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Halstead v. Res-Care, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division

April 24, 2019

RES-CARE, INC., Defendant.



         Pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment submitted by Defendant ResCare, Inc. ECF No. 27. Plaintiff alleges, in his complaint, claims against Defendant under two causes of action: age discrimination, in violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act (“WVHRA”), and sex discrimination, also in violation of the WVHRA. See Compl., ECF No. 1-2, at 2-3. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on both counts for three reasons. Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 28, at 10. First, because Plaintiff has failed to state a prima facia case of age or sex discrimination. See Id. at 10. Second, because, even if Plaintiff has stated a prima facia case of age or sex discrimination, Defendant had a legitimate reason for not hiring Plaintiff. See Id. at 14. Third, because there is no evidence that Defendant's reasons were pretextual. See Id. at 15.

         The parties have fully briefed the issues and the motion is now ripe for adjudication. As explained below, the Court DENIES Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. Background

         Because Defendant has moved for summary judgment, the Court will view the following facts and their inferences in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.[1] Defendant provides in-home healthcare, rehabilitation, and other assistance services to intellectually and cognitively disabled people. See Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., at 1-2. Plaintiff had been in a supervisory position with Defendant since 1991. See Dep. of Halstead, ECF No. 29-1, at 2-5. Plaintiff became the area program manager in 2000, and while his job title varied, his duties remained the same for the next seventeen years. See Id. at 4-5, 15. On October 8, 2015, while working at Defendant's Charleston/Dunbar location, Plaintiff received his first and only written discipline from Defendant. See Id. at 6-9; ECF No. 29-3.

         Following this discipline, Plaintiff applied to transfer to Defendant's Huntington location at the request of Anna Beavers, the executive director at that location. See Dep. of Halstead, at 8- 10. Ms. Beavers knew Plaintiff because she had previously served as the executive director at the Charleston/Dunbar location and supervised Plaintiff there. See Id. at 6-7. Plaintiff then began working as a program manager at the Huntington location on October 12, 2015. See Id. at 8-9.

         In March of 2017 Defendant made the decision to combine its Huntington and Barboursville locations into one office. Dep. of Riggins, ECF No. 29-2, at 2. Tom Riggins, Defendant's regional director of the Huntington and Barboursville locations, oversaw the consolidation. See Id. at 3. All management-level employees at the Huntington and Barboursville locations were notified that their positions were being eliminated, but that they could apply for a position at the new location if they desired. See Id. at 6. Mr. Riggins' first decision was to hire Ms. Beavers as the post-consolidation executive director at the new location. See Id. at 4. Mr. Riggins and Ms. Beavers then proceeded to fill the rest of the post-consolidation management staff. See Id. at 8. Plaintiff was not hired as part of the management staff, and each employee hired to the management team was female. See ECF No. 29-9. Additionally, the three program managers hired-April Lucas, Megan Ray, and Ashley Wellman-were 37, 32, and 27 years old, respectively. ECF No. 29-10. Plaintiff, on the other hand, is a male, and was a 59-years-old at the time of the consolidation. See Compl., at ¶ 11. Further, Plaintiff claims that during the consolidation, Kathy Myers, the Human Resources manager, suggested to him that Defendant may fire him because of his age.[2] See Dep. of Halstead, at 19-20. Ms. Myers denies this allegation. See ECF No. 27-9.

         Plaintiff subsequently filed a complaint against Defendant on March 15, 2018, in the Circuit Court of Cabell County, West Virginia, alleging age and sex discrimination. See Compl. Defendant then removed the case to this Court on April 18, 2018, and filed the pending motion for summary judgment on March 6, 2019. See Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1; Def's Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 27.

         II. Standard of Review

         To obtain summary judgment, the moving party must show that no genuine issue as to any material fact remains and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In considering a motion for summary judgment, a court will not “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter[.]” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). Instead, a court will draw any permissible inference from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986). Any inference, however, “must fall within the range of reasonable probability and not be so tenuous as to amount to speculation or conjecture.” JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). Therefore, summary judgment will not be granted if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party on the evidence presented. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.

         III. Discussion

         The WVHRA prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals based upon, among other characteristics, their age[3] and sex. See W.Va. Code § 5-11-2. In McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, [4] the United States Supreme Court created a three-step burden-shifting test for Title VII employment discrimination cases, and the West Virginia Supreme Court has adopted this three-step test for cases such as this. See Knotts v. Grafton City Hosp., 786 S.E.2d 188, 194 ( W.Va. 2016).

         “The first step under McDonnell Douglas is to determine whether the plaintiff has made a prima facie case of discrimination.” Knotts, 786 S.E.2d at 194. If the first step is satisfied then the court moves to the second step, where “the burden of production shifts to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the negative action taken against the complainant.” Id. Finally, if this second step is met, the third step requires that the plaintiff “prove that the employer's reason was pretextual.” Id.

         A. Whether Plaintiff Has Stated a Prima Facia Case for Sex or Age Discrimination

         Defendant first argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's sex and age discrimination claims because “Plaintiff has failed to state a prima facie case of age or sex discrimination.” See Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., at 10. Based on the evidence presented, the Court disagrees with Defendant, and finds that Plaintiff clearly has stated a prima facia case of both sex and age discrimination.

         To state a prima facia case of employment discrimination, a plaintiff must prove the following three elements: (1) the plaintiff is a member of a protected class; (2) the employer made an adverse decision concerning the plaintiff; and (3) but for the plaintiff's protected status, the adverse decision would not have been made. See Conaway v. Eastern Associated Coal Corp., 358 S.E.2d 423, 429 ( W.Va. 1986). The West Virginia Supreme ...

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