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Moore v. Helget Gas Products, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

April 6, 2015

HERBERT L. MOORE, Plaintiff,
HELGET GAS PRODUCTS, INC., et al., Defendants.


CAROL E. JACKSON, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on defendants' motion for partial summary judgment. Plaintiff has filed a response in opposition and the issues are fully briefed.[1]

Plaintiff Herbert L. Moore brings this action under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), Mo.Rev.Stat. §§ 213.110 et seq. (Count I) and the Missouri's Workers' Compensation Act (WCA), § 287.780 (Count II), claiming that he was discharged from his employment because of his race and color and in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim. The defendants are his former employer Helget Gas Products, Inc. and managers Steve Blassingame and Jack Mertens.

I. Background

Plaintiff began working for Helget as a customer service route driver on March 27, 2013. In July 2013, he sustained a work-related injury to his back. In October 2013, plaintiff injured his finger at work. He filed worker's compensation claims after each injury.

Plaintiff alleges that in September or October 2013, heard defendant Mertens use the "N word" and make a derogatory comment about African-American employees in a conversation with defendant Blassingame. Plaintiff states that he complained to Blassingame who refused to do anything and told plaintiff to "leave it alone." [Doc. #1 at ¶21]. Plaintiff was terminated on December 4, 2013.

On December 6, 2013, plaintiff filled out an intake questionnaire provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). On January 14, 2014, the EEOC notified Helget that a charge of discrimination had been filed against it, but that it was not required to take action at that time. The notice stated that "[a]perfected charge (EEOC Form 5)" would be mailed to Helget once it was received from plaintiff. [Doc. # 16-1, p. 13].

On February 4, 2014, EEOC investigator Damian Rodriguez conducted a phone interview with plaintiff. Id. at 46-49. Mr. Rodriguez's notes state that plaintiff wanted to withdraw the charge[2] and, following the interview, Mr. Rodriguez mailed plaintiff a form titled "Request for Withdrawal of Charge of Discrimination." Id. at 50-51. In the accompanying cover letter, he informed plaintiff that it was illegal for anyone to coerce or force someone into withdrawing a charge of discrimination, and asked him to complete and return the form if he still wished to withdraw his charge. On February 5, 2014, plaintiff completed the form, stating that he wished to withdraw the charge because:

Based on he say she say, not enough evidence based on information that was stated by Herbert L. Moore, so therefor, upon this letter and discussion that Herbert Moore had with Damian Rodriguez on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, I as of this date and day Feb. 5, 2014, Wednesday... withdraw my complaint against Helget Gas Products.

Id. at 11. Plaintiff's request to withdraw was approved on February 10, 2014. Id . On February 13, 2014, the EEOC notified plaintiff and Helget that the charge had been withdrawn. Id. at 9-10. On March 4, 2014, the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) issued plaintiff a notice of right to sue. [Doc. #6-4]. Plaintiff initiated this action on May 30, 2014.

Defendant Helget removed the action to this court, invoking jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. In its notice of removal, Helget asserted that Mertens and Blassingame had been fraudulently joined. Plaintiff filed a motion to remand which, after full briefing by the parties, was denied. [Doc. # 25].

II. Legal Standard

Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment shall be entered if the moving party shows "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." In ruling on a motion for summary judgment the court is required to view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts. Agristor Leasing v. Farrow, 826 F.2d 732, 734 (8th Cir. 1987). The moving party bears the burden of showing both the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986); Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party may not rest on the allegations of his pleadings but must set forth specific facts, by affidavit or other evidence, showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. United of Omaha Life Ins. Co. v. Honea, 458 F.3d 788, 791 (8th Cir. 2006) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). Rule 56 "mandates the entry of summary ...

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