Kirt v. Fashion Bug #3253, Inc., C 05-4142-MWB.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
Citation479 F.Supp.2d 938
Docket NumberNo. C 05-4142-MWB.,C 05-4142-MWB.
PartiesKaren M. KIRT, Plaintiff, v. FASHION BUG # 3253, INC., an Iowa corporation, Defendant.
Decision Date28 March 2007

Colby Merlound Lessmann, Jay Elliott Denne, Stanley E. Munger, Munger, Reinschmidt & Denne, Sioux City, IA, for Plaintiff.

Margaret M. Prahl, Sioux City, IA, for Defendant.

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

BENNETT, District Judge.

                TABLE OF CONTENTS
                I.  INTRODUCTION.........................................................942
                      A.  Factual Background...............................................942
                      B.  Procedural Background......................................943
                 II.  LEGAL ANALYSIS.................................................944
                      A.  Standards For Summary Judgment...................................944
                      B.  Kirt's § 1981 Race Discrimination Claim......................946
                          1.  Arguments of the parties.....................................946
                              a.  Fashion Bug's initial argument...........................946
                              b.  Kirt's response..........................................946
                              c.  Fashion Bug's reply................................946
                          2.  Applicable law...............................................947
                              a.  The statute..............................................947
                              b.  Requirements for proof of a claim........................948
                          3.  Analysis...............................................949
                              a.  Membership in a racial minority..........................950
                              b.  Intentional discrimination...............................950
                              c.  Interference with a right to contract....................950
                     C.  Kirt's Iowa Civil Rights Claim....................................957
                          1.  Arguments of the parties.....................................957
                              a.  Fashion Bug's initial argument...........................957
                              b.  Kirt's response..........................................958
                              c.  Fashion Bug's reply......................................958
                          2.  Applicable law...............................................958
                              a.  The statute..............................................958
                              b.  Requirements for proof of a claim........................959
                                    i.  Possible formulations of the prima facie case......959
                                   ii.  The proper formulation.............................960
                          3.  Analysis.....................................................963
                              a.  Kirt's prima facie case..................................963
                                    i.  Membership in a protected class....................963
                                   ii.  Attempt to enjoy accommodations....................963
                                  iii.  Refusal or denial of accommodations or other
                discrimination....................................964
                              b.  Fashion Bug's legitimate reasons.........................966
                              c.  Kirt's showing of pretext and discrimination.............967
                
                III.  CONCLUSION...........................................................967
                

An African-American customer has sued a retail store for race discrimination pursuant to the "right-to-contract" provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the "public accommodations" provisions of the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA), IOWA CODE § 216.7. The viability of the customer's federal claim turns on whether there was actually any "interference" with the her "right to contract" because of her race. Similarly, the viability of the customer's state-law claim turns on whether there was actually any "refusal" or "denial" of her right to "accommodations, advantages, facilities, services, and privileges" or proof that she was "otherwise discriminated against" in the furnishing of such accommodations because of her race. In a motion for summary judgment, the store contends that the customer cannot establish a prima facie case of race discrimination under either federal or state law, because after a store employee allegedly made racially charged accusations of shoplifting, the store manager invited the customer to continue shopping. The customer, however, contends that there are sufficient genuine issues of material fact concerning racial animus and interference with her rights for her claims to go to a jury.

I. INTRODUCTION
A. Factual Background

The court will not attempt here an exhaustive dissertation on the undisputed and disputed facts in this case. Rather, the court will set forth sufficient of the facts, both undisputed and disputed, to put in context the parties' arguments concerning the defendant's motion for summary judgment. The court will then discuss specific factual disputes, and the extent to which they may be material, in the context of pertinent portions of its legal analysis.

Plaintiff Karen M. Kirt is an African-American woman. Defendant Fashion Bug # 3253, Inc., (Fashion Bug) is a retail women's clothing store in Sioux City, Iowa. The parties agree that, on October 19, 2004, Kirt, accompanied by her young daughter, made one of only a handful of visits that she had ever made to Fashion Bug. Kirt does not remember being greeted by any store employee as she entered the store. Kirt contends that she did not stay in the store very long, probably only about fifteen minutes, because her daughter was running around. Kirt decided to leave the store without making any purchases and to return the next day without her daughter. Fashion Bug contends that a store employee, Melissa ("Missy") Anderson, recalls that Kirt was carrying a large, unzipped purse that looked empty and that, after Kirt left, Anderson found an empty hanger and a broken security sensor. Fashion Bug contends that Anderson then called the store manager, Margaret ("Maggie") Beaudette, to report the incident. Kirt denies Anderson's version of events as "self-serving."

The parties agree that Kirt returned to Fashion Bug the next evening, October 20, 2004, accompanied by her boyfriend, now husband, Israel. Kirt contends that she returned to the store to purchase pink jeans, which she had been led to believe by a friend could be found at Fashion Bug. Kirt contends that, when she entered the store, Beaudette approached her and said, "Hi," to which Kirt and Israel responded, "Hi." Anderson stated in her deposition that she was leaving for lunch as Kirt came in, but recognized Kirt as the person who had been acting suspiciously the day before, so Anderson remained in the store and notified Beaudette that she had recognized Kirt.

Fashion Bug admits, for purposes of this motion, Kirt's version of what then occurred. Kirt contends that Anderson approached Kirt and asked if she could help her, what she needed, and if she and her companion were looking for something in particular, but Dirt told Anderson that the other woman (Beaudette) had already greeted her and that she did riot need any help. Kirt contends that, thereafter, Anderson followed wherever Kirt and Israel walked in the store. At some point — neither party's statement of facts makes clear what was the catalyst — Anderson purportedly said, "I get sick and tired of you people," "I just get tired of them coming in and messing up things and ... every time you people come we find hangers and beeper tags," screamed at Kirt, and told her that if she did not leave the store, Anderson would call the police. Beaudette approached at some point in the course of this incident to try to get Anderson to stop, apologized for Anderson's behavior, and asked Kirt to "finish [her] shopping." Kirt admits that Beaudette was very pleasant (in cited portions of her deposition, Kirt described Beaudette as "really nice"), that Beaudette provided Kirt with a contact telephone number to advise Fashion Bug representatives of her complaints, and that Beaudette gave her Anderson's name. Kirt nevertheless left the store, went home, and started crying. Kirt later contacted a representative of Fashion Bug, provided information about what had happened on October 20, 2004, and was assured that the representative would look into it. Kirt has never returned to the Fashion Bug store.

Fashion Bug contends that it is store policy to greet customers promptly and to watch them as they move `about the store to avoid or minimize theft, which is a large problem in the retail industry. Kirt denies the existence of such a policy, because Kirt contends that no such policy has been produced in this litigation, and the court notes that no such policy appears in either party's appendix.

B. Procedural Background

Kirt filed her Complaint And Jury Demand (docket no. 1) in this action on November 29, 2005, naming Fashion Bug as the, sole defendant on a theory of respondeat superior liability for the conduct of the store clerk, Missy Anderson, and asserting that, such conduct constituted race discrimination in violation of both 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count I) and IOWA CODE § 216.7 (Count II).1 Kirt seeks declaratory relief, compensatory damages including damages for emotional distress, punitive damages, costs, attorneys fees, and such other relief as she may be entitled to obtain. Fashion Bug filed its Answer And Jury Demand (docket no. 4) on January 11, 2006, denying Kirt's claims and alleging, as an affirmative defense, that Kirt's Complaint fails to state claims upon which relief can be granted. Trial in this matter was originally set for May 21, 2007, but was subsequently rescheduled to begin on October 9, 2007, on Kirt's unresisted motion for a continuance.

On December 21, 2006, Fashion Bug filed the Motion For Summary Judgment (docket no. 10) now before the court. Kirt filed her Resistance (docket no. 11) on January 16, 2007, and Fashion Bug filed its Reply ...

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