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Pete v. Walgreen Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

August 19, 2016

RACHEL PETE, Plaintiff,
v.
WALGREEN CO., SCOTT GROVES and CAROL MIER, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          ORTRIE D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE

         Pending is Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. #34. For the following reasons, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Rachel Pete (“Plaintiff”) began working for Defendant Walgreen Co. (“Walgreens”) in 2001. Doc. #36, at 6.[1] Plaintiff became a Store Manager in 2008. Id. While a Store Manager, Plaintiff reported to the District Manager, a position first held by Debra Miller (“Miller”) and later by Defendant Carol Mier (“Mier”) starting in May 2014. Doc. #36, at 7, 18. Defendant Scott Groves (“Groves”) served as a Community Leader (“CL”) for Walgreens and was assigned to Plaintiff’s store throughout her tenure as a Store Manager.[2] Doc. #36, at 7.

         While there is no indication of a poor relationship between Plaintiff and Groves or Miller prior to July 2013, this litigation is rooted in a July 2013 comment made by Groves. While at a Walgreens district office, Plaintiff told another manager she liked his new car, an Audi. Doc. #36, at 14. Groves overheard the comment and stated, in the presence of the other manager, Plaintiff had “a beer budget and champagne taste.”[3]Doc. #35-1, at 32. Plaintiff felt disrespected and felt her gender played a role in Groves making the comment because she was the only female manager present when the comment was made. Doc. #36-1, at 15. Groves and Plaintiff discussed the comment the following day, but the parties dispute the extent to which an apology was made. Doc. #35-1, at 38.

         Plaintiff’s relationship with Groves deteriorated after the champagne comment. In December 2013, Plaintiff complained to Miller about Groves’s rearrangement of a store display that Plaintiff believed posed a potential safety hazard. Doc. #35-1, at 40. In March 2014, Groves visited Plaintiff’s store at her request to discuss her concerns that Groves was undermining her authority by assigning tasks to the Assistant Store Manager rather than working directly with her. Doc. #36-1, at 21. According to Plaintiff, Groves became angry and threatened not to help her. Id. Following this visit, Plaintiff complained to Miller about Groves’s behavior. Id. at 22. Head of Loss Prevention, Joey Jaramillo (“Jaramillo”), conducted an investigation of: (1) Groves’s previous champagne comment, (2) Groves’s behavior during his March 2014 visit to Plaintiff’s store, and (3) Plaintiff’s belief that Groves was undermining her authority. Doc. #36-4, at 7. Jaramillo did not consider Groves’s behavior discriminatory, but did not file a report until roughly six months later, on September 3, 2014. Id. at 12. In April 2014, Miller met with Groves and Plaintiff to urge them to work as a team. Doc. #35-1, at 54-55.

         On June 25, 2014, Plaintiff received a Record of Discussion (“ROD”)[4] from Groves for “14 overdue resets and revisions, price changes.” Doc. #35-3, at 19. On July 10, 2014, Mier conducted a “growth session” with Plaintiff to discuss Mier’s belief that Plaintiff blamed her team for store conditions, execution, and results.[5] Doc. #35-2, at 16-17. On July 17, 2014, Groves conducted a pricing audit at Plaintiff’s store following a customer complaint of incorrect prices. Doc. #36-3, at 24; Doc. #36-10. On July 18, 2014, Plaintiff received a ROD from Mier related to service standards and execution of pricing. Doc. #36-9, at 4; Doc. #35-2, at 18.

         On August 13, 2014, Mier spoke to her supervisor about putting Plaintiff on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) due to her performance. Doc. #35-3, at 9. On August 30, 2014, Plaintiff emailed Mier to express concern regarding: (1) whether the two RODs were warranted, (2) her belief that Groves documented her file due to her previous complaints about his conduct, (3) her belief that Groves has “a bias against blacks or women or both, ” and (4) her dissatisfaction with the way her previous complaints were handled. Doc. #35-3, at 10-11.

         On September 3, 2014, Mier placed Plaintiff on a PIP. Id. at 19-20. Mier initiated the PIP “due to store condition, counts, pricing, and management/accountability of [Plaintiff’s] staff.” Id. at 19. On September 14, 2014, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights.[6] Doc. #36-12. On September 17, 2014, Walgreens received a second customer complaint about Plaintiff. Doc. #35-3, at 29-30. On September 18, 2014, Mier contacted the Employee Relations Department to inquire whether she must give Plaintiff the full thirty days before proceeding with further disciplinary steps. Doc. #36-13, at 4-5. Mier was told to give Plaintiff the full thirty day period and coach Plaintiff through the PIP process. Id.

         On October 6, 2014, Mier continued the PIP. Doc. #35-3, at 5. Groves visited Plaintiff’s store multiple times in September and October, observing what he considered unacceptable store conditions. Doc. #35-6, at 2-3. On October 8, 2014, Jaramillo visited Plaintiff’s store and identified areas of Plaintiff’s store that were unsafe in his opinion. Doc. #35-11, at 3. On November 4, 2014, Plaintiff was discharged. Doc. #35-1, at 61-62.

         Plaintiff subsequently brought suit against Defendants in the Circuit Court of Clay County, Missouri. Doc. #1-1. Count I alleges Plaintiff suffered unlawful gender discrimination and hostile work environment in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”). Count II alleges Plaintiff suffered unlawful retaliation in violation of the MHRA by Defendants. Defendants removed the action to this Court. Doc. #1. Defendants now move for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claims for gender discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliatory discharge. Doc. #34.

         II. STANDARD

         A moving party is entitled to summary judgment on a claim only if there is a showing that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” See Williams v. City of St. Louis, 783 F.2d 114, 115 (8th Cir. 1986). “[W]hile the materiality determination rests on the substantive law, it is the substantive law’s identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant that governs.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Thus, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Wierman v. Casey’s Gen. Stores, 638 F.3d 984, 993 (8th Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted). In applying this standard, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, giving that party the benefit of all inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 588-89 (1986); Tyler v. Harper, 744 F.2d 653, 655 (8th Cir. 1984). However, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment “may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the…pleadings, but…by affidavits or as otherwise provided in [Rule 56], must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         III.DISCUS ...


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