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Pena v. Golden Corral Corp.

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

May 30, 2019

MELISSA PENA, Plaintiff,


          Kenneth M. Hoyt United States District Judge.


         Before the Court is the defendant's, Golden Corral Corporation (the “defendant”) motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 (Dkt. No. 18), the plaintiff's, Melissa Pena (the “plaintiff”) response to the defendant's motion (Dkt. No. 20), and the defendant's reply (Dkt. No. 22). The defendant's motion is GRANTED.


         In March of 2016, the plaintiff became the general manager of one of the defendant's Houston restaurant locations. Shortly thereafter, the defendant started receiving complaints from the plaintiff's subordinates regarding her mistreatment of staff. For instance, in May of 2016, staff complained that the plaintiff yelled at employees, threatened their jobs and called employee names making some cry. In June of 2016, a member of her staff reported that the plaintiff discriminated against non-Hispanic employees. In July of 2016, a staff member reported that the plaintiff discriminated against Hispanics causing a decline in morale. Subsequently, the company's director of employee relations, Scott Schaberg (Schaberg) conducted an onsite investigation into the plaintiff's behavior. After hearing several complaints from employees, Schaberg required the plaintiff to participate in an online leadership class to assist with improving her attitude and communication with her employees. On February 27, 2017, a staff member contacted the defendant's Ethics and Compliance Hotline and reported that the plaintiff was treating non-Hispanic employees disrespectfully and that the plaintiff had directed her child, who was not employed by the defendant, to take company computer-based trainings (CBT)[1] in the place of restaurant employees.

         On March 7 and 8, 2017, Schaberg conducted a second onsite investigation into the issues raised. At the restaurant, he questioned staff about the plaintiff's behavior towards employees. Some staff reported that the plaintiff showed favoritism toward back-of-house staff. Others reported similar complaints to those made in 2016. They stated that the plaintiff was rude, talked down to employees and belittled them. Some complained that when they had a conflict with employees who spoke Spanish, the plaintiff would speak to that employee in Spanish without translating what she said into English, thus preventing the non-Spanish speaking employee involved in the conflict from understanding what the plaintiff said. In addition, during the investigation, two employees, stated that the plaintiff's daughter, who does not work for the defendant, had completed CBTs. Schaberg also viewed video footage of the plaintiff's daughters walking into the CBT room. Further, one employee informed Schaberg that during her time working under the plaintiff, the plaintiff had also directed her and others to complete CBT courses on behalf of other employees.

         Following his visit, Schaberg prepared a memorandum summarizing his investigative findings. On March 13, 2017, he submitted the memorandum to the senior vice president of human resources, and vice president of company operations to obtain their input on how to proceed with disciplining the plaintiff for violating the company's code of ethics and offending staff. On March 15, 2017, the decision was made to terminate the plaintiff. On March 17, 2017, the plaintiff e-mailed Schaberg requesting to make a complaint against District Manager Kurt Parry (Parry) for gender and race discrimination. On March 20, 2017, the plaintiff was terminated.

         On January 29, 2018, the plaintiff filed suit in state court against the defendant alleging that its agents and employees engaged in sex and race discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, Tex. Lab. Code § 21.051 (“TCHRA”). Subsequently, the defendant removed the case to this Court. On February 10, 2019, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment.


         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)). It may not satisfy its burden “with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence.” Little, 37 F.3d at 1075 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Instead, it “must set forth specific facts showing the existence of a ‘genuine' issue concerning every essential component of its case.” Am. Eagle Airlines, Inc. v. Air Line Pilots Ass'n, Intern., 343 F.3d 401, 405 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing Morris v. Covan World Wide Moving, Inc., 144 F.3d 377, 380 (5th Cir. 1998)).

         “A fact is material only if its resolution would affect the outcome of the action, . . . and an issue is genuine only ‘if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the [nonmovant].'” Wiley v. State Farm Fire and Cas. Co., 585 F.3d 206, 210 (5th Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted). When determining whether a genuine issue of material fact has been established, a reviewing court is required to construe “all facts and inferences . . . in the light most favorable to the [nonmovant].” Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., Inc., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005) (citing Armstrong v. Am. Home Shield Corp., 333 F.3d 566, 568 (5th Cir. 2003)). Likewise, all “factual controversies [are to be resolved] in favor of the [nonmovant], but only where there is an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Boudreaux, 402 F.3d at 540 (citing Little, 37 F.3d at 1075 (emphasis omitted)). Nonetheless, a reviewing court is not permitted to “weigh the evidence or evaluate the credibility of witnesses.” Boudreaux, 402 F.3d at 540 (quoting Morris, 144 F.3d at 380). Thus, “[t]he appropriate inquiry [on summary judgment] is ‘whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'” Septimus v. Univ. of Hous., 399 F.3d 601, 609 (5th Cir. 2005) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 - 52 (1986)).

         IV. ANALYSIS ...

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