United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
KARON OWEN BOWDRE, District Judge.
This matter comes before the court on Defendant Pryor Giggey Company's "Motion for Summary Judgment." (Doc. 31). Plaintiff Walter Andrews sued Pryor Giggey alleging that Pryor Giggey subjected him to a racially hostile work environment, retaliated when he complained of racial harassment by terminating him, and also terminated him because of his race. (Doc. 1). Pryor Giggey asks the court to grant summary judgment on all of Andrews' claims.
The court cannot summary judgment because genuine issues of material fact exist and Pryor Giggey is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Taking the facts in Andrews' favor, this case is about one man's battle to have his voice heard above the daily din of racial slurs and degradation from his supervisor, who, when Andrews finally complained, engineered Andrews' firing by manipulating subordinates, superiors, and the facts.
Therefore the court DENIES Pryor Giggey's motion for summary judgment.
For summary judgment, the court recites the facts below in the light most favorable to Andrews. They may not be the facts proved at trial.
Pryor Giggey manufactures refractory products. A staffing agency placed Andrews, an African American, at Pryor Giggey's Anniston factory as a temporary employee in 2009. Pryor Giggey hired Andrews permanently in June 2010. (Doc. 32, 3, ¶¶ 1-3; Doc. 38, 7-8, ¶ 1).
Andrews received an Employee Policy Handbook when he started working at Pryor Giggey. The Handbook includes an "Equal Opportunity Policy" and a "Harassment and Sexual Harassment Policy." The Equal Opportunity Policy required employees to report discrimination in writing to the "Human Resources Department." The Human Resources Department merely consisted of Preston Insley, Pryor Giggey's Chief Financial Officer who has never held an HR title. The Harassment and Sexual Harassment Policy required employees to "promptly report the facts" of a discrimination incident to their supervisor or a company officer. Pryor Giggey also accepted oral complaints of discrimination. Employees could complain to "anyone and it should follow, you know, the train up the line." (Doc. 32, 3-4, ¶¶ 5-7; Doc. 33-1, 24; Doc. 38, 6, ¶ 6).
Pryor Giggey initially assigned Andrews to wrap pallets and to assist with loading and unloading trucks in its warehouse as a Shipping and Receiving Assistant. Andrews assisted Larry Williams, an African American, who was the Lead Shipping and Receiving employee. (Doc. 32, 3, ¶ 3; Doc. 38, 8, ¶ 3).
Pryor Giggey also assigned Andrews to work in the Production area of the warehouse from time to time when Pryor Giggey manufactured certain refractory products that required additional resources to produce. Andrews was working in the Production area on the day Pryor Giggey terminated him. However, he only worked in the Production area a few days in his last year at Pryor Giggey. (Doc. 38, 7, ¶ 15).
B. Chain of Command
Williams reported to Jeff Woods, an African American, who was the Supervisor in the Production area during Andrews' employment. While Andrews was Williams' helper, he also reported directly to Woods. Keith Thomas, an African American, was the Lead Production employee during Andrews' employment, and also reported to Woods. (Doc. 32, 3, ¶ 4; Doc. 38, 6, 8, ¶ 4, ¶ 6).
Woods reported to Shane Pressley, a Caucasian, who was the Plant Manager from October 2010 until after Pryor Giggey terminated Andrews. Pressley could hire, fire, and discipline employees. Pressley reported to Allen Davis, a Caucasian, who was Prior Giggey's Vice President of Operations and Technical Director. (Doc. 32, ¶ 15; Doc. 33-1, 24; Doc. 38, 8, ¶¶ 5-6).
A few weeks after Prior Giggey hired Andrews, in June or July 2010, Pressley, the Plant Manager, began using racial slurs when talking to Andrews, saying, for example, "nigger, you got that done, " and "[t]ake your black ass up there and get it." Pressley called Andrews "black ass" many times saying, for example "we have product be done hit the ground, take your black ass and get a shovel and shovel it up." Pressley used racial slurs "almost every other day." (Doc. 38, 8, 10, ¶ 7, ¶ 14).
In 2011, during an argument Pressley told Andrews "[s]tupid nigger, don't you know how to wrap a pallet?" (Doc. 38, 9, ¶ 11).
In May 2012, a month before Pryor Giggey fired him, Andrews asked Pressley why he allowed Randy Holder, a Caucasian, to take breaks without clocking out of work. Pressley told Andrews "[n]igger, don't you worry about that. I will worry about what Randy does. I'm going to fire your black ass if you keep on talking." (Doc. 38, 9, ¶ 8).
Pressley did not limit his racial slurs to Andrews, however. Chris Howard, an African American temporary employee, also heard Pressley use racial slurs towards other employees. Howard heard Pressley tell a group of African American employees before a Pryor Giggey Christmas party that "there's not going to be any fried chicken or watermelon at the party." On another occasion, Howard heard Pressley tell Holder "black people must be stupid or something. They can't even follow simple instructions." Howard heard Pressley use the phrase "black ass" to refer to African Americans daily. Woods told Howard to ignore Pressley's comments. (Doc. 38, 9, 10, ¶¶ 9, 12, 13).
D. Pre-Complaint Discipline
Andrews' supervisors wrote warnings and observed Andrews breaking rules several times before he complained about Pressley's harassment.
Pressley wrote warnings to Andrews on April 5 and April 11, 2011 for not working. However, Andrews never received these warnings. Pressley also gave Andrews a written warning on June 13, 2011 for failing to report to work on a Saturday though Andrews had not been told he needed to come to work that day. Also in 2011, Williams reported Andrews for using his forklift to raise Williams' forklift off the ground with Williams inside. (Doc. 32, 5, ¶¶ 9, 11; Doc. 38, 6, ¶ 9).
On January 5, 2012, Davis observed Andrews violating several Pryor Giggey rules, including standing in front of his running forklift; standing in a corner talking on his cell phone; and improperly wrapping a pallet of bags. Davis observed Andrews away from his post on another occasion. Andrews did not receive written warnings for these incidents. (Doc. 32, ¶ 14; Doc. 38, 19, ¶¶ 69, 71).
On April 2, 2012, despite these warnings and observations, Andrews received a $0.50 per hour "merit increase" in pay. (Doc. 38, 8, ¶ 4).
Andrews never reported any racial discrimination to Williams or Woods. Andrews did tell Woods that Pressley was "picking on him, " but never mentioned any racial discrimination. Woods told Andrews to talk to Davis about his complaints. Woods did not mention Andrews' complaints about Pressley to Davis, but Woods did talk to Pressley directly. (Doc. 38, 10-11, ¶¶ 17-20; Doc. 41, 3, ¶¶ 15, 17-18).
Finally, in May 2012, Andrews reported Pressley's actions to Davis. Andrews complained that Pressley degraded him and used racial slurs against him stating "I went in and Mr. Davis spoke and I told him I had a problem, a problem with Shane [Pressley] calling me the N-word." (Doc. 33-3, 6; Doc. 38, 11-12, ¶¶ 22, 25).
A few hours after Andrews met with Davis, Pressley found Andrews and said "I told your black ass it wasn't going to do no good to go and tell Allen nothing on me. Allen can't fire me" and told Andrews to "get your black so-and-so back to work." (Doc. 38, 12, ¶ 28).
F. Post-Complaint Discipline
Things came to a head in May 2012 after Andrews complained to Davis about Pressley. In early May, a customer complained when it received the wrong product and, on May 5, 2012, Andrews received a written warning from Woods for failing to properly check the truck Williams loaded for the customer. Pressley told Woods to issue the warning to Andrews. Williams, who has never complained about discrimination, did not receive a warning. Pressley told Davis about Andrews' warning on May 23, 2012, though Davis usually did not receive notice of this type of warning. (Doc. 32, 5-6, ¶ 13; Doc. 38, 17, ¶¶ 57-59, 61-62).
Also in May 2012, after being summoned by Pressley to see Davis, Thomas told Davis that, when Pryor Giggey sporadically assigned Andrews to the Production area, he refused to work when asked, refused to take instructions, and would leave his post. Thomas told Davis to "get Walt out of there." (Doc. 32, 7, ¶ 16).
That same month, Williams told Davis that he tried to avoid Andrews and would rather not work with him though Williams denies this conversation had anything to do with Andrews' job performance. (Doc. 32, 7, ¶ 17).
Before Pryor Giggey terminated Andrews, Davis reviewed Andrews' record. Andrews' record included warnings written by Pressley and by Woods at Pressley's direction. Davis also spoke with Pressley about the decision to terminate Andrews. (Doc. 38, 6, 13, ¶¶ 10, 35).
On June 1, 2012, Pryor Giggey terminated Andrews. Andrews met with Pressley, Davis, and Tim Austel, Pryor Giggey's Research Manager, in Pressley's office. Davis told Andrews he did not seem happy with his job and was being let go. (Doc. 32, 7, ¶ 18; Doc. 38, 13, ¶¶ 31-32).
After the meeting, Pressley came to Andrews and said "I told you I was going to get your black ass, I got you fired again, but you ain't coming back this time." Pressley filled out and signed the Pryor Giggey termination ...