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Yarbrough v. Kamtek Inc.

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

December 21, 2017

CEDRIC YARBROUGH, Plaintiff,
v.
KAMTEK INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JOHN E. OTT CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         In this action, Cedric Yarbrough (“Plaintiff”) claims that his former employer, Kamtek, Inc. (“Defendant”), discharged him because of his race and gender and in retaliation for complaining about discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Doc.[1] 4, Amended Complaint). He also asserts that he was sexually harassed while he worked for Kamtek. The case now comes to be heard on summary judgment motions filed by both Plaintiff and Defendant. (Docs. 20 & 24). Also before the court is Defendant's motion to strike portions of Plaintiff's evidentiary submission offered in support of his opposition to Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 25). Upon consideration, the court[2] concludes that Defendant's motion is due to be granted, Plaintiff's motion is due to be denied, and the motion to strike is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Pursuant 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.

         Both 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).

         II. BACKGROUND[3]

         A. Facts Leading to the Termination

         Plaintiff is African-American. He was hired in 2011 as an assembly operator by Defendant, which is a manufacturer of automobile body parts located in Birmingham, Alabama. He moved to the position of quality auditor about one year later. He was supervised by Tiffany Washington, Allen Bryant and Joe Griffin. These supervisors reported to group leader Carlin Shade, who reported to quality manager Bill Zinn. Charman Meador is the Human Resources Manager for Defendant.

         In March 2014, Kamtek employee Sherrell Hall lodged a complaint against Plaintiff, alleging that Plaintiff sent her some inappropriate photograph and text messages. This incident occurred shortly after they were in a sexual relationship while Plaintiff was separated from his wife. (Pl. Dep.[4] at 55-62). When Hall told Plaintiff that she would be showing the photograph to Kamtek human resources, he responded, “I can ask u what I want I'm not a[t] work....” (Def. Ex.[5] 3 (Doc. 21-1 at 95)). Plaintiff also sent Hall additional text messages. (Id. at 95-97; Pl. Dep. at 59).

         After receiving Hall's complaint, Meador talked with Plaintiff. She showed him the text messages and told him that regardless of when they were sent, such communications were inappropriate. (Pl. Dep. at 63). Meador investigated the complaint and, ultimately, issued a progressive discipline to Plaintiff. The documented discipline informed Plaintiff that this type of behavior was unacceptable and will not be tolerated. It further informed him that further incidents would result in additional progressive discipline, “up to and including termination.”[6] (Def. Ex. 5 (Doc. 21-1 at 101)). Plaintiff refused to sign the disciplinary document and did not agree with the write-up. (Id.)

         Plaintiff was coached on October 3, 2014, [7] for working unscheduled time without supervisor authorization. The coaching was not a progressive discipline and had no impact on Plaintiff's employment.

         On March 20, 2015, Human Resources Coordinator Amanda Eubanks received a LinkedIn message from Benita Sager, a woman who was not a Kamtek employee and whom Eubanks did not know. The message stated, in part, that Plaintiff had been sending Sager “very inappropriate (nude) pictures of himself” and that he had sent her inappropriate information from his work computers. (Meador Decl., ¶ 7 & Exhibit 2[8] (Doc. 21-2 at 8-9)). Meador investigated Plaintiff's use of his Kamtek computer and email system and discovered that Plaintiff had been using his Kamtek computer to communicate with various women through LinkedIn and email, asking them on dates and giving them his phone number. (Meador Dec., ¶ 8; Pl. Dep. at 105, [9] Def. Exs. 7, 8 (Doc. 21-1 at 106-21)). Meador also discovered a nude picture on Plaintiff's work email that had been sent to him from his personal email. (Pl. Dep. at 106-08; Def. Ex. 9 (Doc. 21-1 at 122-23)).

         Because of the discipline Plaintiff received due to the Hall complaint in March 2014, Kamtek considered this additional conduct to be a second offense. Premised on the repeat nature of this conduct, Kamtek determined that Plaintiff's inappropriate communications merited immediate termination. (Meador Dec., ¶ 9). Accordingly, Meador and Zinn met with Plaintiff on March 26, 2015, to inform him that his employment was being terminated. They told him the termination was based on his violation of company policy by sending inappropriate emails and having inappropriate pictures on his email. (Pl. Dep. at 104, 117).

         B. Plaintiff's Additional Facts

         1. Other Incidents

         Around the end of 2013, Plaintiff complained to Meador that coworker Tammy Quarles had harassed him. (Pl. Dep. at 91 & 142). Plaintiff complained that Quarles rubbed his head, touched his private parts, and told him that she wanted to give him a “blow job.” (Id. at 140). Meador initially learned of Plaintiff's complaint when supervisor Allen Bryant contacted her about a loud verbal confrontation between Plaintiff and Quarels. Meador investigated the matter, talking with both Plaintiff and Quarles. Plaintiff told both Bryant and Meador that all he wanted was for Quarles's behavior to stop and that he did not want to get anyone in trouble. (Pl. Dep. at 143; Meador Dec., ¶ 11 & Exhibit 3 (Doc. 21-2 at 11)). Plaintiff states that the harassment continued after his complaint to Meador, but admits that Quarles never touched him again after Meador spoke to her and that the additional harassment consisted of her blowing him kisses and licking her lips at a Christmas party. (Pl. Dep. at 144-46; 194). He also stated that Quarles “passed [him] by” and that he heard from other employees that she was talking about him. (Id. at 144). According to Plaintiff, he told Meador about the incidents, “but nothing happened.” (Id.)

         In September 2014, Plaintiff complained to supervisor Tiffany Washington that two black females in his department were sent to Mercedes for the day for training and that he did not receive the same training. (Pl. Dep. at 100-01 & 103). Plaintiff did not speak to Meador about this complaint. (Id. at 102 & 149-150).

         In or around October or November 2014, Plaintiff complained to Meador that white coworker Robert May was being allowed to work extra hours on Sunday and he was not. (Pl. Dep. at 169-73). Kamtek payroll records show that May never worked on a Sunday during that period of time.[10] (Meador Dec., ¶ 13 & Exhibit 4 (Doc. 21-2 at 13-17)).

         On November 22, 2014, Plaintiff also complained to Meador that he believed he should have been paid for the full four hours of a scheduled shift he worked despite the fact that he was sent home early due to a lack of work. (Pl. Dep. at 81-83, 87 & Def. Ex. 6 (Doc. 21-1 at 103)). Plaintiff asserted that Defendant's failure to pay him for those four hours showed favoritism because he had learned that another supervisor, Tiffany Washington, paid employee Raphael Ward under similar circumstances. (Id. at 84 & 88). Meador responded that Kamtek did not have a minimum amount of hours pay guarantee. After several communications, Plaintiff told Meador, “I understand the rule which I have no issues or concern with” and “I don't need to take any more of your time up on this matter.” (Pl. Dep. at 87, 90 & Def. Ex. 6 (Doc. 21-1 at 103); Meador Dec., ¶ 5).

         In 2014, Plaintiff also reported to Meador and Zinn that supervisor Joe Griffin had threatened to physically harm another employee. (Pl. Dep. 95-96). According to Plaintiff, no action was ever taken on his report. (Id.) As a result, he was concerned about his well-being in this work environment. (Id.)

         2. Comparators

         Plaintiff asserts that white employees Sam Stuckey, Jerry Conn, and Adriano Avellar had nude pictures in their work email, but Defendant treated them differently. (Pl. Dep. At 116-124; Doc. 24). Plaintiff stated at his deposition that he did not know whether Meador knew about the pictures. (Id.) Meador states that she does “not regularly review employees' email accounts.” (Meador Dec., ¶ 14). Typically, she looks at them when she receives a specific complaint about an employee. (Id.) She further states that she never received a complaint about Stuckey or Conn. She did receive a complaint in May 2014 from a Kamtek employee that Avellar had inappropriate pictures on his phone that he was showing to a coworker. (Id., ¶ 14). Meador investigated the matter. As a result of the investigation Avellar was removed from a team lead position, which also resulted in a deduction in his pay. (Id., ¶ 16). Avellar never engaged in this conduct again. (Id., ¶ 17).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Preliminary Matters

         While Plaintiff's filings can be difficult to follow, Plaintiff appears to be advancing claims that he has been (1) discriminated against on the basis of his race and gender; (2) retaliated against; and (3) sexually harassed. Each of these will be addressed below. Before doing so, however, it is important to place the individual claims in context.

         1. Timeliness

         Defendant initially argues that while Plaintiff's primary substantive claims seem to center around his termination, to the extent he asserts claims of earlier events, many of them are untimely. (Doc. 20 at 12). The court agrees.

         A Title VII plaintiff is required to file a Charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) within 180 days of the complained-of action. Anderson v. Embarq/Sprint, 379 F. App'x 924, 926 (11th Cir. 2010)[11] (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1)). “Failure to file a timely charge with the EEOC results in a bar of the claims.” Rizo v. Ala. Dep't of Human Resources, 228 F. App'x 832, 835 (11th Cir. 2007). In this case, Plaintiff filed his EEOC Charge on April 21, 2015. (Ex. C (April 21, 2015 EEOC Charge) (Doc. 21-3 at 2)). Accordingly, any claims predating October 23, 2014, are time-barred as substantive claims. They may, however, be considered in placing the timely claims in context.

         2. General Framework for Analyzing ...


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