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Birts v. St. Jude's (Medical)

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 31, 2019

ST. JUDE'S (MEDICAL), Defendant.


          Nancy E. Brasel United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 4] filed by Defendant St. Jude Medical, LLC[1] (“St. Jude”) on August 15, 2018. In a Report and Recommendation dated December 4, 2018 [ECF No. 23 (“R&R”)], United States Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer[2] recommended that St. Jude's motion be granted in its entirety. Plaintiff Reginald N. Birts (“Birts”) filed an objection to the R&R. [ECF No. 24 (“Pl.'s Obj.”).] St. Jude filed a response to Birts' objection, and Birts filed a second objection in reply to St. Jude's response. [ECF No. 26; ECF No. 28 (“Pl.'s 2d Obj.”).] This Court now reviews the R&R.


         Birts, a pro se plaintiff, filed this action against St. Jude alleging discrimination claims based on the failure to hire him for a temporary medical assembler position in October 2014. [ECF No. 15[3] (“Pl.'s Exs.”) at 2-3.]

         I. Alleged Discrimination

         According to the Declaration of Deb Damhof, the Area Program Director and former Area Manager for Volt Management Corp. (“Volt”), Volt provided employees to work as assemblers at St. Jude on a temporary basis. [ECF No. 8 (“Damhof Decl.”), ¶¶2-3.] In October 2014, the application/interview process for assembler positions through Volt at St. Jude consisted of several steps:

First, Volt conducted a pre-screen interview over the phone.… Second, the applicant submitted an online application for employment at Volt. Third, the applicant performed onsite testing in Minnetonka. Fourth, Volt conducted an in-person interview of the applicant to determine both schedule availability and skill match to the current opening. If and only if Volt decided that the applicant was a good match for St. Jude, then the applicant moved beyond the fourth step to the fifth and final step - an in- person final interview with a St. Jude supervisor.

         (Damhof Decl., ¶3 (emphasis added).) Volt did not pass candidates on to St. Jude for consideration unless they first passed the step of being approved by a Volt recruiter. [ECF No. 9 (“Velarde Decl.”), ¶2; see ECF No. 10 (“Kalra Decl.”), ¶2 (“The final step at Volt required that a candidate interview with a [Volt] recruiter like me. If the candidate did well in this interview and seemed like a good fit for working at St. Jude, I would pass the candidate on to a St. Jude supervisor for a final review.”).]

         Birts initially sent his resume via email to Nou Vang (“Vang”), an employee of Volt. (Pl.'s Exs. at 21.) He then completed steps one through three of Volt's process, including an initial pre-screen interview with Vang, and testing for a temporary medical assembler position. (Damhof Decl., ¶3; Pl.'s Exs. at 2-3.) Birts' testing took place at the St. Jude facility in Minnetonka, Minnesota, on October 13, 2014. (Pl.'s Exs. at 3, 10, 17-20.) Birts scored 100 percent on the reading portion, 92 percent on the mathematics portion, and 80 percent on the microscope tasks. (Id. at 2, 22.) Birts then waited as other applicants were taken to their interviews. (Id. at 2.) After Birts complained about the delay to a receptionist employed by St. Jude, a recruiter employed by Volt, Paveena Kalra (“Kalra”), took Birts to a room. (Id.; Karla Decl., ¶3.) Kalra asked him only two questions: (1) why he wanted the job, and (2) if he was aware of the distance and traffic from his residence to the job site.[4] (Pl.'s Exs. at 2-3.) Birts responded that he was continuing in the general medical field line of work, after having been a general combat medic in the United States Army Reserve, completed a pharmacy technical course, and worked at Boston Scientific. (Id. at 3.) He also noted that the commute should not be a concern as his drive was only 20 minutes. (Id.)

         Kalra attests that Birts' application and email to Volt showed “a lot of disqualifiers, ” including that Birts “wanted more money than the position offered, the drive exceeded his expressed desire, St. Jude wanted people to work overtime on Friday and Saturday (but his email said Monday-Thursday), and his application showed experience in call centers, sales, and banking, but not in manufacturing and medical assembly.”[5] (Kalra Decl., ¶4.) Kalra decided not to advance Birts to the final step of the hiring process for an interview with a St. Jude supervisor, and did not pass Birts on to St. Jude's supervisor for consideration. (Id., ¶¶3-4.) Damhof similarly attests that Birts did not proceed to the fifth step of the hiring process because Kalra “conducted an in-person interview (step four) and decided not to move Mr. Birts forward in the process to a final interview with a St. Jude supervisor (step five).” (Damhof Decl., ¶4.) St. Jude's records also show that “Birts was not passed on by Volt to St. Jude Medical for consideration in or around October 13, 2014.” (Velarde Decl., ¶3.)

         After his interview with Kalra, Birts followed up with Vang, who gave him his test results and advised him to contact Kalra if he had further questions. (Pl.'s Exs. at 22.) Birts maintains that he was the only black American and the only person over the age of 50 among the candidates considered for the open medical assembler positions that day. (Id. at 2-3; ECF No. 22 (“Pl.'s Surreply Exs.”) at 5.)

         II. Agency Filings and Lawsuits

          On August 17, 2015, Birts filed age and race discrimination claims against St. Jude with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (“MDHR”) under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MDHA”). [ECF No. 7 (“Martin Decl.”), Ex. 4.] Claims were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”).[6] (Id. at 35.) On May 23, 2016, the MDHR notified Birts that it would not take further action on his state law claims, and that he had 45 days to commence a civil action against St. Jude. (Martin Decl., Ex. 5.) On November 9, 2016, the EEOC notified Birts of its decision to dismiss his federal law claims because they were untimely, and that he had 90 days to file a lawsuit against St. Jude based on his Title VII and ADEA claims. (Martin Decl., Ex. 6.)

         In September 2017, Birts filed an action against Volt for discriminatory hiring. The parties dismissed the action pursuant to a settlement. See Birts v. Volt Workforce Solutions, No. 17-cv-04705 (MJD/HB), Order of Dismissal (D. Minn. Jul. 2, 2018). On May 4, 2018, Birts filed a complaint against St. Jude in Hennepin County District Court, alleging violations of the MHRA, Title VII, the ADEA, and § 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (“§ 1981”). (Pl.'s Exs. at 2-4.) St. Jude ...

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