Goodman v. Performance Contractors, Inc., No. C17-4062-LTS

CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
Writing for the CourtLeonard T. Strand, Chief Judge
Citation363 F.Supp.3d 946
Parties David GOODMAN, Plaintiff, v. PERFORMANCE CONTRACTORS, INC., et al., Defendants.
Decision Date30 January 2019
Docket NumberNo. C17-4062-LTS

363 F.Supp.3d 946

David GOODMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
PERFORMANCE CONTRACTORS, INC., et al., Defendants.

No. C17-4062-LTS

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division.

Signed January 30, 2019


363 F.Supp.3d 953

Thomas James Bullock, Thomas Andrew Newkirk, Newkirk Zwagerman PLC, Des Moines, IA, Mark D. Sherinian, Sherinian & Hasso Law Firm, West Des Moines, IA, for Plaintiff.

Kendra Simmons, Fredrikson & Byron, Des Moines, IA, Pamela Abbate-Dattilo, Pro Hac Vice, Fredrikson & Byron PA, Minneapolis, MN, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Leonard T. Strand, Chief Judge

This case is before me on defendants' motion (Doc. No. 63) for summary judgment. Plaintiff David Goodman has filed a resistance (Doc. No. 68) and defendants have filed a reply (Doc. No. 78). I heard oral arguments on January 22, 2019. The motion is fully submitted and ready for decision. Trial is scheduled to begin March 4, 2019.

I. INTRODUCTION

On August 21, 2017, Goodman filed a petition (Doc. No. 2-2) in the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County against Performance Contractors, Inc. (PCI), Kelly Pabst and Derek Racca, in which he made allegations about events that occurred while he was employed at a PCI construction site in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa. This case was removed to this court on October 6, 2017, on the basis of diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. In his state court petition, Goodman asserted claims for (1) discrimination on the basis of race and retaliation in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, Iowa Code Chapter 216 (ICRA) and (2) defamation. Doc. No. 2-2. Goodman filed an amended complaint (Doc. No. 23) on January 23, 2018, in which he added a third count alleging discrimination on the basis of race and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.1 Id.

On February 2, 2018, Goodman dismissed Pabst as a defendant. Doc. No. 28. Thus, as currently situated, Count I asserts retaliation and discrimination claims, against PCI only, pursuant to the ICRA; Count II asserts defamation claims against PCI and Racca; and Count III asserts retaliation and discrimination claims, against PCI only, pursuant to Title VII.

II. RELEVANT FACTS

The following facts are undisputed, except where noted otherwise.

PCI is a private industrial construction contractor, headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. PCI engages in industrial construction throughout the United States in various industries including fertilizer, chemical and steel. PCI was hired by CF Industries to construct and expand a fertilizer plan in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa. The project began in 2013. Goodman began work as a rigger2 at the Sergeant Bluff

363 F.Supp.3d 954

site on September 21, 2015. In mid-October 2015, Goodman was assigned to work with crane operator Kelly Pabst. Derek Racca was another employee who knew Pabst and had worked with Goodman on one occasion.3

Goodman claims that from mid-October through mid-November 2015, Pabst made a racial comment to him or around him every other day, which included references to black people as thugs, repeating stereotypes and telling him a story in which someone else used the word "nigger." Pabst did not direct that word at Goodman and no one else at Performance referred to Goodman by that word. Goodman additionally claims that on November 10, 2015, he got coffee for Pabst and she said, "that's all you black people ever do is put a lot of cream in your coffee."4 In response, Goodman claims he told Pabst not to stereotype him. For the remainder of that day, Goodman avoided talking to Pabst about anything other than work.

On Wednesday, November 11, 2015, Pabst made a written report to Human Resources (HR) alleging that Goodman had made threats of violence against the workplace by threatening to "shoot up" the job site. Goodman asserts that he never made any threats.5 That same day Racca similarly told HR that Goodman had made threats of violence.6 In response to Pabst's and Racca's allegations, Goodman was escorted off the job site that day. Both Pabst and Racca state that they spoke to Leon Strickland, a general foreman at PCI, about Goodman's threats.7 Strickland testified that he does not recall any discussion of the alleged threats with Pabst or Racca.

On Thursday, November 12, 2015, Goodman returned to the job site to pick up his check and ask about his employment status. The parties dispute what Andrew Morel, the HR Manager, told Goodman at this meeting. Goodman argues that Morel did not tell Goodman about Pabst's and Racca's accusations, but the defendants contend that Morel informed Goodman about the accusations. Both parties agree that Goodman completed a written statement. In that statement, Goodman wrote that Pabst had made racially stereotyping comments "the day before yesterday" – presumably November 10—and that he objected to those comments.

On Friday, November 13, 2015, Morel contacted Corporate HR Manager Sarah Borne to ask how he should proceed. Borne instructed Morel to re-question Pabst and Racca in light of Goodman's statement. Morel called Goodman later that day and mentioned the allegations that Goodman had threatened to shoot up the job site. Goodman told Morel during that phone call that another employee named Silas Thompson had heard Pabst make racist statements. Morel never contacted Silas Thompson to discuss with him whether or not he had heard Pabst make racist statements. Goodman moved to Texas on either that same day or on Saturday, November 14, 2015.

On Monday November 16, 2015, Goodman went to PCI's office in Deer Park,

363 F.Supp.3d 955

Texas and completed a second written statement complaining that Pabst made false allegations against him because she thought he was going to report her to HR for her discriminatory comments. As of 11:06 a.m. on November 16, Morel had not made a final decision on whether or not to fire Goodman. Morel received Goodman's second complaint via email at 12:09 p.m. Morel sent an email at 2:01 p.m. indicating that he had decided to fire Goodman. Goodman's employment was officially terminated that day.

Additional facts will be discussed below, as necessary.

III. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS

Any party may move for summary judgment regarding all or any part of the claims asserted in a case. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

A material fact is one that " ‘might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.’ " Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Thus, "the substantive law will identify which facts are material." Id. Facts that are "critical" under the substantive law are material, while facts that are "irrelevant or unnecessary" are not. Id.

An issue of material fact is genuine if it has a real basis in the record, Hartnagel v. Norman , 953 F.2d 394, 395 (8th Cir. 1992) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) ), or when " ‘a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party’ on the question." Woods v. DaimlerChrysler Corp. , 409 F.3d 984, 990 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505 ). Evidence that only provides "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita , 475 U.S. at 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, or evidence that is "merely colorable" or "not significantly probative," Anderson , 477 U.S. at 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505, does not make an issue of material fact genuine.

As such, a genuine issue of material fact requires "sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute" so as to "require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248-49, 106 S.Ct. 2505. The party moving for entry of summary judgment bears "the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record which show a lack of a genuine issue." Hartnagel , 953 F.2d at 395 (citing Celotex , 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548 ). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and by depositions, affidavits, or otherwise, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Mosley v. City of Northwoods , 415 F.3d 908, 910 (8th Cir. 2005). The nonmovant must show an alleged issue of fact is genuine and material as it relates to the substantive law. If a party fails to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of a claim or defense with respect to which that party has the burden of proof, then the opposing party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex ,...

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3 practice notes
  • Garang v. Smithfield Farmland Corp., No. C18-4082-LTS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • February 12, 2020
    ...it is not the court's task to second guess whether this business decision was appropriate. Goodman v. Performance Contractors, Inc. , 363 F. Supp. 3d 946, 961–62 (N.D. Iowa 2019). Garang's argument that he did not actually violate Smithfield's company policy does not affect whether he has e......
  • Nunes v. Lizza, No. 19-CV-4064-CJW-MAR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • August 5, 2020
    ...there was no other evidence which should have caused defendant to doubt source's story); Goodman v. Performance Contractors, Inc. , 363 F. Supp. 3d 946, 970-71 (N.D. Iowa 2019) (finding triable issue on actual malice when record showed defendants coordinated their stories before making defa......
  • Chapter 7 Tr. Fredrich Cruse v. Bi-State Dev. Agency of the Mo.-Ill. Metro. Dist., 4:20-cv-366-MTS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
    • April 21, 2022
    ...See Qamhiyah v. Iowa State Univ. of Sci. & Tech., 566 F.3d 733, 742 (8th Cir. 2009); see also Goodman v. Performance Contractors, Inc., 363 F.Supp.3d 946, 958 (N.D. Iowa 2019) (collecting Eighth Circuit cases applying the cat's paw theory). This is especially important considering the evide......
3 cases
  • Garang v. Smithfield Farmland Corp., No. C18-4082-LTS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • February 12, 2020
    ...it is not the court's task to second guess whether this business decision was appropriate. Goodman v. Performance Contractors, Inc. , 363 F. Supp. 3d 946, 961–62 (N.D. Iowa 2019). Garang's argument that he did not actually violate Smithfield's company policy does not affect whether he has e......
  • Nunes v. Lizza, No. 19-CV-4064-CJW-MAR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • August 5, 2020
    ...there was no other evidence which should have caused defendant to doubt source's story); Goodman v. Performance Contractors, Inc. , 363 F. Supp. 3d 946, 970-71 (N.D. Iowa 2019) (finding triable issue on actual malice when record showed defendants coordinated their stories before making defa......
  • Chapter 7 Tr. Fredrich Cruse v. Bi-State Dev. Agency of the Mo.-Ill. Metro. Dist., 4:20-cv-366-MTS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
    • April 21, 2022
    ...See Qamhiyah v. Iowa State Univ. of Sci. & Tech., 566 F.3d 733, 742 (8th Cir. 2009); see also Goodman v. Performance Contractors, Inc., 363 F.Supp.3d 946, 958 (N.D. Iowa 2019) (collecting Eighth Circuit cases applying the cat's paw theory). This is especially important considering the evide......

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