United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
DORIAN D. MARTIN, Plaintiff,
GESTAMP ALABAMA, LLC, Defendant.
KARON OWEN BOWDRE, Chief District Judge.
This employment discrimination matter asserting race discrimination and retaliation is before the court on "Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment" (doc. 31), which has received thorough briefing ( see docs. 32, 36, & 38), and Defendant's "Motion to Strike" (doc. 43). For the reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion, the court FINDS that the motion to strike is due to be DENIED; that the motion for summary judgment is due to be GRANTED as to the disparate treatment claim based on race; and that the claim for retaliation based on race is due to be DISMISSED as abandoned.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (doc. 20) contains the following claims: (1) First Cause of Action - race discrimination brought pursuant to Title VII and § 1981; (2) Second Cause of Action - hostile work environment on the basis of race brought pursuant to Title VII and § 1981; (3) Third Cause of Action - retaliation on the basis of race brought pursuant to Title VII and § 1981; (4) Fourth Cause of Action - sex discrimination brought pursuant to Title VII; (5) Fifth Cause of Action - nonpayment of overtime in violation of the FLSA; and (6) Sixth Cause of Action - retaliation/discrimination in violation of FLSA. On August 29, 2013, the Plaintiff filed "Plaintiff's Stipulation for Partial Dismissal of Claims, " (doc. 28), stipulating that the following claims be dismissed: hostile work environment on the basis of race; sex discrimination; nonpayment of overtime in violation of the FLSA; and retaliation/discrimination in violation of FLSA. Based on that stipulation, the court dismissed those causes of action with prejudice. (Doc. 30). Accordingly, the only claims that remain to be addressed at summary judgment are as follows: the First Cause of Action - race discrimination brought pursuant to Title VII and § 1981; and the Third Cause of Action - retaliation on the basis of race brought pursuant to Title VII and § 1981.
II. MOTION TO STRIKE
Defendant Gestamp filed an eighteen page "Motion to Strike" complete with 29 footnotes. (Doc. 43). Many of the objections forming the basis of the motion would more properly be stated in the section of the reply brief responding to Plaintiff's facts, and the court has already advised the Defendant of its concern that filing a separate, lengthy document styled as a notice of objections or a motion to strike should not be an end-run around the page limitations of the reply brief. ( See doc. 42). In any event, this court may consider the substance of the motion to strike without actually striking the evidence that the Plaintiff submitted. "Only evidence that is admissible on its face or that can be reduced to admissible form and that complies with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e) will be considered in deciding a motion for summary judgment." Johnson v. Gestamp Alabama, LLC, 946 F.Supp.2d 1180, 1192 (N.D. Ala. 2013) (quoting Stuckey v. Alabama Bd. of Pardons & Paroles, 2012 WL 3670644, *1 n.2 (M.D. Ala. Aug. 27, 2012)). Accordingly, the court will DENY the motion to strike, but will consider the substance of the motion to strike in deciding the motion for summary judgment.
The court obtained the facts below from the statement of facts set out in the parties' briefs, and the court's examination of the evidentiary record. The court has resolved all reasonable doubts regarding the facts in favor of the nonmoving party. See Info. Sys. & Networks Corp. v. City of Atlanta, 281 F.3d 1220, 1224 (11th Cir. 2002). Accordingly, the statement of facts in this opinion reflects the facts for summary judgment purposes only.
From June 25, 2005 until his discharge in April of 2011, Plaintiff Dorian Martin, an African American male, was an employee of Defendant, Gestamp Alabama, LLC. Defendant is a stamping and welding facility that provides parts to automotive manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz. Although Martin worked various shifts in various departments during his tenure with Gestamp, at the time of the events made the basis of this suit, Martin was working on the second shift with the Ultrasound Technology Group ("UT Group"). In that position on that shift, Curtis Johnson, an African American, was Martin's Team Leader, and Martin reported to the following members of management: Maintenance Manager Mike Crawford, a Caucasian, from approximately January 2008 until November 2010, and Quality Manager John Nelson, a Caucasian, from November 2010 until Martin's discharge the following April. From early 2008 through Martin's termination, Marva Morgan, an African American female, held the position of Gestamp's Human Resources Manager, and Jamie Mitchell, a Caucasian, was the Plant Director.
Investigation of Alleged Misconduct and Termination
In early 2011, an African-American Team Leader advised Morgan that she was having difficulty locating Martin's UT Group during work hours, and Morgan relayed this information to Nelson. The complaint was directed at Team Lead Johnson and the UT group in general, not at Martin specifically, and Nelson began investigating the problem in January of 2011. As part of this investigation, Nelson arranged for Quality Engineer Kenny Green, who worked on the second shift, to monitor the second shift UT Group for compliance with Gestamp policies and procedures.
On February 3, 2011 Nelson forwarded to Morgan emails from Green, stating that Green had observed Martin's extended absence from his workstation on two occasions: an absence of approximately one hour and fifteen minutes from his workstation on January 27, 2011; and an absence of approximately one hour and fifteen minutes on February 1, 2011, with a total absence for the day of over one hour and a half. Specifically, on January 27, 2011, Green had documented that Martin was absent from his workstation at 8:45 PM, 9:30 PM and 9:45 PM, and Green observed him walking in the door from the parking lot at 10:00 PM. Green similarly documented Martin's absence on February 1, noting Martin was observed walking out the door at 8:15 PM and he was observed returning at 9:30 PM as well as noting he was not at his work station during intervals between those two times.
After receiving Nelson's February 3 email, Morgan followed up with the second shift's senior Group Leader, Darrick Stallworth, an African American, asking him to observe Martin to determine whether Martin's extended absences could be explained by his working away from his usual workstation, or if his absence otherwise complied with company policy. On February 9, 2011, Stallworth sent an email to Morgan advising her that on the prior day (February 8, 2011), Stallworth left Gestamp property at 9:30 PM and had observed Martin sitting in his car, and then, after 10:30 PM, Stallworth had observed Martin still sitting in his car. Stallworth also documented that Martin had entered the Gestamp building sometime after 10:30 PM and had spoken to him upon re-entry, and that Group Leader Armen Weinrick had walked up and joined the conversation. As the senior Group Leader on Martin's shift, Stallworth would have been the person on site to authorize Martin's absence, but Stallworth had not.
Morgan also received an email from Weinrick, dated February 9, 2011, confirming some of Stallworth's observations. In that email, Weinrick confirmed the following facts: he received a call from Stallworth advising that Martin was outside the plant, sitting in his car, and asking Weinrick to observe when Martin returned to work; from 9:30 PM to 10:10 PM, Weinrick sat on the patio where he could observe people returning to work from the parking lot and did not see Martin return; at 10:30 PM, Weinrick observed someone sitting in Martin's car, and, in an effort to verify that the person in the car was Martin, Weinrick went by the UT Lab and confirmed that Martin was not there. Weinrick also confirmed that about 10:45 PM, he saw Martin talking to Stallworth inside the plant building, near the entrance from the parking lot.
Having confirmed that Martin had been absent more than an hour on February 8 without Stallworth's authorization, Morgan next checked with Quality Manager Nelson and Plant Manager Mitchell and confirmed that they had not authorized Martin's absence on that date, either. By February 10, 2011, Morgan concluded that Martin had violated Gestamp's "Zero Tolerance" rule prohibiting leaving the plant during work hours without permission. Because of staffing considerations, she delayed discipline for this violation until Gestamp could find workers to cover the second shift. She transferred Caucasian Kristopher Thompson from first to second shift in March of 2011, and two other associates received UT Group skills training so that the second shift could function smoothly after Martin's termination.
On March 28, 2011, Morgan suspended Martin consistent with Gestamp's procedure calling for a period of suspension immediately prior to termination to ensure that paperwork was in order. When Morgan called Martin into her office with management members to advise him of the suspension, Martin testified that John Nelson told him that he was being suspended because of "[b]reak, extended breaks and lunches and speculation of sleeping in a car. And I was like - His exact words were: Somebody seen you sleeping in a car." (Doc. 33-2, at 31 p. 121). Martin gave Morgan a general denial of misconduct, stating "You know this is not accurate because you know me." (Doc. 33-2, at 31 p. 123). The briefs do not point the court to any specific explanation or information Martin gave Morgan about who gave him permission to go outside the plant for an extended break/lunch or the circumstances surrounding any such permission.
During the suspension, Morgan re-verified the facts and reviewed documentation, including matching time cards with the times he was observed away from his workstation. She noted that his time records from January and February of 2011 showed that Martin was still clocked in at the time he was observed to be absent for an excessive time away from his workstation; in other words, Martin was still "on the clock" and getting paid when he was away from his workstation. Because the documentation re-confirmed her conclusion that Martin had violated Zero Tolerance offenses, Morgan made the decision to terminate Martin effective April 1, 2011 "because he left Gestamp's facility during work hours without permission and was absent from his workstation without permission for excessive periods during the workday in violation of Gestamp's Zero Tolerance' policy." (Doc. 33-1, at 13).
Morgan made the decision and terminated Team Leader Johnson for the same offense at approximately the same time as Martin's termination. (Doc. 37, Ex. 1, pp. 73).
The "Coaching and Counseling Form, " dated April 1, 2011, states in part:
It was concluded that Dorian Martin did violate the standards of conduct by exceeding the authorized length of break periods, leaving the plant during work hours without permission, and excessive unauthorized absence from the workstation during the workday. Dorian, because you exceeded the authorized 30 minutes for lunch on several occasions, you were paid for time not worked. As an Associate, it is your responsibility to return from lunch on time. Leaving the plant during work hours without permission and excessive unauthorized absence from your workstation during the workday is a violation of the Zero "0" Tolerance Approach Policy which is subject to disciplinary action up to and including immediate termination. Because you violated this policy you are being terminated effective April 1, 2011.
Martin signed the document with a date of April 7, 2011, writing below his signature: "I am not agreeing with the charge/violations, " but he did not specify the basis of his disagreement. (Doc. 33-4, at 60).
Although Martin generally disputes in his brief and deposition testimony that he ever left Gestamp's facility during work hours without permission for excessive periods, elsewhere in his deposition testimony, he stated that he did not have any specific recollection of those three dates and did not know of any reason he needed to be outside the plant building for over an hour on those dates other than being on break. (Doc. 33-2, at 29 pp. 111-12). Morgan states in her affidavit that "[a]t no time did Mr. Martin deny being away from his workstation for multiple times of more than an hour each time nor deny reports of him being outside the building for these extended periods, and at no time did he offer any explanation for these extended absences." (Doc. 33-1, at 12).
Martin testified that, at the time of Martin's termination, no Caucasians worked on the second shift, and no African Americans worked on the first shift, although based on Morgan's testimony, she had just transferred Kristopher Thompson to the second shift.
On April 4, 2011, Martin filed an EEOC Charge. He checked the boxes for discrimination based on race and sex but did not check retaliation. He relates the following discrimination: (1) being given the "run around" when he attempted to return to work on the day shift, which, at the time, was staffed with Caucasians only while the night shift was staffed with African Americans only; (2) being threatened by assistant plant director with losing his job when Martin wanted to file a complaint about the bogus charges that a Caucasian Group Leader asserted against him for supposedly harassing a white female employee; (4) being suspended and terminated, although he had never received previous disciplinary action, for taking extended breaks, taking excessive lunch breaks, not clocking out for lunch and sleeping in his car on lunch breaks when white or female employees who committed company policy violations were not suspended or terminated. The Charge lists the dates of discrimination as between 2-1-11 and 4-1-11.
Gestamp Policies and Procedures
At Gestamp, employees are known as "associates." The Associate Handbook, which Martin received, sets out Gestamp's company policies and procedures, ...