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Smith v. Hiland Roberts Dairy Co.

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

June 6, 2016

ZYEAIR SMITH, Plaintiff,


          LYLE E. STROM, Senior Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the motion of defendants, Hiland Roberts Dairy Co., and Hiland Dairy Foods Company, LLC ("Hiland" or "defendants"), for summary judgment (Filing No. 29). The matter has been fully briefed by the parties. See Filing Nos. 31, 33, and 37. After review of the motion, the parties’ briefs, and the relevant law, the Court finds as follows.


         On July 15, 2014, plaintiff Zyeair Smith ("Smith" or "plaintiff") filed a complaint alleging "a single count of employment discrimination under ‘federal, state, and Omaha municipal law.’" (Filing No. 31 at 2 (quoting Filing No. 1 at ¶ 29)). Plaintiff claims defendants’ decision to terminate his employment was racially motivated (Filing No. 1). "Smith seeks relief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act." (Filing No. 31 at 2 (quoting Filing No. 1 at 4)).

         The facts surrounding Smith’s termination are largely undisputed. See Filing Nos. 31, 33, and 37. On July 26, 2013, plaintiff was asked by another Hiland employee, Sam Edwards ("Edwards"), to clock Edwards out in violation of Hiland’s written company policy (Filing No. 31 at 3-4; see also Filing No. 33 at 2 (admitting defendant’s statements of material facts)). Smith used Edwards’ company-issued ID badge to clock Edwards out after Edwards had already left company premises. See Filing No. 31 at 3-4. When Smith was later asked by Hiland managers whether he had clocked Edwards out, he initially denied the allegation. See Filing No. 33 at 3. After an internal investigation, Hiland terminated plaintiff’s employment on July 31, 2013. (Id.) Defendants contend plaintiff was fired for "dishonesty and theft of company time." (Filing No. 31 at 4).

         Plaintiff disputes defendants’ contention that he helped Edwards steal company time. Edwards claims he "was entitled to extra break time because he had worked longer than 2 hours than his [regular] shift and . . . had not used all of his break time." (Filing No. 33 at 2). Defendants counter that Edwards’ own admission provides that he left work early, and "was paid for a quarter hour that he was not entitled to." (Filing No. 37 at 2-3). Defendants further argue as to whether the extra time worked entitled plaintiff to additional break time is immaterial because

Edwards testified that he asked Smith to clock him out because he ‘forgot’ to clock out, not because he was entitled to additional break time . . . [and] breaks are to be taken in the break room . . . and an employee who wants to leave early would have to ask a supervisor for permission and clock out.

(Id. at 4-5).

         After defendants terminated plaintiff’s employment, plaintiff "filed a timely charge of discrimination . . . based on his status as an African-American with the United States Equal [Employment] Opportunity Commission and with the Omaha Human Rights and Relations Department." (Filing No. 1 at 1). The Omaha Human Rights and Relations Department ("OHHRD") found "reasonable cause to believe that plaintiff’s race was a motivating factor in his termination by the defendant." (Id.)

         The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") "issued a right to sue letter on June 4, 2014." (Id. at 2).[1] This suit followed.


         Summary judgment is only proper when the Court determines the evidence "show[s] 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(a), (c); Semple v. Federal Exp. Corp., 566 F.3d 788, 791 (8th Cir. 2009)(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, giving the nonmoving party the benefit of all reasonable inferences. Kenney v. Swift Transp., Inc., 347 F.3d 1041, 1044 (8th Cir. 2003). At the summary judgment stage, it is not the function of the Court to "weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has explicitly held that "[t]here is no ‘discrimination case exception’ to the application of summary judgment, which is a useful pretrial tool to determine whether or not any case, including one alleging discrimination, merits a trial." Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1043 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (internal marks and citations omitted).


         Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., prohibits racial discrimination in the workplace. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Plaintiffs alleging Title VII violations "must carry the initial burden under the statute of establishing a prima facie case of . . . discrimination." McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). This initial burden may be established either by direct or circumstantial evidence. Twiggs v. Selig, 679 F.3d 990, 993 (8th Cir. 2012) (citing McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802-05). Claims not relying on direct evidence are ...

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