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Isabella Nunes-Baptista v. Wfm Hawaii

April 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leslie E. Kobayashi United States District Judge


Before the Court is Defendant WFM Hawaii, LLC doing business as Whole Foods Market's ("Defendant" or "Whole Foods") Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion"), filed September 27, 2011. Plaintiff Isabella Nunes-Baptista ("Plaintiff") filed her memorandum in opposition on January 5, 2012, and Defendant filed its reply on March 23, 2012. This matter came on for hearing on April 9, 2012. Appearing on behalf of Plaintiff was Charles Brower, Esq., and appearing on behalf of Defendant was Jeffery Harris, Esq. After careful consideration of the Motion, supporting and opposing memoranda, and the arguments of counsel, Defendant's Motion is HEREBY GRANTED for the reasons set forth below.


Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the First Circuit Court of the State of Hawai`i on February 14, 2011, which Defendant removed to this Court on February 17, 2011. The Complaint alleges violations of state and federal discrimination laws, hostile work environment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"). Plaintiff claims that she was hired by Defendant in September 2007, and was working as a Bakery Manager at the time of her termination on July 30, 2009. She is female and was eight months pregnant at the time of her termination. Plaintiff alleges that, sometime in 2009, she submitted doctor's notes requesting accommodation due to her pregnancy, which included regular breaks, but that she was sometimes not allowed to take her breaks because there was no staff to cover her. On July 28, 2009, Plaintiff informed the general manager that she could work a maximum of six hours per day and needed thirty minutes to be off her feet every two hours, pursuant to a doctor's note. The general manager informed Plaintiff that he could not accommodate her request because he could not allow and employee to sit down on the job. [Complaint at ¶¶ 4-5, 9.]

During a July 29, 2009 shift, Plaintiff states that, while she was getting her breakfast, she was called into the kitchen to tell the staff what she needed to order for the coffee and juice bar. She was going from the back to the front of the market with her breakfast in her hand along with the bakery paperwork. Plaintiff states that she went upstairs to place her bakery order as needed, and unintentionally forgot to pay for her breakfast at the fast food counter. The general manager approached Plaintiff while she was upstairs having her breakfast to request that he be provided with a copy of the receipt for Plaintiff having paid for the food, but she could not find the receipt, and offered to pay for the breakfast. [Id. at ¶ 9.]

The general manager then contacted Human Resources to conduct an investigation, suspended Plaintiff, and sent her home. He allegedly told her to return the next day at 11:00 a.m., which was not her scheduled start time. Plaintiff alleges that she was terminated on July 30, 2009, purportedly for the alleged theft, but in reality, she claims she was terminated because of her requests for accommodation due to her pregnancy. [Id.]

The Complaint alleges the following claims: (1) violations of Haw. Rev. Stat. § 378-2 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 due to her sex (Count I); (2) a hostile work environment based upon discrimination (Count II); and (3) an IIED claim. [Id. at ¶¶ 10-17.] Defendant moves for summary judgment on all there claims. [Mem. in Supp. of Motion at 1-2.] As to each claim, the Court finds, as a matter of law, that Defendant is entitled to summary judgment and that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact as to these claims. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).


I. Count I - Sex Discrimination

The Court follows the framework established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), as to Plaintiff's Title VII and Haw. Rev. Stat. § 378-2 discrimination claims.

McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 36 L. Ed.2d 668 (1973), provides a "useful tool at the summary judgment stage" in addressing Title VII claims. See McGinest v. GTE Serv. Corp., 360 F.3d 1103, 1122 (9th Cir. 2004). Under this framework, Plaintiff has the initial burden to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. E.E.O.C. v. Boeing Co., 577 F.3d 1044, 1049 (9th Cir. 2009) (citation and quotation omitted). "The requisite degree of proof necessary to establish a prima facie case for Title VII . . . on summary judgment is minimal and does not even need to rise to the level of a preponderance of the evidence." Cordova v. State Farm Ins. Cos., 124 F.3d 1145, 1148 (9th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).

Hughes v. Mayoral, 721 F. Supp. 2d 947, 957-58 (D. Hawai`i 2010).

A prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas requires a plaintiff to offer proof that: (1) he belongs to a protected class; (2) he performed his job adequately or satisfactorily; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) other similarly situated employees who do not belong to the same protected class were treated differently. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802; Noyes v. Kelly Servs., 488 F.3d 1163, 1168 (9th Cir. 2007); Cornwell v. Electra Cent. Credit Union, 439 F.3d 1018, 1028 (9th Cir. 2006).

After a plaintiff establishes a prima facie showing of discrimination, the burden under the McDonnell Douglas framework shifts to a defendant to put forward a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S. Ct. 1817. A defendant's burden to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the challenged action is merely a burden of production, not persuasion. Chuang v. Univ. of Cal. Davis Bd. of Trs., 225 F.3d 1115, 1123-24 (9th Cir. 2000). If a defendant puts forth a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the given reason is merely pretext for a discriminatory motive. Boeing Co., 577 F.3d at 1049 (citation and quotation omitted).

Hughes, 721 F. Supp. 2d at 957-58.

"[A] plaintiff's burden is much less at the prima facie stage than at the pretext stage." Hawn v. Exec. Jet Mgmt., Inc., 615 F.3d 1151, 1158 (9th Cir. 2010). That is, circumstantial evidence of pretext must be specific and substantial, Becerril v. Pima Cnty. Assessor's Office, 587 F.3d 1162, 1163 (9th Cir. 2009), and a plaintiff must do more than merely deny the credibility of the defendant's proffered reason. Schuler v. Chronicle Broad. Co., 793 F.2d 1010, 1011 (9th Cir. 1986). "A plaintiff can show pretext directly, by showing that discrimination [or retaliation] more likely motivated the employer, or indirectly, by showing that the employer's explanation is unworthy of credence." Vasquez v. Cnty. of Los Angeles, 349 F.3d 634, 641 (9th Cir. 2003); see also Coghlan v. Am. Seafoods Co., 413 F.3d 1090, 1094--95 (9th Cir. 2005).

"Direct evidence typically consists of clearly sexist, racist, or similarly discriminatory [or retaliatory] statements or actions by the employer." Coghlan, 349 F.3d at 1095. Circumstantial evidence requires an additional inferential step to demonstrate discrimination. Id.

Despite this "useful tool" of the McDonnell Douglas framework, there is nothing that "compels the parties to invoke the McDonnell Douglas presumption." McGinest, 360 F.3d at 1122. "When responding to a summary judgment motion . . . [the plaintiff] may proceed by using the McDonnell Douglas framework, or alternatively, may simply produce direct or circumstantial evidence demonstrating that a discriminatory reason more likely than not motivated [the employer]." Metoyer v. Chassman, 504 F.3d 919, 931 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting McGinest, 360 F.3d at 1122). If the plaintiff submits direct or circumstantial evidence, "a triable issue as to the actual motivation of the employer is created even if the evidence is not substantial." Id. (quoting Godwin v. Hunt Wesson, Inc., 150 F.3d 1217, 1221 (9th Cir. 1998)).

Hughes, 721 F. Supp. 2d at 957-58.

The same general framework applies for both Plaintiff's Title VII and Hawai`i state law discrimination claims. See Schefke v. Reliable Collection Agency, Ltd., 96 Hawai`i 408, 426, 32 P.3d 52, 70 (2001); Villiarimo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054, 1064 (9th Cir. 2002) (recognizing that Hawai`i courts use the McDonnell Douglas framework in analyzing analogous ...

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