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Mahone v. CSX Transportation, Inc.

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

May 29, 2015

CORNELIUS MAHONE, Plaintiff,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ABDUL K. KALLON, District Judge.

Cornelius Mahone, an African American who worked as a train conductor for CSX Transportation ("CSXT"), alleges that Melvin Murray, his Caucasian supervisor, treated him more harshly than similarly situated Caucasian co-workers, and that CSXT subjected him to racial harassment, and discharged him in retaliation for the two complaints he purportedly filed against Murray and his co-workers. Consequently, Mahone filed this lawsuit against CSXT alleging claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. ยง 1981. See doc. 1. The court has for consideration CSXT's motion for summary judgment, doc. 30, which is fully briefed and ripe for review, docs. 36, 38. As the court will explain below, the motion is due to be granted because of Mahone's failure to establish a prima facie case for his retaliation and discrimination claims or to proffer evidence that would allow a reasonable juror to find that CSXT's justification for his discharge was pretextual, and to take advantage of CSXT's corrective opportunities or establish that he experienced sufficiently severe or pervasive harassment.

I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper "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." "Rule 56[] mandates the entry of summary judgment, 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 a burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (alteration in original). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to "go beyond the pleadings" to establish that there is a "genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A dispute about a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

The court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (all justifiable inferences must be drawn in the non-moving party's favor). Any factual disputes will be resolved in the non-moving party's favor when sufficient competent evidence supports the non-moving party's version of the disputed facts. See Pace v. Capobianco, 283 F.3d 1275, 1276, 1278 (11th Cir. 2002) (a court is not required to resolve disputes in the non-moving party's favor when that party's version of events is supported by insufficient evidence). However, "mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion." Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Moreover, "[a] mere scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be a showing that the jury could reasonably find for that party." Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

A. CSXT and its Relevant Policies and Procedures

CSXT is a railway company that operates mainly along the eastern United States and Canada. Doc. 31-18 at 2. The terms and conditions of employment for most of its roughly 30, 000 employees are governed by a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"), CSXT's operating rules, and the Federal Railway Labor Act. Id. Relevant here is CSXT's Individual Development and Personal Accountability Policy ("IDPAP"), a progressive disciplinary procedure that divides rule violations into three categories: minor, serious, and major. Id. at 2-4. Minor offenses normally result in informal counseling. Id. at 4; doc. 31-5 at 3. Serious offenses, on the other hand, while on their own are not "sufficient to warrant dismissal, " can lead to "suspension and/or retraining... depending upon the circumstances, " and a "third serious incident within three years may result in a dismissal."[1] Docs. 31-5 at 3; 31-18 at 4. Finally, major offenses "warrant removal from service pending a formal hearing and possible dismissal from service for a single occurrence if proven responsible."[2] Docs. 31-5 at 3-4; 31-18 at 5.

Serious or major offenses trigger a formal investigatory hearing to allow CSXT to develop facts and determine the employee's responsibility, if any, for the violation. Docs. 31-5 at 3-4; 31-12 at 2; 31-13 at 3; 31-18 at 5. The hearing, which is fully transcribed, is adjudicated by a hearing officer. The accused employee can utilize union representation, present witnesses and documentary evidence, and cross examine adverse witnesses. Docs. 31-5 at 3-4; 31-18 at 5; see also docs. 31-13; 31-14. After the hearing officer issues her findings, a CSXT division manager reviews the transcript and the findings and independently decides whether to impose disciplinary measures. Doc. 31-22 at 5.

B. Mahone's Employment and Discharge from CSXT

CSXT hired Mahone as a train conductor in 2006. Mahone reported directly to Murray, the Line of Road Trainmaster for the Mobile Division. Docs. 31-6 at 2; 31-19 at 2; 31-23 at 5. As part of his duties, Murray monitored adherence to CSXT rules and policies and federal railway regulations and, if necessary, assessed violations against noncompliant employees. Doc. 31-19 at 2-3.

1. Mahone's Alleged Exposure to Race Based Harassment

Mahone allegedly experienced several instances of racial harassment during his employment. Between 2008 and 2009, Mahone saw "less than five" personal automobiles in the CSXT parking lot with confederate flag stickers, one co-worker wearing a confederate flag shirt, "the N word" written on the wall of two bathroom stalls and a train engine, and a "pen scribbling" of "KKK... on the desk top of [a train engine]." Doc. 31-21 at 69-78, 80-81. Also, shortly after the Presidential election in 2008, after an African American trainmaster boarded Mahone's train to check Mahone's paperwork, Mahone's Caucasian co-worker commented that the trainmaster "thinks that he has power" because of President Barack Obama's victory. Id. at 84-85. Mahone did not report these incidents to CSXT even though he received CSXT's anti-harassment policy.[3] Id. at 70, 73, 77, 79, 83-84.

The next incident of alleged harassment occurred in 2011 when Murray secretly boarded Mahone's train to observe Mahone and a Caucasian engineer's compliance with CSXT rules. Id. at 85-99. Although Murray charged Mahone and the engineer with a rules violation, Mahone maintains nonetheless that Murray treated him more harshly by "trying to find out everything that [Mahone did incorrectly], " "badgering" him, and assessing a rule violation against him for failing to call signals.[4] Id. at 88-90. As a result, Mahone challenged the violation and the resulting suspension, and ultimately prevailed and received back pay for the time he missed. Id. at 90. In addition, Mahone claims ...


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