir.1997) ("summary judgment is proper when a plaintiff fails to establish a factual dispute on an essential element of her case").

Defendants' motion challenges plaintiff's fraud claim as failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and further alleges that there is no evidence to support the wrongful discharge claim. In his cross-motion plaintiff claims the undisputed facts show defendants committed fraudulent misrepresentation and wrongfully discharged him from employment. Plaintiff did not specifically dispute the facts set forth in defendants' statement of undisputed facts, but submitted his own statement of undisputed facts.

II.

Byron Coleman was first employed at the pork plant in Marshalltown, Iowa, now owned by Swift & Company, starting in 1984.1 He held various jobs, working his way up through the ranks to a supervisory position in 1991. (Coleman Depo. at 13 and 20). During the period of time he worked at the plant, he made several workers' compensation claims for which first reports of injury were prepared. (Exs. B, C, D, E, F, and G).

In 1993 Coleman was promoted to Operations Manager of MSP, an affiliated organization also operating in the same physical facility. (Coleman Depo. at 27). On July 28, 1994, a fellow employee became concerned when Coleman was unable to communicate and started shaking. (Id. at 35-58). The employee summoned the plant nurse, Anna Welton. She found Coleman with his hands in his pockets, repeating that he could not take it any more, was unable to make decisions, and had to get away from his job. (Coleman Doc. at 0163; Coleman Depo. at 35-36). Welton summoned Coleman's wife and made arrangements for him to see his family doctor, Dr. Axel Lund in Marshalltown. (Coleman Doc at 0163; Coleman Depo. at 38). Coleman was off work for two weeks. During that time he saw a psychologist in Newton, Dr. Stern, and medication was prescribed. Following the two-week absence, Coleman returned to work. (Coleman Depo. at 39-42). No first report of injury or workers' compensation claim was filed for this 1994 incident. Coleman had no health care limitations or restrictions upon his return. (Id. at 43-46). At his request, Coleman was reassigned to another position, that of "fill-in supervisor" on the night shift. (Id. at 41-42). After a few months Coleman wanted to transfer to days and applied for an open position as "cut floor supervisor". (Id. at 47-48). He was given that job, where his immediate supervisor was day shift General Foreman Dave Feeback. (Id. at 47, ll. 3-4). Feeback's immediate supervisor was day shift Operations Manager Vern Cosselman. (Id. at 48). Coleman worked in that position without incident from 1994 until March 26, 1997.

On Wednesday, March 26, 1997, Coleman reported to the Health Services Department at the plant and talked to nurse Welton. He was in tears and shaking. He told Welton his father was in the hospital, but he was afraid to take time off to spend with him because he might lose his job. (Coleman Doc. at 0165). He also told her he was "losing it again," couldn't "take it anymore," and felt harassed by his superiors. (Id.) He blamed Cosselman and Feeback for his problems. (Id.) Welton suggested he talk to plant manager Mike Weber about taking time off if he did not feel comfortable talking with Cosselman or Feeback. (Id.)

Welton summoned Feeback to her office. In her presence Coleman told Feeback he needed to see a doctor and was having trouble dealing with things. (Id.) Feeback responded to the effect that "we all have problems" and "life goes on." (Id.)

Welton immediately made arrangements for Coleman to see Dr. Lund that day. Dr. Lund examined Coleman, suggested he take the remainder of the week off, prescribed some medication and suggested some counseling as an option. (Coleman Depo. at 119). Coleman did not obtain counseling at that time, or obtain the medication, and returned to work later that same morning. (Coleman Depo. at 122-23; Coleman Doc. at 0165-166). Nurse Welton noted he was back at work that day and asked him why he had returned. Coleman responded he was afraid of losing his job. (Coleman Doc. at 0166).

Coleman returned to work on Thursday, March 27 and worked every scheduled work day through April 3, 1997, without further incident. (Coleman Depo. at 128-132). No first report of injury was filed at the time with respect to the March 26 episode. There is no evidence in the summary judgment record that Coleman said anything to Welton or others about a workers' compensation claim.

On Wednesday, April 2, 1997, Coleman's father suffered a heart attack while he was in the hospital being treated for cancer. Coleman learned of the heart attack sometime the evening of April 2. (Id. at 122, 136). Coleman worked his normal shift the next day and did not during that shift request time off. (Id. at 136-37). During the evening hours of April 3, Coleman called Cosselman at home. (Id. at 134, 145). Coleman told Cosselman he would not be able to report for work on Friday April 4 as the family was meeting at the hospital. (Id. at 145). The purpose of the meeting was "just to be there and to be together as a family." (Id. at 146).

According to Coleman, Cosselman responded to the effect that "everyone loses their parents and you have a job to consider." (Id. at 147). Coleman says he was taken aback at this harshness and asked, "what do you have to do, quit to get a day off when your Dad's dying?" to which Cosselman replied, "you have to do what you have to do." (Id.). Apparently, Cosselman gave Human Resources Manager Tony Harris a written statement about the conversation on April 7 which supports Coleman's recollection of the conversation in material respects. (Harris Depo. at 16).

Coleman testified in his deposition that he told Cosselman he was changing his vacation plans to take the following week off. Cosselman made no response. (Coleman Depo. at 148).

Coleman testified that on March 26 he went to see Plant Manager Weber, presumably as Welton had recommended. He told Weber he was having trouble coping and asked to be moved to a different area of the plant. (Coleman Depo. at 132). Weber said would see what he could do. (Id.) Subsequently, sometime before April 4, Coleman says he went to see Weber about moving his vacation to the following week. Coleman...

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  • Napreljac v. John Q. Hammons Hotels, Inc.
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