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Stansfield v. O'Reilly Automotive

April 19, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Melinda Harmon United States District Judge


Before the court is a motion for summary judgment brought by the Defendant, O'Reilly Automotive, Inc. (O'Reilly Automotive), against the Plaintiff, Deanna Stansfield (Stansfield). Doc. 14. The court has reviewed Exhibits 1-35 attached to the Defendant's motion (Doc. 14), Exhibits A-E attached to the Plaintiff's Response (Doc. 19), Exhibits 1-4 attached to the Defendant's reply (Doc. 20), and the disclosures attached to the Plaintiff's surreply (Doc. 21).

I. Summary Judgment Standard

A party moving for summary judgment must inform the court of the basis of the motion and identify those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, that show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of proof on an issue, either as a plaintiff or as a defendant asserting an affirmative defense, then that party must establish that no dispute of material fact exists regarding any of the essential elements of the claim or defense to warrant judgment in his favor. Fontenot v. Upjohn, 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986). If the moving party fails to meet its initial burden, the motion must be denied, regardless of the adequacy of any response. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment because the substantive law governing the suit identifies the essential elements of the claims at issue and therefore indicates which facts are material. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 248, 256-57 (1986). The moving party need not negate the opposing party's claims nor produce evidence showing the absence of a genuine issue of fact, but may rely on the absence of evidence to support essential elements of the opposing party's claims. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-25. However, "[o]n summary judgment the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986) (citing U.S. v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)). A party seeking summary judgment may rely upon the complete absence of proof of an essential element if (1) the party seeking summary judgment has no access to evidence of disproof, (2) ample time has been allowed for discovery, and (3) the party opposing the motion for summary judgment bears the proof burden. Fontenot, 780 F.2d at 1195.

If the moving party establishes the absence of any dispute of material fact, then the burden shifts to the opposing party to set forth specific facts and competent summary judgment evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact on each essential element of any claim on which he bears the burden of proof at trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The party opposing a motion for summary judgment may not rest on mere allegations or denials in its pleadings, but must produce affirmative evidence, and specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-157. The non-moving party may identify evidentiary documents already in the record that establish specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue. Lavespere v. Niagara Mach. & Tool Works, Inc., 910 F.2d 167, 178 (5th Cir. 1990). In reviewing evidence favorable to the party opposing a motion for summary judgment, a court should be more lenient in allowing evidence that is admissible, though it may not be in admissible form.

That the defendants' response does not affirmatively state in the document itself that the [witnesses] are competent to testify as to the facts to which they swore does not necessarily doom their testimony. Affidavits are to be considered in conjunction with other types of evidence before the court. 10A C. Wright, A. Miller & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2738 at 467 (1983). Furthermore, the papers of a party opposing summary judgment are usually held to a less exacting standard than those of the moving party. Id. at 484. In previous cases we have accepted evidence from the party opposing summary judgment despite its failure to meet the technical requirements of rule 56(e). See, e.g., Jackson v. State of Mississippi, 644 F.2d 1142, 1144 (5th Cir.1981) (even though opposing party's affidavit did not conform to rule 56(e), the court did not reject his claim that there were issues of fact to be decided); Whitaker v. Coleman, 115 F.2d 305, 307 (5th Cir.1940) (non-moving party's proffered transcript from earlier trial sufficient to show outstanding issues of fact despite "defects in its certification and presentation"); see also Albert Dickinson Co. v. Mellos Peanut Co., 179 F.2d 265 (7th Cir.1950) (plaintiff's verified petition sufficient to oppose summary judgment). Thus, so long as the record, taken as a whole, demonstrates that the [witnesses'] testimony meets the requirements of rule 56, it is properly before the court and should be considered on a summary judgment motion.

Lodge Hall Music, Inc. v. Waco Wrangler Club, Inc., 831 F.2d 77, 80 (5th Cir. 1988).

According to these legal principals, the court will assume, for the purpose of this motion, that Stansfield recalled every event perfectly and disregard any evidence that contradicts her admissible statements.

II. Background

Stansfield worked for O'Reilly Automotive on several occasions, resigning and then returning to work. In her most recent term of employment, Stansfield worked as a "driver specialist." Because Stansfield was under 21 years old, O'Reilly Automotive imposed more safety requirements on her than it did on older employees. Thus, when the door of Stansfield's truck was struck by another vehicle, she lost her eligibility to work as a driver specialist. Nevertheless, O'Reilly Automotive decided to retain her until she regained her eligibility at 21. It created a new position for her, but did not establish any formal requirements for that new position. In practice, Stansfield appears to have responded to whatever needs the store faced, e.g., paperwork, tracking inventory, and cleaning. Doc. 19, Exh. A, ¶6 (Declaration of Deanna Stansfield). Even after Stansfield regained her eligibility to drive, she continued to perform these light duties.

Although formal, written policies established lifting requirements for each formally established position at O'Reilly Automotive, various supervisors at O'Reilly Automotive encouraged females to request help from male employees when lifting heavy objects. Id. at ¶¶9-10. Furthermore, Stansfield identified specific employees who were not subject to the formal lifting policies that O'Reilly Automotive mandated. For example, Tillie Childress, an older employee, received assistance from other workers when lifting heavy objects. Doc. 19, Exh. A, ¶23. Paul Kosetka was offered the opportunity to "sit on a stool all day and run lines until you are ready to start stocking again," because his supervisor wanted him to, "just please come back to work!" Id. at ¶24. In fact, no employees were tested for their ability to lift any particular weight. Id. at ¶25.

O'Reilly Automotive was not so lenient when Stansfield announced her pregnancy. Stansfield's supervisor, David Plaster (Plaster), threw up his hands, exclaiming, "what are we going to do now?" Id. at ¶11. Stansfield describes Plaster's demeanor as confrontational and negative.

Id. He forbade Stansfield from asking for help when lifting objects. Id. at ΒΆ13. In a written statement, Plaster claimed to have spoken with someone in the human resources department at O'Reilly Automotive who explained that pregnant employees were to be assigned lighter duties. Doc. 19, Exh. E. Despite this earlier possible attempt to accommodate Stansfield, when she provided Plaster with a note from a doctor limiting her to lifting no more than 20 pounds, he responded by first asking "what was the weight I told you?" then, after some indecision, deciding that she must lift 50 pounds, and finally concluding, "oh well, I guess you don't meet it. So you can't come back to work." Doc. 19, Exh. A at ...

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