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Dollar v. Southland Tube Inc.

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

March 2, 2018




         The court has before it the April 28, 2017 motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Southland Tube, Inc. (“SLT”). (Doc. 18). The motion was deemed submitted without oral argument as of June 27, 2017. After a thorough review of the briefs and evidence, the motion is due to be granted for the following reasons.


         SLT is a nonunion steel tube manufacturer located in Birmingham, Alabama. (Doc. 20-3 at 2). Plaintiff began his employment with SLT on September 20, 1999, as a line coiler. (Doc. 20-1 at 17; Doc. 20-3 at 4). Plaintiff worked for several years in different positions within the mill and transferred to the maintenance department in August 2001. (Doc. 20-1 at 17-18). Plaintiff was promoted to crew leader on October 5, 2006, and to third shift supervisor in August 2010. (Id. at 17; Doc. 20-3 at 4). Plaintiff and his crew[2] worked largely unsupervised on the third shift. (Doc. 20-1 at 19; Doc. 20-5 at 1; Doc. 20-6 at 2). Thomas Abney, the maintenance crew supervisor, was Plaintiffs supervisor from 2013 until Plaintiff was transferred to the first shift changeover crew in July 2015. (Doc. 20-6 at 2).

         Plaintiff contends Abney sexually harassed him.[3] (Doc. 20-1 at 26, 36). Plaintiff testified that from early 2014 until July 2014, Abney made comments to him on a daily basis about the third-shift employees supervised by Plaintiff. (Doc. 20-1 at 26). Plaintiff stated Abney referred to Plaintiff and his crew as “girls, ” accused them of sexually gratifying each other, and routinely asked which one of the men on the crew was “the best”. (Id.; Doc. 20-2 at 67). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges Abney made the following remarks:

• “Which is one of my best one [sic]? Which one knows who [sic] to pull on that thing? . . . Which one knows how [to] pull the head of that thing [and] get out every last drop? I bet Kyle Shellnutt, he is real thin and I bet he really knows how to pull on that thing and get the last drop out.”
• “I think it is Justin who knows how to pull that thing and get every last drop”;
• “I think Slim is your main squeeze, he can slurp that thing and get the last drop out.”

(Doc. 20-2 at 67). Plaintiff contends Abney made these types of comments daily, stalked Plaintiff, leered at him, grinned, and waved. (Id.).

         During this time, other employees asked if Plaintiff and his crew were “queers, ” and Plaintiff believes Abney started rumors about him. (Id. at 26, 38). Abney invited Plaintiff to drink alcohol and “moonshine” and attend “go-go” clubs with him, but Plaintiff refused these invitations. (Id. at 29). Plaintiff also testified Abney touched him and other employees on the shoulder between early 2014 and July 2014. (Doc. 20-1 at 36).

         In early July 2014, during the time Abney was allegedly harassing Plaintiff, Abney discovered a break room used by Plaintiff and the third-shift maintenance crew in a leased building on adjoining property. (Doc. 20-6 at 2; Doc. 20-1 at 23-25). The break room contained tables, chairs, a radio, heater, coffee pot, microwave, dishes, and a poster of a woman in a bikini. (Id.; Doc. 20-2 at 48-50). Plaintiff was reprimanded for creating of the break room and not completing certain tasks and was instructed to dismantle the room.[4] (Doc. 20-6 at 2).

         After the discovery of the break room, SLT concluded the third shift maintenance crew was doing very little during their shift and decided to eliminate maintenance on the third shift entirely. (Doc. 20-5 at 3; Doc. 20-6 at 2-3). Plaintiff was transferred to the first shift to a change-over crew. (Doc. 20-1 at 34; Doc. 20-3 at 5). The change-over crew was responsible for changing the settings in various mills for a new tube order after an order was completed. (Doc. 20-3 at 5). Abney was no longer Plaintiff's supervisor when he transferred to the first shift. (Doc. 20-6 at 2).

         Immediately after Plaintiff's discipline related to the break room and transfer to the first shift, Plaintiff testified he reported Abney's comments to Tom Claud, Director of Human Resources, and Mike Patzke, Director of Operations. (Doc. 20-1 at 25, 27-28). Abney did not make any additional comments, sexual or otherwise, to Plaintiff after he transferred to the first shift in July 2014. (Id. at 38). Abney would, however, sometimes drive his truck by a table where Plaintiff was working, and he would look at Plaintiff and smile. (Id.). Additionally, occasionally Abney would walk into Plaintiff's work area, and Plaintiff felt he was looking to see what Plaintiff was doing. (Id.). According to Plaintiff, Abney had no other reason to come to Plaintiff's work area other than to taunt him.[5] (Id.). Plaintiff also believed Abney told other maintenance workers to mess up his work table when Plaintiff was not there. (Id.).

         In January 2015, Plaintiff was injured when he fell off a forklift. (Doc. 20-1 at 31). Plaintiff never worked for SLT again after February 4, 2015, because of his injury and has been unable to work at all since that date. (Id. at 32-33). In February 2015, Plaintiff went on short-term disability, and beginning February 23, 2015, Plaintiff took leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). (Id. at 33; Doc. 20-2 at 52-62). On July 16, 2015, SLT terminated Plaintiff after he exhausted his short-term disability and FMLA leave and was not able to return to work.[6] (Doc. 20-3 at 5; Doc. 20-2 at 63). The termination letter stated if Plaintiff became able to return to work, he ...

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