United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER RE: DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY
L. QUACKENBUSH SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
THE COURT is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF
No. 33). Response and Reply briefs have been filed. (ECF No.
36 & 47). The court heard telephonic oral argument on the
Motion on April 27, 2017. Ronald Van Wert appeared on behalf
of Defendants. Patrick McGuigan and William Kim represented
Plaintiff. This Order memorializes and supplements the
court's oral rulings.
Bennett Magden alleges he was discriminated against on the
basis of religion. Plaintiff alleges he was hired by
Defendants in September 2010 to work as a tractor maintenance
driver. (Am. Complt. ¶ 4.1). Defendant claims his
supervisor, Eric Freeman, "attempted to
proselytize" him at work, and gave him a Mormon bible.
(Id. at 4.6 - 4.8). Plaintiff is not Mormon and was
offended by Mr. Freeman's actions. (Id. at
4.11). On July 3, 2014, during a business meeting, Plaintiff
told Cody Easterday about the proselytizing. (Id. at
4.13). Plaintiff alleges the following week he again told Mr.
Freeman he did not want to discuss religious issues at work,
Mr. Freeman became angry, and fired Plaintiff on July 8,
2014. Plaintiff brings his claims pursuant to Title VII, 42
U.S.C. § 2000 et seq, and the Washington Law Against
Discrimination ("WLAD") § 49.60 et seq.
deny Plaintiff was discriminated against in any manner.
Defendants admit Mr. Freeman gave Plaintiff a copy of the
Mormon Bible, but deny Mr. Freeman engaged in proselytizing.
Defendants claim Plaintiff was terminated for unsatisfactory
job performance. Defendants seek summary judgment on several
grounds. Defendants argue Easterday Farms Produce, Co. and
Easterday Ranches, Inc. are improper parties and the court
lacks subject matter jurisdiction over them. (ECF No. 33, p.
4-8). Defendants also argue Plaintiff cannot maintain a Title
VII claim against the individual partners of Easterday Farms.
Lastly, Defendants argue Plaintiff cannot establish a claim
under Title VII or the WLAD because his job performance was
not satisfactory at the time of termination.
summary judgment proceedings, the facts are viewed in a light
most favorable to the non-movant, in this case the Plaintiff.
The following facts are set forth in a light favorable to the
Plaintiff and key factual disputes are noted.
Bennet Magden began working for Defendants on September 14,
2010. Plaintiff began work as a tractor maintenance/lube
truck driver and was being paid $11 an hour. (ECF No. 34-1,
Magden depo. p. 98). After about three months, he received a
raise to $14/hour and after approximately one year he became
a salaried employee at $40, 000/year. (Id. at
98-99). In January 2014, Plaintiff was promoted to Assistant
Manager and his salary was raised to $50, 000/year. His
supervisor during the course of his employment was Eric
Easterday is the president and CEO of Easterday Farms, an
unincorporated partnership. (ECF No. 34-2, Easterday depo. p.
9). Easterday Farms employs about 80 people, and was
Plaintiff's employer. Mr. Easterday testified he considered
Plaintiff to be a good worker, with a "great
attitude" who was "punctual" and
"energetic." (Id. at 20). Plaintiff's
immediate supervisor, Mr. Freeman, also testified Plaintiff
"did a great job of lube truck." (ECF No. 34-3,
Freeman depo. p. 21). He testified Plaintiff "never
screwed up, " the work was "done right" and
Plaintiff was "fast" and "hustled"
(Id.). He further agreed with Mr. Easterday's
characterization of Plaintiff as punctual with a positive
late-August 2013, Mr. Freeman, who is Mormon, gave Plaintiff
a copy of the Mormon Bible while they were at work. Plaintiff
contends "about every two weeks" thereafter Mr.
Freeman would ask if Plaintiff had read the verse Mr. Freeman
had folded the page over on. (Magden depo. p. 50). Mr.
Freeman admits he gave Plaintiff a copy of the Mormon Bible,
but claims he discussed it on only two occasions. (ECF No.
34-3, Freeman depo. p. 97). Plaintiff claims Mr. Freeman
would ask him questions such as: 1) what are you doing with
the Bible?; 2) where is the Bible at?; 3) why aren't you
reading the Bible or the verse I indicated? (Magden
depo. at 51). Plaintiff testified he often tried to
change the subject to avoid talking about religion. He
testified he did not complain to anyone when he was first
given the Bible at work because he was trying to advance his
career and was not at that time an Assistant Manager.
(Id. at 31).
Easterday and Mr. Freeman contend the quality of
Plaintiff's work began to decline after he was promoted
in January 2014. They argue the meeting of July 3, 2014 was
set to discuss Plaintiff's performance issues. Plaintiff
testified he was not aware of performance issues and thought
the July 3, 2014 meeting was to discuss farm operations, such
as "making plans for the early potatoes and then for
harvest". (Magden depo. p. 34-35).
claims the July 3rd meeting began with Mr. Easterday
threatening to terminate him if he did not listen to Mr.
Freeman. (ECF No. 38, Magden Dec. ¶ 12). Plaintiff then
claims Mr. Easterday raised some issues, including a weed
spraying issue, and Plaintiff presented his side of the story
and disputed he had ever hung up the phone on Mr. Freeman.
(Id. at ¶ 13). Plaintiff states neither Mr.
Easterday or Mr. Freeman brought up any issues with Plaintiff
leaving work early or absenteeism. (Id. At ¶
14). Plaintiff claims Mr. Easterday said he should not have
jumped to conclusions and asked if there were other issues
they needed to discuss. Plaintiff then took the opportunity
to complain about Mr. Freeman proselytizing at work, giving
him a Mormon Bible, and urging him to read scripture.
(Id.). Plaintiff claims Mr. Easterday essentially
ignored his complaint and said he had nothing to do with
that. Mr. Easterday testified he understood Magden to be
complaining about the proselytizing, but he conducted no
investigation, and concluded immediately there was no
discrimination. (Easterday depo. p. 66-68). Plaintiff claims
the meeting ended with Easterday and Freeman telling him he
was doing a good job, and they told him to take a three-day
weekend for the Fourth of July holiday. (Magden Dec. ¶
returned to work on July 7, 2014. On July 8, 2014, Mr.
Freeman approached him and asked why he had complained to Mr.
Easterday about the religious issue. (Id. at ¶
15). Plaintiff claimed he told Freeman he only wanted to talk
about work, and not personal matters. Freeman responded by
saying Plaintiff was "defiant". Plaintiff claims he
told Freeman he needed to leave early that day because his
wife was about to give birth and was on bed rest. Plaintiff
claims Freeman gave him permission to leave early.
(Id. at ¶ 15). Mr. Freeman denies he gave
Plaintiff permission or knew Plaintiff's wife was about
to give birth. (Freeman depo. p. 93-94). Mr. Freeman called
Plaintiff at about 6:30 p.m. on July 8th and left him a
voicemail telling him he was terminated due to poor
Summary Judgment Standard
purpose of summary judgment is to avoid unnecessary trials
when there is no dispute as to the material facts before the
court. Northwest Motorcycle Ass'n v. U.S. Dept. of
Agriculture, 18 F.3d 1468, 1471 (9th Cir. 1994). The
moving party is entitled to summary judgment when, viewing
the evidence and the inferences arising therefrom in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there are no
genuine issues of material fact in dispute. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56;
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252
(1986). While the moving party does not have to disprove
matters on which the opponent will bear the burden of proof
at trial, they nonetheless bear the burden of producing
evidence that negates an essential element of the opposing
party's claim and the ultimate burden of persuading the
court that no genuine issue of material fact exists.
Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz
Companies, 210 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2000). When the
nonmoving party has the burden of proof at trial, the moving
party need only point out that there is an absence of
evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.
Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir.
the moving party has carried its burden, the opponent must do
more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to
the material facts. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, the
opposing party must come forward with specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.
a summary judgment motion is to be granted with caution, it
is not a disfavored remedy: “Summary judgment procedure
is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut,
but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a
whole, which are designed to secure the just, speedy and
inexpensive determination of every action.” Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986)(citations and