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McGehee v. Federal Express Corp.

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

March 21, 2018

JEFFREY MCGEHEE, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL EXPRESS CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          T. MICHAEL PUTNAM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This is an age discrimination case. Pending before the court is the Defendant Federal Express Corporation's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 30). The defendant seeks dismissal of the plaintiff's claim of alleged age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621, et seq. The motion has been fully briefed, and the parties have consented to dispositive jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

         I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment is proper “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). The party asking for summary judgment “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). The movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing there is no dispute of material fact or by showing that the nonmoving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. There is no requirement, however, “that the moving party support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim.” Id. at 323.

         Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56 “requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions of file, ' designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 324 (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The nonmoving party need not present evidence in a form necessary for admission at trial; however, he may not merely rest on his pleadings. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. “[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Id. at 322.

         After the plaintiff has properly responded to a proper motion for summary judgment, the court “shall” grant the motion if there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The substantive law will identify which facts are material and which are irrelevant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 248. “[T]he 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.” Id. at 249. His guide is the same standard necessary to direct a verdict: “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 251-52; see also Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v. N.L.R.B., 461 U.S. 731, 745 n. 11 (1983).

         However, the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The evidence supporting a claim must be “substantial, ” Marcus v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co., 651 F.2d 379 (5th Cir., Unit B, 1981); a mere scintilla of evidence is not enough to create a genuine issue of fact. Young v. City of Palm Bay, 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th Cir. 2004); Kesinger ex rel. Estate of Kesinger v. Herrington, 381 F.3d 1243, 1249-50 (11th Cir. 2004). If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249 (citations omitted); accord Spence v. Zimmerman, 873 F.2d 256 (11th Cir. 1989). Furthermore, the court must “view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden, ” so there must be sufficient evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254; Cottle v. Storer Communications, Inc., 849 F.2d 570, 575 (11th Cir. 1988). Nevertheless, credibility determinations, the weighing of evidence, and the drawing of inferences from the facts are the function of the jury, and therefore the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The non-movant need not be given the benefit of every inference but only of every reasonable inference. Brown v. City of Clewiston, 848 F.2d 1534, 1540 n. 12 (11th Cir. 1988).

         II. FACTS

         For purposes of summary judgment, the courts are directed to view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Accordingly, the following facts relevant to the instant Motion for Summary Judgment are either undisputed or taken in the light most favorable to the non-moving plaintiff.

         McGehee was born on October 10, 1962. (Doc. 33-1, p. 56:3-4). In 1987, he began his employment with FedEx, working as a courier, which required him to load trucks and deliver packages. (Doc. 33-1, pp. 63:5-7, 86:23 - 87:3, 87:7-18). He worked at the RLI Station in Homewood, Alabama, from 1987 until 2015, the year of his termination. (Doc. 33-1, p. 65:6-14).

         The chain of command at the RLI Station consisted of Operations Managers who reported to a Senior Manager (doc. 33-2, pp. 15:21 - 16:20), who in turn reported to an off-site Managing Director (see doc. 33-2, pp. 36:8 - 37:2) (describing that decision not to terminate an employee lies with the managing director, not with the senior manager). During the relevant time period, McGehee's immediate supervisors were Operations Managers Chuck McGhee (“McGhee”) and Robin Cooper (“Cooper”). Above McGhee and Cooper was Senior Manager Jannette Maye (“Maye”) (doc. 33-1, pp. 74:12-20, 75:5-7; doc. 33-3, Declaration of Jannette Maye ¶ 3), and her supervisor was Howard Morgan, serving as the Managing Director responsible for the RLI Station. (See doc. 33-2, p. 75:13-15). According to McGehee, he reported directly to all of his managers. (Doc. 33-1, p. 74:12-17).

         FedEx has developed policies delineating procedures and conduct that employees are expected to adhere to. Specifically, FedEx Policy 2-5, “Acceptable Conduct” (“Acceptable Conduct Policy”), outlines the conduct expectations of FedEx employees and defines what constitutes misconduct. (Doc. 33-1, Bates Number 9-36). It is impermissible for an employee to become insubordinate or violate safety regulations cross-referenced in “The People Manual, ” which is FedEx's employee handbook. (Doc. 33-1, Bates Numbers 9-36 - 9-37). Under FedEx Policy 4-48 Driving Qualifications, [1] employees in driving positions may not drive with an invalid or suspended license. Policy 4-48 states in relevant part:

State License/lnsurance Compliance. Employees who operate Company vehicles on public or Company property are responsible for the following:
1. All drivers are responsible for and must know and comply with the CDL HME and driver's license and insurance requirements of the states in which they reside.
2. All drivers must have valid CDL and HME/driver's license in their possession at all time. A photocopy of their driver's license is not valid.
5. All employees who drive as regular part of their job whose CDL, HME or driver's license becomes invalid as defined in this policy must also notify their manager the next business day and before operating Company vehicle.
6. The employee whose license becomes invalid must not operate Company vehicle. Management must consult with Safety, HR, and Legal prior to allowing the employee to drive Company vehicle

(Doc. 33-1, Bates Number 9-74).[2] Further, the same Policy defines “Invalid License Status, ” to include, “Expiration-If driver's license has expired, the employee cannot drive a vehicle or motorized conveyance on Company property or public roads until the license is renewed/valid.” (Doc. 33-1, Bates Number 9-74). FedEx considers “[d]riving a FedEx Express vehicle on a license that is currently limited or was limited in the past (as defined in the Invalid License Status guideline of this policy). . . a serious violation of safety regulations…, ” resulting in immediate suspension pending an investigation. (Doc. 33-1, Bates Number 9-75). Further, “[a] manager may discover that an employee is currently driving or drove in the past on limited license (invalid License Status guideline). When this occurs the employee is given at a minimum a Warning Letter and one week unpaid suspension” (Doc. 33-1, Bates Number 9-75). Human Resources advisor Jacqueline Fields testified that FedEx personnel are “supposed to adhere to the policy true to form, ” yet also testified that there is no violation of the Policy if an employee drives with an expired license that remains “valid” under State law. (Depo. of Fields, doc. 36-1, p. 58).

         Similarly, a Warning Letter is required for a “Preventable Backing Vehicle Accident”[3] under FedEx Policy 8-90 Vehicle Accidents/Occurrences. (Doc. 33-1, Bates Number 23-24).

         Before issuing a disciplinary-action letter or deficiency notification, an Operations Manager will “share” the letter with the on-site Senior Manager. (Depo. of Fields, doc. 39-1, p. 62:15-23). Such letters are “courtesy copied” to the Senior Manager. (Depo. of Fields, doc. 39-1, pp. 62:15-23 through 63:1-4).

         After receiving a disciplinary action for conduct in violation of the Acceptable Conduct Policy, an employee may utilize the Guaranteed Fair Treatment Procedure (“GFTP”) to challenge any received “disciplinary action, including termination” under FedEx Policy 5-5 Guaranteed Fair Treatment Procedure. (Doc. 39-1, Bates Number 9-20).

         The Acceptable Conduct Policy describes the consequences of receiving multiple disciplinary actions. Specifically, the Acceptable Conduct Policy provides the following provisions:

Recurrent Patterns. . . . Any time a third discipline/deficiency notification of any type, i.e., Performance Reminder or Warning Letter, is entered . . ., an alert “notify” will be sent to the employee's senior manager and managing director and the matrix HR Advisor/Representative. The “notify” will advise that the employee has three notifications, and the employee's history will be audited.
The receipt of three notifications of deficiency within a 12-month period normally results in termination. However an employee's entire employment history should be reviewed. . . .
Termination Option Exercised. . . . Management is responsible for reviewing an employee's disciplinary record and exercising judgment in determining appropriate action.
Discharge Approval. Two levels of management and a matrix HR staff member must approve all terminations based on misconduct when the individual holds a managing ...

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