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Martinez v W. W. Grainger, Inc.

Case No. 11-1422 (C.A. 8, Dec. 22, 2011)

Arturo Martinez brought this action against his former employer, W.W. Grainger, Inc. (Grainger), alleging wage discrimination and termination on the basis of race and national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Martinez also claimed that Grainger breached his employment contract. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Grainger on all of Martinez's claims, and Martinez appeals. We affirm.


Martinez was born in Cuba and began working for Grainger in 1994. Grainger sells facilities maintenance products through a national network of branches and distribution centers. In April 2003, Jeff Timm, a manager for the branches in Minnesota and some neighboring states, promoted Martinez to the position of branch manager for St. Paul. Timm supervised Martinez and twelve other branch managers. As Martinez's supervisor, Timm conducted annual performance reviews of Martinez and determined his annual salary increase and bonus. In July 2009 Timm decided to terminate him.

When Martinez began serving as St. Paul branch manager, his pay was increased to slightly more than that of his non Hispanic predecessor. Grainger classified its branches into three different levels based largely on the number of employees at each. The highest level was designated at 3. Each level corresponded to a salary range, and the salary range for each level overlapped with the salary range for the next biggest branch level. St. Paul was classified by Grainger as a level 2 branch while Martinez served as manager, and Timm stated that he considered St. Paul a high level 1 or low level 2 branch. Martinez was paid below the low end of the recommended range for a level 2 manager from 2003–2005 and in 2007.


Judge(s): Diana Murphy
Jurisdiction: U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit
Related Categories: Civil Rights , Contracts
Circuit Court Judge(s)
William Benton
Diana Murphy
Roger Wollman

Trial Court Judge(s)
Joan Ericksen

Appellant Lawyer(s) Appellant Law Firm(s)
David Wandling Wandling Law Group

Appellee Lawyer(s) Appellee Law Firm(s)
Jana Bruder Dorsey & Whitney
Robert Reinhart, Jr. Dorsey & Whitney



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a woman who worked for martinez about whether employees were reluctant to work timm and lepage testified that martinez was terminated based on the gravity of his brutal behavior or of yelling and swearing at his employees. in sum, the record shows 2006) (wage discrimination). if martinez presents a prima facie case, the burden ___________ martinez was born in cuba and began working for grainger in 1994. grainger in his annual performance reviews, timm consistently identified appeals. we affirm. and demonstrated a desire to improve his communication and leadership skills. this do about this if he were in timm's shoes, and martinez replied that he did not know. ownership, [he] couldn't fix the problem." martinez is thus unable to show that 569, 571 (minn. 1987) (allowing wrongful discharge claim for at will employee who martinez's window so that he would open the door. martinez then entered the filed: december 22, 2011 in which martinez was either the eighth or ninth highest paid branch manager, the st. branch waiting to be served. when he asked an employee who was present to help, to grainger on martinez's title vii and mhra claims that his termination was a 1 action, and (4) that similarly situated employees outside the protected class were race or national origin. 42 u.s.c. 2000e-2(a)(1). claims under the mhra are -3- to martinez to prove that the proffered reason is a pretext for intentional employment contract or any exception to at will employment, martinez's breach of texas dep't of cmty. affairs v. burdine, 450 u.s. 248, 253 (1981), and applying "no basis in fact," smith v. allen health sys., inc., 302 f.3d 827, 834 (8th cir. 2002), result of unlawful discrimination. ___________ was not supervised by timm at the time the relevant comments were made. see in determining the annual merit salary increase, timm reviewed the iii. martinezsuedgraingerfordisparatetreatmentinhispayandterminationbased responsibility for the environment at the branch and his own leadership deficiencies. volume and business complexity. see wimbley, 588 f.3d at 962 (comparators must examples she gave of his problematic managerial style were brought up during her present to martinez. lepage did not attribute the comments to specific employees to performance improvement plan before terminating his employment. 2010). ___________ ins. co., 425 f.3d 496, 502 (8th cir. 2005). the pretext stage, martinez hadto show that the other branch managers were "similarly martinez had no formal employment contract with grainger. martinez contends, improvement plan prior to termination but departed from this policy in his case. the when martinez began serving as st. paul branch manager, his pay was speaking to the employee in a manner described by other employees as "brutal" and the record shows, however, that martinez failed to establish that grainger's terminate him. iv. * contract which martinez failed to show, the district court did not err in granting employment. he relies on pine river state bank v. mettille, 333 n.w.2d 622, accordingly, the judgment of the district court is affirmed. ______________________________ the record does not support the creation of a unilateral contract. see martens matter of law. fed. r. civ. p. 56. in an employee handbook, but martinez does not point to any provision in grainger's investigation. martinez also testified that he was unsure whether he had told timm on his race and national origin in violation of title vii, the mhra, and 42 u.s.c. arturo martinez brought this action against his former employer, w.w. response to focus on the employees as the problem. he believed that martinez was title vii prohibits an employer from discharging an individual or grainger'sstatedreasonforhis termination was "unworthyofcredence"becauseithas increased to slightly more than that of his non hispanic predecessor. grainger more feedback or the manager's unavailability to support their work. one manager recommended salary range based on branch level, martinez did not meet his burden lepageandtimmdiscussedtheemployee mcdonnell douglas corp. v. green applies. 411 u.s. 792, 80204 (1973). under ledbetter, 437 f.3d at 722 (reviewing prima facie showing of wage discrimination on prepared a summary list of "recurring themes and descriptors" from the interviews to as arthuro e. martinez, * establish violation of "any state or federal law or rule or regulation adopted pursuant protect their confidentiality, explaining that this was standard practice and that she overtime, even when necessary. timm testified in his deposition that this employee martinez also claimed wage discrimination. even assuming that he made out not remember if he said that he would need to change. timm interpreted martinez's v. * district of minnesota. of minnesota. -7- 62630 (minn. 1983), which found an offer of unilateral contract based on language raised more pressing concernsabout how martinez was treating his employees. at her employees at each. the highest level was designated at 3. each level corresponded employment discrimination and that the burden shifting framework established in (termination); cf. ledbetter v. alltel corp. svcs., inc., 437 f.3d 717, 722 (8th cir. -4- united states court of appeals employees commented that martinez "ran a tight ship," provided opportunities for arturo e. martinez, an individual * here, the parties agree that martinez did not present direct evidence of while martinez was on vacation in 2009, timm noticed customers in the st. paul we conclude that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment would have been crying." lepage also described an incident in which martinez stood handbook expressly declares that employment is at will and that the policies and "wouldn't take ownership of the (employee) complaints . . . [a]nd if [he] couldn't take martinez in material respects. none of the employment records for the other branch to change his employees' perceptions of him. timm asked martinez what he would -6- deposition the employee stated that she recalled speaking with timm about overtime * submitted no evidence that grainger invariably placed an employee on a performance as the basis for compensation decisions. martinez does not dispute the evidence that (discussing rigorous test). grainger, inc. (grainger), alleging wage discrimination and termination on the basis we review the grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the evidence in was terminated for refusing to violate clean air act). martinez argues that this recommended range for a level 2 manager from 20032005 and in 2007. of showing that grainger's explanation for his compensation was pretextual. see alternativelymartinezreliesonanexceptiontotheatwillemploymentdoctrine martinez alleged that grainger breached his employment contract. took into account the branch manager's involvement in district, regional, or national and determined his annual salary increase and bonus. in july 2009 timm decided to minnesota and some neighboring states, promoted martinez to the position of branch communication and leadership practices as areas in which martinez must improve. the basis of race). communicationsthatmartinez'semployeesconveyedintheirinterviewswithlepage. exception applies because timm required him to take ownership of conduct that had before wollman, murphy, and benton, circuit judges. clark, 218 f.3d at 918. a manager described as moody and "overly aggressive" in his a prima facie case by showing that he was the only branch manager paid below the performance reviews were satisfactory, and that he was terminated. martinez has also martinez's final claim is that grainger violated 42 u.s.c. 1981, which less problematic conduct by other managers and their clear commitment to improving contract claim fails. 1981. martinez asserts that he was the only branch manager paid below the salary -9- "low-threshold" standard for plaintiff to show disparate treatment of similarly situated notesaccuratelyreflectedtheircomments.2 inc., 515 f.3d 836, 840 (8th cir. 2008). summary judgment is appropriate if there are residing in minnesota, also known * the branch. lepage interviewed the branch employees individually. it is undisputed non hispanic or non cuban born employees received more favorable treatment. at that prohibits employers from discharging an at will employee for refusing to violate evidence actually shows that such a decision is discretionary with the supervisor. "belittling." martinez later recalled his answer that there would need to be changes, but he could after the meeting timm decided to terminate martinez's employment, which lepage paul branch ranked in the bottom quartile on many of the metrics identified by timm timm became concerned about the overtime record at the branch. he spoke to -10- behind an employee who was on the phone with a customer and raised his voice, showing (1) that he is a member of a protected class, (2) that he was meeting and that his evaluation of managers reflected several other criteria related to sales recommended salary range. timm stated, however, that the designated level of the adjacent warehouse and yelled and swore at the employee who had not unlocked the obligated to provide appropriate notice of any deficiencies and place him on a cloud, sioux city, and minneapolis and that he was paid more than the managers in situated in all relevant respects" and that the "misconduct of the more leniently disciplined employees [was] of comparable seriousness." wimbley, 588 f.3d at 962 ___________ of the seriousness of the employees' grievances combined with his own failure to public policy under minnesota law. lepage provided one example in which an employee and several customers were claims. sells facilities maintenance products through a national network of branches and and lepage that he believed that he, rather than his employees, needed to change. * not sufficiently acknowledging his own deficiencies or displaying a willingness to try w. w. grainger, inc., * proffered legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for his termination was pretextual. range for that position. he points to five other branch managers who were not governed by the same standards as claims under title vii. kasper v. federated mut. paul a high level 1 or low level 2 branch. martinez was paid below the low end of the resources specialist joyce lepage and requested that she conduct an investigation at the evidence demonstrates that the five other branch managers differed from concerns about some of the other managers focused on employee interest in receiving communications was placed on an improvement plan rather than being terminated the employee responded that he was not scheduled to work yet. one employee picked out two comments on lepage's handwritten notes that because he gave thoughtful responses to concerns, had a history of high performance, supported. timm and lepage have both stated that martinez was terminated in light locked out of the branch on a cold winter morning. the employee knocked on classified its branches into three different levels based largely on the number of -2- not occurred. employee depositions show however that the conduct presented to 2 defendant - appellee. * recommended salary ranges and but also considered the "complexity, volume of branch while martinez served as manager, and timm stated that he considered st. benefits described do not create an express or implied employment contract. martinez volatile, and intimidating to employees. at their depositions, employees were shown to a salary range, and the salary range for each level overlapped with the salary range "take[] ownership" of his managerial shortcomings. same as the st. cloud branch manager but more than the rochester, sioux city, and comments and decided to meet with martinez to get his perspective on them. lepage martinez was surprised at the comments and asked for specific examples. as martinez's supervisor, timm conducted annual performance reviews of martinez and breach of contract claims, arguing that he showed that grainger's explanations conduct as described by other employees and his perceived failure to take francis college v. al-khazraji, 481 u.s. 604, 609 (1987). because this claim is * district court for the business, originated sales, originated ordersandassignedsales"ateachbranch. timm plaintiff - appellant, * appeal from the united states used to create the summary list for martinez were accurate and that the specific manager for st. paul. timm supervised martinez and twelve other branch managers. environment and described instances when he yelled, swore, and was demeaning, -5- managers shows the same level of concern about volatility and hostile discriminating against an individual with respect to his compensation on the basis of submitted: november 17, 2011 grainger summary judgment on it. but did not remember expressing other concerns. when approached by timm, a third their own leadership skills. anger, leadership deficiencies, volatility, ineffective communication, and creation of -8- martinez's assertion that st. paul was the sixth largest branch do not include a ranking employee described the environment at the branch as "really bad." these branches at various points during his tenure. the district court properly granted employees at prima facie stage). he has thus made out a prima facie case of no. 11-1422 terminated. see wimbley v. cashion, 588 f.3d 959, 962 (8th cir. 2009) (quoting claimed that grainger breached his employment contract. the district court1 we address martinez's termination and pay claims in turn. branch in the district and that he was the only manager paid below grainger's the minnesota human rights act (mhra), and 42 u.s.c. 1981. martinez also discrimination. the district court granted summary judgment to grainger on all of the claims ___________ premised on the existence of discriminatory conduct in the context of an employment branch and corresponding salary range was only one consideration in determining pay summary judgment in favor of grainger on all of martinez's claims, and martinez prohibits racial discrimination in the making of private and public contracts. see st. murphy, circuit judge. no genuine issues of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a for the next biggest branch level. st. paul was classified by grainger as a level 2 timm asked martinez what he would do if he returned to work on monday. martinez also appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment to ii. that information. that no employee had ever lodged a formal complaint against martinez, and minneapolis branch managers, none of whom were hispanic. bearden v. int'l paper co., 529 f.3d 828, 831 (8th cir. 2008). the burden then returns i. professional growth, and set high standards for the branch. but employees also st. paul branch comparable to the branches in rochester, st. cloud, sioux city, and the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. skare v. extendicare health servs. treated differently. see clark v. runyon, 218 f.3d 915, 918 (8th cir. 2000) reported in their interviews with lepage that martinez created a fearful work manager's employment records also included no reports of belittling, demeaning, and martinez has established that he is hispanic and cuban born, that his minneapolis. from 20032005 martinez was paid more than some of the managers shifts to grainger to rebut the presumption of unlawful discrimination by articulating for the eighth circuit summary judgment on this record to grainger on martinez's discriminatory wage provisions too indefinite to be offer of unilateral contract). grainger's employee to law" for the at will exception to attach. id. in the absence of evidence of an distribution centers. in april 2003, jeff timm, a manager for the branches in martinez in lepage's list accurately reflected employee perceptions. moreover, in this claim martinez focuses on the facts that st. paul was the sixth largest a tense environment. in addition to several other statutory and common law claims, by martinez. martinez appeals the dismissal of his wage discrimination, termination, were pretextual and that grainger breached its contract by violating company and timm considered the st. paul branch comparable to the branches in rochester, st. discrimination. see putman v. unity health sys., 348 f.3d 732, 735 (8th cir. 2003). of branches by overall size. instead, the evidence shows that during the time period grainger's legitimate job expectations, (3) that he suffered an adverse employment an illinois corporation, * was particularly mindful that martinez might retain his position and should not have lepage's notes from her interviews with each of them. all but one confirmed that the timm's demand that martinez take ownership of the issues at the branch did not the honorable joan n. ericksen, united states district judge for the district however, that he accepted grainger's offer of a unilateral contract by his continued she did not recall stating. this framework, martinez must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination by or has shifted over time. lake v. yellow transp., inc., 596 f.3d 871, 874 (8th cir. grainger on his breach of contract claim. counsel agreed at oral argument that martinez has also not shown pretext through evidence that similarly situated a "clearly mandated public policy." see phipps v. clark oil & ref. co., 408 n.w.2d of race and national origin in violation of title vii of the civil rights act of 1964, business improvement efforts as well. based on these metrics, timm considered the according to martinez, timm explained to him that he was terminated because he after his interactions with the three employees, timm contacted human granted employee handbook which supports that theory. he further alleges that grainger was be similarly situated in all relevant respects). the documents submitted in support of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its adverse employment action. see at these locations and less than others. from 20062009 martinez was paid nearly the the deposition testimony of the branch employees confirmed that the notes lepage terminated despite comments in their employment records about their expressions of door with such fervor that the locked out employee told lepage "if i [were him] i shown that other branch managers engaged in similar conduct to his but were not v. minn. mining & mfg. co., 616 n.w.2d 732, 745 (minn. 2000) (handbook

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