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Dickinson v. Edward D. Jones & Co., L.P.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

August 26, 2016

EDWARD D. JONES & CO., L.P., a Missouri limited partnership, Defendant.


          Honorable Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge

         Now pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 26). Having carefully considered the record, participated in oral argument, and otherwise being fully advised, the Court enters the following Memorandum Decision and Order:

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant Edward D. Jones & Co., L.P. (“Edward Jones”) is a full-service brokerage firm, with branch offices throughout the United States. The majority of Edward Jones' branch offices are operated by a single Financial Advisor (“FA”) who is responsible for maintaining the branch, servicing existing clients, and marketing the firm's services to potential clients. FAs are typically supported by a singe Branch Office Administrator (“BOA”) whose primary responsibility is to assist the FA with office administration.

         In June 2006, Edward Jones hired Plaintiff Shannon Dickinson as a BOA in one of its Idaho Falls, Idaho branches. From June 2006 through September 2007, Dickinson worked alongside the branch's FA, Jeff Jones. In September 2007, Maurice Miller replaced Jones as the branch's FA. Dickinson remained the branch's BOA until she was fired on November 30, 2012.

         Although there are many moving parts surrounding the events leading up to Dickinson's termination, things ultimately came to a head during her performance review. At that time Miller and Dickinson had what can best be described as a disagreement. While there is a factual dispute over what exactly was said during that review, it appears clear that Dickinson left the meeting over Miller's objections. Dickinson was fired soon thereafter by Edward Jones' Associate Relations (“AR”) department. This lawsuit followed.

         In her Complaint, Dickinson asserts federal and state law claims for religious discrimination, disability discrimination, and retaliation. Specifically, Dickinson alleges that Edward Jones, through Miller, discriminated against her because of her religion; that Miller perceived her as having a disability and discriminated against her on that basis; and that Miller (and Edward Jones' AR employees) illegally retaliated against her for complaining about religious and disability discrimination.

         Edward Jones now moves for summary judgment, arguing that Dickinson's claims should be dismissed because, (1) generally speaking, a traditional “cat's paw” theory of liability does not exist to connect Miller's allegedly-discriminatory conduct with Dickinson's actual termination; and, (2) more particularly, there is no evidence of any (a) religious discrimination, (b) disability discrimination, or (c) actionable retaliation.


         A. Legal Standards

         1. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, “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). One of the principal purposes of summary judgment “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . .” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-34 (1986). It is “not a disfavored procedural shortcut, ” but is instead the “principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources.” Id. at 327. “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). There must be a genuine dispute as to any material fact - a fact “that may affect the outcome of the case.” Id. at 248.

         The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court must not make credibility findings. Id. at 255. Direct testimony of the non-movant must be believed, however implausible. Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir. 1999). On the other hand, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. See McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute as to a material fact. See Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001) (en banc). To carry this burden, the moving party need not introduce any affirmative evidence (such as affidavits or deposition excerpts) but may simply point out the absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. See Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 532 (9thCir. 2000).

         This shifts the burden to the non-moving party to produce evidence sufficient to support a jury verdict in his favor. See Devereaux, 263 F.3d at 1076. The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show “by her [ ] affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file” that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.

         2. McDonnell Douglas Standard

         Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (“Title VII”), prohibits an employer from discriminating against an individual because of (among other things) an individual's religion. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Likewise, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prohibits an employer from discriminating against a qualified individual “on the basis of disability.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). Both Title VII and the ADA prohibit an employer from retaliating against an employee for engaging in protected activity. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a) (Title VII); 42 U.S.C. § 12203(a) (ADA). Dickinson claims her termination violated each of these statutory prohibitions.

         Dickinson's religious and disability discrimination claims, as well as her retaliation claim, proceed under the now-familiar McDonnell Douglas three-step burden-shifting framework. First, Dickinson must establish a prima facie case of discrimination/retaliation; second, if she does, Edward Jones must then articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its conduct; and third, if it does, Dickinson must then demonstrate that the articulated reason is a pretext for discrimination/retaliation. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04 (1973); see also Wallis v. J.R. Simplot Co., 26 F.3d 885, 888-89 (9th Cir. 1994) (applying framework to Title VII claims); Snead v. Metro Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 237 F.3d 1080, 1093 (9thCir. 2001) (applying framework to ADA claims); Hashimoto v. Dalton, 118 F.3d 671, 680 (9thCir. 1997) (Title VII retaliation claim); Pardi v. Kaiser Found. Hosp., 389 F.3d 840, 849 (9th Cir. 2004) (ADA retaliation claim).

         B. Questions of Fact Exist to Preclude Summary Judgment on Some, but Not All, of Dickinson's Claims Against Edward Jones

         1. Dickinson's Religious and Disability Discrimination Claims

         a. The ...

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