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Washington v. Koch Foods of Gadsden, LLC

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

December 6, 2017

ROCHELLE LINUS WASHINGTON Plaintiff,
v.
KOCH FOODS OF GADSDEN, LLC, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [2]

          STACI G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant, Koch Foods of Gadsden, LLC (“Koch Foods” or “Defendant”), on July 31, 2017. (Doc. 19). After the motion for summary judgment was filed, the court entered an order reminding the parties of the briefing deadlines set out in the Initial Order. (Doc. 22; see Doc. 12 at 4-6). Plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se, has not filed any response to the motion for summary judgment. Defendant filed a supplemental brief requesting that, in addition to the reasons set forth in its initial briefing, the motion for summary judgment be granted as unopposed. (Doc. 23). For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's unopposed motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND AND RELEVANT FACTS

         Plaintiff initiated this action with an application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. 1). Although the court allowed him to proceed without prepayment of costs, Plaintiff was ordered to file an amended complaint. (Doc. 3).

         A. Plaintiff's Allegations

         In his amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges he was called “n----r” in 2014 by a superviser named Zack, which led to his filing a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Doc. 4 at 1). The charge was mediated, and although Plaintiff had been terminated, he was reinstated with back pay. (Id. at 1-2). Plaintiff returned to work for Defendant on April 9, 2015. (Id.).

         Shortly after returning to work, Plaintiff saw Zack speaking with Plaintiff's new superviser, Brandon. (Id.). After this encounter, Brandon began staring at Plaintiff. Brandon then “scream[ed]” at Plaintiff and “look[ed] at [him] in a mean way.” (Id. at 2). Plaintiff alleges this does not happen to other employees. (Id.). On May 10, 2015, Plaintiff filed a second EEOC charge against Defendant. (Id.). This second charge resulted in another mediation, but the second mediation ended without the parties coming to any agreement. (Id. at 2).

         After the second, unsuccessful mediation, Plaintiff alleges Brandon, like Plaintiff's prior superviser, referred to Plaintiff twice as “n----r.” (Id.). Plaintiff approached Cindy, the white female director of human resources, but she discouraged him from reporting the incidents with Brandon. (Id.). Cindy told Plaintiff he could “get in trouble by filing a false report.” (Id.). Plaintiff filed an EEOC charge in connection with this incident on July 1, 2015. (Id. at 3). Plaintiff alleges the charge was to be mediated but Defendant's representative failed to attend the mediation. (Id.).

         B. Defendant's Undisputed Statement of Facts

         Defendant asserts the following in its statement of undisputed facts. (Doc. 20 at 5-13). Defendant terminated Plaintiff on November 3, 2014, from his job on the production line because he accumulated too many points under the company's attendance policy. (Id. at ¶ 6). Defendant concedes Plaintiff has filed three separate charges of discrimination against it with the EEOC. (Id. at ¶ 11). The first, on November 10, 2014, resulted in Plaintiff being rehired and choosing an open position. (Id. at ¶ 13). That charge was settled; Plaintiff was reinstated and was employed by Defendant on the date the motion for summary judgment was filed. (Id. at ¶¶ 13-17).

         Brandon Nichols was hired by Koch Foods on November 28, 2014. (Id. at ¶ 21). Though Plaintiff alleges Nichols was his superviser, Defendant states Plaintiff's “direct supervisor” was Tammy Ford. (Id. at ¶ 18). Nichols worked as a “lead” in the packing department with Plaintiff from April 9, 2015, until Nichols left the company on June 29, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 22).[3] Defendant states Nichols had no power to hire or terminate employees, assign job duties, or exercise supervisory authority over Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 25).

         Plaintiff did not complain of Nichols's behavior to any employee of Defendant before filing a second EEOC charge on May 22, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 31). The incident at issue in Plaintiff's second charge was Nichols's having screamed at Plaintiff. The EEOC declined to investigate and, in its letter, told Plaintiff: “[T]here does not appear to be any evidence that you were subjected to objectionable or offensive treatment because you filed a charge of discrimination.” (Id. at ¶ 32); (see also Doc. 21-2 at 89).

         On July 1, 2015, Plaintiff filed a third charge of discrimination with the EEOC, alleging he had been subjected to a racially hostile working environment. (Id. at ¶ 34). Plaintiff alleged that on June 25, 2015, Nichols stated to him, “N----r, put the trash in the back, ” while Plaintiff was putting trash away. (Id. at ¶ 35). Nichols called Plaintiff “n----r” again as Nichols was walking away. (Id.). Plaintiff reported these slurs to human resources manager Cindy DeBerry on June 26, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 37). DeBerry conducted an investigation, and Nichols denied the allegations. (Id. at ¶¶ 39-40). DeBerry counseled Nichols on Defendant's anti-harassment policy, “including the potential for termination if violated.” (Id. at ¶ 41). In an affidavit attached to Defendant's brief, DeBerry states Plaintiff has received regular raises since he returned to work in April 2015. (Doc. 20-1 at ¶ 7).

         The EEOC declined to pursue the third charge and informed Plaintiff: “[T]here does not appear to be any evidence that you were subjected to objectionable or offensive treatment because of your race . . .” and “it appears that although there were not any witnesses to the allegation of your charge, the employer took immediate corrective action.” (Doc. 20. at ΒΆ 42). Plaintiff identified another witness to the EEOC but not to Defendant. After interviewing the additional witness, the EEOC issued a supplemental statement indicating the witness did not provide information ...


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