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McDaniel v. Wise Alloys, LLC

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

January 6, 2015

DEXTROSE L. McDANIEL, Plaintiff,
v.
WISE ALLOYS, LLC, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

C. LYNWOOD SMITH, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff, Dextrose L. McDaniel, who is an African-American, asserts claims for race-based discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, against his former employer, Wise Alloys, LLC, based upon his termination.[1] The case presently is before the court on Wise Alloy's motion for summary judgment.[2] Upon consideration of the pleadings, briefs, and evidentiary submissions, this court concludes that the motion should be denied.

I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that a 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). In other words, summary judgment is proper "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). "In making this determination, the court must review all evidence and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment." Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000) ( en banc ) (quoting Haves v. City of Miami, 52 F.3d 918, 921 (11th Cir. 1995)). Inferences in favor of the non-moving party are not unqualified, however. "[A]n inference is not reasonable if it is only a guess or a possibility, for such an inference is not based on the evidence, but is pure conjecture and speculation." Daniels v. Twin Oaks Nursing Home, 692 F.2d 1321, 1324 (11th Cir. 1983) (alteration supplied). Moreover,

[t]he mere existence of some factual dispute will not defeat summary judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue affecting the outcome of the case. The relevant rules of substantive law dictate the materiality of a disputed fact. A genuine issue of material fact does not exist unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in its favor.

Chapman, 229 F.3d at 1023 (quoting Haves, 52 F.3d at 921) (emphasis and alteration supplied). See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986) (asking "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law").

II. SUMMARY OF FACTS

A. Plaintiff's Employment

Wise Alloys operates an aluminum and alloy processing and manufacturing facility in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.[3] From 2007 to April 2011, the company retained an independent contractor to perform maintenance work in its Muscle Shoals facility.[4] The contractor hired plaintiff in 2007, and assigned him to work as a maintenance technician in "the Cast House."[5] In that capacity, plaintiff performed troubleshooting, repaired equipment, changed molds and blocks, replaced thermocouples, and performed other key duties on an as needed basis.[6]

In April 2011, Wise Alloys' contract with the independent firm ended, and it brought the maintenance work back in-house.[7] Shortly thereafter, Randy Frey, a Caucasian, became maintenance manager of the Cast House, and was responsible for overseeing all of its maintenance operations.[8] Bryan Tardo, a Caucasian, reported directly to Frey, and plaintiff reported to both men at the time he was terminated.[9] Plaintiff never witnessed either supervisor make racial comments or utter any racial slurs.[10]

B. Plaintiff's Performance Issues

Although plaintiff testified that he "got along with everybody, " including his supervisors, [11] his co-workers complained to Frey in late 2011 that plaintiff was not communicating with them, that he was taking breaks while they worked, and that he was leaving jobs and disappearing.[12] In early 2012, Jack Darby, Production Supervisor, complained to Frey that plaintiff was interfering with production employees, and standing around watching the other maintenance technicians work.[13]

Frey disciplined plaintiff on November 7, 2012, because, in the prior year, plaintiff had called in sick, left early, or been late seven times on Friday or Saturdays.[14] In the "Record of Incident/Discussion" form, Frey indicated that plaintiff's pattern of absenteeism, tardiness, and leaving early would not be tolerated.[15] Plaintiff was advised that, "if your attendance record is not improved you will be subject to further Disciplinary action, up to and including Discharge."[16] Thus, plaintiff was placed on notice that there would be negative consequences if he continued to have attendance problems.[17]

Plaintiff, Danny Parker, and Arnold Brewer received counseling on October 10, 2012, after supervisors became aware of disagreements among the three co-workers.[18] Tardo noted the following in a "Record of Incident/Discussion" form:

On the evening of Wednesday 10/10/12 Gary Touchette and I had a conversation with [Danny Parker, Arnold Brewer, and plaintiff]. There had been some disagreements during the shift amongst [ sic ] the team members. The discussion was based around the need for team work. We explained to them that the shift lead has the authority to prioritize and delegate work as needed to facilitate needs of production. Another point of the discussion was quality of work. We explained to them that we don't have the time or resources to execute a task twice because the quality of craftsmanship was subpar the first time. It was noted that such behavior would not be tolerated at Wise Alloys. The final topic of discussion was emotion. We told the team members that as grown men they should be able to have disagreements without their emotions or tempers coming into play.

Doc. no. 13 (Evidentiary Submission in Support of Summary Judgment), at ECF 53 (alterations supplied). Plaintiff contends that the argument was between Brewer and Parker, and that he was not involved, but he was required to attend the counseling session because he was on the same team shift.[19]

On November 15, 2012, Tardo received a complaint that plaintiff was not participating in his work duties, and was sleeping in a locker room.[20] Tardo found plaintiff in the locker room, where he told Tardo that he was having blinding migraines, had informed one of his co-workers that he was heading to the locker room to sit down for a few minutes, and had only been there for thirty minutes before Tardo came in.[21] Tardo instructed plaintiff that, "if he was unable to help with the work, the least he could do was notify his lead about the condition."[22] This was not the first time Tardo counseled plaintiff about taking breaks.[23] According to Frey, plaintiff would "become more of a team player" after counseling, but he "would regress from time to time."[24]

Plaintiff was scheduled to work the night of December 24, 2012.[25] It was critical that maintenance technicians show up for their scheduled shifts around the holidays because shifts were minimally staffed and a technician's absence would create serious problems for the remainder of the maintenance staff.[26] On December 23, 2012, plaintiff sent text messages to Frey and Tardo stating: "I want to take off chris eve nite Arnold [Brewer] is covern 4 me if thats ok."[27] Tardo responded: "As long as arnold covers."[28] At the time, it was permitted by management for an employee to ask another technician to fill in for a shift, as long as the other technician agreed to cover the shift.[29] However, neither plaintiff nor Arnold Brewer showed up on December 24, 2012.[30]

Plaintiff was not scheduled to work, or he took vacation days off, between the 25th and the 30th of December, 2012.[31] He was originally not scheduled to work on the 31st as well, but the company decided that all Cast House maintenance technicians would be required to work that day so they could complete certain necessary maintenance while the rest of the employees were out ("the outage").[32] A few weeks prior to the outage, Frey attempted to notify the maintenance technicians about the mandatory work-day by making an announcement during morning safety meetings, and by writing a note on a big ...


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