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Crossland v. Hy-Vee, Inc.

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

November 7, 2019

HY-VEE, INC., Defendant.



         Pending before the Court is Defendant Hy-Vee, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment, Doc. 35. Hy-Vee brings this motion asserting that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to both Plaintiff's gender discrimination and retaliation claims under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA).

         For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part. Summary judgment is granted for Defendant on Crossland's Count II, retaliation. Summary judgment is denied on Crossland's Count I, gender discrimination.

         I. Facts[1]

         Plaintiff Lisa Crossland brings this lawsuit alleging employment discrimination under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), Mo. Rev. Stat. § 213.010 et seq., against Defendant Hy-Vee, Inc. Crossland alleges that her employment as a retail grocery store manager was terminated as a result of her gender, and in retaliation for an earlier lawsuit filed by her sister against Hy-Vee. Doc. 1-2 (Complaint), ¶ 14, 18.

         Hy-Vee owns and operates retail grocery stores throughout the Midwest. Doc. 36, ¶ 1. Plaintiff worked at the Jefferson City Hy-Vee since 2004, and in 2011 was promoted to Manager of the Chinese and Italian Departments. Doc. 36, ¶ 3, 6. Crossland remained the Manager of these departments until her employment with Hy-Vee was terminated on September 18, 2017 Doc. 36, ¶ 7.

         During the time that Crossland was employed as a manager, her sister filed a gender discrimination claim against Hy-Vee. Doc. 42, at 38. The claim against Hy-Vee was made November 13, 2012 and a lawsuit was filed on June 26, 2013. Doc. 36, ¶ 139. This lawsuit continued until February 2016. Doc. 42, at 38.

         While manager, Crossland's duties included the responsibility of ensuring that a variety of logs were completed on a daily basis including temperature logs, cleaning logs, and weights and measures logs. Doc. 36, ¶¶ 10-15, 21. During the course of her employment as manager, Crossland's departments had been subject to regular audits to ensure compliance with food safety requirements. Doc. 36, ¶ 31-32, 37. From January 2016 until Crossland's termination, the departments she managed received reports of thirty-one violations, including eight violations relating to improperly maintained logs. Doc. 36, ¶ 58-93, 95 (recounting third-party audits resulting in nine “critical, ” three “potentially critical, ” and twelve “needs improvement” violations, as well as seven violations as found by the city health department); Id., at ¶¶ 58, 63, 65, 69, 75, 77, 95, 104, 105 (noting eight violations related to maintenance of logs).

         During this same time period of January 2016 until September 2017, other departments at the Jefferson City Hy-Vee were audited and issued violations, including the Meat Department managed by Steve Noble, and the Kitchen Department managed by Steve Brown. Doc. 42, ¶¶ 159, 186. Over this period, Noble's department received twenty violations, including two related to improperly maintaining logs, and Brown's department received fifty-five violations. Doc. 42, ¶¶ 160-184 (recounting third-party audits resulting in ten “critical” and ten “potentially critical” violations); Id., at ¶¶ 187-224 (recounting third-party audits resulting in four “critical, ” forty “potentially critical, ” and eleven “needs improvement” violations).

         Crossland received disciplinary action in the form of a written warning in January 2016 and an employee consultation form in February 2017. Doc. 36, ¶¶ 58-59, 77-78. Over this same period, Managers Noble and Brown did not receive disciplinary action relating to the violations found in their departments.

         On August 23, 2017, a Jefferson City Health Department audit found four “priority” violations in the Italian Department, and one “priority” and two “core” violations in the Chinese Department. Doc. 36, ¶¶ 89, 104, 105. The audit noted that in the Italian department, items on the make table were not the correct temperature, quick meals on the prep table were out of temperature range, the pizza cutting knife had debris present, and spinach in the make cooler was not date marked. Doc. 36, ¶¶ 90, 92. In the Chinese department, the audit noted rice being held in a cooker not at the correct temperature, a can opener had food debris present, and a triple sink faucet was leaking. Doc. 36, ¶ 104.

         In third-party audit on September 12, 2017, the Italian Department received a “critical” violation for failure to maintain cleaning and temperature logs. Doc. 36, ¶ 95. Crossland straightened out the log books on September 12th or 13th, worked on the 14th, and then went on vacation from September 15th to through the 17th. Doc. 36, ¶¶ 97-98. On September 16, 2017, a manager discovered that cleaning logs in the Chinese Department had not been completed for September 14th through the 16th, and notified the Store Director, Rod Dolph. Doc. 36, ¶ 99.

         On September 17, 2017, the News Tribune published an article featuring the violations the Jefferson City health inspector found in Crossland's departments, Doc. 36, ¶ 102.[2] On September 18, 2017, when Crossland returned to work from a vacation, Store Director Dolph called her to his office and showed her the newspaper article featuring the violations found in her department and the incomplete logs, telling her he was going to “make an example of her.” Doc. 36, ¶¶ 107-108. Dolph then terminated Crossland's employment at Hy-Vee. Doc. 36, ¶¶ 112-114. Dolph took no disciplinary action against Brown for his violations.

         Crossland alleges that she was disciplined differently from the male managers at Hy-Vee, and that the decision to terminate her employment was the result of gender discrimination and in retaliation for her sister's earlier lawsuit against Hy-Vee.

         II. Discussion

         Summary judgment is warranted where “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(a). The Court must determine whether “there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).

         The Court must “view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1774 (2007) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         A. Gender Discrimination

         The Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), Mo. Rev. Stat. § 213.010 et seq., makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to ‚Äúdischarge any individual, or to otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, ...

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