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Mitchell v. Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc.

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

March 24, 2015

TONY L. MITCHELL, Plaintiff,
v.
MERCEDES-BENZ U.S. INTERNATIONAL, INC., et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

STACI G. CORNELIUS, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Tony Mitchell brings this action against defendants Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc. ("Mercedes"), and TW Fitting NA, LLC ("TWF"), alleging race discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and asserting a state-law claim for intentional interference with contractual and business relationships against Mercedes. Defendants, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, have moved for summary judgment on all of Mitchell's claims. This court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(c), 1331, and 1367. For the reasons stated below, defendants' motions are due to be granted.

SUMMARY OF UNDISPUTED FACTS[1]

Mitchell, an African American, was employed by Mercedes from 1997 to 2008. (Doc. 27-2 at 15:22-16:7). He began as a team member/operator but was later promoted to a team leader position. (Doc. 27-2 at 34:2-5). In 2008, Mercedes investigated Mitchell for misconduct, resulting in his demotion to team member and eventual termination. (Doc. 24-2 at 9, 11). Mitchell filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and a lawsuit against Mercedes, alleging his demotion and termination were racially discriminatory. (Docs. 24-2 at 10, 24-5). The suit was settled on August 10, 2010. (Doc. 24-6).

After leaving Mercedes, Mitchell applied for several other jobs. (Doc. 27-2 at 356:12-13). Mitchell claims he was offered employment with four of these businesses, but each offer was rescinded because Mercedes spoke of him negatively when contacted for a reference. (Doc. 27-2 at 107:18-108:10, 171:6-172:6). Mitchell interviewed with the first of these companies, Brose, in 2012. (Doc. 27-2 at 171:15-16). According to Mitchell, Brose offered him a job as a Production Supervisor with a set salary, contingent on a background and reference check. (Doc. 27-2 at 171:1-9). He heard nothing from Brose until he received a rejection letter approximately a week later. (Doc. 27-2 at 171:17-172:6). According to Brose, it did not contact any of Mitchell's former employers. (Doc. 24-10 at 2).

Mitchell applied for a position with Faurecia in August 2012, through Melissa Preston at Cornerstone Recruitment Group. (Doc. 27-2 at 184:21-185:5, 195:19-23). After the interview, Preston told Mitchell that Faurecia had offered him a position. (Doc. 27-2 at 200:20-201:2). Subsequently, a Faurecia employee emailed Archie Craft, Vice President of Human Resources and Administration at Mercedes, requesting information on Mitchell. Craft replied, "This individual used to be a Team Leader for us he has a file three inches deep and is not eligible for rehire." (Doc. 24-13). Preston, after speaking with Faurecia, informed Mitchell he would not be hired because of negative references from Mercedes and Johnson Controls, a company for which Mitchell has never worked. (Doc. 27-2 at 90:3-6, 200:20-21). Craft avers that, at the time of the email, he had no knowledge of Mitchell's EEOC charge or lawsuit against Mercedes and that the information contained in the email is true. (Doc. 24-4).

Mitchell interviewed with Nissan in August 2012. (Doc. 24-2 at 93). According to Mitchell, he was offered a position as a Production Supervisor during the interview. (Doc. 27-2 at 204:15-20, 210:17-19). One of Mitchell's interviewers, Tom Jones, expressed his desire to get in touch with Patrick Schwind, a former manager of Mitchell's at Mercedes who had been transferred to China. (Doc. 27-2 at 209:19-210:1). After the interview, Jones emailed Mitchell to request Schwind's contact information. (Doc. 27-2 at 208:9-18). Later, when Mitchell attempted to complete the required online assessment, he found himself locked out of the system, and Nissan made no further contact regarding the position. (Doc. 27-2 at 206:1-8, 19-22).

Mitchell applied for a position with Altec in late 2012. (Doc. 24-11 at 2). On November 6, 2012, Altec formally offered Mitchell a supervisor position, contingent on a background check. (Doc. 39-1). Altec contacted Mercedes to conduct the reference check and spoke with Donna Merrill from Mercedes's human resources department. (Doc. 27-2 at 224:10-13). According to Mercedes and Altec, Merrill simply provided Altec with Mitchell's job title and dates of employment. (Docs. 24-2 at 100, 24-9). According to Mitchell, however, Merrill first told Altec that Mitchell was only an operator, not a team leader, making Mitchell appear to have lied on his resume. Mitchell contacted Merrill to clarify with Altec that he had been a team leader, but by this time Altec was no longer interested in Mitchell, and he was not hired. (Doc. 27-2 at 225:1-228:7). Merrill avers that she has no knowledge of any EEOC charge or lawsuit filed by Mitchell against Mercedes. (Doc. 24-9).

Around December 2012, Mitchell had Terri Johnson, a friend for whom he had done some work, contact Mercedes and request a reference determine whether Mercedes was providing negative references about him. (Doc. 24-12 at 58:5-17). Johnson did not intend to actually employ Mitchell. (Doc. 24-12 at 60:7-10). Johnson claims to have spoken to Barbara in the human resources department at Mercedes, who told Johnson that Mitchell was not eligible for rehire, had gotten into some trouble, and was not reliable, dependable, or dedicated to Mercedes. (Docs. 24-12 at 62:7-11, 39-1 at 11). Mercedes claims no team member named Barbara worked in their human resources department in December 2012. (Doc. 24-9 at 2).

Mitchell began working for defendant TWF, a Mercedes supplier, as a Production Manager on May 2, 2013. (Doc. 24-2 at 41). As part of his duties, Mitchell frequently made purchases for TWF using the company credit card. (Doc. 27-2 at 279:19-23). The procedure for use of the company credit card is as follows: the employee fills out a company charge request, listing the purposes for use of the card. (Doc. 27-2 at 282:17-19). The request must be approved and signed by Craig Human, the plant manager. (Doc. 27-2 at 284:13-15). The employee then signs out the credit card, receives it, and uses it for the authorized purposes. (Doc. 27-2 at 281:6-7). When the employee returns to TWF, he gives the card back, signs it back in, and turns in all receipts for purchases made using the card. (Doc. 27-2 at 281:7-9). Failure to follow this policy could subject the employee to discipline, including immediate termination of employment. (Doc. 24-2 at 120).

Mitchell requested he be able to use the card on June 28, 2013 to buy supplies at Lowe's or Wal-Mart needed for the upcoming plant shutdown. (Docs. 24-2 at 116, 27-2 at 287:2-6). Human approved and signed the request, Mitchell received the card from TWF's accountant, and Mitchell and two employees left the plant. (Docs. 24-2 at 116, 27-2 at 285:6-17, 295:1-2). The group drove the company van because of the amount of supplies needed, but the van had trouble, lengthening the trip. (Doc. 27-2 at 288:23-289:4). Once they arrived at Lowe's, they gathered the needed supplies but had to wait for the paint to be stirred. (Doc. 27-2 at 291:5-8). While waiting, they went outside to attempt to start the van. After fixing more problems with the van, Mitchell realized the group had missed lunch, so he offered to pay for lunch at a nearby Ryan's Steakhouse using the company credit card. (Doc. 27-2 at 292:1-5). They did so, and Mitchell charged $29.36 to the credit card. (Doc. 24-2 at 118).

Around this time, from approximately the last week of June to the first week of July, Mercedes employees visited TWF because mechanical problems at TWF had been causing downtime, affecting Mercedes. (Doc. 27-2 at 314-15). Mitchell recognized two of the Mercedes employees, Mike Capps and Rocky Harrelson, as former coworkers. (Doc. 27-2 at 310:20-22). In the course of conversation, Capps asked Mitchell how his lawsuit against Mercedes was going. (Doc. 27-2 at 311:20-21). Mitchell told him it was settled. (Doc. 27-2 at 311:23). While the Mercedes employees were at the plant, they spent some time speaking privately with Human in his office. (Doc. 27-2 at 316:14-16).

Mitchell's employment with TWF was terminated on July 8, 2013, purportedly for use of the company credit card for unauthorized, personal purchases. (Doc. 24-2 at 122). Mitchell claims he was actually fired because of his race and because of pressure exerted by Mercedes on TWF to fire him in retaliation for his previously filed EEOC charge and lawsuit against Mercedes. (Doc. 27-2 at 309:14-19). According to Mitchell, Human, who is white, also used the company credit card for personal purposes but was not fired. (Docs. 27-2 at 305:19-23; 41-1). Capps and Harrelson executed verbatim affidavits averring they have no knowledge of any EEOC charge or suit filed by Mitchell alleging violations of his civil rights and that they did not speak to anyone at TWF about Mitchell. (Docs. 24-15, 24-16).

Mitchell filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC against Mercedes on September 7, 2012, alleging retaliation based on the negative job references. (Doc. 1-1 at 2). He received notice of his right to sue on August 7, 2013. (Doc. 1-1 at 3). He filed separate charges of discrimination against Mercedes and TWF on July 23, 2013, alleging retaliation based on his termination from TWF. (Doc. 24-2 at 45-46). Mitchell filed suit in this court on September 13, 2013, alleging five causes of action: two claims against TWF under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for race discrimination and retaliation, two claims against Mercedes under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII for retaliation, and one claim against ...


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