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Thompson v. Einstien Noah Restaurant Group Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

January 18, 2019




         Plaintiff James Thompson (“Thompson”) invokes the Court's federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1331, accusing defendant Einstein Noah Restaurant Group Inc. (“Einstein”) of unlawful discrimination under federal law. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 29) is fully briefed and ripe for decision. Having considered the motion, response, reply, evidence, and applicable law, the Court concludes that the motion should be GRANTED for the following reasons.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff James Thompson (“Thompson”) worked as a baker at an Einstein Noah Restaurant Group Inc. (“Einstein”) restaurant from June 2014 to January 2017. (ECF No. 30-2 at 61:11-24.) After his shift on January 5, 2017, Thompson fell asleep at a table in Einstein's dining room while wearing his Einstein uniform. (ECF No. 30-3 ¶ 4.) One of Thompson's co-workers woke him up and Thompson moved to another table where customers were sitting. (ECF No. 30-3 ¶ 4.) Thompson then fell asleep again. (ECF No. 30-3 ¶ 4.) David Webber, Einstein's general manager and Thompson's supervisor, testified that the customers gave Webber a “look of discomfort” as Thompson slept at their table. (ECF No. 30-3 ¶ 4.) Thompson's supervisor then approached Thompson and asked him to wake up and leave the restaurant. (ECF No. 30-3 ¶ 5.) Shortly after Thompson left the restaurant, his supervisor received a call from a regular Einstein customer, advising him that she had just seen Thompson almost hit Einstein's building and her vehicle as Thompson drove out of the parking lot. (ECF No. 30-3 ¶ 6.) The customer told Thompson's supervisor that she had called and reported Thompson's behavior to the police. (ECF No. 30-3 ¶ 6.) The customer also advised Thompson's supervisor that she would not return to Einstein because of this parking lot incident. (ECF No. 30-3 ¶ 6.)

         Later that day, the police responded to a call that Thompson was sleeping in the middle of the road and arrested him for driving while intoxicated and for driving with a suspended license. (ECF No. 30-2 at 87:2-24-90:24-25.) Thompson remained in jail until January 6, 2017, when he posted bond. (ECF No. 30-2 at 91:16-21.) Because he was incarcerated, Thompson failed to report to Einstein on January 6th for his scheduled shift. (ECF No. 30-3 ¶ 8; ECF No. 30-2 at 99:3-18.) Einstein considered Thompson's absence a “no-call, no-show” absence because Thompson failed to notify his supervisor of this absence beforehand. (ECF No. 30-3 ¶ 8; ECF No. 30-2 at 99:3-18.) On January 7, 2017, Thompson reported for his shift at Einstein and learned that his employment had been terminated. (ECF No. 30-2 at 100:9-22.) Thompson's supervisor testified that three factors motivated him to terminate Thompson's employment: (1) Thompson's “no-call, no-show” absence on January 6, 2017; (2) Thompson's falling asleep at a table in the dining room; and (3) the report by a regular guest that Thompson almost hit the building and her car as he left Einstein's parking lot. (ECF No. 30-3 ¶ 9.) Thompson, however, alleges that Einstein terminated him because of his race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1967, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e and/or 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (ECF No. 1 at 1.)

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Rule 56(a) provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if 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). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the district court must view the evidence “through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254 (1986). All justifiable inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). On summary judgment, a party must show the Court what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events. Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, ” summary judgment should be granted. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. at 587 (1986).

         III. Discussion

         Einstein moves for summary judgment on Thompson's claim of racial discrimination under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, arguing that Thompson fails to establish a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination. (ECF No. 30 at 9.) Einstein also argues that Thompson's discrimination claim must fail because he “admitted at deposition he does not believe Einstein discriminated against him because of his race.” (ECF No. 30 at 2.) Finally, in addition to arguing that summary judgment is warranted because Thompson did not follow the procedural rules (ECF 37 at 2); Einstein argues that Thompson's Title VII discrimination claim fails because the claim is time-barred. (ECF No. 30 at 13.)

         A. Legal Standard

         Title VII prohibits an employer from “discriminat[ing] against any individual with respect to . . . compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Title VII also prohibits an employer from acting in retaliation against employees who oppose any practice made unlawful under Title VII. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Section 1981 prohibits race discrimination and retaliation. 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a); Tank v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., 758 F.3d 800, 805 (7th Cir. 2014). Courts apply the same standards to analyze claims under Title VII and § 1981. Mintz v. Caterpillar Inc., 788 F.3d 673, 679 (7th Cir. 2015).

         Plaintiffs alleging discrimination may prove their claims using either the direct method or indirect method of proof. Andrews v. CBOCS West, Inc., 743 F.3d 230, 234 (7th Cir. 2014). Under the direct method, a plaintiff proves his case “by pointing to evidence directly showing that [his] employer subjected [him] to an adverse employment action on an impermissible discriminatory basis.” Id. Under the indirect, burden-shifting method established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination based on, as alleged in this case, race. Id. at 802. A plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of discrimination by presenting evidence that would allow a reasonable jury to find on each claim that: (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he was meeting the employer's legitimate employment expectations; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) he was treated less favorably than a similarly-situated, non-protected class member. See Farrell v. Butler Univ., 421 F.3d 609, 613 (7th Cir. 2005). If the plaintiff can prove a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse action. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. If the employer articulates such a reason, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the employer's stated reason was pretext. Id. at 804.

         Regardless of whether a plaintiff uses the direct method of proof, indirect method, or both methods, the legal standard is the same, namely, “whether the evidence would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the plaintiff's race, ethnicity, sex, religion, or other proscribed factor caused the discharge or other adverse employment action.” Ortiz v. Werner Enterps., Inc., 834 F.3d 760, 765 (7th Cir. 2016). Ortiz “did not alter McDonnell Douglas or displace the indirect method of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination.” Golla v. Office of Chief Judge of Cook Cty., Ill., 875 F.3d 404, 407 (7th Cir. 2017). Rather, “the indirect method remains a means of organizing, presenting, and assessing circumstantial evidence in frequently recurring factual patterns found in discrimination cases.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting David v. Bd. of Trs. of Cmty. Coll. Dist. No. 508, 846 F.3d 216, 224 (7th Cir. 2017).

         B. ...

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