Where plaintiff could not show that but for his cancer he would not have been terminated, a district court judge did not err in granting summary judgment to employer.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a decision by Chief Judge Theresa L. Springmann, Northern District of Indiana.

Carl Castetter underwent treatment for various forms of cancer during his employment with Dollar General. After returning from medical leave Castetter applied, but was not hired, for a position as a district manager. Three months later he secured such a position in Fort Wayne, Ind. Castetter was responsible for managing stores and store managers in his district and his responsibilities included recruiting, training and ensuring that proper employee paperwork and background checks were completed.

Castetter reported to two regional managers during his time as district manager: Jerry Chupp and Mark Hubbs. Castetter alleged that Hubbs mocked and demanded him regarding his cancer diagnoses, and that Chupp filed false performance evaluations in an effort to have him terminated. In January 2016, Hubbs and Brittany Smith from human resources reviewed Castetter’s performance and issued a final written counseling that detailed Castetter’s unprofessional conduct, discussions and violations of Dollar General’s policies. Human Resources then recommended that Castetter be terminated in April 2016. The performance deficiencies included employees who had not completed the hiring process and were working without pay, insufficiently trained employees, understaffed stores, high employee turnover and a cash discrepancy. Castetter was eventually terminated. He later brought a disability discrimination action against Dollar General. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Dollar General. Castetter then appealed.

On appeal, Castetter argued that the evidence as a whole would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that Dollar General terminated Castetter because of his cancer. The appellate panel began by citing Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, stating that isolated comments must be contemporaneous with termination or causally related to the termination process in order to be probative of discrimination. The panel found that Castetter failed to meet the requisite showing of discriminatory intent by showing a causal nexus between the unprofessional remarks by Hubbs and the decision to terminate him.

Next, Castetter argued that Dollar General discriminated against him when they terminated him and did not terminate his subordinate for the same reasons. The panel rejected this argument. The panel stated that the termination resulting from Castetter’s failure to adhere to his district manager responsibilities could not be compared with discipline of a subordinate whose district manager imposed responsibilities beyond the scope of her employment. The panel found that the district court did not err in concluding that Castetter failed to show a discriminatory animus by Dollar General.

Finally, the panel rejected Castetter’s argument that Dollar General’s reason for terminating him was pretextual. The panel stated that Castetter could not show that but for his cancer he would not have been terminated. The panel stated that Castetter had failed to rebut the voluminous evidence showing his deficiencies as district manager. The panel therefore affirmed the decision of the district court.

Carl Castetter v. Dolgencorp LLC

No. 19-2026

Writing for the court: Judge William J. Bauer

Concurring: Judges Frank H. Easterbrook and Amy J. St. Eve

Released: March 2, 2020