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Baker v. Supreme Beverage Co., Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

December 15, 2014

GRADY L. BAKER, Plaintiff,
v.
SUPREME BEVERAGE COMPANY, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ABDUL K. KALLON, District Judge.

Grady Baker, an African-American, pursues this lawsuit against his former employer, Supreme Beverage Company, Inc. ("SBC"). Doc. 1. Grady alleges that during his employment, SBC denied him overtime pay, subjected him to a racially hostile work environment, and subsequently discharged him in retaliation for his complaints about overtime and/or because of his race. Id. Accordingly, Baker pursues claims for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Before the court is SBC's Motion for Summary Judgment, doc. 36, which, for the reasons stated below, is due to be granted.[1] At this juncture, however, the court notes that Baker's strongest claims is the hostile work environment claim. According to Baker, he was subjected repeatedly to racially offensive language by one of his co-workers and a supervisor. Doc. 38-1 at 81, 89, 91-92. Unfortunately for Baker, because he never complained about the alleged conduct, despite receiving SBC's anti-harassment policy, doc. 38-1 at 90, 91, 157, 167; doc. 38-3 at 12, there is no relief available to him against SBC for the alleged conduct, see Coates v. Sundor Brands, Inc., 164 F.3d 1361, 1366 (11th Cir. 1999).While Baker may think this is a harsh result, as the Eleventh Circuit has noted regarding workplace harassment:

We are not unmindful of the enormous difficulties involved in lodging complaints about discrimination in the workplace, including complaints of... harassment. We also recognize the great psychological burden it places on one who is already the victim of harassment to require that person to complicate further his or her life with the ramifications, both legal and otherwise, of making a complaint. Federal law has now attempted to correct the problem of workplace discrimination, but it cannot be done without the cooperation of the victims, notwithstanding that it may be difficult for them to make such efforts. When an employer has taken steps, such as promulgating a considered [anti-]harassment policy, to prevent... harassment in the workplace, an employee must provide adequate notice that the employer's directives have been breached so that the employer has the opportunity to correct the problem.

Id. Therefore, despite evidence of clear severe and pervasive racial harassment in this case, as explained more fully below, the hostile work environment claim also fails due to Baker's failure to utilize SBC's complaint procedure.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper "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." To support a summary judgment motion, the parties must cite to "particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). Moreover, "Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to "go beyond the pleadings" to establish that there is a "genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A dispute about a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (all justifiable inferences must be drawn in the non-moving party's favor). However, "mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion." Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Furthermore, "[a] mere scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably find for that party." Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This action arises from Baker's employment as a delivery truck driver for SBC. Below are the relevant facts for summary judgment purposes with all reasonable doubts resolved in favor of Baker, organized as they relate to (a) the alleged unpaid wages and retaliatory discharge and (b) the alleged discrimination and harassment.

A. Baker's employment and discharge

From May 6, 2010 until June 18, 2012, Baker worked as a delivery truck driver for SBC, a wholesale beverage distributor that sells and delivers primarily beer and energy drinks to restaurants and retail outlets in Alabama. Doc. 38-30 at 1; doc. 38-31 at 2. Baker describes that, on a regular workday, his position required that he arrive at SBC's warehouse at 5:30 a.m., obtain an invoice that details the items on his truck (shrink-wrapped pallets of beverages), count the items (which SBC's warehouse personnel would load onto the truck the preceding workday), confirm that the items in the truck match those on the invoice, and deliver the items on the truck to the appropriate "customer stops." Doc. 38-1 at 16. Once he completed his stops for the day, Baker would return to the warehouse and "check in" to account for payment or returned product. Id. at 24. If a driver could not complete his stops, [2] SBC's policy required that he "let management know, " get a forklift driver to unload the truck, wait until "someone in management comes over and checks [to make] sure all the beer is there, and then the driver... takes the pink ticket copy [of the invoice] upstairs in the warehouse to the check up lady." Doc. 51-1 at 6. The "check up lady" would then call management in the warehouse "to be sure the pallet of product is actually there, " "the pallet is then re-keyed to produce another invoice with changed route and date, " and the undelivered order typically gets "[rolled] over to the next day." Id. Baker performed these duties generally until June 18, 2012, when SBC discharged Baker for purportedly failing to complete his deliveries on the prior workday, June 15, 2012. Doc. 38-1 at 2. Baker, on the other hand, claims that retaliatory animus motivated his discharge- specifically that his supervisors "were out to get [him]" because he demanded overtime wages on June 15, 2012 and on multiple previous occasions. Doc. 38-1 at 117; doc. 51-1 at 3.

Turning to the events of June 15, 2012, when Baker arrived at work at 5:30 a.m., he realized that he had "two customer stops more than usual" and believed that he would not have time to deliver the last two stops unless he worked for twelve to thirteen hours. Doc. 38-1 at 64; doc. 51-1 at 4. According to Baker, he "was not feeling well" that day, and his supervisors knew that he was undergoing treatment for diverticulitis. Doc. 38-1 at 64; doc. 51-1 at 7. Throughout the day, Baker purportedly notified warehouse managers Josh Lankford and Buster Tate[3] that he could not complete the last two stops because he was not feeling well, and he told Lankford that completing the last two stops would take until "6:00 or 7:00 [p.m.], [when] he got there at 5:30 [a.m.]." Doc. 38-1 at 64-66. Purportedly, Lankford told Baker that "he didn't have nobody [else]" to complete the stops, and Tate told Baker, "Do what you can do."[4] Id. at 65, 66. At 5:30 p.m., after "working twelve hours... [when he] was not feeling well, " Baker decided to return the undelivered pallets remaining on his truck because he believed completing the deliveries would require an additional three hours of work. Doc. 51-1 at 5. In doing so, Baker claims he followed the proper procedure for returning the stops. Id. at 6. Specifically, a forklift driver unloaded the undelivered pallets and "set [the pallets] on the floor for them [to] take a picture of [the pallets], " another warehouse worker "signed that [the] beer [was] back in [the] warehouse, " and Baker "[went] up and [checked] up" with the "check up lady, "[5] Id. Additionally, earlier that day, because company "protocol" required that he inform the salesman for the undelivered product, Baker claims he notified the appropriate salesman, Charles Rose, that he could not complete the stops. Doc. 38-1 at 65. According to Baker, he "could not check up and go home until the check up lady and [his] paperwork matched, " and he "made sure" to follow this procedure because, otherwise, "he would have to pay for [the undelivered items]." Doc. 51-1 at 6-7.

The next workday, June 18, 2012, warehouse supervisor Alan Creel notified Baker that his employment was terminated as a result of the events that took place on June 15, 2012.[6] Id. at 2. Because Baker maintains that he followed the proper procedure for returning the undelivered pallets, he describes another set of events, which he believes truly motivated the decision to terminate his employment. Specifically, Baker claims that he "got on [his supervisors'] nerves" in "asking so much" and complaining about unpaid overtime wages. Doc. 38-1 at 117. Baker purportedly complained about overtime "for two years" on "more than ten" occasions, and he recounts three specific incidences when he complained about overtime to three different supervisors, including Lankford and Creel. Id. at 110, 112, 118. One of these incidences took place on Baker's last workday: when Baker realized that morning that he would not be able to complete his without working an additional two to three hours, he told Lankford, "Y'all don't want to pay me no overtime... I'm not going to be able to do them other stops." Doc. 38-1 at 111. On the same day, Baker's coworker, Alan Lowe, purportedly overheard Lankford speaking with Marshall Nichols (SBC's Director of Operations) about discharging Baker, prompting Lowe to opine that "they were out to get [Baker]." Doc. 51-1 at 1-2. Lowe also told Baker that in May 2012, he overheard Lankford telling Creel that Baker "was getting to be a nuisance about talking about overtime in front of other employees." Id. at 2.

B. Discrimination and harassment

To support his claims of discrimination and harassment, Baker relies in part on his coworker Lowe, who purportedly overheard Creel, Lankford, and warehouse worker Mike DeArman "discussing how Buster Tate, African-American warehouse manager, would allow [Lowe] to help [Baker] make deliveries... and [how] them n*****s' must be [in] cahoots." Doc. 51-1 at ...


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