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Merriweather v. Charter Communications, LLC

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

February 25, 2015

COURTNEY MERRIWEATHER, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS, LLC, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

W. KEITH WATKINS, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Courtney Merriweather filed suit against Defendants Charter Communications, LLC, Charter Communications Holding Company, LLC, and Charter Communications, Inc.'s (collectively, "Charter") for employment discrimination. Upon referral (Doc. # 41), the Magistrate Judge recommended that Charter's motion for summary judgment be granted. (Doc. # 45.) Mr. Merriweather timely filed an Objection to the Recommendation (Docs. # 46, 49) and Charter replied (Doc. # 50). After careful consideration of the record, the parties' briefs, applicable case law, and the Recommendation, the court finds that Mr. Merriweather's Objection is due to be overruled and the Recommendation adopted.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court reviews de novo " those portions of the... [R]ecommendation[] to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b)(1).

II. DISCUSSION

Mr. Merriweather, of African-American heritage, alleges that Charter discriminated against him on the basis of his race by failing to promote him, assigning him less desirable job duties, segregating its workforce, creating a hostile work environment, and ultimately, constructively discharging him. Charter moved for summary judgment (Doc. # 24), and the Magistrate Judge recommended that Charter's motion be granted and judgment entered in favor of Charter on all claims. (Doc. # 45, at 48-49.)

Mr. Merriweather contends that the Recommendation should be rejected and Charter's motion for summary judgment denied. He argues that the Magistrate Judge misapplied the summary judgment standard and improperly applied case law with regard to four of Mr. Merriweather's claims.

A. Failure to Promote

Mr. Merriweather's first challenge is to the Recommendation's resolution of his failure-to-promote claim. The Recommendation found that Mr. Merriweather failed to establish a prima facie claim of disparate treatment race discrimination because he could not show that he had suffered an adverse employment action. Specifically, the Magistrate Judge determined that becoming a CLI Technician would have been a lateral move for Mr. Merriweather, at best. Mr. Merriweather challenges the determination that the CLI Technician position would not constitute a promotion, arguing that genuine disputes of material fact exist as to whether the new assignment would have come with a pay raise, enabled future career advancement, and allowed him to physically continue working for Charter.

As outlined in the Recommendation, a prima facie case of disparate treatment race discrimination requires proof of four elements: (1) plaintiff is a member of a protected class; (2) "he was subject to [an] adverse employment action; (3) [defendant] treated similarly situated non-minority employees outside his classification more favorably; and (4) he was qualified to do the job. Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1562 (11th Cir. 1997). For purposes of Mr. Merriweather's failure to promote claim, the Recommendation found insufficiency as to element two - whether Mr. Merriweather suffered an adverse employment action. To constitute an adverse employment action, an employer's conduct must be more than subjectively adverse to the plaintiff; "[i]nstead, the employment action must be materially adverse as viewed by a reasonable person in the circumstances." Hart v. U.S. Att'y Gen. 433 F.Appx. 779, 781 (11th Cir. 2011); Doe v. Dekalb Cnty. Sch. Dist., 145 F.3d 1441, 1448-49 (11th Cir. 1998).

In his Objection, Mr. Merriweather argues that he "established evidence that the CLI Technician job was a more prestigious job and that [Mr. Merriweather] was informed it would be a pay raise and promotion for him if he received the position." (Doc. # 49.) A review of the record, however, makes clear that Mr. Merriweather provided little more than his own speculation and opinion as to the anticipated benefits of becoming a CLI Technician.[1]

First, Mr. Merriweather argues that transitioning into the new role would possibly have resulted in a pay increase because CLI Technicians could earn anywhere from $10.95 to $16.45, while he was only earning $13.33 as a BBT II ("Broadband Technician II"). This hope for a raise in compensation is objectively unsupported, however, as the record shows that Mr. Merriweather's earning potential as a BBT II was $1.50 higher than that of the CLI Technician, having a pay range of $12.05 to $18.05. Additionally, the individual hired to fill the CLI Technician vacancy instead of Mr. Merriweather was paid at a rate of $11.50 an hour, almost $2.00 less an hour than he was making as a BBT II. Lastly, Paige Wilder, Charter's Director of Human Resources, testified that, based on Charter's "promotional increase guidelines, " a lateral transition within the company would not trigger a pay increase.[2] (Doc. # 32-2, at 152.)

Aside from compensation, Mr. Merriweather argues that he considered the CLI Technician position to be a promotion because it was a prestigious role that would diversify his knowledge and experience of Charter, which would enable future advancement. This argument fails for two reasons. First, Mr. Merriweather's assertions supporting the CLI Technician position's relative prestige are attenuated at best. For example, his Objection references the fact that a CLI Technician needed to be someone "with proven self-discipline and dedication to completing tasks." (Doc. # 49.) He does not argue, however, that those same skills were not required of BBT IIs. Similarly, he highlights the fact that Charter was seeking someone with BBT II certification or equivalent work experience to fill the CLI Technician vacancy. The same certification or work experience was requested of applicants to the BBT II role, however.

Second, Mr. Merriweather was unable to put forth any evidence indicating that his belief in the value of holding various Charter positions stemmed from any actual policy, whether formal or informal. As the Recommendation highlighted, he did "not cite any legal authority for the proposition that an employee suffers an adverse employment action if he is not offered an entry level job (one below his current status level) that will allow the employee to learn a different set of skills from those the employee uses in his present job position." (Doc. # 45, at 34.) While Mr. Merriweather notes that most members of Charter's management team ...


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