Submitted: September 26, 2019
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Arkansas - Pine Bluff
SMITH, Chief Judge, WOLLMAN and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.
ERICKSON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Rinchuso sued his former employer, Brookshire Grocery
Company, alleging gender-based discrimination. The district
court granted Brookshire's motion for
summary judgment. Rinchuso appeals, arguing the district
court erred in refusing to consider his direct evidence
argument and granting summary judgment for Brookshire. We
have jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. § 1291. Because
summary judgment was appropriate and any error in declining
to consider Rinchuso's direct evidence argument was
harmless, we affirm.
2014, Brookshire Grocery Company ("Brookshire")
hired Albert Rinchuso as a pharmacist. At the time of his
employment, Rinchuso signed an acknowledgment of
Brookshire's internet and conduct policies in which he
acknowledged that using the company computer for personal
purposes or acting inappropriately at work could result in
termination. Shortly after he began working at Brookshire,
female coworkers reported Rinchuso was engaging in
inappropriate behavior and he was verbally warned.
January 2017, Brookshire's human resources department
opened an investigation in response to a coworker complaint
that Rinchuso was viewing pornography on his work computer.
Brookshire interviewed four of Rinchuso's female
coworkers, who alleged Rinchuso viewed naked women on his
work computer, gambled, and touched them inappropriately at
work. Notwithstanding the interviews, Brookshire's
information technology department was unable to conclusively
determine if Rinchuso viewed pornography on his work
computer. Brookshire also interviewed Rinchuso, who admitted
to visiting sports and dating websites at his work computer
but denied viewing pornography, gambling at work, or touching
his coworkers. Brookshire did not interview Rinchuso's
two male coworkers.
terminated Rinchuso on January 20, 2017. On February 28,
2017, Rinchuso filed a complaint in state court claiming he
was fired in violation of the Arkansas Civil Rights Act's
prohibition on gender-based discrimination. Specifically,
Rinchuso alleged that he was subjected to disparate treatment
when he was terminated after accusations of inappropriate
touching. Rinchuso claimed a prior female employee, Laura
Cole, was not terminated after coworkers accused her of
inappropriate touching in 2014.
removed the case to federal court and moved for summary
judgment. In response, Rinchuso argued discovery had elicited
direct evidence of Brookshire's discriminatory motive in
firing him. The district court found Rinchuso's direct
evidence argument to be an untimely attempt to amend his
complaint and declined to consider it. The district court
found Rinchuso failed to present a prima facie case of
discrimination and granted summary judgment in favor of
Brookshire. Rinchuso moved the district court to amend or
alter its judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
59(e) asserting that his direct evidence argument was a
method of proof for his underlying disparate treatment claim,
not a new theory of recovery. The district court denied the
motion. Rinchuso timely appealed the district court's
orders granting summary judgment for Brookshire and denying
his Rule 59(e) motion.
review the grant of a motion for summary judgment de
novo. Higgins v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 931 F.3d
664, 669 (8th Cir. 2019). Summary judgment is appropriate if,
viewing all evidence and reasonable inferences in the light
most favorable to the nonmovant, there is no genuine issue of
material fact. Id.
Arkansas Civil Rights Act prohibits gender discrimination by
employers. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-123-107(a)(1) (2016).
Violations of the Arkansas Civil Rights Act are evaluated
under the Title VII gender-discrimination framework and
relevant federal case law prohibiting disparate treatment.
Greenlee v. J.B. Hunt Transp. Servs., 342 S.W.3d
274, 277-79 (Ark. 2009). A plaintiff alleging disparate
treatment may survive summary judgment by either: (1) showing
direct evidence of discrimination or (2) presenting an
inference of discrimination under the McDonnell
Douglas framework. Griffith v. City of Des
Moines, 387 F.3d 733, 736 (8th Cir. 2004). Direct
evidence shows a "specific link" between
discriminatory animus and an employment decision.
Id. (quoting Thomas v. First Nat'l Bank of
Wynne, 111 F.3d 64, 66 (8th Cir. 1997)). Under the
McDonnell Douglas framework, a plaintiff establishes
a prima facie case of disparate treatment by showing they:
(1) belong to a protected class; (2) were meeting the
employer's legitimate job expectations; (3) suffered an