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Beasley v. Warren Unilube, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 9, 2019

Winfred G. Beasley Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
Warren Unilube, Inc. Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: June 12, 2019

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

          Before GRUENDER, STRAS, and KOBES, Circuit Judges.

          KOBES, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Winfred Beasley, an African American, claims that Warren Unilube, Inc. (Warren) fired him because of his race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §' 2000e to 2000e-17, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The district court[1]granted Warren's motion for summary judgment. We affirm.

         I.

         Warren produces motor oil and other automotive lubricants. Beasley started working as the Quality Assurance Manager at Warren in October 2012. He was generally responsible for creating and implementing systems to safeguard the quality of Warren's products. Beasley's primary job was to ensure that all products went into the correct bottles and boxes with appropriate labeling and caps. He supervised several quality inspectors who would conduct regular checks on Warren's assembly lines to detect problems. He was also responsible for troubleshooting, containing, and correcting any issues that developed. Finally, Beasley was required to handle the annual audit of Warren's quality control systems by the International Standards Organization (ISO).

         Beasley was not the only one at Warren responsible for product quality. The Lab Manager, Ben Heater, and his assistants verified that the oil (or other product) met appropriate specifications. Maintenance personnel calibrated the equipment at the plant. The transportation department ensured that products were delivered on time and not damaged in transit. And although the Operations Manager-who for much of Beasley's tenure was Rusty Brown-was primarily focused on production efficiency, he also impacted product quality since Beasley relied on Brown's team to implement many of his recommendations.

         Up to this point the parties agree. But they part ways when it comes to the circumstances surrounding Beasley's termination. Warren alleges that multiple factors figured into this decision: a series of customer complaints, Beasley's poor showing during the annual ISO audit, and concerns about his organizational skills. Beasley disputes much of this. Because this appeal arises in the context of a motion for summary judgment, we construe the facts in a light most favorable to him. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1043 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). Beasley "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Nor can he rely on mere "allegations or denials." Mann v. Yarnell, 497 F.3d 822, 825 (8th Cir. 2011). But to the extent the parties' accounts of what happened genuinely diverge, we follow Beasley.

         There were roughly three sets of customer complaints during Beasley's tenure. The first set came in 2013 from AutoZone, one of Warren's primary customers. On four occasions, AutoZone reported that Warren's products were labeled or packaged incorrectly. The underlying cause of these failures appears to have been two pieces of equipment that either maintenance or operations personnel had improperly calibrated. Beasley concedes that his team might have been able to catch or correct these problems, but he notes that these complaints occurred before his quality control systems had been fully implemented.

         Warren received a second set of complaints in February 2015. Though Warren's products met appropriate performance specifications during this period, some contained too much red dye and others had a foul odor. Beasley investigated these problems and concluded that both resulted from mistakes in the oil blending process. Beasley states that he was not to blame for these problems, which would have fallen under the purview of Billy Moore, the Blending Manager. He also states his team could not have detected the issues because the oil was already bottled when it reached quality control.

         Warren received a third set of complaints, this time about leaky bottles, throughout the spring of 2015. The leaks were caused by Warren's bottle capping machine, which was either improperly calibrated or was not the proper machine to use for the job. Warren's President at the time, Steve Estok, admits that the responsibility for this problem fell partly on operations personnel and the Maintenance Manager, Shawn Jamieson. Beasley also shared some blame according to Estok, because he should have been inspecting the amount of torque that the machine was applying. Beasley disputes this, stating that he had informed Estok that the company needed different or additional equipment.

         Around this same time, Beasley was preparing for the annual ISO audit. In prior years, Warren had passed the audit without any problems. In May 2015, however, the auditor identified six minor deficiencies. Estok also says that the auditor was especially critical of Beasley, stating that he was "not capable of doing this job" and that Warren's quality control program was "progressively getting worse." App. 616. Estok further claims that the auditor told him Warren might lose its ISO certification if Warren did not improve.

         Due to these complaints, the strain they created with Warren's customers, the audit, and other issues, upper-management at Warren took corrective action. Rusty Brown, the Operations Manager, was temporarily reassigned and received a detailed write-up about his poor job performance. The Transportation Manager, Craig Stauffer, also received a disciplinary letter. ...


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