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Morel v. Chevron Mining, Inc.

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

March 31, 2015

KEITH A. MOREL, Plaintiff,
v.
CHEVRON MINING, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, District Judge.

In this action against his former employer, Chevron Mining, Inc. ("CMI"), plaintiff Keith A. Morel alleges that CMI interfered with his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act and retaliated against him for exercising those rights. Mr. Morel also asserts a claim for age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and he asserts state law claims for assault and battery, negligent hiring, and breach of contract.[1] CMI asks the Court to enter judgment in its favor on all of these claims because the claims fail as a matter of law. For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of CMI on Mr. Morel's age discrimination, assault and battery, negligent hiring, and breach of contract claims. The Court will issue an order requesting additional briefing on Mr. Morel's FMLA claims.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"The 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). To demonstrate that there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact that precludes summary judgment, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment must cite "to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). When considering a summary judgment motion, the Court must view the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Hill v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 510 Fed.Appx. 810, 813 (11th Cir. 2013). "The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Mr. Morel began working for Chevron in April 1984. (Doc. 21-1, p. 18). In January 2006, defendant Chevron Mining, Inc. (CMI) hired Mr. Morel as a safety specialist at its North River Mine ("NRM"). (Doc. 21-1, pp. 33-34, 38-40). As a safety specialist, Mr. Morel performed safety-related tasks both above and below ground at the mine, conducted training sessions, and accompanied federal and state inspectors on tours of the mine. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 39-41). When Mr. Morel began working at NRM in 2006, he reported to safety supervisor Joe Brasfield. (Doc. 21-1, p. 36). Mr. Morel also worked with Eli Creel, a safety and security specialist who was promoted to safety coordinator in 2007. (Doc. 21-5, p. 21). Barry Kimbrell was the safety manager at NRM in 2008 and 2009. (Doc. 21-9, ΒΆ 3).

Improper Reporting of Dust Samples

At some point during Mr. Morel's employment as a safety specialist, Mr. Creel oversaw dust sampling at NRM. (Doc. 21-5, p. 30). Dust sampling is the process of monitoring dust pumps that measure the respirable dust concentration underground. (Doc. 21-5, pp. 18-19). After the dust pump is turned off, an employee removes a cassette from the pump, writes down how long the pump was run on a dust sampling card, and mails the card and cassette to MSHA. (Doc. 21-5, pp. 32-33; Doc. 21-3, pp. 89-92). Mr. Creel instructed Mr. Morel to write "480 minutes" on each dust sampling card regardless of what the pump timer actually said. (Doc. 21-2, p. 92). Mr. Morel disagreed with this practice and reported Mr. Creel to the safety hotline. (Doc. 21-3, pp. 1-2). As a result of Mr. Morel's complaint, MSHA conducted an investigation and instructed Mr. Creel and CMI that it was necessary to write down the actual amount of time the pump ran. (Doc. 21-3, p. 4).

Mr. Morel's Performance Evaluations

During his time as a safety specialist for CMI, Mr. Morel received annual employee evaluations. CMI called the evaluations PMPs. (Doc. 21-1, p. 58). CMI delivered Mr. Morel's 2007 PMP to him in April 2008. (Doc. 21-6, p. 24). On the 2007 PMP, Mr. Morel received a "3" or "falls short of performance expectations, " the lowest performance rating that an employee may receive. (Doc. 21-6, p. 24). The 2007 PMP performance feedback section cited Mr. Morel's failure to create a colored ribbon sheet, coordinate first aid training, organize a bulletin board, and complete inspections and repairs of fire valves. (Doc. 21-6, p. 24).

Mr. Morel attached written comments to the PMP that disputed the criticisms of his work performance. (Doc. 21-6, pp. 25-26). With respect to the colored ribbon sheet project, Mr. Morel explained that the project was critiqued before it was completed, but after he re-worked the format, his supervisors deemed the finished product excellent. (Doc. 21-6, p. 25). Regarding the first aid training, Mr. Morel explained that medical problems prevented him from completing all of the scheduled classes and that of the classes he was able to teach, management did not support him in obtaining student attendance. (Doc. 21-6, p. 25). With respect to the bulletin board, Mr. Morel contended that he did complete the task, but his safety manager informed him that the arrangement was not acceptable. (Doc. 21-6, p. 25). Mr. Morel also maintained that he always posted MSHA citations and added new plans and required documents as requested. (Doc. 21-6, p. 25). Regarding inspections and repairs of fire valves, Mr. Morel argued that the task was given to him in April 2008 and should not have been listed on his 2007 performance evaluation. (Doc. 21-6, p. 25).

Mr. Morel's 2008 PMP was dated January 26, 2009, the date of his termination. (Doc. 21-6, p. 28). Mr. Morel testified that PMPs ordinarily are given in March, April, or May. (Doc. 21-2, p. 5). On his 2008 PMP, Mr. Morel again received a rating of "falls short of performance expectations." (Doc. 21-6, p. 28). The performance feedback cited Mr. Morel's failure to complete 86 "BBS Observations" and 96 underground inspections, as well as his lack of preparation for teaching training classes. (Doc. 21-6, p. 28). The feedback section of the review also noted six discussions that CMI management had with Mr. Morel about his poor job performance, although the first two discussions listed occurred on or before the administration of Mr. Morel's 2007 PMP. (Doc. 21-6, p. 28).

Altercation with Mr. Steele

On August 29, 2008, Mr. Morel attended a meeting with Mr. Creel and Tommy Joe Steele, an independent contractor who CMI hired to help manage the CMI safety department. (Doc. 21-3, pp. 22-23; Doc. 21-5, pp. 44-50). At that meeting, Mr. Steele grabbed Mr. Morel by the shoulders and shook him. (Doc. 21-3, pp. 22-24). Mr. Morel had bruising on his shoulders from where Mr. Steele grabbed him. (Doc. 21-3, p. 28). Later that day, Mr. Morel reported the incident to CMI's hotline. (Doc. 21-3, pp. ...


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