United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
BENJAMIN W. PAYNE, Plaintiff,
GOODYEAR TIRE AND RUBBER COMPANY, Defendant.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Summary of Mr. Payne's Claims
7, 2016, Plaintiff Benjamin W. Payne (“Mr.
Payne”), who is representing himself, initiated this
job discrimination lawsuit against Defendant Goodyear Tire
and Rubber Company (“Goodyear”). (Doc. 1). Mr.
Payne filed an amended complaint (doc. 6) on June 29, 2016.
On November 10, 2016, Mr. Payne filed a counseled Second
Amended Complaint. (Doc. 24-1). As amended, the lawsuit asserts
violations of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.
(Id.). Mr. Payne asserts two wrongful discharge
claims against Goodyear-one on the basis of race and the
other on the basis of disability.
Summary of Pending Motions
before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. Mr.
Payne's Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 60) (the
“Payne Motion”) was filed on August 28, 2017.
Goodyear's Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 61) the
“Goodyear Motion”) was filed on August 29, 2017.
On September 20, 2017, the Court entered its customary
pro se summary judgment notice and scheduling order
(doc. 67) that gave Mr. Payne special notice of his right to
respond to the Goodyear Motion with affidavits or other
opposing evidence and warned him about the consequences of
not adequately responding to it. Both Motions have now been
fully responded to and are ripe for submission.
reasons stated below, the Payne Motion is due to be denied
and the Goodyear Motion is due to be granted.
Summary Judgment Generally
Court may grant summary judgment only if the record shows
“that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact
and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A factual issue is genuine if
there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return
a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. See Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct.
2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A factual issue is material if
resolving the factual issue might change the suit's
outcome under the governing law. Id. The motion
should be granted only if no rational fact finder could
return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party.
Id. at 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505.
ruling on the motion, the Court must view all the evidence in
the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party and resolve all factual disputes in the non-moving
party's favor. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing
Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147
L.Ed.2d 105 (2000). The moving party need not positively
disprove the opponent's case; rather, the moving party
must establish the lack of evidentiary support for the
non-moving party's position. See Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d
265 (1986). If the moving party meets this initial burden, in
order to survive summary judgment, the non-moving party must
then present competent evidence beyond the pleadings to show
that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at
324-26, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The essential question is
“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.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52, 106 S.Ct.
standard of review for cross-motions for summary judgment
does not differ from the standard applied when only one party
files a motion, but simply requires a determination of
whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter
of law on the facts that are not disputed. Am. Bankers
Ins. Group v. United States, 408 F.3d 1328, 1331 (11th
Cir.2005). The Court must consider each motion on its own
merits, resolving all reasonable inferences against the party
whose motion is under consideration. Id. The
Eleventh Circuit has explained that “[c]ross-motions
for summary judgment will not, in themselves, warrant the
court in granting summary judgment unless one of the parties
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on facts that are
not genuinely disputed.” United States v.
Oakley, 744 F.2d 1553, 1555 (11th Cir.1984).
Cross-motions may, however, be probative of the absence of a
factual dispute where they reflect general agreement by the
parties as to the controlling legal theories and material
facts. Id. at 1555-56.
plaintiff in an employment discrimination case maintains the
ultimate burden of proving that the adverse employment
decision was made because of intentional discrimination.
See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530
U.S. 133, 143 (2000) (“Although intermediate
evidentiary burdens shift back and forth under this
framework, ‘[t]he ultimate burden of persuading the
trier of fact that the defendant intentionally discriminated
against the plaintiff remains at all times with the
plaintiff.'” (quoting Texas Dept. of Community
Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981))); Nix
v. WLCY Radio/Rahall Comms., 738 F.2d 1181, 1184 (11th
Cir. 1984) (“A Title VII disparate treatment plaintiff
must prove that the defendant acted with discriminatory
purpose.” (citing Clark v. Huntsville City Board of
Education, 717 F.2d 525, 529 (11th Cir. 1983))).
the Supreme Court has established the basic allocation of
burdens and order of proof in a disparate treatment case,
see, e.g., McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973); Burdine,
supra; Desert Palace v. Costa, 539 U.S. 90,
99-100 (2003), that framework applies only in cases in which
there is no direct evidence of discrimination. See
Grigsby v. Reynolds Metals Co., 821 F.2d 590, 595 (11th
Cir. 1987) (“The McDonnell Douglas-Burdine
patterns of proof were designed to ease the evidentiary
burdens on employment discrimin[a]tion plaintiffs, who rarely
are fortunate enough to have access to direct evidence of
intentional discrimination.” (citing Thornbrough v.
Columbus and Greenville R.R., 760 F.2d 633, 638 (5th
Cir. 1985), abrogated on other grounds by St. Mary's
Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502
the McDonnell Douglas/Burdine scheme, a plaintiff
first has the burden of proving by a preponderance of
evidence a prima facie case of discrimination.
Second, once the plaintiff proves a prima facie
case, the burden of production shifts to the defendant to
articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its
employment decision. Finally, if the defendant carries its
burden, the plaintiff must either prove by a
preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons
offered by the defendant are merely a pretext for
discrimination or present sufficient evidence, of
any type, for a reasonable jury to conclude that
discrimination was a “motivating factor” for the
employment action, even though the defendant's legitimate
reason may also be true or have played some role in the
decision. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802-05;
Burdine, 450 U.S. at 252-54; Desert Palace,
539 U.S. at 101-02.
Pro Se Filings
se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than
pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be
liberally construed.” Tannenbaum v. United
States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998) (citing
Fernandez v. United States, 941 F.2d 1488, 1491
(11th Cir. 1991)). Accordingly, Mr. Payne's allegations
arising out of her former employment with Goodyear are not
appropriately subject to dismissal simply because they lack
procedural precision or completeness in the context of Rule 8
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
same time “if a [pro se] plaintiff pleads
merely conclusory allegations [about his claims] and the
defendant comes forward with affidavits setting out specific
facts showing [why he cannot prevail on those claims],
plaintiff cannot defeat summary judgment or dismissal for
failure to state a claim by merely filing an affidavit that
restates the conclusory statements asserted in the
complaint.” Perry v. Thompson, 786 F.2d 1093,
1094 (11th Cir. 1986). Similarly, “[i]f material
undisputed facts show no cause of action or that summary
judgment should be granted as a matter of law, the case can
be disposed of[, ] [and] [a] plaintiff may not frustrate this
process by merely restating legal conclusions that he has
alleged.” Id. at 1094-95. However, any
“specific facts” pled in a pro se
plaintiff's sworn complaint or affidavit must be
considered in opposition to summary judgment. Id. at
FACTUAL BACKGROUND, 
tire manufacturing plant in Gadsden, Alabama.
the plaintiff's employment at Goodyear, the Human
Resources Specialist for the Component Prep Business Center
at the Gadsden plant was Michael Tucker. (Tucker Dec. ¶
3). The Labor Relations Manager was Christopher Payne.
(Christopher Payne Dec. ¶ 3).
hires undergo a probationary period of employment before they
are hired on as regular fulltime employees. (Tucker Dec.
¶5). The probationary period is 320 hours. (Mobley Dec.
hires are evaluated on their performance by plant management
during their probationary period of employment. (Tucker Dec.
¶6). Probationary employees who receive
“unacceptable” ratings on their evaluations are
has a Policy of Non-Discrimination in Employment, which
prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color,
religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, national origin, or
disability. (Id., at ¶8).
plaintiff received a copy of Goodyear's Policy of
Non-6.Discrimination in Employment, and received training on
it when he was hired. (Id., at ¶ 9; Tucker Dec.
Ex. A - policy acknowledgment (D-0059)).
plaintiff's probationary employment at Goodyear
plaintiff was interviewed for a position at Goodyear's
tire 8.manufacturing plant in Gadsden, Alabama on or around
May 6, 2015. (Mobley Dec. ¶ 4). Training Manager Dustin
Mobley interviewed the plaintiff.
plaintiff was medically cleared to work with no restrictions.
9. (Plaintiff “Plf.” Dep. p. 96 lns 4-7; Mobley
Dec. ¶5; Tucker Dec. ¶ 12).
plaintiff was hired on July 13, 2015 on a probationary basis.
10. (Mobley Dec. ¶6). Mobley was involved in the
decision to hire him. (Id. at ¶4).
plaintiff was hired into the position of Relief Operator on
the Z Calendar Machine in Component Prep (Department 5330).
(Tucker Dec. ¶11).
Relief Operator relieves the Z Calendar crew, which includes
the 12.Calendar Operator, Windup Operator, Let-Off Operator,
Mill Operator, and trucker.
(Id. at ¶13).
Relief Operator must be trained on and know how to perform
all the jobs on the Z Calendar Machine. (Tucker Dec.
Calendar Relief Operator position is covered by the
collective bargaining agreement, which contains a 320 hour
probationary period. (Id. at ¶ 15).
plaintiff has Lupus; it does not interfere with his ability
to perform the Relief Operator position on the Z Calendar
machine. (Plf. Dep. 86 lns 22-23, p. 87 lns 1-17, p. 93 lns
12-22, p. 133 lns 2-11).
plaintiff had kidney failure; he underwent a successful
kidney 16.transplant in 2012. (Plf. Dep. 86 lns 22-23, p. 87
plaintiff is physically able to work; his medical conditions
do not interfere with or restrict his ability to perform the
job of Relief Operator on the Z Calendar machine.
the plaintiff was hired, he attended new-hire orientation and
training along with eight other new hires. (Mobley Dec.
¶7). Six out of the eight new hires in the
plaintiff's training class were also African American.
(Id. at ¶8)
Collins, Lucille Wiley, and Britney Higgins were in the
plaintiff's new hire training class. (Id. at
¶9). Collins, Wiley and Higgins are African American.
(Id. at ¶10).
plaintiff attended new hire orientation and training which
began on July 13, 2015 and lasted for about a week.
(Id. at ¶12). Mobley was in charge of the
plaintiff's new hire orientation and training.
(Id. at ¶11).
at the plant must wear steel or composite toed safety shoes
at all times at work. (Id. at ¶13). The
plaintiff and the other new hires were given vouchers to
purchase safety shoes on July 14, and were instructed to
purchase the safety shoes prior to July 20, 2015.
plaintiff failed to acquire the safety shoes by the deadline.
(Id. at 21.¶14).
plaintiff was the only new employee who management was aware
of who failed to purchase his safety shoes by the deadline
and did not notify the training department in advance of his
inability to purchase the safety shoes by the deadline.
(Id., at ¶15).
plaintiff was sent home to purchase his safety shoes; he
purchased them on July 21, 2015. (Mobley Dec. ¶16; Payne
not terminated for failing to purchase his safety shoes by
the deadline. (Mobley Dec. ¶18).
plaintiff claims he was not the only one who failed to have
safety shoes by the deadline, but was the only one sent home.
(Plf. Dep. p. 147 lns 17-22). He believes this was race
discrimination. (Plf. Dep. p. 47 lns 10-11, p. 147 lns
17-22). He claims Britney Higgins (who is African American)
failed to have her safety shoes by the deadline, but she was
not sent home. (Id., at p. 147 lns 17-22).
did not know Higgins failed to purchase her safety 25.shoes
by the deadline. (Mobley Dec. ¶17; Payne Dec. ¶10).
a plant tour the plaintiff asked an excessive number of
questions to employees in the lab about how the lab was run;
the questions were irrelevant and distracting. (Plf. Dep. p.
48 lns 8-23, p. 49 lns 1-9; Payne Dec. ¶11).
plaintiff testified that Chris Payne told him he was
exhibiting bullying behavior in questioning the lab
employees. (Plf. Dep. p. 48 lns 8-23, p. 49 lns 1-23, p. 50
lns 1-23). The plaintiff believes this is evidence that he
was singled out because of his race. (Id.).
the plaintiff's new hire training and orientation, he and
the other new hires were required to take their lunch breaks
at the plant. (Mobley Dec. ¶19). Leaving the plant for
lunch breaks during new hire orientation and training was not
plaintiff, Lateshia Collins, Britney Higgins, and Lucille
Wiley ordered pizza for lunch during new-hire training one
day. (Lateshia Collins Dep. p. 7 lns 5-17, p. 28 lns 22-23,
p. 29 lns 1-2). The plaintiff left the plant to pick up the
pizza, which was delivered to the guard shack. (Plf. Dep. p.
45 lns 11-16; Collins Dep. p. 7 lns 5-17).
plaintiff was the only employee who left the plant to pick up
the pizza. (Plf. Dep. p. 45, lns 10-16; Collins ...