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Hernandez v. John Morrell & Co.

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

August 27, 2018

NORA HERNANDEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN MORRELL & CO., d/b/a CURLY'S FOODS, and SMITHFIELD FOODS, INC., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY ORDER JUDGMENT

          MARK W. BENNETT, U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         TABLE OF CONTENTS

         I. INTRODUCTION ........................................................................... 2

         A. Factual Background ............................................................... 2 1.

         The parties ................................................................... 2 2.

         The alleged safety violations ............................................. 3 3.

         The termination ............................................................. 6 B.

         Procedural Background ........................................................... 7 1.

         The lawsuit and the removal ............................................. 7 2.

         The summary judgment motion .......................................... 7

         C. Arguments Of The Parties ........................................................ 8 1.

         The defendants' opening argument ..................................... 8 2.

         Hernandez's response ..................................................... 9 3.

         The defendants' reply .................................................... 11

         II. LEGAL ANALYSIS ...................................................................... 12

         A. Applicable Standards ............................................................. 12

         1. Summary judgment standards ......................................... 12

         2. Standards for retaliatory discharge claims .......................... 14

         B. Application Of The Standards .................................................. 16

         III. CONCLUSION ............................................................................ 22

         An employee at a meat-processing plant claims that she was terminated, in violation of Iowa public policy, in retaliation for making continuing claims for worker's compensation benefits for a shoulder injury. On a motion for summary judgment, however, her employer and its corporate parent contend that the undisputed evidence shows that the employee was terminated for her second safety violation in just four months. I must decide whether the employee has generated a jury question on the alleged retaliatory motive for her termination.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         A. Factual Background

         This statement of the factual background does not necessarily set out all the parties' factual allegations in support of and resistance to the defendants' Motion For Summary Judgment. Rather, it focuses on the key facts to put in context the parties' disputes. Unless otherwise indicated, the following facts are undisputed.

         1. The parties

         Plaintiff Nora Hernandez was employed as a production worker at the Curly's Foods pork processing plant in Sioux City, Iowa, from August 2000 until April 24, 2015. Defendant John Morrell & Co., which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of defendant Smithfield Foods, Inc., does business as Curly's Foods and owns and operates the pork processing plant where Hernandez was employed. That plant ...


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