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Quiles v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

November 26, 2018



          Joseph F. Bataillon Senior United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on motions filed by both parties including; defendants' motions for summary judgment, Filing No. 165 and Filing No. 168, plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment, Filing No. 171, and plaintiff's motion to dismiss parties, Filing No. 175. Plaintiff alleges discrimination and demotion by his employer, Union Pacific Railroad Company, Inc. (“UP”), in willful violation of USERRA.[1] Filing No. 96, Amended Complaint.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, Filing No. 165, seeking judgment as a matter of law on all claims set forth in the First Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 56. Filing No. 96. Plaintiff filed a cross motion for partial summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 56 on the issues of: (1) plaintiff's § 4312 re-employment claim; (2) plaintiff's § 4316 demotion claims; and (3) UP's affirmative defenses of impossibility, undue hardship, and non-conduct just cause for demotion.

         Plaintiff, Rodolfo Quiles, began employment with UP in February 2014. Quiles served in the United States Marine Corps from May 12, 2015 to October 18, 2015. While deployed, UP hired Greg Workman who then assumed most of plaintiff's job responsibilities. Prior to deployment, plaintiff held the title of “general manager of safety analysis.” Upon return, defendants re-employed plaintiff and he held the new title of “director of safety analysis.” Plaintiff met with UP's human resources department regarding his change in title. On November 9, 2015, plaintiff met with general counsel, Kathleen Hughes, to discuss his concerns with the change in title. Plaintiff unsuccessfully applied for employment in other areas of UP during 2015. When he successfully interviewed for a position in another department, the Director of Human Resources blocked his transfer.

         On December 18, 2015, Quiles filed a complaint of discrimination and violation of USERRA with the Department of Labor Veterans Employment Training Service. During the investigation, plaintiff received a letter of reprimand from his employer, Union Pacific, for refusing to attend a calendar meeting invitation. On March 2, 2016, defendants placed plaintiff on a performance review plan (“PIP”) with a follow up date of May 2, 2016. On March 29, 2016, his employment was terminated. The Department of Labor investigation concluded on April 22, 2016, and the findings indicated that Quiles's claims had merit. Four days later, on or around April 26, 2016, plaintiff received notice from UP that his 2014 bonus stock award of 237 shares of UP were being forfeited because it had not vested prior to his termination.

         II. LAW

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment should be granted, “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. “Summary judgment is appropriate when, construing the evidence most favorably to the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Crozier v. Wint, 736 F.3d 1134, 1136 (8th Cir. 2013). Summary judgment is not disfavored and is designed for every action. Briscoe v. Cty. of St. Louis, 690 F.3d 1004, 1011 n.2 (8th Cir. 2012). Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the evidence are jury functions, not those of a judge. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). The nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Briscoe, 690 F.3d at 1011.

         Where the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, the moving party need not negate the nonmoving party's claims by showing “the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Instead, “the burden on the moving party may be discharged by ‘showing' . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Id. In response to the movant's showing, the nonmoving party's burden is to produce specific facts demonstrating “a genuine issue of material fact' such that [its] claim should proceed to trial.” Nitro Distrib., Inc. v. Alticor, Inc., 565 F.3d 417, 422 (8th Cir. 2009) (quotations omitted).

         The existence of a mere 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); see Quinn v. St. Louis Cty., 653 F.3d 745, 751 (8th Cir. 2011) (stating “the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties” will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis omitted)). “Where the unresolved issues are primarily legal rather than factual, summary judgment is particularly appropriate.” Koehn v. Indian Hills Cmty. Coll., 371 F.3d 394, 396 (8th Cir. 2004).

         B. USERRA Framework

         USERRA was enacted prevent employment discrimination based upon military service. Maxfield v. Cintas Corp No. 2, 427 F.3d 544, 551 (8th Cir. 2005). To qualify for re-employment, a returning service member need satisfy three criteria for USERRA's protections to apply: (a) be a member of the uniformed services of the United States; (b) had given advance written or verbal notice to his employer of the impending military obligations; and (c) the cumulative length of absence including all previous absences from a position of employment due to duties of uniformed services may not exceed five years. 38 U.S.C. § 4312(a) (1)-(3) (2015).

         Under USERRA, an employee bears the initial burden to prove that (a) the plaintiff was subject to an adverse employment action, and (b) military status or the exercise of rights afforded by USERRA was a motivating or substantial factor in the employer's action. Maxfield, 427 F.3d at 551. If the employee makes a showing of adverse employment action, the employer can defeat the ...

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