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McKinnon v. Yum! Brands, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

August 24, 2017

PARK McKINNON and BRYCE BARBER, Plaintiffs,
v.
YUM! BRANDS, INC., TACO BELL CORP., ES-O-EN CORP., VALARIE MARTINEZ and Does 1-10, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          B. LYNN WINMILL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         INTRODUCTION

         Before the Court are Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 33) and objections by both parties as to evidence offered for summary judgment (Dkts. 36-18, 42). The Court heard oral argument on the motion on March 15, 2017 and took the matter under advisement. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         1. Factual Background[1]

         This case arises out of alleged racial discrimination at a Taco Bell Restaurant in Boise, Idaho. Defendant YUM! Brands, Inc. is a corporation that owns the “Taco Bell” brand and trademark. Compl. ¶ 7. Defendant Taco Bell Corporation (Taco Bell) is a wholly owned subsidiary of YUM! Brands, Inc. (YUM). Hansford Dec. ¶ 11, Dkt. 33-8. ES-O-EN, Corp., is a Taco Bell franchisee that owns and operates the Taco Bell restaurant located at 7070 Overland Road in Boise (“Subject Restaurant”), as well as several other Taco Bell Restaurants in Idaho, Oregon, and Utah. Hansford Dec. ¶¶ 3-4, Dkt. 33-8.

         On April 30, 2015, Plaintiffs McKinnon, of South Korean descent, and Barber, of Hispanic descent, along with five other Caucasian members of the Army National Guard went to the Subject Restaurant. McKinnon Dep. at 20:25-22:1, 64:6-71:9, 52:7-55:24, Dkt. 33-6. Plaintiffs and four members of their group ordered food from Martinez, a cashier at the Subject Restaurant. Martinez Dep. at 9:6-23, 40:3-8, Dkt. 33-4; McKinnon Dep. at 20:25-21:12, 77:1-17, Dkt. 33-6. All of the Guardsmen were dressed in the same style military uniform. Monroe Dec. ¶ 3, Dkt. 36-14.

         The first member of the group to order was Monroe, who is Caucasian. McKinnon Dep. at 78:14-79:7, Dkt. 33-6. The cash registers at the Subject Restaurant include a button labelled “Police Officer” that provides a 50% discount on the current order. Martinez Dep. at 19:17-20, Dkt. 33-4. Martinez gave Monroe a 50% discount, even though he did not ask for it. Monroe Dec. ¶¶ 5-7, Dkt. 36-14. The next two members to order were McKinnon and Barber. McKinnon Dep. at 78:14-79:7, Dkt. 33-6. Martinez did not give the discount to either McKinnon or Barber. Martinez Dep. at 39:19-25, Dkt. 33-4. The next three members to order were Caucasian. McKinnon Dep. 78:14-79:7, Dkt. 33-6. All three of these Guardsmen testify that they did not ask for the discount but received it anyway. See Lewis Dec. ¶¶ 6-7, Dkt. 36-15; Emmons Dec. ¶¶ 6-7, Dkt. 36-16.

         Shortly after ordering their meals, the group discovered that the four Caucasian members received a 50% discount, but the two minority members did not. Barber Dep. at 51:2-52:23, Dkt. 33-7. McKinnon returned to the counter to ask Martinez why he had not received the discount. Id. at 54:1-24. Martinez informed him that she could only apply the discount if someone asked for it. Martinez Dep. at 43:20-25, Dkt. 33-4. She told McKinnon that she could get her manager, Daley, and see if he could provide a refund or free food items. Id.

         The Plaintiffs requested to see the manager. Martinez Dep. at 44:3-6, Dkt. 33-4. After discussing the issue with the Plaintiffs, Daley apologized and offered to refund their food. Id. at 33:3-5. The Plaintiffs refused the offer and left the Subject Restaurant. McKinnon Dep. 102:11-107:24, 110:1-6, Dkt. 33-6. Plaintiffs filed suit against the Defendants and asserted claims alleging discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 42 U.S.C. § 2000a.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         1. Motion for Summary Judgment

         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 the summary judgment “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . .” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (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. 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 material fact. 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. Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 532 (9th Cir.2000).

         This shifts the burden to the non-moving party to produce evidence sufficient to support a jury verdict in her favor. Deveraux, 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.

         Only admissible evidence may be considered in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Orr v. Bank of America, 285 F.3d 764, 773 (9th Cir. 2002); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). In determining admissibility for summary judgment purposes, it is the contents of the evidence rather than its form that must be considered. Fraser v. Goodale, 342 F.3d 1032, 1036-37 (9th Cir. 2003). If the contents of the evidence could be presented in an admissible form at trial, those contents may be considered on summary judgment even if the evidence itself is hearsay. Id.

         2. Legal Standard for § 1981

         In relevant part, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 provides that “[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a) (2012). Courts apply a burden-shifting analysis for racial discrimination cases under § 1981. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-03. Under McDonnell Douglas, if the plaintiff satisfies the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of racial discrimination, the burden shifts to the defendant to prove it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse action. Id. at 802. If the defendant meets that burden, the plaintiff must show that the reason was merely a pretext for discrimination. Tex. Dep't. of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981).

         To establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination under § 1981, a plaintiff must establish three elements: (1) he is a member of a protected class, (2) he attempted to contract for certain services, and (3) he was denied the right to contract for those services. Lindsey v. SLT Los Angeles, LLC, 447 F.3d 1138 (9th Cir. 2006). The proof required to establish a prima facie case is “minimal” and does not “rise to the level of preponderance of the evidence.” Chuang v. Univ. of Cal. Davis, Bd. of Trs., 225 F.3d 1115, 1124 (9th Cir. 2000) (quoting Wallis v. J.R. Simplot Co., 26 F.3d 885, 889 (9th Cir. 1994)).

         3. Legal Standard for § 2000a

         In relevant part, 42 U.S.C. § 2000a provides “[a]ll persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation . . . without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000(a) (2012). The same McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework applies to § 2000(a) cases. See, e.g., Ezell v. Edwards Theatres, Inc., No. 104-CV-6533-SMS, 2006 WL 3782698, at *13 (E.D. Cal. Dec. 21, 2006).

         A plaintiff may establish a prima facie case under § 2000(a) by establishing four elements: (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he attempted to exercise the right to full benefits and enjoyment of a place of public accommodation; (3) he was denied those benefits and enjoyment; and (4) such services were available to similarly-situated persons outside the protected class who received full benefits or enjoyment, or were treated better. See McCoy v. Homestead Studio Suites Hotels, 390 F.Supp.2d 557 (S.D. Tex. 2005).

         ANALYSIS

         1. Claims under § 1981

         The Defendants argue that Plaintiffs fail to establish a prime facie case under § 1981 because the Plaintiffs paid for and enjoyed their meals and they were not entitled to a discount. In addition, Defendants argue that even if Plaintiffs did establish a prima facie case, there was a non-discriminatory reason for the Defendants' actions. For the reasons below, the Court finds that there is a genuine dispute as to both issues and denies summary judgment on this claim.

         A. Prima Facie Case

         To establish their prima facie case under § 1981, Plaintiffs must prove three elements: (1) they are a member of a protected class, (2) they attempted to contract for certain services, and (3) they were denied the ...


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