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McCollough v. Buffalo Electric Company of Alabama

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

September 22, 2017

KARLIN McCOLLOUGH, Plaintiff,
v.
BUFFALO ELECTRIC COMPANY OF ALABAMA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ABDUL K. KALLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Karlin McCollough brings this case against the Buffalo Electric Company of Alabama under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. McCollough alleges that Buffalo unlawfully retaliated against him by suspending and then discharging him after he complained about ongoing racial discrimination in the company warehouse where he worked. Buffalo has filed a motion for summary judgment, doc. 15, and that motion is now fully briefed, docs. 17; 22; 23, and ripe for review. After carefully considering the parties' briefs and the record, the court finds that questions of material fact preclude summary judgment in favor of Buffalo. Accordingly, Buffalo's motion is due to be denied.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is properly granted “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). 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 evidence of the non-movant is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor.” Id. at 255. It is expressly not the role of the court to “weigh conflicting evidence or to make credibility determinations.” Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. Of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (explaining “[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge”).

         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)). “[A] . . . ‘scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party will not suffice to overcome a motion for summary judgment.'” Melton v. Abston, 841 F.3d 1207, 1219 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Young v. City of Palm Bay, 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th Cir. 2004)). Instead, if “the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial, ” and summary judgment is appropriately granted. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation omitted).

         III. FACTS

         The following facts reflect the court's assessment of the record in the light most favorable to McCollough. Buffalo, a family-owned electrical supply business located in Birmingham, Alabama, hired McCollough through a temporary employment agency in January of 2013. Doc. 17 at 3-4. Buffalo mostly used temporary workers to fill its warehouse related positions due to their relatively high employee turnover rates. Id. at 4. Although McCollough characterized his position as delivery/sales, doc. 17-6 at 8, most of his daily duties involved working in Buffalo's warehouse. Doc. 17-6 at 7-9. At the time of his hiring, all four of the warehouse associates employed by Buffalo, including McCollough, were African-American. Doc. 17 at 5.

         McCollough's first months of employment passed without incident, and on May 6, 2013, Buffalo hired him as a regular employee. Id. at 6.[1] A few weeks later, Buffalo hired Mike Glover, a white man, as a new sales representative. Id. Doc. 22 at 21. As part of Glover's initial training for this position, Buffalo assigned him to the warehouse where he worked closely with McCollough. Docs. 17 at 6-7; 17-6 at 29. When Glover completed his warehouse training, he assumed a position in sales. Doc. 17 at 6.

         McCollough perceived Glover's placement in sales as evidence of racial disparity in Buffalo's employment decisions since he had previously expressed interest in a sales position and was never considered for the position that Glover filled. Doc. 17-6 at 13. McCollough was upset enough over this hiring decision to ask Stephen Schneider, the warehouse manager, for a workplace grievance form. Id. at 9, 11-14.[2] Schneider informed McCollough that Buffalo did not have grievance forms, but that McCollough could write down his complaint on a sheet of paper and discuss the matter with Schneider at a later time. Id. at 11; Doc. 17-4 at 16. It is undisputed that McCollough never made a written complaint regarding alleged racial discrimination at Buffalo, doc. 17-6 at 11, and it took over six months for him to follow up with management regarding his concerns, id. at 17.

         In November 2013, Buffalo promoted Schneider and filled his position of warehouse manager with Winfred Stewart, one of McCollough's African-American co-workers. Doc. 17 at 7-8. The record overwhelmingly indicates that McCollough did not readily accept Stewart's promotion. Among other things, McCollough frequently refused to follow Stewart's directives and repeatedly attempted to trick Stewart into completing unnecessary tasks. Docs 17-3 at 26-27; 17-7 at 13-14; 17-9 at 18-19. This pattern of behavior prompted Stewart to reach out to Patrick McCarroll, Buffalo's then Vice-President, for assistance in dealing with McCollough. Doc. 17-3 at 26. In response to Stewart, McCarroll drafted a strongly-worded memorandum explaining that the “acts of insubordination” occurring since Stewart's promotion were unacceptable. Id. at 27; Doc. 17-5 at 13. On December 20, 2013, Stewart presented the document to all warehouse employees requiring them to sign the document or “go home.” Doc. 17-7 at 14- 15.

         It is undisputed that McCollough failed to initially sign the memorandum, but the record is unclear regarding what happened following his refusal. Doc. 17-6 at 19. McCollough testified that he simply wanted time to read the document and did not adamantly oppose signing it. Id. Stewart and McCarroll contradict this assertion indicating that McCollough acted insubordinately toward Stewart and demanded to meet with McCarroll before signing the document. Docs 17-3 at 38- 39; 17-7 at 15. In either event, McCarroll went to the warehouse floor and spoke with McCollough shortly after Stewart presented the memorandum to the company's warehouse associates. Doc. 17-3 at 38.

         The two men engaged in what quickly became a heated conversation. Id. at 39. McCollough reiterated many of his workplace grievances to McCarroll, including concerns over differences in pay and advancement opportunities between white and African-American employees, the use of racial slurs in the workplace, and McCollough's inability to file a grievance related to these issues. Doc. 17-6 at 20-21. McCarroll grew increasingly agitated during the conversation and eventually accused McCollough of calling him a racist stating “you are pushing me against a corner . . . I can't have you saying I am a racist and we [Buffalo] are discriminating.” Doc. 22 at 10. Buffalo now admits that McCollough signed the memorandum in question, albeit outside of the presence of Stewart and McCarroll. Doc. 17-3 at 39.

         Later that same day, December 20, 2013, McCarroll and Stewart had a discussion in which McCarroll told Stewart to suspend McCollough with pay. Id. at 28. Immediately thereafter, McCollough filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission asserting that Buffalo had suspended him in retaliation for his complaints about the company's allegedly discriminatory employment practices. Doc. 21-8 at 2-3.[3] Ten days later, after consultation with McCarroll, Stewart formally discharged McCollough. Doc. 17-7 at 18-20.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         In addition to protecting employees from discriminatory practices in the workplace, Title VII also provides a remedy for “employer retaliation on account of an employee's having opposed, complained of, or sought remedies for, unlawful workplace discrimination.” Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 133 S.Ct. 2517, 2522 (2013) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a)). To establish a prima facie case of retaliation, the plaintiff is required to show that: “(1) she engaged in an activity protected under Title VII; (2) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) ...


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