Court denies Bon Appetit's motion for summary judgment on worker's retaliation claims

By Charmaine Little | Feb 8, 2019

ST. LOUIS – The U.S. District Court in the Eastern District Court for the Eastern Division on Jan. 30 awarded the defendants summary judgment on race discrimination claims filed by a former Bon Appetit employee, but the employee's retaliation claim survives.

African-American James Eggleston sued Bon Appetit Management Co. and a handful of its managers – Catherine Jones, Katherine Martin and Mike Fairchild – over an allegation of racial discrimination and for allegedly retaliating against him once he reported the alleged discrimination. Eggleston alleged Fairchild made a racial remark against him in August 2016.

All of the defendants filed for summary judgment, but the court only granted the motion on the race claims and all claims against Fairchild. The same wasn’t true for the rest of the defendants. 

“Because there are genuine issues of material fact on Eggleston’s retaliation claim against the remaining defendants, I must deny summary judgment on that claim,” said U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry.

Perry said while the alleged remarks provided the basis of the suit, she said they "did not amount to more than stray remarks."

“The remarks themselves are not evidence of the alleged harassment or termination that followed Eggleston’s complaint,” Perry wrote.

Perry also concluded Eggleston also did not properly prove that he faced racial discrimination when he was denied advancement. 

"The undisputed evidence shows that Eggleston never sought or applied for any promotion or 'advancement' while employed by Bon Appetit, nor has he identified any advancement or opportunities denied him," Perry wrote.

Speculation that he could have received a promotion if he hadn’t been fired isn’t enough to escape summary judgment, Perry said.

Still, the court said there were genuine issues of dispute on the retaliation claim. There are questions of whether Eggleston’s failure to go to a required meeting was because his name wasn’t included on the list of people who had to attend or because of insubordination. There’s also a question of whether Eggleston's alleged failure to following instructions for an event setup could have been because he allegedly wasn’t given clear instructions. 

Summary judgment on the Section 1981 claims against the individual defendants was also denied with the exception of Fairchild because Eggleston did not allege that he engaged in any retaliatory conduct.

During his time as a catering worker with Bon Appetit, Eggleston alleged on Aug. 12, 2016, Fairchild told African-American workers, including Eggleston, that they would be put into a cage if they messed up an order. The workers then reported the statement to Jones, who told the human resources manager. That manager gave Fairchild a written warning, the ruling states, and Jones also informed Martin of the alleged incident. 

A human resources representative later learned Eggleston was going to sue over the alleged cage comment and Jones and the catering director, Rosemary Pastore, recommended that Eggleston be fired. He was terminated in February 2017.

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