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Braaten v. Newmont USA Ltd.

United States District Court, D. Nevada

February 10, 2017




         This case involves a claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”). Before the court is defendant Newmont USA Limited's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 43. Plaintiff John Braaten filed a response (ECF No. 45), to which Newmont replied (ECF No. 48). The court will grant Newmont's motion because (1) Braaten has failed to establish a prima facie case of age discrimination and (2) even if he had met this initial burden, Braaten's failure to report his criminal charges to Newmont, among other factors, created a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for his termination that was not pretextual.

         I. Background

         Before his termination, Braaten was employed for over twenty-four years with Newmont, a mining company with operations in Nevada. Newmont promoted Braaten several times throughout his career, including his first supervisory foreman position in 1994. ECF No. 43 at 9. At the time of his termination, Braaten held the title of Underground Fixed Maintenance General Foreman and was fifty-four years old. Id. at 10.

         Newmont's employee code of conduct requires its employees to report to the company all legal charges they incur. Id. at 7. Specifically, the “Standards of Conduct and Corrective Action” provide that “[i]n the event you are charged with or convicted of a crime you must report that fact to your department and to your human resources representative within five (5) days of being charged or convicted.” Id. (quoting ECF No. 43-1 at 9). It is undisputed that Braaten was aware of these policies, as he signed forms throughout his employment acknowledging Newmont's policies and participated in the company's “Annual Refresher Training” sessions in 2013 and 2014, which covered the reporting policy. Id. at 8-9. Additionally, Braaten received first-hand experience with the policy in 2012, when two separate employees that Braaten supervised, Shaun Forsberg and Lupe Macias, contacted him to report their DUI arrests. Id. at 9-10.

         Nonetheless, it is undisputed that Braaten failed to report his own DUI charges to anyone at Newmont. On April 3, 2014, Braaten left work early[1] at approximately 1:30 p.m. and proceeded to a nearby casino in Spring Creek, Nevada, where he consumed alcohol. Id. at 11. At approximately 8:00 p.m. that same day, Braaten crashed his car into the front lawn of a residence in Spring Creek. Id. at 12. He was taken to a local hospital, and a blood draw later revealed that Braaten's blood alcohol content was 0.168. Id. It does not appear that Braaten was arrested at this time.

         Two days later, Braaten contacted his supervisor, Mine Maintenance Superintendent Bill Burt, to inform him of the accident and resulting absence from work. Even after Burt directly asked Braaten if he had anything to report, Braaten did not disclose that the accident was alcohol related. Id. at 14 (citing ECF No. 43-2 at 24). Rather, Braaten stated that he did not want to discuss anything related to the accident. Id.

         Tauna Staples, a Newmont HR specialist, later contacted Newmont to explain his short-term-disability benefits. Id. Braaten once again did not disclose that alcohol caused his accident. Instead, he informed Staples that he wanted to use his paid time off (“PTO”) instead of short-term disability. Id. When Staples asked Braaten why he would want to use PTO when he had this benefit available to him, he simply affirmed that he wanted to use his PTO. Id. Nonetheless, several weeks later, Braaten submitted a claim form to Newmont for short-term disability but did not report that the accident was alcohol related. Id. at 15. Newmont's disability benefits, however, do not cover injuries stemming from unlawful alcohol use or criminal acts. Id. (citing ECF No. 43-1 at 34). During his employment, Braaten acknowledged receipt of the benefits policies (ECF No. 43-1 at 47) and has not argued that he was unaware of the policy exclusions[2](see generally ECF No. 45). Newmont approved Braaten's disability claim and provided him a total of approximately $10, 000 in benefits. ECF No. 43 at 18.

         On June 2, 2014, the State of Nevada filed a criminal complaint against Braaten for driving under the influence and willful injury to or destruction of property. Id. at 16. Warrants were issued for his arrest, which Braaten learned of on June 9 and subsequently surrendered himself. Id. At no point did Braaten report these charges[3] to Newmont. Id. at 17.

         On June 10, 2014, a local newspaper reported that Braaten had been arrested. Id. Shortly thereafter, Newmont learned of his arrest from the report. Id. On June 26, Burt and other Newmont officials met with Braaten regarding his charges. Id. When asked whether he was aware of the policy requiring him to report criminal charges within five days, Braaten replied “sure I did.” Id. (citing ECF No. 43-1 at 35-39). Braaten also acknowledged that he had been reminded of the policy at the recent Annual Refresher Training. Id. at 18.

         A management team eventually concluded that Newmont should terminate Braaten. Id. Newmont has asserted that this decision did not consider Braaten's age but rather the fact that he violated company policy by not reporting the DUI charges and made a short-term-disability claim even though he was ineligible for these benefits. Id. On July 7, the management team met with Braaten to inform him of its termination decision and the basis of that decision. Id. at 19. During the meeting, Braaten did not claim he was being discriminated against due to his age. Two weeks later, Braaten met with Jack Henris, the General Manager of Operations, in order to appeal his termination. Id. At the conclusion of the meeting, Henris decided to uphold the termination. Id. Once again, Braaten did not mention age discrimination. Id.

         Braaten's replacement after his termination was Todd Sullivan, who at the time was forty-four-and-a-half years old. ECF No. 43 at 20.

         In March of 2015, Braaten filed suit in this court, alleging a single count of age-related discrimination.

         II. Legal standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate only when “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In assessing a motion for summary judgment, the evidence, together with all inferences that can reasonably be drawn therefrom, must be read in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Cty of Tuolumne v. Sonora Cmty. Hosp., 236 F.3d 1148, 1154 (9th Cir. 2001).

         The moving party bears the burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion, along with evidence showing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). On those issues for which it bears the burden of proof, the moving party must make a showing that is “sufficient for the court to hold that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party.” Calderone v. United States, 799 F.2d 254, 259 (6th Cir. 1986); see also Idema v. Dreamworks, Inc., 162 F.Supp.2d 1129, 1141 (C.D. Cal. 2001).

         To successfully rebut a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must point to facts supported by the record that demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact. Reese v. Jefferson Sch. Dist. No. 14J, 208 F.3d 736 (9th Cir. 2000). A “material fact” is a fact “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Where reasonable minds could differ on the material facts at issue, summary judgment is not appropriate. See v. Durang, 711 F.2d 141, 143 (9th Cir. 1983). A dispute regarding a material fact is considered genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248. The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient to establish a genuine dispute; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff. See id. at 252.

         III. ...

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