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MILLER v. BLOOMIN APPLE LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois


March 12, 2004.

Miller
v.
Bloomin Apple LLC

The opinion of the court was delivered by: PHILIP REINHARD, District Judge

MOTION

For the reason stated on the reverse memorandum opinion and order, the court grants defendants' motion for summary judgment as to both plaintiffs and dismisses this cause in its entirety.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

  Plaintiffs, Serena Miller and Stacy Whitfield, filed an amended complaint, naming as defendants, The Bloomin' Apple, LLC, and The Bloomin' Apple Feeport, LLC, and alleging that they were the victims of race discrimination when they were not promoted from the position of serverto the position of bartender at the Appelbee's restaurant in Freeport, Illinois. Defendants have moved for summary judgment, asserting that defendant, The Bloomin' Apple, LLC, was not an employer of either plaintiff and, alternatively, that plaintiffs have failed to establish a prima facie case of race discrimination or show that the reason offered by defendants for not promoting either was a pretext for race discrimination.

  Initially, the court denies summary judgment to defendant, The Bloomin' Apple, LLC, as there exists a question of material fact as to whether it was an employer of plaintiffs.

  Turning to the alternative basis for summary judgment, plaintiffs have chosen to characterize their claims as ones for failure to promote. While it is debatable, based on the evidence, whether a move from server to bartender was in fact a promotion, the court will consider plaintiffs' claims in the context of a failure to promote.

  Plaintiffs concede that they have no direct evidence of discrimination and so proceed under the burden-shifting methodology of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green. 411 U.S. 792 (1973). See Grayson v. City of Chicago. 317 F.3d 745, 748 (7th Cir. 2003). Under that approach, a prima facie case of employment discrimination creates a rebuttable presumption that the employer's actions, if unexplained, were the result of impermissible factors and shifts the burden of production to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions. Grayson. 317 F.3d at 748. If the employer meets that burden, the plaintiff must show that the articulated reasons are pretextual. Grayson. 317 F.3d at 748. In order to establish a prima facie case in the failure-to-promote context, the plaintiff must show that: (1) she belongs to a protected class; (2) she applied for and was qualified for the position sought; (3) she was rejected for that position; and (4) the employer granted the promotion to someone outside of the protected group who was not better qualified than the plaintiff. Grayson, 317 F.3d at 748.

  In this case, the court will apply this analysis to each plaintiff separately. In doing so, the court must define the position to which both plaintiffs claim they were not promoted. First, contrary to their assertion in their brief, there was no "bartender trainee" position. While all new bartenders underwent training, the undisputed evidence is that the position was for bartender. Having said that, it is also undisputed that the two bartender positions that plaintiffs sought required some level of prior experience and an availability to work full shifts.

  As for Whitfield, she has failed to establish either element 2 or 4 of the prima facie case. She was not qualified for the position because she lacked prior experience as a bartender. It is also undisputed that as to element 4 the people chosen to fill the particular positions at issue had previous bartending experience.

  In the case of Miller, while she did have some prior bartending experience, she fails to establish element 4 because she has not shown that the people selected were not better qualified than her. Curiously, even though she carries the burden to establish all elements of the prima facie case, she stated in her deposition that she did not care what the qualifications for the people chosen were. This was both a strategic error and fatal to her claim.

  Aside from any failure to establish a prima facie case, neither plaintiff has offered any evidence from which a reasonable trier of fact could conclude that the reasons asserted by defendants for hiring someone other than plaintiffs was pretextual. It is undisputed that defendants reasons for doing so were based on a combination of their need for experienced bartenders at those particular times and certain concerns pertaining to each plaintiff's qualifications. For example, defendants were concerned about Miller's availability to work full shifts and her job performance as a server. As for Whitfield, she lacked bartending experience and had either not finished her probation or had only recently done so. These legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason have gone unrebutted.

  Plaintiffs having failed to establish a prima facie case of race discrimination or to show that defendants' reasons were pretextual, the court grants defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismisses this cause in its entirety.

20040312

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