United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, District Judge.
In this employment discrimination action, Kristopher Fletcher claims that his former employer, Supreme Beverage Company or SBC, discriminated and retaliated against him on the basis of his race. Mr. Fletcher is African-American. SBC has filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. The company argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on all of Mr. Fletcher's claims. Because Mr. Fletcher cannot establish a prima facie case for race discrimination or retaliation and because Mr. Fletcher's remaining state law claim fails as a matter of law, the Court grants SBC's motion for summary judgment.
I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows 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). A party opposing a motion for summary judgment must identify disputed issues of material fact by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When considering a summary judgment motion, the Court must view the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Moton v. Cowart, 631 F.3d 1337, 1341 (11th Cir. 2011). "The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).
II. RELEVANT FACTS
A. Mr. Fletcher's Early Years with SBC
SBC is a wholesale beverage distributor. SBC sells and delivers beer, Red Bull, and other beverages to restaurants and retail stores. The company is based in Birmingham, Alabama. It has five branches throughout Alabama. (Doc. 18-19, ¶¶ 2, 25).
Mr. Fletcher is an African American male. He graduated from the University of Alabama in 2004 with a degree in accounting. (Doc. 18-1, p. 3). Shortly after Mr. Fletcher graduated, a temp agency placed him at SBC. He was responsible for a number of SBC's bookkeeping tasks. (Doc. 18-1, pp. 4-5). Three months after the temp agency placed Mr. Fletcher at SBC, the company's comptroller, David Traweek, and its chief financial officer, James Hall, interviewed Mr. Fletcher and hired him as a payroll processor. Mr. Fletcher earned $12.00 per hour. (Doc. 18-1, pp. 4-5, 20-21; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 4; Doc. 18-18, Ex. 1).
As a payroll processor, Mr. Fletcher processed the weekly payroll, reconciled product receipts from suppliers, calculated monthly excise taxes paid to the State of Alabama ABC Board, and performed various other accounts payable and accounts receivable clerical duties. (Doc. 18-19, ¶4). Mr. Fletcher worked as a payroll processor from August 2004 until January 2006. Initially, he reported to Mr. Traweek. (Doc. 18-1, p. 5). When Mr. Traweek left SBC in September 2004, Mr. Fletcher reported to the company's new comptroller, Robert Warnick. (Doc. 18-1, p. 9; Doc. 18-13, p. 9).
On January 2, 2006, Mr. Hall and SBC's director of operations, Alan Tistle, offered Mr. Fletcher the position of human resources manager. (Doc. 18-1, p. 6; Doc. 18-13, p. 28; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 5). The position was a new one for the company. Before 2006, each department within the company handled its own human resources tasks. The company created the position to centralize human resources responsibilities. (Doc. 18-1, p. 7; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 5).
When he accepted the human resources manager position with SBC, Mr. Fletcher did not have previous experience or training in human resources. (Doc. 18-1, p. 15; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 9). As human resources manager, Mr. Fletcher was responsible for completing new hire paperwork, coordinating drug tests and DOT physicals, implementing policies, and coordinating health insurance and 401(k) benefits. (Doc. 18-1, pp. 7-9). He also was responsible for payroll. (Doc. 18-1, p. 6).
When he became the human resources manager, Mr. Fletcher initially reported to Mr. Tistle. (Doc. 18-1, p. 7; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 5). In September or October of 2006, Mr. Tistle told Mr. Fletcher that he (Mr. Fletcher) was doing well and would receive a raise. (Doc. 18-1, p. 24). In January 2007, Mr. Tistle retired from SBC. (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 7). Mr. Fletcher transitioned from reporting to Mr. Tistle to reporting to Mr. Hall for human resources matters and to Mr. Warnick for finance/payroll matters. (Doc. 18-1, pp. 10, 12; Doc. 18-13, p. 29; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 7). When Mr. Tistle retired, SBC had not evaluated Mr. Fletcher's job performance or given him a raise. (Doc. 18-1, p. 24; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 7).
B. Mr. Fletcher's Work as SBC's Human Resources Manager
Shortly after he became responsible for supervising Mr. Fletcher's work as SBC's human resources manager, Mr. Hall scheduled a meeting with Mr. Fletcher to discuss a variety of topics, including Mr. Fletcher's work habits and performance and Mr. Hall's management style. (Doc. 18-1, pp. 12-13; Doc. 18-2, DX1; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 8; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 3). During the January 29, 2007 meeting, Mr. Hall asked Mr. Fletcher to submit a plan of action for becoming a manager and leader of SBC's human resources department. (Doc. 18-1, pp. 13-14; Doc. 18-2, DX1; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 8; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 3). Mr. Fletcher complied. He created and submitted to Mr. Hall a status report on his existing projects and a plan of action for obtaining formal training as a human resources manager, updating the employee handbook, and drafting job descriptions. (Doc. 18-1, pp. 15, 118; Doc. 18-2, DX2; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 8; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 4).
On March 3, 2007, Mr. Hall asked Mr. Fletcher via e-mail if he had completed job descriptions for everyone in the company, and if not, "to prepare them." (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 11; Doc. 18-19, p. 17, Ex. 6). On March 27, 2007, Mr. Hall e-mailed Mr. Warnick and Mr. Fletcher and told them he wanted to start holding regular meetings to discuss issues in the human resources department. (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 12; Doc. 18-19, p. 18, Ex. 7). Mr. Fletcher recalls only two such meetings- in March 2007 and April 2007. (Doc. 18-1, p. 22).
Mr. Hall provided Mr. Fletcher with an agenda for the March 2007 meeting. (Doc. 18-1, pp. 18; Doc. 18-2, DX 3; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 13; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 8). The agenda essentially was a "to-do" list. The agenda provided that by April 30, 2007, Mr. Fletcher must have "job descriptions for every employment category." (Doc. 18-1, p. 18; Doc. 18-2, DX3; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 13; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 8). The agenda also stated that Mr. Fletcher must begin "to take charge of the 401(k) administration duties." The agenda included instructions associated with that task. (Doc. 18-1, p. 18; Doc. 18-2, DX3; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 13; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 8). In the agenda, Mr. Hall instructed Mr. Fletcher to "[f]ollow up on our BISYS audit package" and to "[l]ocate at least five useful training classes that you want to attend between now and December 31st." (Doc. 18-1, p. 18; Doc. 18-2, DX3; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 13; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 8). Mr. Hall asked Mr. Fletcher to "[p]repare a training program for branch managers and office managers on the proper handling of work-related injuries." (Doc. 18-1, p. 18; Doc. 18-2, DX3; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 13; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 8). Additionally, Mr. Hall set a May 31, 2007 deadline for Mr. Fletcher to "[r]eview every employee file for completeness and accuracy, " and to organize those files in a specific manner. (Doc. 18-1, p. 18; Doc. 18-2, DX3; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 13; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 8).
On April 12, 2007, Mr. Hall discovered that there were a number of incorrect items in the March 401(k) census data that Mr. Fletcher prepared. Mr. Hall e-mailed Mr. Fletcher and instructed him to correct the errors and to advise Mr. Hall and Mr. Warnick via e-mail when he had done so. (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 14; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 9).
On April 13, 2007, Mr. Hall met with Mr. Fletcher and gave him an updated agenda. (Doc. 18-1, p. 20; Doc. 18-2, DX2; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 15; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 10). In the April 13, 2007 agenda, Mr. Hall added two items to Mr. Fletcher's list of responsibilities: (1) "Set the dates for the FIRST quarter safety meeting at each location and make certain that Johnny complies with these dates, " and (2) "Clean and organize your office." (Doc. 18-1, p. 20; Doc. 18-2, DX2; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 15; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 10). Mr. Hall emailed the April 13, 2007 agenda to Mr. Fletcher on April 17, 2007. In the email, Mr. Hall wrote: "As we talked about in the meeting, please keep me posted on the status of each point on the agenda. If something is already done, let me know that by responding to this email today or tomorrow. As for those things that aren't done yet, let me know when you think they will be done." (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 16; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 11).
On May 24 and 25, 2007, with Mr. Hall's approval, Mr. Fletcher attended an HR Expert Class for ADP and a human resources seminar. (Doc. 18-1, p.13; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 16). In June or July 2007, Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Hall attended an OSHA class together. (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 19; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 13).
On July 16, 2007, Mr. Hall sent Mr. Fletcher an e-mail and asked Mr. Fletcher to provide an "update  on the projects in the [April 13, 2007 agenda]." (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 19; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 13). Later that day, Mr. Fletcher sent Mr. Hall an e-mail as requested and informed Mr. Hall that a number of items on the agenda still were not completed, including job descriptions, reviewing employee files for completeness, and setting the date for the second quarter safety meeting. (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 19; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 14).
On July 30, 2007, Mr. Hall sent Mr. Fletcher an e-mail stating: "Due to the recent turnover in the accounting department, I am going to take over the daily management of your area from Robert [Warnick] for the short term and maybe for the long term, too. Any questions that you would have directed to him should now be directed to me.... I am also waiting on the... reports I requested from you week before last.... Finally, please update me on the job description project." (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 20; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 15). Later that day, Mr. Hall sent Mr. Fletcher another e-mail stating, "I am also still waiting on the RBNA pay plan report that I asked for a month ago." (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 21; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 16).
Also on July 30, 2007, Mr. Hall sent Mr. Fletcher an e-mail regarding a SBC employee who was interested in enrolling in the company's 401(k) plan. (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 22; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 17). Mr. Hall informed Mr. Fletcher that company records mistakenly listed the employee as terminated. (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 22; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 17). Mr. Hall asked Mr. Fletcher to reactivate that employee and to send the employee the 401(k) plan brochure. (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 22; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 17). Mr. Hall also asked Mr. Fletcher to find out which employee should be terminated in the system and to correct the error. (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 22; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 17).
During a review of SBC's July and August 2007 health insurance deductions, Mr. Hall discovered several ineligible employees who were insured under SBC's policy. Mr. Hall maintains that as human resources manager, Mr. Fletcher was responsible for adding eligible employees to SBC's coverage and removing ineligible former employees from SBC's policy. According to Mr. Hall, Mr. Fletcher did not review SBC's monthly Blue Cross/Blue Shield report accurately. As a result, SBC paid a claim for an employee who resigned on March 2, 2007 who had not been removed from SBC's coverage. (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 23). Mr. Hall also maintains that in August 2007, SBC's Muscle Shoals office manager informed Mr. Hall that Mr. Fletcher failed to deduct properly the cost of Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance from the monthly salary of one of SBC's employees over the course of 18 months. (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 23).
On August 2, 2007, Mr. Hall and Mr. Warnick met with Mr. Fletcher to review his first employee performance evaluation as the human resources manager. (Doc. 18-1, p. 24; Doc. 18-2, DX5; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 24; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 18). Mr. Hall explained that Mr. Fletcher was not "grasping HR as [SBC] would like him to." (Doc. 18-1, p. 26). The written evaluation states that Mr. Fletcher "performs payroll submission with minimal errors, " but "has to be managed on a daily basis related to Human Resources assignments." (Doc. 18-2, DX5; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 24; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 18). According to the evaluation, Mr. Fletcher had to be "managed closely and followed up with for completion of assigned tasks, " and "[t]he agenda assigned by James Hall (CFO) on March 30th, 2007 has not been fully completed." (Doc. 18-2, DX5; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 24; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 18). Mr. Fletcher admits that he did not complete the job descriptions list or update the employee files. (Doc. 18-1, pp. 25-26; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 25). Mr. Fletcher was "shocked and dumfounded" but did not offer a response to the remarks. (Doc. 18-1, pp. 25-26).
During the meeting, Mr. Hall and Mr. Warnick offered to move Mr. Fletcher to an accounts receivable supervisor position. (Doc. 18-1, pp. 25-26; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 25). In that position, Mr. Fletcher would have been responsible for accounts receivable for SBC's Birmingham location and for payroll for all five SBC locations. (Doc. 18-1, p. 30). SBC maintains that although Mr. Fletcher's job duties would have decreased, his transfer would have been a lateral move within the company. (Doc. 18-19, ¶ 25). Mr. Fletcher testified that the move to accounts receivable would have been a "lateral" one in terms of pay, but Mr. Fletcher believed it was a demotion because of the loss of management status and responsibility. (Doc. 18-1, p. 30). SBC offered to pay Mr. Fletcher's benefits as part of the transfer. (Doc. 18-1, pp. 30-31).
When offered the accounts receivable position, Mr. Fletcher testified that he "took it in consideration" but later changed his mind and told Mr. Hall and Mr. Warnick that he would rather stay in human resources and payroll. (Doc. 18-1, p. 28). Mr. Fletcher told Mr. Hall and Mr. Warnick that he did not want the accounts receivable and payroll job because he did not want to have to "learn that [job] from scratch." (Doc. 18-1, p. 26).
On August 8, 2007, Mr. Warnick told Mr. Fletcher that SBC was going to move him to the accounting department the following day. (Doc. 18-13, p. 39). In a letter to Mr. Warnick dated August 9, 2007, Mr. Fletcher resigned his position with SBC. (Doc. 18-1, pp. 29-30; Doc. 18-2, DX6, p. SBC-FLETCHER-000066; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 27; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 19). Mr. Fletcher's letter reads: "As of August 9, 2007 I, Kristopher Fletcher, hereby resign my position with [SBC]. I really enjoyed the opportunities that were given to me over the years, but unfortunately I would like to venture out into new things with my career." (Doc. 18-1, pp. 29-30; Doc. 18-2, DX6, p. SBC-FLETCHER-000066; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 27; Doc. 18-19, Ex. 19). Mr. Fletcher testified that he resigned instead of taking the accounts receivable job because "I had just purchased a house, and my - I purchased the house based on getting a raise, and the income I was going to be making, if I wasn't going to get a raise, I wouldn't be able to maintain the budgeted income that I had set forth for the house." (Doc. 18-1, p. 31). On August 15, 2007, Mr. Fletcher's last day of employment with SBC, he signed a COBRA notice stating, "[I] hereby resign my position with [SBC], as of the receipt of this document for the reason(s) listed below.... Reason(s) for Resignation: Personal." (Doc. 18-1, p. 29; Doc. 18-2, DX6, p. SBC-FLETCHER-000065). After Mr. Fletcher resigned, Mr. Hall took over Mr. Fletcher's human resources duties. (Doc. 18-1, p. 57; Doc. 18-4, p. 4).
C. Mr. Fletcher's Role in Investigating Complaints of Discrimination
As human resources manager, Mr. Fletcher was responsible for reporting employee claims of discrimination or harassment to upper management. (Doc. 18-1, p. 10; Doc. 18-19, ¶ 5). Mr. Fletcher had no experience investigating complaints of discrimination, and he did not participate in any investigations associated with those complaints. (Doc. 18-1, pp. 10, 54). Mr. Fletcher was "limited on what [he] could do, because [he] didn't really know what [he] could do as far as investigating. So all [he] could do is pass [complaints] along." (Doc. 18-1, p. 35).
Mr. Fletcher received various complaints from a number of SBC employees, including James Collins, Ralph Ware, Freddie Gaines, Kenny Perry, Joe Winborn, Tony Dye, and Allen Trainer. (Doc. 18-1, pp. 31-33). Mr. Collins, a truck driver, complained that SBC was paying some of its white truck drivers more than SBC was paying him. (Doc. 18-1, p. 32). Mr. Ware complained that he had seniority over some of SBC's Caucasian Red Bull Supervisors, but SBC paid those supervisors more than they paid him. (Doc. 18-1, p. 34). Mr. Fletcher relayed the complaints from Mr. Collins and Mr. Ware to Mr. Tistle. (Doc. 18-1, p. 33, 35, 37).
Mr. Gaines did not complain to Mr. Fletcher about discrimination but asked Mr. Fletcher, "When is the raise coming?" (Doc. 18-1, p. 38). Mr. Fletcher reported to Mr. Tistle "that there was another employee asking for a raise." (Doc. 18-1, p. 38).
Mr. Perry complained that he had "a Class A license and a white driver ha[d] a Class B license and [was] making more than him, and how his routes were - He said he had the worst route compared to the white guys." (Doc. 18-1, p. 38). Mr. Fletcher ...