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Hamzah v. Woodmans Food Market, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

June 13, 2016

SHARIF HAMZAH, Plaintiff,
v.
WOODMAN'S FOOD MARKET, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. CONLEY U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         In this civil action, plaintiff Sharif Hamzah asserted employment discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII and the ADEA against defendant Woodman's Food Market, Inc. ("Woodman's"). The court granted summary judgment to defendant on all but one claim of plaintiff, that he was unlawfully terminated under Title VII on the basis of his race, color or ethnicity. Now before the court are defendant's motion for reconsideration (dkt. #63), as well as plaintiff's motion for leave to amend his complaint (dkt. #69). For the reasons explained below, the court will deny both motions.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Sharif Hamzah, a Native/African American, was hired as a utility clerk by Woodman's West on September 2, 2008. Hamzah was ultimately supervised by Dale Martinson, who as the store manager was authorized to hire, fire, discipline and promote employees.

         The employee handbook in effect during Hamzah's employment at Woodman's West explicitly set forth two categories of disciplinary violations. The first category, "Group 1" violations, includes insubordination to a supervisor and provides cause for immediate dismissal. The second, "Group 2" violations, are less serious and do not provide cause for termination unless an employee receives more than five during a twelve-month period. In addition to those two formal categories, the handbook also provides:

No list of rules and regulations can cover every possible standard of behavior. You are expected to conduct yourself in a manner suitable for the safe and efficient operation of the store. The purpose of these rules and regulations is not to restrict the rights of anyone, but to define them and ensure cooperation. The following rules are by no means inclusive. They do include many of the infractions considered most serious. In addition, the company may impose disciplinary action including demotion, suspension and/or discharge for acts not listed in the work rules or in cases where the supervisor feels it is in the best interest of the company to demote, layoff or terminate the individual from the workplace.

(Decl. of Kristin Popp Ex. A (dkt. 38-1) at 7.)

         Between December of 2008 and April of 2011, Hamzah received written notices for five Group 2 violations. He also received three notices for Group 1 violations, the last of which was issued on July 28, 2011. Martinson fired Hamzah that same day, basing his decision on the three Group 1 notices.

         All three of these Group 1 violations were for insubordination, and all three were based on allegations made by his immediate supervisors Jacob Bemis or Gabriel Oruruo. The record on summary judgment does not disclose what lengths, if any, Martinson took to investigate independently whether the Group 1 notices were justified apart from Bemis's or Oruruo's allegations. Hamzah asserts that Bemis and Oruruo lied about all of the incidents underlying the three Group 1 notices. On the day he was fired, Hamzah further alleges that Bemis remarked, "blacks don't work with whites while [I'm] on duty, because you don't belong with us, " and that Oruruo said, "told you, you don't belong to the right ethnic group."

         The court granted summary judgment to defendant on plaintiff's hostile work environment and retaliation claims but denied summary judgment to defendant on his claim for unlawful termination on the basis of race, color or ethnicity under Title VII. Specifically, the court denied summary judgment to defendant on plaintiff's unlawful termination claims because there remained "genuine issues or material fact as to whether Bemis and Oruruo had a discriminatory animus and supplied the basis for Martinson's decision to terminate Hamzah's employment." (Opinion & Order (dkt. #61) at 14.) If so, defendant could be held liable under Title VII based on the "cat's paw" theory of liability. See Dey v. Colt Constr. & Dev. Co., 28 F.3d 1446, 1459 (7th Cir. 1994) ("Summary judgment generally is improper where the plaintiff can show that an employee with discriminatory animus provided factual information or other input that may have affected the adverse employment action.").

         OPINION

         I. Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration

         Rule 54(b) motions for reconsideration are largely evaluated under the same standard as motions to alter or amend a judgment under Rule 59(e). Woods v. Resnick, 725 F.Supp.2d 809, 827-28 (W.D. Wis. 2010) (citing Rothwell Cotton Co. v. Rosenthal & Co., 827 F.2d 246, 251 (7th Cir. 1987)). To prevail on a motion to alter or amend under Rule 59(e), the movant must present newly discovered evidence or establish a "manifest error of law or fact." Oto v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 224 F.3d 601, 606 (7th Cir. 2000). "A ‘manifest error' is not demonstrated by the disappointment of the losing party. It is the ‘wholesale disregard, misapplication, or failure to recognize controlling precedent.'" Id. (quoting Sedrak v. Callahan, 987 F.Supp. 1063, 1069 (N.D. Ill. 1997)). Nor is reconsideration "an appropriate forum for rehashing previously rejected arguments or arguing matters that could have been heard during the pendency of the previous motion." Caisse Nationale de Credit Agricole v. CBI Indus., Inc., 90 F.3d 1264, 1270 (7th Cir. 1996). Finally, disposition of a motion for reconsideration is entrusted to the district court's discretion. Id. (citing Billups v. Methodist Hosp., 922 F.3d 1300, 1305 (7th Cir. 1991)).

         Defendant contends that the court committed error by crediting Hamzah's assertions regarding discriminatory statements allegedly made by Bemis and Oruruo on the day of his firing, since Hamzah only supported those assertions by citing to his unverified complaint, something the court already addressed in its opinion and order on summary judgment. (Opinion & Order (dkt. #61) at 7 n.4.) As the court explained, Hamzah's assertions were sufficient to create a dispute of material fact since: (1) Hamzah was acting pro se at summary judgment; (2) Hamzah could testify to ...


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