United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
NATASHA L. SMITHERMAN, Plaintiff,
DECATUR PLASTICS PRODUCTS, INC., Defendant.
E. OTT CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
action, Natasha L. Smitherman (“Plaintiff”)
claims that her former employer, Decatur Plastics Products,
Inc. (“Defendant”), discharged her because of
race and in retaliation for complaining about race
discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), as amended, 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981
(“Section 1981”). (Doc. 1, Complaint). The cause now
comes to be heard on Defendant's motion for summary
judgment. (Doc. 26). Upon consideration, the
court concludes that the motion is due to be
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS
to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, party is
authorized to move for summary judgment on all or part of a
claim or defense asserted either by or against the movant.
Under that rule, 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. Proc. 56(a).
The party moving for summary judgment “always bears the
initial responsibility of informing the district court of the
basis for its motion, ” relying on submissions
“which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine
issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); see also Clark v.
Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir.
1991); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144
(1970). Once the moving party has met its burden, the
nonmoving party must “go beyond the pleadings”
and show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex
Corp., 477 U.S. at 324.
the party “asserting that a fact cannot be, ” and
a party asserting that a fact is genuinely disputed, must
support their assertions by “citing to particular parts
of materials in the record, ” or by “showing that
the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence
of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce
admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed. R. Civ.
Proc. 56(c)(1)(A), (B). In its review of the evidence, a
court must credit the evidence of the non-movant and draw all
justifiable inferences in the non-movant's favor.
Stewart v. Booker T. Washington Ins., 232 F.3d 844,
848 (11th Cir. 2000). At summary judgment, “the
judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and
determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether
there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).
is African-American. She was hired on August 5, 2013, by
Defendant, which manufactures injection-molded plastic
products at its plant in Gadsden, Alabama. Plaintiff started
out working on the second shift as an end-of-the-line
operator, a Grade II position on Defendant's pay scale.
Her starting pay was $7.50 per hour, which included a
twenty-five cent shift premium paid to employees on the
her hire, Plaintiff received a copy of Defendant's policy
handbook. (See Doc. 30-7 at 8; 30-8 at 3, 6).
Included therein is a policy providing that new employees are
to receive performance evaluations every three months during
the first year of employment, and with each evaluation they
are eligible for a pay raise of up to fifty cents per hour.
(Doc. 30-16 at 47, Policy 13.0, ¶ C). Generally
consistent with that, Plaintiff's supervisor, Marie
Varnon, who is white, told Plaintiff early in her employment
that she would be receive an evaluation and a pay raise every
90 days for her first year. Accordingly, Plaintiff's
first evaluation would have been scheduled for about November
5, 2013, ninety days after she was hired.
weeks before that day arrived, however, on or about October
14, 2013, Defendant promoted Plaintiff to a
“flocker” position, a more skilled, more
physically demanding Grade IV job on Defendant's pay
scale. Plaintiff immediately received a fifty-cent raise,
bringing her to $8.00 per hour. Because that increase was the
result of a promotion, however, Plaintiff did not consider it
to have been extended pursuant to Defendant's 90-day
review-and-raise policy as she understood it. Rather, she
believed she was still due for a performance review and
another raise in the first week of November 2013
based on her hire date. In point of fact, though, under
Defendant's policies expressed in its handbook,
Plaintiff's promotion and raise meant she would not due
be for a review, and potentially another raise, until three
months from the date of her promotion, i.e., on or
about January 14, 2014. (See Doc. 30-16 at 48,
Policy 13.0, ¶ D (“When you move to a different
job through the bidding process ... [y]ou will then be
reviewed at 3 months ....”)).
event, Plaintiff says that as of “latter January of
2014” she had not received a performance review or a
further pay increase. (Doc. 31-1, Plaintiff's Declaration
(“Pl. Decl.”) ¶ 4; see also Doc.
30-2, Plaintiff's Deposition (“Pl. Dep.”) at
25). That prompted her to ask Varnon why she had been there
for going on six months and had still not been given an
evaluation. Plaintiff also suggested to Varnon that she was
being treated less favorably than another employee on the
second shift, Leshie “Le-Le” Parmer. Parmer, who
is white, had been hired on November 4, 2013, at which time
she became an end-of-the line operator, the same job
Plaintiff had before her promotion, starting out, also like
Plaintiff, at $7.50 per hour. On this occasion, Plaintiff
complained to Varnon that, while she, Plaintiff, had not yet
had a performance review, Parmer had been hired after
Plaintiff but she said she had already received a review and
a fifty-cent-per-hour raise. However, while Plaintiff and
Parmer were of different races, something Varnon knew as she
supervised them both, Plaintiff acknowledges she did not
bring up the issue of race in that conversation. (Doc. 30-2,
Plaintiff's Deposition (“Pl. Dep.”) at
23-25). In response to Plaintiff's inquiry, Varnon said
she would check on why Plaintiff had not received her
performance review. The next day, Plaintiff says, Varnon told
her she had been evaluated and that, as a result, she was
getting a thirty-cent raise, to $8.30 per hour. (See
Doc. 30-7 at 6). Plaintiff's pay records reveal that
increase to have taken effect on January 20, 2014, and that
it was first reflected in Plaintiff's paycheck dated
January 31, 2014. (Doc. 30-6 at 1).
April 13, 2014, Plaintiff was given another performance
evaluation. She acknowledges receiving a review form and
being told at that time that she would be receiving a raise
of forty cents, which would have brought her pay to $8.70 per
hour. (Pl. Decl. ¶ 5; Doc. 30-7 at 7; Pl. Dep. at 104).
However, it is undisputed that such a raise was not
implemented in her ensuing paychecks at that time; rather,
her actual pay remained at $8.30 per hour. (See Doc.
30-6 at 10-14; Doc. 30-7). In early June 2014, Plaintiff went
to Varnon and said that she had not received the forty-cent
raise promised for her April evaluation. Plaintiff also
complained that Parmer had said she had gotten another
performance review and another fifty-cent-per-hour raise.
Varnon responded by telling Plaintiff that she would contact
Karen Cook, Defendant's Human Resources Manager, to find
out why Plaintiff had not received her raise from April.
next day, Plaintiff received a call from Cook on her cell
phone. Plaintiff again complained to Cook that, while she had
not gotten her raise from her April evaluation, Parmer had
told her that she, Parmer, had received two reviews and two
raises of fifty-cents each since being hired. Plaintiff
concedes that, as with her discussions with Varnon, she did
not explicitly link any allegation of disparate treatment to
race when speaking with Cook about Parmer, although Cook, who
is white, knew that Plaintiff is African-American and that
Parmer is white. Cook apologized to Plaintiff that she had
not received her raise from April, explaining that, due to a
payroll error, her raise had accidentally been applied to the
paycheck of a different employee, also named “Natasha,
” who worked on the first shift. Cook assured Plaintiff
that the raise would be on her next paycheck and that she
would also be paid what she was owed for the raise going back
to her April evaluation.
received her next paycheck on June 19, 2014, which covered
the workweek from June 9 to 15, 2014. (Doc. 30-4 at 1). As
Cook had promised, it showed a forty-cent raise to $8.70 per
hour, as well as a lump sum giving Plaintiff the benefit of
that raise retroactively for all hours she had worked since
her April evaluation. (Id.) Nevertheless, Plaintiff
remained unsatisfied, believing her “pay was still not
right.” (Pl. Decl. ¶ 8). That was so because, in
her mind, she was still owed an additional raise for the
performance evaluation she thought she was due to have
received in early November 2013, ninety days following her
hire date, but which had not occurred. Upon receiving her
paycheck, Plaintiff went to Varnon and the first-shift
supervisor, Julian Juarez, and complained that Parmer had
received two regular three-month evaluations and two raises
that had resulted, Plaintiff thought, in Parmer being paid
more than she was despite having been hired later and working
an easier job. Frustrated with the situation, Plaintiff quit.
hours later, Juarez called Plaintiff and asked her to come
back to work on the first shift. Plaintiff agreed, and, on
June 21, 2014, she returned to that shift as a flocker. In so
doing, Plaintiff was no longer be eligible for the
twenty-five-cent-per-hour shift premium paid to employees on
the second shift. Thus, her hourly pay was reduced from $8.70
afterwards, the owner of the plant called a meeting with all
the employees working as flockers and “sprayers,
” including Plaintiff. (Pl. Decl. ¶ 9). According
to Plaintiff, the owner told them that they were all getting
a raise of seventy-five cents per hour as of the Fourth of
July. (Id.; Pl. Dep. at 44-45). At that meeting,
Plaintiff saw Cook, who told Plaintiff that she could come
see her afterwards if she wanted a further explanation of
what was being discussed. Plaintiff took Cook up on that
invitation and went to her office. Once there, Plaintiff
complained that her “pay was not right” and that
Parmer had gotten two raises while she, Plaintiff, had been
there longer and gotten only one. Cook told Plaintiff that
her supervisor was going to get her another raise soon.
Plaintiff received her next paycheck, the seventy-five cent
raise she thought she was due was not included. (Pl. Decl.
¶ 10). She went to Cook and complained about it. Cook
assured Plaintiff that her supervisor would be getting with
her during July for an evaluation and a raise. (Id.;
Pl. Dep. at 48-49). Indeed, under Defendant's three-month
review policy, since Plaintiff's most recent review had
been on April 13, 2014, her next one was due on or about July
last day that Plaintiff worked for Defendant, however, was
July 10, 2014. Shortly after eight o'clock that morning,
she went on her first break to Cook's office. According
to Plaintiff, she asked Cook whether, if she were to go back
to her original job as an operator at the end of the line,
she would lose the fifty-cent raise she had received with her
promotion to flocker in October 2013. (Pl. Dep. at 50, 52).
Cook answered that Plaintiff would “more than
likely” lose it. (Id. at 52, 57). Plaintiff
replied by asking Cook what new hires were being paid, and
Cook allegedly told her $8.25 per hour. (Id. at
52-53). Plaintiff expressed frustration, stating: “The
new hires are making more than me and you're going to
drop fifty cents from me if I go to the end of the line. I
don't feel that's ... correct and I'm going to
call the EEOC and let them figure out what my pay should
be.” (Id. at 55; see also Id. at
131-33, 142; Doc. 30-16 at 1-30, Deposition of Karen Cook
(“Cook Dep.”) at 56, 58-59, 70-71, 74). According
to Plaintiff, Cook stopped typing on her computer, looked up
at Plaintiff and asked, “Who?” (Pl. Dep. at 55).
Plaintiff answered, “the Equal Opportunity
Commission.” (Id.) According to Plaintiff,
Cook angrily stated, “[I don't] give a fuck who you
call[ ]” (Pl. Dep. at 142) and ordered Plaintiff to
“get the fuck out.” (Id. at 131, 132).
Plaintiff started to open the door to Cook's office
leading back to the manufacturing floor. Cook immediately
stopped her, however, and ordered her to leave through a side
door to her office that led directly to the parking lot.
(Id.) At that point, Plaintiff considered her
employment to have been terminated.