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Lacey v. Norac, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 30, 2019

Valerie Lacey Plaintiff- Appellant
Norac, Inc., doing business as Norac Additives Defendant-Appellee Ry 'Kia Lacey Plaintiff

          Submitted: April 16, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Helena

          Before COLLOTON, GRUENDER, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.


         Valerie Lacey sued employer Norac, Inc. for employment discrimination following her termination.[1] The district court[2] granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant. Concluding that the district judge did not err in applying the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting test, we affirm.

         I. Background

         Valerie Lacey (Valerie) is an African-American woman who started working for Norac, Inc. in April 2014. Norac is a chemical additive manufacturer headquartered in Azusa, California, with an operating plant in Helena, Arkansas, where Valerie was employed until December 2014. Valerie's duties at the plant involved "Local Purchasing and HR stuff." Ry'Kia Lacey (Ry'Kia) also worked at the Helena plant as a temporary receptionist.

         Norac contends that, in September 2014, it initiated a reorganization of the front office at its Helena plant, and transfer of some job duties back to California as part of a company-wide general restructuring. The reorganization included a plan to lay off three employees, Kesheanna Jackson, Valerie Lacey, and Danielle Rose (Jackson was also African-American, and Rose was Caucasian), and end Ry'Kia's temporary assignment. Norac terminated the three employees on December 2, 2014, prompting Kesheanna Jackson to file a separate Title VII retaliation suit in which she alleged that she was fired in retaliation for having previously filed a complaint against Norac with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The district court granted summary judgment for Norac and we affirmed in Jackson v. Norac, Inc., 685 Fed. App'x. 510 (8th Cir. 2017) (per curiam).

          Norac submitted several exhibits documenting its restructuring/layoff plans. In an internal memo dated September 18, 2014, Norac's owner, Wally McCloskey, stated that the company would be moving most accounting activities handled by the Helena office to its California headquarters. A separate memo stated that Pam Payne (Norac's office manager at the time) would be handling, among other duties, on-site HR and purchasing support (which were Valerie's duties). A third memo confirmed that Payne would take over Valerie's duties at the company. Norac also submitted an email dated September 21, 2014, from McCloskey to Norac's counsel, allegedly contemplating Valerie's layoff. Valerie objected to the email, claiming that Norac had not produced it during discovery.

         In November 2014, in response to Jackson's Title VII suit, Norac conducted interviews of employees who were potential witnesses in that case, including Valerie, Rose, and Payne, as well as two other employees, Kristin Gregory and Wendy Fletcher. Following the interviews Norac drafted affidavits for the employees to review and sign; Rose, Gregory, and Fletcher signed their affidavits with few or no changes. Valerie and Payne declined to sign their affidavits. Valerie amended her affidavit, and asserts that Norac scheduled a follow-up meeting with her, which she refused to attend. Valerie never signed the affidavit, and she claims that Payne observed Norac's lawyer was upset with her refusal to sign the affidavit. On December 2, 2014, Norac laid off Valerie, Jackson, and Rose, and ended Ry'Kia's temporary assignment. Valerie and Ry'Kia each filed charges with the EEOC- Valerie claiming that she was fired for refusing to sign the affidavit, and Ry'Kia claiming she had been released for being Valerie's daughter.

         Before the district court, Valerie and Ry'Kia moved to strike the September 21 email because it was not disclosed in discovery, but was only attached in Norac's motion for summary judgment. Norac responded that it presented the email in response to plaintiffs' claim that Norac's other documents were falsified, and further asserted that any late disclosure was harmless. The district court denied the motion to strike, finding that the September 21 email presented no new substantive information and did not prejudice plaintiffs.

         The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Norac against both plaintiffs. Valerie appeals the grant of summary judgment, as well as the denial of her motion to strike the September 21 email for failure to timely produce.

         II. Discussion

         A. Sum ...

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