Horn v. Airway Servs., Inc.

Decision Date27 January 2020
Docket NumberNo. 18-CV-3053 CJW-MAR,18-CV-3053 CJW-MAR
PartiesJACOB HORN, Plaintiff, v. AIRWAY SERVICES, INC., and SIEMENS GAMESA RENEWABLE ENERGY, INC. f/k/a SIEMENS WIND POWER, INC., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD ............................................... 1
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY ............................................................... 4
III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND ............................................................. 4
IV. APPLICABLE LAW ...................................................................... 14
V. ANALYSIS .................................................................................. 16
A. Wrongful Termination - Jury Service .......................................... 16
1. Iowa Code Section 607A.45 ............................................. 16
2. Causation .................................................................... 19
B. Wrongful Termination - Safety Complaints ................................... 20
1. SGRE ........................................................................ 20
a. Adverse Employment Action .................................... 20
b. Relevant Decision-Makers ....................................... 22
c. Causation ........................................................... 24
i. Temporal Proximity ...................................... 25
ii. Similarly Situated Individuals ........................... 26
iii. Antagonism toward Protected Activity ................ 29
iv. Presence of Intervening Events ......................... 34
d. Legitimate Business Reason/Pretext ............................ 39
2. Airway ....................................................................... 43
a. Direct Causation ................................................... 43
b. Indirect Liability ................................................... 45
i. Joint Liability .............................................. 46
ii. Vicarious Liability ........................................ 47
C. Punitive Damages .................................................................. 49
VI. CONCLUSION ............................................................................. 50

This matter is before the Court on defendants' motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 30 & 31). On October 2, 2019, defendants Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, Inc. ("SGRE") (Doc. 30), and Airway Services, Inc. ("Airway") (Doc. 31) both moved for summary judgment. Plaintiff moved for additional time to respond to defendants' motions, and the Court granted plaintiff's request in part. (Docs. 38 & 40). Plaintiff filed timely responses to defendants' motions for summary judgment, responses to defendants' statements of undisputed material facts, plaintiff's own statement of additional facts, and an appendix. (Docs. 41-44). Defendants filed timely responses to plaintiff's statement of additional facts and replies to plaintiff's resistances. (Docs. 51, 52, 54). On December 12, 2019, the Court held oral argument on defendants' motions for summary judgment. (Doc. 56). The Court now considers this matter fully submitted. For the following reasons, defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted.

I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when "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). When asserting that a fact is undisputed or is genuinely disputed, a party must support the assertion by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Id. at 56(c)(1)(A); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Alternatively, a party may "show[ ] that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(1)(B).

A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law . . .." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "An issue of material fact is genuine if it has a real basis in the record," Hartnagel v. Norman, 953F.2d 394, 395 (8th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted), or "when a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party on the question," Wood v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 409 F.3d 984, 990 (8th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Evidence that presents only "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), or evidence that is "merely colorable" or "not significantly probative," Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50, does not make an issue of fact genuine. A mere scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's claims is not enough to avoid summary judgment. Rohr v. Reliance Bank, 826 F.3d 1046, 1052 (8th Cir. 2016) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252). In sum, a genuine issue of material fact requires "sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute" such that it "require[s] a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." Id. at 249 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

The party moving for summary judgment bears "the initial responsibility of informing the district 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 (citation omitted). "The movant is not required by the rules to support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim." Id. (citation omitted). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and by depositions, affidavits, or other evidence designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Mosley v. City of Northwoods, 415 F.3d 908, 910 (8th Cir. 2005).

In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, courts must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, giving that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the facts. Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 651 (2014); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587-88 (citation omitted); see also Reed v. City of St. Charles, 561 F.3d 788, 790 (8th Cir. 2009) (stating that in ruling ona motion for summary judgment, a court must view the facts "in a light most favorable to the non-moving party—as long as those facts are not so 'blatantly contradicted by the record . . . that no reasonable jury could believe' them" (alteration in original) (quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007)). Although the Court must draw all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, the Court cannot rely on "mere speculation, conjecture, or fantasy" to deny a motion for summary judgment. Moody v. St. Charles Cty., 23 F.3d 1410, 1412 (8th Cir. 1994) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A court does "not weigh the evidence or attempt to determine the credibility of the witnesses." Kammueller v. Loomis, Fargo & Co., 383 F.3d 779, 784 (8th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). "Rather, the court's function is to determine whether a dispute about a material fact is genuine . . .." Quick v. Donaldson Co., 90 F.3d 1372, 1376-77 (8th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted).

In determining the presence or absence of a genuine factual dispute, a party may object that the material cited "cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(2). "Hearsay evidence cannot be used to defeat a summary judgment motion." Edmonds v. Minneapolis Pub. Sch. Special Sch. Dist. 1, 368 F. Supp. 3d 1329, 1338 (D. Minn. 2018) (citing Brooks v. Tri-Sys., Inc., 425 F.3d 1109, 1111 (8th Cir. 2005)). "When an objection is made to evidence relied on at summary judgment, 'the burden is on the proponent of the evidence to show that the material is admissible as presented or to explain the admissible form that is anticipated.'" Progressive Cas. Ins. Co. v. F.D.I.C., 80 F. Supp. 3d 923, 934 (N.D. Iowa 2015) (quoting Gannon Int'l, Ltd. v. Blocker, 684 F.3d 785, 793 (8th Cir. 2012)). The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has found statements inadmissible at the summary judgment stage when the party relying on the statements provides only secondhand testimony instead of the deposition or affidavit of the declarant. Smith v. Kilgore, 926 F.3d 479, 485 (8th Cir. 2019). After resolving any evidentiary issues, if "the record taken as awhole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288 (1968)).

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On July 19, 2018, plaintiff filed suit against defendants in the Iowa District Court for Webster County. (Doc. 4). Plaintiff alleges one count of wrongful termination,1 and a second count for punitive damages. Plaintiff asserts that his termination was wrongful because it was in retaliation for plaintiff reporting safety complaints to defendants and/or in retaliation for plaintiff serving jury duty in February 2017. SGRE removed the case to this Court on grounds that the Court has diversity jurisdiction under Title 28, United States Code, Section 1332. (Doc. 1). Airway consented to the removal. (Doc. 16). Defendants filed the instant motions for summary judgment, which plaintiff resists.

III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The following background facts are undisputed unless otherwise indicated. The Court will discuss additional facts below as they become relevant to the Court's analysis.

SGRE manufactures wind turbines and provides on-site maintenance and repair for its customers. One of SGRE's customers is MidAmerican...

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