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Williams v. Steak 'N Shake

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

April 13, 2015

ALICIA E. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
STEAK 'N SHAKE, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

GREG N. STIVERS, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment (DN 30) filed by Defendant Steak n Shake. The motion has been thoroughly addressed by the parties and is now ripe for a decision. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

I. STATEMENT OF FACTS AND CLAIMS

Plaintiff Alicia E. Williams ("Williams") first worked for Defendant Steak n Shake at its 1680 Scottsville Road location in Bowling Green, Kentucky, from 2000 to 2002. (Williams Dep. 31:3-13, Sept. 4, 2014, DN 32-1). In 2002, she moved to Texas but returned to Kentucky in 2006. (Williams Dep. 31:11-14).

On July 25, 2007, Williams began her second tenure with Steak n Shake when she was hired as a food production associate at the same Bowling Green location. (Williams Dep. 31:18-33:9). In that position she was primarily responsible for meal preparation, which involved working with the cooks to prepare meals. (Williams Dep. 32:9-22).

In 2012, Williams was cited for two separate incidents involving inappropriate workplace conduct. (Williams Dep. Ex. 9 & 11, DN 32-2). At the time of these incidents, the General Manager was Kathy Lightfoot ("Lightfoot"), and the District Manager was Denise Gadberry ("Gadberry").

On May 27, 2012, Williams engaged in behavior that Lightfoot described as reflecting a "bad attitude" and exhibiting "poor teamwork." (Williams Dep. Ex. 9, DN 32-2). During her deposition, Williams described the incident as follows:

Well, the incident applied to me getting an attitude problem was when at the time of the lunch rush, the service put trays on top of this crossover we call it where we prepare the food and put it in the window for the service to pick it up to take it to the customers.
Well, they had stacked trays on top of this crossover and I went up to reach for a tray so I could put my-you know, my orders on. The whole stack fell down on my head.
Now, this is at the lunch rush and we've got a lot of people that came in at this time trying to get these orders out.
Well, the manager from Saint Louis took it upon his self when the when the trays fell on the floor, I went down to reach you know, pick up the trays. One or two of them fell out of my hand that I was picking them up.
He took it upon his self like I was throwing them on the on the floor. And he made a smart remark, said, you can go home if you can't get your attitude together, or something to that nature, and he-I it was a smart remark. I ignored it. I just looked at him and ignored him and continued my work.

(Williams Dep. 48:18-49:18). At the end of her shift, Williams received a written warning for her behavior (which she refused to sign) and was cautioned that similar behavior in the future could result in her termination. (Williams Dep. Ex. 9, DN 32-2; Williams Dep. 49:19-24, DN 32-2; Gadberry Dec. ¶ 5, DN 32-3).

On July 14, 2012, Williams missed work. (Williams Dep. 53:1-12). She was cleared to return to work without any restrictions on July 16, 2012, and Williams provided a doctor's note to her employer. (Williams Dep. 53:13-25). On July 17, 2012, Lightfoot observed an outburst by Williams. Lightfoot stated that Williams "got an attitude" and told a server "looking down the line won't get your food out any faster." According to Williams, Lightfoot told her to "lose [her] attitude." (Williams Dep. 59:6). Williams stated "I can go home, " and in response, Lightfoot told Williams that she should "go." (Williams Dep. 59:11-14).

After that incident, Lightfoot spoke with Gadberry about Williams' behavior, and they made the decision to terminate Williams' employment. (Gadberry Dec. ¶ 6, DN 32-3). Lightfoot completed a corrective action form in which Lightfoot noted that Williams had exhibited a "poor attitude towards co-workers & [General Manager], refused to work as a team member." (Gadberry Dec. Ex. 4, DN 32-3). The form also indicated that Williams' prior discipline was due to "bad attitude, poor teamwork, " and that because of reoccurrence of this behavior, Williams was being terminated. (Gadberry Dec. Ex. 4, DN 32-3). Upon the advice of Human Resources, Gadberry also told Lightfoot to obtain statements from witnesses reflecting what had occurred. (Gadberry Dec. ¶ 6, Ex. 6, DN 32-3).

Plaintiff filed this action alleging disability discrimination, [1] wrongful termination, and defamation of character. (Compl. 3, DN 1). Following the completion of discovery, Steak n Shake moved for summary judgment. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., DN 30).

II. JURISDICTION

This Court has jurisdiction over this matter based upon federal question jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The Court also has supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's pendent state law claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must determine whether there is any genuine issue of any material fact that would preclude entry of judgment for the moving party as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden stating the basis for the motion and identifying evidence in the record that demonstrates an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). If the moving party satisfies its burden, the non-moving party must the produce specific evidence proving the existence of a genuine issue of fact for trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

While the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the non-moving party must do more than merely show the existence of some "metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (citation omitted). Rather, the non-moving party must present specific facts proving that a genuine factual issue exists by "citing to particular parts of the materials in the record" or by "showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence... of a genuine dispute." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party]." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). In addition, the non-moving party's arguments made in response to motion for summary judgment are not evidence. See Ab v. Sekendur, No. 03 C 4723, 2004 WL 2434220, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 28, 2004). Likewise, "[g]eneral assertions of fact issues, general denials, and conclusion statements are insufficient to shoulder the non-movant's burden." Chem. Eng'r Corp. v Essef Indus., Inc., 795 F.2d 1565, 1571 (Fed. Cir. 1986).

IV. DISCUSSION

In its motion, Steak n Shake argues that summary judgment is warranted on all of Williams' claims. For the reasons outlined below, the Court agrees and ...


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