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Fuller v. SL Alabama, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

September 26, 2014

KRISTIN FULLER, Plaintiff,
v.
SL ALABAMA, LLC, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Kristin Fuller, Plaintiff: Daniel Eduardo Arciniegas, Jon Craig Goldfarb, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Wiggins Childs Quinn & Pantanzis, PC, Birmingham, AL; Lachlan William Smith, LEAD ATTORNEY, Wiggins, Childs, Quinn & Pantazis, Birmingham, AL.

For SL Alabama, LLC, a subsidiary of SL America Corp, Defendant: John James Coleman, III, LEAD ATTORNEY, Henry Carlton Hilson, Burr & Forman LLP, Birmingham, AL; Ingu Hwang, Burr & Forman, Birmingham, AL.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

W. Keith Watkins, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Plaintiff Kristin Fuller alleges that Defendant SL Alabama, LLC, also known as Samlip Alabama, should be held liable for condoning a sexually and racially hostile work environment and for discriminating and retaliating against her in violation of federal law. Before the court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 27), which has been fully briefed (Docs. # 28, 29, 32, 33, 35). Upon consideration of the parties' arguments, the record evidence, and the relevant law, the court concludes that Defendant's motion is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

The court has subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § § 1331 and 1343 and 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). Personal jurisdiction and venue are uncontested.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

To succeed on summary judgment, the movant must demonstrate " that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The court must view the evidence and the inferences from that evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Jean-Baptiste v. Gutierrez, 627 F.3d 816, 820 (11th Cir. 2010).

The party moving for summary judgment " always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the

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basis for its motion." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). This responsibility includes identifying the portions of the record illustrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. Or. a movant who does not have a trial burden of production can assert, without citing the record, that the nonmoving party " cannot produce admissible evidence to support" a material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 advisory committee's note (" Subdivision (c)(1)(B) recognizes that a party need not always point to specific record materials. . . . [A] party who does not have the trial burden of production may rely on a showing that a party who does have the trial burden cannot produce admissible evidence to carry its burden as to the fact." ). If the movant meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to establish -- with evidence beyond the pleadings -- that a genuine dispute material to each of its claims for relief exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the nonmoving party produces evidence allowing a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict in its favor. Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001).

III. BACKGROUND[1][2]

A. Setting the Stage

Defendant manufactures headlights and light components for Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, among other customers. Defendant's Alexander City plant is open as many as seven days a week, and employees work one of two twelve-hour shifts. Defendant operates about nineteen production assembly lines with five to seven employees working on each line. At the end of each line is a quality inspector who must determine if Defendant's products meet Defendant's customers' specifications. If a headlight is not compliant with all specifications, then the quality inspector segregates it from acceptable products and tags it with a written note identifying the defect. Ms. Fuller, who worked as a quality inspector, describes this as " throwing out" the parts.

For several years, roughly a quarter of Defendant's workforce has been hired on a temporary basis by outside staffing agencies. Allegiance Staffing, one of those " temp" agencies, placed Ms. Fuller, who is white, as a temporary employee at Defendant's plant as a quality inspector working from 5:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Gary Taunton was the onsite supervisor for Allegiance at that time, and Ms. Fuller answered to him. However, she was also supervised by Defendant's supervisory employees, including Marion Wilson, Defendant's Quality Supervisor. Ms. Wilson and Candice Britton, one of Defendant's Quality Team Leaders, roved the assembly floor, overseeing the work of each line and of the quality inspectors

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like Ms. Fuller. Both Ms. Wilson and Ms. Britton are black. Ms. Fuller was also accountable to Defendant's HR Manager, Debbie Meeks, who enforces Defendant's attendance policy, but there is no evidence that Ms. Fuller ever dealt directly with Ms. Meeks. Allegiance maintained its employees' time records, but Defendant's attendance policy, described infra, governed temp employees like Ms. Fuller.

B. Alleged Sex- and Race-Based Harassment and Discrimination

Ms. Fuller claims that she endured sexually and racially abusive treatment while working in Defendant's plant. While she admits that she is not certain about the precise dates of the events described below, she was only employed for about three weeks on the production lime where she alleges the actual harassment occurred.

Ms. Fuller's primary complaints relate to her interactions with Xavious O'Neal, a black male coworker who was permanently employed by Defendant. Mr. O'Neal allegedly harassed Plaintiff from the first day she reported to work on July 20, 2012.[3] Mr. O'Neal worked in close proximity to Ms. Fuller at the end of an assembly line. According to Ms. Fuller, machinery that is approximately six- or seven-feet tall separated her and Mr. O'Neal from other employees on the line, and other employees usually worked with their backs to the end of the line.

Mr. O'Neal allegedly was interested in having sexual intercourse with and performing other sexual acts upon Ms. Fuller and made his intentions known. Ms. Fuller claims that Mr. O'Neal first asked her if she was married to a black man or a white man, inquired if she had ever been the sexual partner of a black man, and told her she was a " fine ass white girl." Ms. Fuller rebuffed Mr. O'Neal and told him that she was married, but Mr. O'Neal suggested that what her husband did not know would not hurt him. He continued to make sexual advances, allegedly by touching Ms. Fuller's breasts and buttocks repeatedly, asking her questions about how she groomed her vagina, asking to photograph and to lick her vagina, and proposing that they have sex. Ms. Fuller says that Mr. O'Neal engaged in this abusive speech and behavior in the open sight and hearing of other workers on the assembly line, and that he persisted almost every day that he was at work for about two weeks. However, there are no other witnesses who have corroborated her narrative.

Ms. Fuller says that she was subjected to racial harassment as well, which apparently came from Mr. O'Neal and other black female employees on the line. They criticized and verbally confronted Ms. Fuller more than once because they believed she was arbitrarily rejecting and tagging their products as defective. Some of the employees took the parts that Ms. Fuller had tagged as defective, untagged them, and placed them on a cart to be shipped out of Defendant's facility to customers.

When Ms. Fuller first reported to Ms. Britton that her coworkers were untagging defective parts, Ms. Britton told her that she was being a " drama queen." Ms. Britton told the line employees not to talk to Ms. Fuller, and told Ms. Fuller not to talk to the line employees. Ms. Fuller claims that she also told Ms. Britton that Mr. O'Neal was touching her buttocks, but that Ms. Britton did not address her complaint. Ms. Britton denies that Ms. Fuller ever

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complained about Mr. O'Neal's alleged sexual harassment.

A couple of days after seeking out Ms. Britton, Ms. Fuller claims that she told Mr. Taunton, her onsite Allegiance supervisor, that Mr. O'Neal was groping her breasts and buttocks, asking her when she would " put that pussy on a real nigger," and calling her a " white bitch." (Fuller Dep. at 93-96.) According to Ms. Fuller, Mr. Taunton told her that she should stay away from Mr. O'Neal and to tell him to stop making advances. There is no evidence in the record that Mr. Taunton conveyed Ms. Fuller's report to Defendant's management or human resources (" HR" ) department.

Ms. Fuller claims that a few days after talking to Mr. Taunton, she told Ms. Wilson in detail about Mr. O'Neal's sexual comments and offensive touching. Ms. Fuller says that Ms. Wilson " kind of snapped," suggested that Ms. Fuller was creating trouble, and told Ms. Fuller to stop tattling on others. (Fuller Dep. at 107-09.) Ms. Wilson allegedly dismissed the complaints and sent Ms. ...


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