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Brown v. Five Guys Operations, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

March 19, 2018

JACOB BROWN, et al, Plaintiffs,




         Before the Court is the defendant's, Five Guys Operations, LLC, motion for summary judgment [DE 18] and the plaintiff's, Jose Cora[1], response [DE 21]. During the course of the proceeding, the defendant filed a reply [DE 22] and objections and responses to the evidence presented by the plaintiffs as part of his evidentiary proffer [Des 23, 24 and 25]. After a review of documents on file, the Court determines that the motion is meritorious and should be granted.


         The plaintiff was first employed by the defendant on February 6, 2013, as an Assistant Manager for one of the defendant's restaurants. Shortly thereafter on October 6, 2014, the plaintiff was promoted to General Manager at the defendant's Fry Road location. In December 2014, the defendant's Human Resources Department [“HR”] conducted a meeting for “shift leads and assistant managers” at its Bunker Hill location. According to “several shift managers”, District Manager, Toni Rodgers, in response to an inquiry concerning employees speaking, Spanish at the defendant's stores stated in the presence of the shift managers: “This is America. We only speak English in America, and that's the only language we need to speak in our stores.” The plaintiff was not present when the Rodgers' comment was made. However, an investigation was immediately begun by HR and, according to HR, before the plaintiff reported the comments. On or about January 21, 2015, the plaintiff was terminated for violation of a company policy.


         The plaintiff contends that he was wrongfully terminated in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2002e-2(m) and the Texas Labor Code § 21.125(a) because of his race and in retaliation for reporting the comments allegedly made by Rodgers to his shift leads and assistant manager. The defendant disputes the plaintiff's claims that he was terminated based on race and retaliation. Instead, the defendant asserts the plaintiff was terminated for fraternization with a female employee in violation of company policy.

         IV. A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes summary judgment against a party who fails to make a sufficient showing of the existence of an element essential to the party's case and on which that party bears the burden at trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). The movant bears the initial burden of “informing the district court of the basis for its motion” and identifying those portions of the record “which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; see also Martinez v. Schlumber, Ltd., 338 F.3d 407, 411 (5th Cir. 2003). Summary judgment is appropriate where “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). If the movant meets its burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmovant to “go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Stults v. Conoco, Inc., 76 F.3d 651, 656 (5th Cir. 1996) (citing Tubacex, Inc. v. M/V Risan, 45 F.3d 951, 954 (5th Cir. 1995); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075). “To meet this burden, the nonmovant must ‘identify specific evidence in the record and articulate the ‘precise manner' in which that evidence support[s] [its] claim[s].'” Stults, 76 F.3d at 656 (citing Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1537 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 871, 115 S.Ct. 195, 130 L.Ed.2d 127 (1994)).

         B. Title VII

         Title VII forbids an employer from discriminating “against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). An employment discrimination case may be proven “through direct or circumstantial evidence.” Turner v. Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 345 (5th Cir. 2007) (citing Laxton v. Gap, Inc., 333 F.3d 572, 578 (5th Cir. 2003)). In a case where a plaintiff produces no direct evidence of discriminatory intent, the Court must evaluate proof of circumstantial evidence using the burden-shifting framework established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). See Alvarado v. Tex. Rangers, 492 F.3d 605, 611 (5th Cir. 2007). Under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework:

[A] plaintiff must first create a presumption of intentional discrimination by establishing a prima facie case. The burden then shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions. The burden on the employer at this stage is one of production, not persuasion; it can involve no credibility assessment. If the employer sustains its burden, the prima facie case is dissolved, and the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to establish either: (1) that the employer's proffered reason is not true but is instead a pretext for discrimination; or (2) that the employer's reason, while true, is not the only reason for its conduct, and another motivating factor is the plaintiff's protected characteristic.

Alvarado, 492 F.3d at 611 (emphasis, citations and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Turner, 476 F.3d at 345 (internal citations omitted).

         Thus, “a plaintiff can avoid summary judgment if the evidence, taken as a whole: (1) creates a fact issue as to whether the employer's stated reasons was not what actually motivated the employer; and, (2) creates a reasonable inference that race or religion was a determinative factor in the actions of which plaintiff complains.” Grimes v. Tex. Dep't of Mental Health and Mental ...

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