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Rosekelly v. Tessenderlo Kerley, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

August 30, 2018

ALYSHA ROSEKELLY, Plaintiff,
v.
TESSENDERLO KERLEY, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          SUSAN P. WATTERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are United States Magistrate Judge Timothy Cavan's findings and recommendation filed June 25, 2018. (Doc. 26). Judge Cavan recommends this Court grant Defendant Tessenderlo Kerley's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff Alysha Rosekelly's wrongful discharge claim. (Doc. 26 at 32).

         I. Standard of review

         Rosekelly filed timely objections to the findings and recommendation. (Doc. 27). Rosekelly is entitled to de novo review of those portions of Judge Cavan's findings and recommendation to which she properly objects. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

         "The court shall grant summary judgment 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). A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         Material facts are those which may affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue of fact exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

         II. Rosekelly's objections

         Rosekelly argues disputed facts preclude summary judgment on the issues of good cause, pretext, and retaliation.

         III. Discussion

         Montana's Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (WDEA) makes it illegal for employers to wrongfully discharge employees. A discharge is wrongful if, among other things, (1) it is done in retaliation for the employee's refusal to violate public policy or for reporting public policy violations or (2) it is not for good cause. Mont Code Ann. § 39-2-904(1)(a-b).

         A. Good cause

         Good cause means "reasonable job-related grounds for dismissal based on a failure to satisfactorily perform job duties, disruption of the employer's operation, or other legitimate business reason." Mont. Code. Ann. § 39-2-903(5). A legitimate business reason is a reason that has some logical relationship to the needs of the business and is not false, whimsical, arbitrary, or capricious. Reinlasoder v. City of Colstrip, 376 P.3d 110, 113 (Mont. 2016) (citing Davis v. State, 357 P.3d 320, 322 (Mont. 2015)). To prove a discharge was wrongful, the employee may show either that the given reason is not good cause, or that the given reason is a pretext and not the honest reason for the discharge. Becker v. Rosebud Operating Services, Inc., 191 P.3d 435, 441 (Mont. 2008) (citation omitted).

         The Montana Supreme Court has stressed the importance of the "right of an employer to exercise discretion over who it will employ and keep in employment." Reinlasoder, 376 P.3d at 113. However, the balance between the employer's discretion and "the employee's equally legitimate right to secure employment... should favor an employee who presents evidence, and not mere speculation or denial, upon which a jury could determine that the reasons given for his termination were false, arbitrary or capricious, and unrelated to the needs of the business." Reinlasoder, 376 P.3d at 113.

         Tessenderlo stated it discharged Rosekelly because she made mistakes in inventory and had periodic attendance issues. (Doc. 26 at 15-16). Rosekelly argued the good cause standard was not met because disputed facts existed regarding whether she was satisfactorily performing her inventory duty. (Doc. 26 at 21). Judge Cavan concluded Tessenderlo had good cause to discharge Rosekelly as a matter of law ...


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