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Huggins v. Walbro LLC

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 11, 2018

Kathleen Huggins, Plaintiff,
Walbro LLC, Defendant.



         The Court finds that the Plaintiff has made a prima facie case of age and sex discrimination but has failed to produce any evidence of pretext to rebut the Defendant's assertion of a legitimate reason for not promoting the Plaintiff to the VPHR position. The Court grants the Motion for Summary Judgment.

         Plaintiff was hired by Defendant on August 14, 2013, when she was 61 years old[1]as Senior Human Resources Manager, the number two position in Walbro's human resource department. In April 2015, when she was 62 years old, she was promoted to Human Resources Director. She was supervised by Vice President, Human Resources and Compliance, Ann Guernsey, until July 2015, when Guernsey was demoted to Chief Compliance Officer, leaving the Vice President, Human Resource (VPHR) position open. Walbro did not post the opening internally, but Plaintiff sent an email and her resume to Chief Executive Officer, Matt Riddle, allegedly inquiring about the position. According to the Plaintiff, he responded by telling her that she would not be considered for the position. Plaintiff alleges she was fully qualified for it. On October 8, 2015, Walbro hired Andy Arkells, who was substantially younger and a man. Plaintiff charges Walbro with sex and age based discrimination. (Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 4) at 2-3.)

         Walbro seeks summary judgment. Walbro argues that the Plaintiff cannot make a prima facie case of either age or sex based discrimination. Alternatively, Defendant asserts that even if she does make a prima facie case, they hired Arkells for legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons and she cannot establish pretext because there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Plaintiff was denied the promotion to the VPHR position because of her age or sex.

         First, Defendant argues that the qualifications for the position were based on recommendations of a third-party consultant whom Plaintiff has not charged with discrimination. The record reflects that the Plaintiff did not possess the qualifications for the job because: she never held an executive HR position, had no global experience, had never interacted with a Japanese board, and had no experience influencing Japanese executives.

         Second, she cannot establish she applied for the VPHR position, and therefore cannot show she was denied the position. Based on an email sent by the Plaintiff to Riddle on August 5, he understood that Plaintiff was not interested in the position.

         Third, Walbro submits alternatively, that the two finalists for the position, and Arkells specifically, were more qualified than Plaintiff; the search, which was conducted by a third party, included female candidates and did not exclude candidates based on age-Defendant sought “seasoned candidates.” Neither Riddle nor any person in any management position at Walbro made any ageist or anti-female comments.

         1. Standard of Review for Summary Judgment

         On summary judgment, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law if the Court determines that on the record there is no genuine issue as to any material fact to be decided by a jury. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, but is not required to support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-325 (1986). In determining whether to grant summary judgment, the Court views the facts and inferences from these facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 577 (1986).

         The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A material fact is any factual dispute that might affect the outcome of the case under the governing substantive law. Id. at 248. A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the dispute in favor of the non-moving party. Id.

         The moving party is under no obligation to negate or disprove matters on which the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 325. Rather, the moving party need only demonstrate that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Id.

         If the moving party meets its burden, then the non-moving party must "designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). To carry this burden, the party opposing a motion for summary judgment cannot rest upon mere allegations or denials in the pleadings or papers. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. The non-moving party must "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence . . . will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party]." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         This trilogy of 1986 cases opened the door for the district courts to rely on summary judgment to weed out frivolous lawsuits and avoid wasteful trials. Rand v. Rowland, 154 F.3d 952, 956 -957 (9th Cir. 1998);10A Charles A Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice & Procedure, § 2727, at 468 (1998). As explained in Celotex: "the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         Importantly, on summary judgment the question is limited to whether there is a genuine issue for trial. It is not the Judge's role on a motion for summary judgment to determine the truth of the matter or to weigh the evidence, or determine credibility. The question is simply whether there is sufficient evidence that a reasonable jury could find in favor of the non-moving party, the Plaintiff. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         2. Prima facie Age and Sex Based Discrimination

         It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate based on an individual's age or sex. 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1) (the Age Discrimination in Employment Act); 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1) (Title VII Civil Rights Act of 1964). The Plaintiff may establish her claims of discrimination by either direct evidence of conduct or statements made by persons involved in the decision-making process that may be viewed as directly reflecting a discriminatory attitude was more likely than not a motivating factor in the employment decision. Enlow v. Salem-Keizer Yellow Cab Co., 389 F.3d 802, 812 (9th Cir. 2004). The Plaintiff may also carry her initial burden by presumption under the McDonnel Douglas burden shifting framework: 1) The employee establishes a prima facie case of discrimination, an inference of discrimination arises and the burden shifts to the employer to produce a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its employment decision. 2) If the employer does so, the burden shifts back to the employee to prove that the employer's explanation is a pretext for discrimination. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 791, 802 (1973).

         In a failure to promote case, a prima facie case of discrimination is made if the Plaintiff produces evidence that she: 1) was at least 40 years old/was a member of a protected class, i.e., female; 2) she was qualified for the position for which an application was submitted, 3) she was denied the position, and 4) the promotion was given to a substantially younger person/a male. Shelley v. Geren, 666 F.3d 599, 608 (9th Cir. 2012); Dominguez-Curry v. Nev. Transp. Dept., 424 F.3d 1027, 1037 (9th Cir. 2005).

         Plaintiff does not submit any direct evidence of discriminatory animus. She relies on the McDonnell Douglas presumption. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment challenges the second and third prong of Plaintiff's prima facie case. Defendant argues the facts are as follows: The Plaintiff's April 2015 promotion to HR Director was approved by Defendant's CEO, Riddle, who had been hired approximately one month earlier. It is undisputed that the Plaintiff did not “formally” apply for the VPHR position with the third-party consultant hired by Walbro to conduct the job search. During the time that the search was underway to fill the VPHR position, she sent Riddle an email on August 5, 2015, from which he concluded that she was “not interested in the position” and had taken “herself out of the running.” The Defendant asks the Court to find that as a matter of fact, she did not apply for the position and they did not deny her the promotion, ...

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