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Fortenberry v. Gemstone Foods, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

November 21, 2018




         Amberly Fortenberry worked for RCF, LLC as a purchasing manager at a plant operated by Gemstone Foods, LLC. Fortenberry asserts that Gemstone and RCF violated the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., when, in contrast to her male counterparts, they refused to pay her for weekend work. Docs. 13; 30. Presently before the court are the defendants' motions for summary judgment. Docs. 31; 34. In a nutshell, Gemstone contends that it is not liable because it was not Fortenberry's employer. Docs. 34; 35. For its part, RCF argues that it paid only production managers for weekend work. Docs. 31; 32; 42. For the reasons explained below, Gemstone's motion, which Fortenberry does not oppose, is due to be granted, and RCF's motion is due to be denied.


         Summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the non-moving party, who is required to go "beyond the pleadings" to establish that there is a "genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         The court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). However, "mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion." Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Moreover, "[a] mere 'scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that a jury could reasonably find for that party." Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).


         RCF hired Fortenberry in January 2015 as a purchasing assistant and promoted her to the purchasing manager position one month later when Gary Hill, the prior purchasing manager, resigned. Docs. 40-1 at 1; 40-2 at 4. RCF, which has a contract to provide employees to Gemstone, assigned Fortenberry to one of Gemstone's poultry processing plants. Docs. 40-1 at 1; 32 at 1. As purchasing manager, Fortenberry received a flat salary. Docs. 40-1 at 1. Her duties included ordering everything, other than poultry, that the plant needed and taking inventory of the plant's supplies. Docs. 40-1 at 1; 40-2 at 11; 40-3 at 91. Although Fortenberry had no duties directly related to the production of poultry, she visited the production area every morning to note the quantities of ice and C02, and she occasionally delivered supplies, such as gloves or knives, to the production employees. Docs. 40-1 at 1; 40-2 at 14; 40-3 at 91.

         According to Fortenberry, her supervisors required her to work on weekends at the end of each month, without any additional pay, to conduct an inventory and also on other weekends when "inventory counts were off. . . ." Docs. 40-1 at 1; 40-2 at 9-10. See also doc. 40-3 at 91 (Fortenberry's job description that the purchasing manager "[m]ust be available to perform after hours or weekend work as necessary"). Two and a half years into her employment, Fortenberry learned that RCF paid male managers for hours they worked on weekends. Id. The discovery led Fortenberry to ask her direct supervisor, Jordan Scott, for weekend pay. Docs. 40-1 at 1; 40-2 at 6, 35. Scott denied Fortenberry's request and informed her that RCF was phasing out weekend pay. Docs. 40-1 at 1-2; 40-2 at 6, 35. The next day Fortenberry resigned, doc. 40-2 at 7, 36, and subsequently filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for sex discrimination. Doc. 26-2 at 2. This lawsuit followed.

         III. ANALYSIS

         The court turns now to the pending motions and notes initially that Fortenberry concedes that summary judgment is due on her claims against Gemstone. Doc. 41. Indeed, because Gemstone never employed Fortenberry, see doc. 40-1 at 1, her claims against Gemstone fail as a matter of law, see 29 U.S.C. § 206(d); 42 U.S.C § 2000e(2)(a); Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 772 (11th Cir. 1991) ("[R]elief granted under Title VII is against the employer . . . .") (emphasis in original).

         As to RCF, Fortenberry asserts a Title VII claim and an Equal Pay Act claim based on her contention that RCF failed to pay her for hours she worked on weekends. Docs. 13; 30.[1] "Title VII and the Equal Pay Act exist side by side in the effort to rid the workforce of gender-based discrimination." Miranda v. B&B Cash Grocery Store, Inc., 975 F.2d 1518, 1527 (11th Cir. 1992). Because "[t]he burdens of proof are different under the two laws," id. at 1526, the court will address Fortenberry's claims separately.

         A. Equal Pay Act

         The Equal Pay Act prohibits an employer from paying an employee less than employees of the opposite sex for equal work. 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1); Miranda, 975 F.2d at 1526. To establish a prima facie case under the Act, a plaintiff'"must show that an employer pays different wages to employees of opposite sexes for equal work on jobs [that] require[] equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.'" Miranda, 975 F.2d at 1532 (quoting Corning Glass Works v. Brennan, 477 U.S. 188, 195 (1974)). The jobs at issue do not have to be identical, only substantially equal. Id. at 1533; 29 C.F.R. § 1620.13(a). Even so, "[t]he standard for determining whether jobs are equal in terms of skill, effort, and responsibility is high." Waters v. Turner, Wood & Smith Ins. Agency, Inc., 874 F.2d 797, 199 (11th Cir. 1989). See also Miranda, 975 F.2d at 1526 ("A plaintiff suing under the Equal Pay Act must meet the fairly strict standard of proving that she performed substantially similar work for less pay."). But, a plaintiff does not have to show discriminatory intent to prove her prima facie case. Mitchell v. Jefferson Cty. Bd. of Educ, 936 F.2d 539, 547 (11th Cir. 1991).

         1. Whether Fortenberry's job is substantially equal to a ...

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