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West v. AM/NS Calvert

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

October 29, 2018

KENARD WEST, Plaintiff,
AM/NS CALVERT, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 37), Plaintiff's opposition thereto (Doc. 46), and Defendant's reply (Doc. 47). For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that Plaintiff has not supported a prima facie case of racial discrimination and also has not shown that Defendant's legitimate, non-discriminatory, reason for terminating Plaintiff was pretextual. Accordingly, summary judgment will be granted in favor of Defendant.


         The Plaintiff in this case is a black male who alleges he was discriminated against on the basis of his race by his employer, Defendant AM/NS Calvert. (Doc. 9). Defendant manufactures steel in the form of heavy coils that are then transported to one of the storage areas, ST1, ST2, ST3, or ST4, where they are evaluated for any defects before being transported out. (Doc. 40-1, ¶¶ 3, 9). Plaintiff was hired in April 2011 as an Operator and was promoted to Packaging Coordinator in ST4 in 2013. (Doc. 41-2, ¶¶ 16, 17). Plaintiff understood from going through orientation when he was hired that Defendant had in effect an Equal Employment Opportunity Policy that prohibited discrimination. (Doc. 39-1, p. 13; Doc. 41-1, pp. 20-21).

         Shipping and Packaging Coordinators in ST4 manage a crew of Team Members working under their supervision. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 9). A Coordinator's primary responsibility is “vigilance of safety with Cranes and Team Members.” (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 10; Doc. 40-2, p. 8). The Coordinator's responsibilities include ensuring safety of all Team Members, as well as evaluating the receiving coils for any defects that violate customers' coil specifications, packaging coils once that are confirmed in specification, and transporting the packaged coils to the required method of hauling. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 9). A Coordinator is responsible for ensuring the crew is adhering to all Personal Protective Equipment (“PPE”) requirements, including gloves, sleeves, eye protection and other required items. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 11). A Coordinator is responsible for overseeing the crew's completion of all required computer-based trainings (“CBTs”), some of which pertain to safety awareness and PPE. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 11). A Coordinator is to address and correct all safety concerns the moment they come up and is responsible for filling out “Yellow Near Miss cards if necessary.” (Doc. 40-2, p. 8). Team Members are required to fill out Near Miss cards whenever they see a potential hazard - to help prevent future safety incidents and to create an awareness by all Team Members in safety-sensitive positions to be vigilant in noticing and resolving potential hazards. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 12). The cards require the Team Member to identify the hazard and also identify what steps the employee took to resolve the hazard. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 13). Plaintiff testified that Coordinators were expected to complete two Near Miss cards per month and Operators were to complete Near Miss cards too. (Doc. 45-2, pp. 69-70).

         In March 2015, Tim York became Team Manager of ST4. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 2). As the Team Manager over ST4, York was familiar with Plaintiff's job performance and the job performance of other Packaging and Shipping Coordinators in that area. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 8). York obtained the approval of Stephanie Davis, the Team Member Relations Specialist, prior to disciplining employees. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 18). York reported to and worked closely with the Area Manager of ST4, Nick Kirkland. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 8). York was not required to secure Kirkland's approval to discipline employees with letters of reprimand or suspensions but was required to obtain Kirkland's approval, as well as the approval of Stephanie Davis and the HR Director, Dale Laidlaw, before terminating an employee. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 8; Doc. 41-1, ¶ 7; Doc. 41-3, p. 10).

         On April 6, 2015, a Team Member on Plaintiff's crew, Damien Fountain, sustained a laceration due to failure to wear proper PPE - gloves. (Doc.39-1, pp. 71-72; Doc. 40-1, ¶ 20). York issued Plaintiff a letter of reprimand for the incident because he had often noticed Plaintiff's failure to reprimand his crew for failing to wear proper PPE and York had to continually remind Plaintiff to tell his crew to wear proper PPE. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 21). Plaintiff admits that York had come to him on occasion and said that he had seen guys without their gloves on “or something to that effect.” (Doc. 39-1, pp. 72-73). However, Plaintiff does not feel it was fair to reprimand him because Plaintiff was in another building when the incident happened, they had just had their safety meeting for ST4, and Plaintiff had each of the Team Members sign a form saying they had been counseled that morning. (Doc. 39-1, pp. 71-74).

         On June 22, 2015, York issued Plaintiff a second letter of reprimand. (Doc. 39-1, p. 75; Doc. 40-1, ¶ 23). The second letter of reprimand was because Plaintiff was delinquent in completing his computer-based training modules (“CBTs”) - he was 53 days late completing one module and was similarly delinquent for seven other CBTs. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 23). Plaintiff says he was overdue because the computer that was available for him to complete the CBTs was in a noisy area where he could not concentrate. (Doc. 39-1, p. 77). Plaintiff never asked if he could take the CBTs somewhere else because he did not think York would listen to him. (Doc. 39-1, p. 77). Plaintiff admits that it was reasonable that he was expected to complete his trainings. (Doc. 39-1, p. 78).

         York had observed other problems with Plaintiff's job performance while York was Team Manager. York sent Plaintiff numerous emails asking Plaintiff about incomplete, inaccurate or missing reports, his failure to complete CBTs and other duties and his failure to properly maintain his work area or perform housekeeping duties on shift. (Doc. 39-1, pp. 45-55; Doc. 40-1, ¶ 27). According to York, Plaintiff's productivity as a Team Coordinator was substandard. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 25). York created charts every month that compared the productivity of the four shifts and for October and November 2015 Plaintiff's shift was outperformed by two of the other three shifts, for December 2015 Plaintiff's shift was outperformed by all three of the other shifts, and for January 2016, Plaintiff's shift was outperformed by one of the other shifts. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 25; Doc. 40-3, pp. 15-18). Plaintiff disagrees with York's assessment of the production data. (Doc. 40-3, p. 6, ¶ 54).

         On October 1, 2015, York emailed Plaintiff complaining that Plaintiff had failed to put an issue reporting form on quarantined coils or log the quarantined coils in the spreadsheet that morning, resulting in the quarantined coils not being recorded in the computer system. (Doc. 39-1, pp. 78-79). Plaintiff asserts that the issue reporting form could have gotten knocked off because they were double stacking coils in the quarantine area and there were big fans that could have blown it off. (Doc. 39-1, pp. 58-59, 81). According to York, it was Plaintiff's responsibility to place issue reporting forms on the coils and to check the quarantine bay before the end of shift to confirm that no coils were left without issue reporting forms for the next shift. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 30). York reports that he had experienced similar issues with Plaintiff on September 28 and September 29. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 30). Josh Abel, a Coordinator who would relieve Plaintiff's shift, brought to York's attention multiple times that Plaintiff had failed to properly label or move coils. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 32; Doc. 41-4, ¶ 19). In the Oct. 1 email, York notified Plaintiff that he was going to draw up a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) for Plaintiff. (Doc. 39-1, p. 79).

         York decided to place Plaintiff on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) after consulting with Ms. Davis. (Doc. 41-2, ¶ 20). Davis drafted the PIP memorandum which was signed by Plaintiff on October 15, 2015, with York's input. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 34; Doc. 41-2. ¶ 22; Doc. 41-3, pp. 42-43, Doc. 39-3, pp. 19-20). A memorandum addressed to Plaintiff and signed by Plaintiff on October 15, 2015 stated that the PIP is “a written set of expectations designed to assist you in understanding your performance expectations and how that relates to the overall success of the organization.” (Doc. 39-3, p. 15). The memorandum listed the following areas of performance expectations that Plaintiff needed “to focus on to ensure [his] success as a Shift Coordinator:”

■ Create an environment where Team members know that standing around waiting is not acceptable. Also, encourage them to communicate with the cranes to stock their areas.
■ Regardless of what is passed down, it is your responsibility once your shift starts to make sure all information is correct.
■ Above all safety is first and foremost. Kenard needs to enforce this on his team. When a safety rule is broken, progressive discipline must be administered.
■ This job requires multi tasking. Develop time management skills in order for tasks to be completed as expected.
■ Kenard needs to manage all aspects of this Team. He needs to be more active in the overall state of the business during his shift. He needs to spend more time on the mill floor interacting and coaching other Team Members. (Manage By Walking Around) He is expected to keep a weekly report that documents this activity. Kenard needs to manage his Team's CBT's, as well as his own to ensure compliance.

(Doc. 39-3, pp. 15-16). The memorandum stated that Plaintiff's “[f]ailure to meet these performance expectations may result in termination.” (Doc. 39-3, p. 16). The PIP memorandum also stated that they “would meet formally every 4 weeks for 90 days to assess how you are progressing towards these goals.” (Doc. 39-3, p. 16).

         During the 30-day period after Plaintiff's PIP was implemented, York observed numerous performance issues by Plaintiff, including: Plaintiff's failure to submit any Near Miss cards, a serious quality failure on Plaintiff's shift, Plaintiff's failure to follow York's instruction to move a particular coil to quarantine during his shift, Plaintiff's failure to send York a requested status report, Plaintiff's failure to pack up a list of coils during his shift as directed, Plaintiff's Team Members' failure to properly communicate with the crane operator, Plaintiff's Team Members were observed standing around idly instead of attending to needed tasks and Plaintiff's failure to complete his CBTs as directed. (Doc. 40-1, ¶¶ 40-47). York and Davis met with Plaintiff for the 30-day review of his PIP on November 17, 2015. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 39). York prepared a spreadsheet that listed the five areas the PIP stated he needed improvement in and also included a few additional specific performance issues to be addressed, including in relation to the third listed performance area involving safety, that Plaintiff “does not participate as often as he should in the Near Miss Program.” (Doc. 39-3, pp. 18-20; Doc. 40-1, ¶ 39; (Doc. 41-2, ¶ 24). At the 30-day review York told Plaintiff that he had not seen any improvement in his performance in the areas identified in the PIP and in fact, his performance was worse in some of the areas. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 39; Doc. 41-2, ¶ 24). Plaintiff reports that he “had a comment” for each of the performance issues York identified. (Doc. 45-3, p. 40-41). York asked Plaintiff how he could help Plaintiff improve, but Plaintiff denied any assistance. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 39; Doc. 41-2, ¶ 24).

         York and Davis met with Plaintiff for his 60-day review of the PIP on December 17, 2015. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 48). Prior to the meeting York reports that he had become quite frustrated with Plaintiff and his failure to improve. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 48). Plaintiff had still not submitted a single Near Miss card. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 48). York emailed Plaintiff numerous times between his 30-day review and his 60-day review regarding quality issues with coils Plaintiff was responsible for, Plaintiff's failure to follow instructions or complete tasks assigned, and his failure to accurately complete reports and other necessary logs. (Doc. 40-1, ¶¶ 49-54). Plaintiff had explanations for some of his failures, but York found the explanations to be unsatisfactory excuses. (Doc. 40-1, ¶¶ 52, 54). During the 60-day review, York told Plaintiff he had seen no improvement in the identified areas and specifically discussed Plaintiff's failure to submit any Near Miss Cards over the course of his PIP. (Doc. 40-1, ¶ 55). According to York and Davis, Plaintiff responded that he did not think the Near Miss Card program was worthwhile and that he had no interest or intention of participating in it. (Doc. 39-4, pp. 80-81; 40-1, ¶ 55; Doc.41-2, ¶ 25). Plaintiff testified at his deposition that he does not think the Near Miss cards were worthwhile because “a lot of time, the problem never gets fixed.” (Doc. 39-1, pp. 98-99). After Plaintiff indicated he would not participate in the Near Miss ...

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