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Hedlund v. Charlie Zook Motors, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division

September 25, 2014

BRADLEY NEIL HEDLUND, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLIE ZOOK MOTORS, INC.; BRUCE ZOOK; CHARLIE ZOOK; AND ED MCLARTY, Defendants.

ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

DONALD E. O'BRIEN, Senior District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Currently before this Court is Defendant Charlie Zook Motors, Inc., Defendant Bruce Zook, Defendant Charlie Zook and Defendant Ed McLarty's Motion for Summary Judgment. Docket No. 17. In their Motion for Summary Judgment, the Defendants raise two arguments, arguing that the Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed. Because the Defendants filed a single brief, the Court will refer to the Defendants collectively as Charlie Zook Motors [hereinafter CZM].

The parties appeared for a hearing on June 13, 2014. After hearing the parties' arguments the Court took the issues under advisement and now enters the following:

II. FACTUAL HISTORY

The Plaintiff, Mr. Hedlund began working for Defendant Charlie Zook Motors as a parts manager in 2006. The parties agree that as a parts manager, it was Mr. Hedlund's job to open the parts department when the business opened each day, sell parts, answer the telephone, phone customers, help technicians when they had questions about parts, wait on walk-in customers, order parts, ship parts, stock shelves and close the parts department at the end of the business day. Mr. Hedlund worked between 60 and 70 hours per week.

Mr. Hedlund has a history of diabetes. In 2011, he began experiencing some acute symptoms. On March 11, 2011, while at work, Mr. Hedlund's blood sugar plummeted. As a result of the low blood sugar, Mr. Hedlund's heart stopped and he slipped into a coma, where he remained for seven days.

Mr. Hedlund was off from work for the next two months on medical leave. There is no dispute that this time off was medically necessary nor any allegation that Mr. Hedlund abused the medical leave system. Mr. Hedlund contends that while on medical leave, Marv Diamond, a co-worker, told him that if Mr. Hedlund did not return to work, he would lose his job because the supervisors were looking to hire a replacement for him.[1] On May 31, 2011, a doctor cleared Mr. Hedlund to return to work.[2] Mr. Hedlund returned to the car dealership a few days later. However, Mr. Hedlund claims that the Defendants had already hired a replacement parts manager; and, when he returned to work, they told Mr. Hedlund to train the new employee.

The Defendants terminated Mr. Hedlund's employment on June 15, 2011. The Defendants argue that they terminated Mr. Hedlund's employment because Mr. Hedlund had persistent problems dealing with customers. As stated in the Defendants' Statement of Facts:

Ed McLarty [Mr. Hedlund's supervisor] counseled plaintiff 3-4 times about his attitude toward customers before his discharge. They discussed McLarty's expectations before Hedlund returned from leave. When plaintiff returned from medical leave, McLarty was on vacation. When McLarty returned from vacation, the first thing he was confronted with - in his first hour back were reports from Diane Newton, the Office Manager, and Dustin Craft, that Hedlund was making people mad again already. This was the last straw for McLarty. Having discussed this very issue with Hedlund just two weeks earlier, the decision was made to discharge plaintiff.

Docket No. 20, p. 6.

After losing his job, Mr. Hedlund applied for social security benefits. He alleged his disability onset date was March 11, 2011, the day his heart stopped while at work. During the pendency of his social security case, Mr. Hedlund made numerous statements purporting to show the extent of his disability.[3] See Docket No. 20, Att. 2, p. 4-26. Mr. Hedlund was also examined by medical professionals who determined that he suffered from a number of cognitive and mental issues, which were likely caused by the episode of March 11, 2011. On November 30, 2012, Mr. Hedlund began receiving Social Security disability benefits.

III. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate only if the record shows "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P., Rule 56(c). A fact is material if it is necessary "to establish the existence of an element essential to [a] 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). There is a genuine issue as to a material fact if, based on the record before the court, a "rational trier of fact" could find for the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

When considering a motion for summary judgment, a "court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party...." Hutson v. McDonnell Douglas Corp. , 63 F.3d 771 (8th Cir. 1995). This requires a court to draw any reasonable inference from the underlying facts in favor of the nonmoving party and to refrain from weighing the evidence, making credibility determinations, or attempting to discern the truth of any factual issue in a manner which favors the moving party unless there is no reasonable alternative. See Matsushita , 475 U.S. at 587; and Morris v. City of Chillicothe , 512 F.3d 1013, 1018 (8th Cir. 2008) (citing Thomas v. Corwin , 483 F.3d 516, 526-27 (8th Cir. 2007)).

Procedurally, the movant bears the initial burden "of informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record which show a lack of a genuine issue." Hartnagel v. Norman , 953 F.2d 394, 395 (8th Cir. 1992) (citing Celotex , 477 U.S. at 323). Once the movant has carried his burden, the non-moving party is required "to go beyond the pleadings" and through "affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' ...


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