Kraft Foods again denied summary judgment in discriminatory firing case

By Jon Campisi | May 24, 2013

A federal judge overseeing an employment discrimination case against Kraft Foods has,

for the second time, denied a defense motion seeking summary judgment.

U.S. District Judge Jan DuBois, in a May 21 ruling, refused to grant Kraft’s motion for reconsideration of his earlier ruling that allowed plaintiff Donald Clark’s lawsuit to move forward.

Clark is suing his former employer over allegations that the defendant terminated his employment for discriminatory reasons.

In late October 2011, the record shows, DuBois denied Kraft’s motion for summary judgment, writing that the court concluded Clark had satisfied the elements necessary to support a prima facie case of discrimination, “as plaintiff was qualified for his position, and had shown circumstances that gave rise to an inference of discrimination in connection with his termination,” the May 21 memorandum states.

Clark, who is black, and had worked as a sales representative for the food company, claims in his complaint that he had received “high marks for meeting sales objectives” and received various awards in connection with his supposed exemplary work.

Nevertheless, Clark claims he was fired from the defendant’s Horsham, Montgomery County office for pretextual reasons; in reality, the plaintiff claims the company exhibited a pattern of discriminatory treatment toward African American Sales Representatives and that he was fired in connection with this alleged discrimination.

Kraft previously argued that it had satisfied its burden of introducing evidence proving that Clark’s firing was not discriminatory in nature, but DuBois had determined that genuine issues of material fact remained as to whether Clark could show that the reason provided by the company was pretextual.

More than a year after the judge’s initial ruling denying summary judgment to Kraft, defense lawyers moved for leave to file a motion for reconsideration of the court’s order, with the attorneys arguing that they had conducted additional discovery and taken depositions of so-called “late disclosed” witnesses.

Kraft maintained that the new evidence would rebut the plaintiff’s claims regarding the circumstances surrounding his firing.

The company further argued that DuBois committed legal errors in refusing to grant its motion for summary judgment.

In his latest memorandum, DuBois wrote that much of Kraft’s supposed “new evidence” appeared to have been available to the defendant at the time it filed for summary judgment, and therefore doesn’t constitute new evidence for the purposes of reconsideration.

“Assuming, arguendo, that the Court considered all of the evidence now submitted by defendant over a year after the October 28, 2011 Order denying defendant’s motion for summary judgment, such evidence would not alter that decision,” DuBois wrote this week. “The Court remains of the view that there are genuine disputes of material fact, rendering summary judgment inappropriate.”

In reiterating his conclusion that Clark appears to have satisfied the elements of a prima facie case, DuBois wrote that while both parties argue about whether or not Clark satisfactorily performed his job, at this stage of the litigation, the plaintiff must only show that he had the basic qualifications for his job.

“Defendant argues that because plaintiff did not perform his job satisfactorily, he cannot make out a prima facie case,” the judge wrote. “However … the proper standard requires only that plaintiff show he was ‘qualified’ for his job as a Sales Representative …”

Clark claims in his lawsuit that white sales representatives at the company are routinely treated differently than black sales reps and that during his 12 years at the company, Kraft never promoted any black sales reps and never made black sales reps aware of promotional and developmental opportunities.

“The Court concludes that, viewing the [sic] all of the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, there remains a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether defendant exhibited a pattern of discrimination against African American Sales Representatives, which precludes summary judgment for defendant on this issue,” DuBois wrote.

More News

The Record Network