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Hernandez v. Hormel Foods Corp.

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

September 6, 2018




         The plaintiff, Oscar Hernandez, is suing his employer Hormel Foods Corporation for allegedly discriminating against him on the basis of his disability and national origin. Hernandez also alleges that he was retaliated against after filing a workers' compensation claim.

         This matter is before the Court on Hormel Foods' motion for summary judgment (filing 45). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Hormel Foods' motion for summary judgment in its entirety.


         Hernandez is of Mexican origin. Filing 47 at 30. He is currently employed by Hormel Foods at a meat processing facility located in Fremont, Nebraska. See filing 47 at 78; see also filing 54 at 2. Hernandez has worked for Hormel Foods for nearly fourteen years as a "belly trimmer." Filing 46 at 6; filing 47 at 8. In his "belly trim" position, Hernandez is primarily responsible for using an electric "whizard" knife to trim fat patches from the pork bellies as they proceed on the production line. Filing 47 at 7; 80.

         On January 23, 2015, Hernandez suffered a left shoulder injury. Filing 47 at 14. This injury was reported to his supervisor and Hernandez received treatment at the Hormel Foods infirmary. Filing 47 at 14. Over the next several months, however, Hernandez's shoulder pain became progressively worse. Filing 47 at 15.

         So, on July 16, 2015 Hernandez was evaluated by orthopedic specialist Dr. Kirk Hutton. Filing 15 at 2. Dr. Hutton opined that Hernandez had a "[p]robable rotator cuff" tear and suggested that Hernandez schedule an MRI. Filing 51 at 4. Until then, Dr. Hutton stated that he would "allow [Hernandez] to continue to work" so long as work was done "below shoulder level and close to his body." Filing 51 at 4. A few weeks later, the results of Hernandez's MRI confirmed Dr. Hutton's suspicions: Hernandez had "significant tearing of two tendons of the rotator cuff" and surgery was scheduled for late November. Filing 52 at 2. Until surgery, Hernandez remained on a "[ten] pound lifting maximum" and was ordered to "keep[] work below shoulder level, and within 18" of [his] body." Filing 52 at 2.

         Hernandez claims that Hormel Foods did not respect his work restrictions from July 16, 2015 (i.e., when his rotator cuff tear was first diagnosed) until November 5, 2015 (i.e., just before he underwent shoulder surgery).[1] See filing 15 at 1-2. As such, Hernandez filed an employment discrimination charge with the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which dismissed his charge. Filing 15 at 2-3. Hernandez filed this suit asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (as amended by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), Pub. L. No. 110-325, 122 Stat. 3553 (2008)). Filing 15 at 5. He also asserts state-law claims under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act (NFEPA) Neb. Rev. Stat. § 48-1101 et seq., and common law workers' compensation retaliation. Filing 15 at 4. Hormel Foods has moved for summary judgment on those claims.


         Summary judgment is proper if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for the motion, and must identify those portions of the record which the movant believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). If the movant does so, the nonmovant must respond by submitting evidentiary materials that set out specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.

         On a motion for summary judgment, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts. Id. Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the evidence are jury functions, not those of a judge. Id. But the nonmovant must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. In order to show that disputed facts are material, the party opposing summary judgment must cite to the relevant substantive law in identifying facts that might affect the outcome of the suit. Quinn v. St. Louis County, 653 F.3d 745, 751 (8th Cir. 2011). The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmovant's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could conceivably find for the nonmovant. Barber v. C1 Truck Driver Training, LLC, 656 F.3d 782, 791-92 (8th Cir. 2011). Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042.


         Although brought under different theories of recovery, Hernandez's allegations can be grouped into three general categories: disability discrimination, national origin discrimination, and workers' compensation ...

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