United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. MAZZANT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is Defendant KeHE Distributors, Inc.'s
(“KeHE”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. #20).
After reviewing the relevant pleadings, the Court finds that
the motion should be granted.
November 25, 2015, KeHE offered Plaintiff Jason Steward
(“Steward”) employment as a warehouse supervisor.
Before his employment, Steward signed two documents. The
first, a letter from KeHE's senior director of operations
to Steward, explained that Steward's employment was
at-will and Steward or KeHE could end his employment at any
time. The second, a document entitled “Acknowledgment
of Employee Handbook, ” stated:
I further understand that, unless I have a written agreement
signed by either KeHE's President or Senior Vice
President, Human Resources to the contrary, my employment
with KeHE is terminable “[at-will]” and I do not
have an employment contract for any duration of time. This
means that I am free to terminate my employment with KeHE at
any time, with or without reason. Likewise, KeHE has the
right to terminate my employment at any time, with or without
reason, in the discretion of KeHE.
(Dkt. #21, Exhibit 4 at p. 2). On or about December 7, 2015,
Steward began working for KeHE.
December 29, 2016, Era Vaughn (“Vaughn”),
KeHE's director of operations, sent an e-mail to Steward
and other supervisors, outlining the procedures that
KeHE's supervisors must follow before taking vacation,
specifically, the process for oversight and approval of
hourly employees' time records. Vaughn's e-mail
stated “[i]t is my expectation that weekly we must
ensure all incentive pay is accurate and [paid] on time to
our associates. If you are going on [paid time off] this must
be addressed and/or passed off to someone on the leadership
team to complete in your absence.” (Dkt. #21, Exhibit 5
at p. 2).
going on vacation in February 2017, Steward delegated his
timekeeping responsibilities to Chad Wright
(“Wright”), who was not a supervisor, but an
hourly team lead. Steward gave his personal supervisory
access and password to KeHE's timekeeping system to
Wright. While Steward was on vacation, Wright accessed
KeHE's timekeeping records and changed his own time
records to show that he was working when he was really not.
KeHE's employees also caught Wright sleeping on the job.
KeHE terminated Steward because he gave Wright unauthorized
access to KeHE's supervisory timekeeping records. The
parties do not dispute these facts.
September 6, 2017, Steward filed a breach of contract suit in
Texas state court, claiming that Vaughn's e-mail formed
an employment contract, changed his at-will employment
status, and prohibited KeHE from firing him for giving his
access to the employee timekeeping software to Wright. On
September 29, 2017, KeHE removed the suit to federal court.
On March 22, 2018, KeHE filed its Motion for Summary Judgment
(Dkt. #20). On April 3, 2018, Steward filed his response
(Dkt. #22). On April 10, 2018, KeHE filed its reply (Dkt.
purpose of summary judgment is to isolate and dispose of
factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Summary
judgment is proper under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure “if 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). A dispute about a material fact is genuine when
“the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
Substantive law identifies which facts are material.
Id. The trial court “must resolve all
reasonable doubts in favor of the party opposing the motion
for summary judgment.” Casey Enters., Inc. v. Am.
Hardware Mut. Ins. Co., 655 F.2d 598, 602 (5th Cir.
party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of
informing the Court of its motion and identifying
“depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations
(including those made for purposes of the motion only),
admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials”
that demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material
fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A); Celotex, 477 U.S. at
323. If the movant bears the burden of proof on a claim or
defense for which it is moving for summary judgment, it must
come forward with evidence that establishes “beyond
peradventure all of the essential elements of the
claim or defense.” Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780
F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986). Where the nonmovant bears
the burden of proof, the movant may discharge the burden by
showing that there is an absence of evidence to support the
nonmovant's case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325;
Byers v. Dall. Morning News, Inc., 209 F.3d 419, 424
(5th Cir. 2000). Once the movant has carried its burden, the
nonmovant must “respond to the motion for summary
judgment by setting forth particular facts indicating there
is a genuine issue for trial.” Byers, 209 F.3d
at 424 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49). A
nonmovant must present affirmative evidence to defeat a
properly supported motion for summary judgment.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257. Mere denials of material
facts, unsworn allegations, or arguments and assertions in
briefs or legal memoranda will not suffice to carry this
burden. Rather, the Court requires “significant
probative evidence” from the nonmovant to dismiss a
request for summary judgment. In re Mun. Bond Reporting
Antitrust Litig., 672 F.2d 436, 440 (5th Cir. 1982)
(quoting Ferguson v. Nat'l Broad. Co., 584 F.2d
111, 114 (5th Cir. 1978)). The Court must consider all of the
evidence but “refrain from making any credibility
determinations or weighing the evidence.” Turner v.
Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir.
argues that Vaughn's e-mail created an employment
contract that altered his at-will employment status and
precluded KeHE from firing him for following Vaughn's
orders. KeHE counters that Vaughn's e-mail did not change
Steward's status as an at-will employee. Thus, KeHE
argues it could terminate Steward at any time with or ...