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Harris v. Universal Logistics

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

November 21, 2018

TERRY HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSAL LOGISTICS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ABDUL K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Terry Harris filed this lawsuit against Logistics Insight Corporation (“Logistics Insight”), incorrectly designated as Universal Logistics, and several of its employees including, Justin Evans, Chris Pepsin, Crystal Dixon, and Matt Muesch (hereinafter collectively the “Individual Defendants”), alleging discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12112 et seq. (“ADA”) and race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 (“Title VII”). Doc. 1. Defendants have moved for summary judgment, doc. 8, and Harris responded with what appears to be a new claim for discrimination against separate non-parties, doc. 16, and by filing two separate documents tilted as motions for summary judgment, docs. 17 and 20. Defendants replied in support of their initial motion and responded to Harris's motions for summary judgment. Docs. 19; 21; 23. Based on the evidence and consideration of relevant law, Defendants' motion, doc. 9, is due to be granted, and Harris's motions are due to be denied.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 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. “Rule 56[] 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.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (alteration in original). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to “go beyond the pleadings” to establish that there is a “genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A dispute about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         On summary judgment motions, the court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Any factual disputes will be resolved in the non-moving party's favor when sufficient competent evidence supports the non-moving party's version of the disputed facts. See Pace v. Capobianco, 283 F.3d 1275, 1276, 1278 (11th Cir. 2002) (a court is not required to resolve disputes in the non-moving party's favor when that party's version of events is supported by insufficient evidence). However, “mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Moreover, “[a] mere ‘scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The following facts reflect an assessment of the record in the light most favorable to Harris. Since 2016, Harris, an African American man, has worked for Logistics Insight in Huntsville, Alabama as a forklift operator and auditor. Docs. 1 at 8; 9 at 2. On March 3, 2017, Harris sustained an injury when he fell out of a trailer truck onto a loading dock. Docs. 1 at 8; 8-1 at 2; 9 at 2; 17 at 2. Harris maintains that although he filed an incident report that day with human resource representative Crystal Dixon, Dixon denied him permission to seek treatment despite indications that Harris was bleeding and in pain. Doc. 1 at 8. Harris contends that his supervisor, Justin Evans, gave him two options-continue working or termination. Id. Harris worked for seventeen days in severe pain until Dixon instructed him to go to the hospital. Id. Although Defendants deny this account, see docs 8-1 at 2, the parties agree that Harris eventually received medical treatment and was placed on medical leave from late March until mid-December 2017. Docs. 1 at 8; 8-1 at 2-3; 17 at 3.

         Harris's physician released Harris to return to work with lifting restrictions beginning on December 12, 2017. Docs. 1 at 8; 8-1 at 3; 17 at 2-3. Within a week of his return, Harris maintains that Logistics Insight disciplined him and prevented him from attending physical therapy sessions. Doc. 20. At some point, Dixon and Pepsin (a supervisor) wrote Harris up for “no call/no show.” Docs. 1 at 8; 17 at 2. In addition, Evans allegedly discharged Harris over the phone due to misconduct[1]and instructed Harris to immediately return to work and gather his belongings. Doc. 17. When Harris arrived at work, however, Evans rescinded the discharge. Doc. 1 at 8.

         Defendants assert that they have no records of reprimanding Harris for “no call no show” and Dixon denies ever issuing any reprimand. Docs. 8-1 at 3; 9 at 3. Both parties submitted documentation of three “Employee Corrective Action” forms indicating that Harris “missed scans on critical parts” on December 17, “moved material to incorrect locations” on December 19, and “failed to turn in company property before the end of a shift” on December 19. Docs. 9 at 3-4; 8-1 at 5-7; 20 at 3-9. However, Logistics Insight denies it discharged Harris and notes that Harris's hourly pay rate increased and that Harris is still employed with the company. Doc. 8-1 at 5-7. Indeed, Harris concedes in his declaration opposing summary judgment that he is “an employee of [Logistics Insight]” and is “employed by Logistics Insight Corporation as an Auditor.” Docs. 16 at 2; 17 at 2.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Before turning to Defendants' summary judgment motion, doc. 9, the court will address three initial matters regarding a few of Harris's incognizable claims. First, “[i]ndividual capacity suits under Title VII [and the ADA] are . . . inappropriate” because “Title VII [and the ADA are] against the employer, not individual employees whose actions would constitute a violation of the Act.” Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 772 (11th Cir. 1991); see also Albra v. Advan, Inc., 490 F.3d 826 (11th Cir. 2007) (holding that individual liability is precluded for violations of the ADA's employment discrimination provision). Therefore, the Individual Defendants' motion is due to be granted because “the proper method for a plaintiff to recover under Title VII [and the ADA] is by suing the employer, either by naming the supervisory employees as agents of the employer or by naming the employer directly.” Busby, 931 F.2d at 772.

         Second, Harris's claims in this lawsuit are limited to those he raised in his EEOC charge, i.e. race discrimination and disability discrimination and retaliation claims.[2] Doc. 1 at 8. This is because “[a]n employee must exhaust administrative remedies before filing a complaint of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Stamper v. Duval Cty. Sch. Bd., 863 F.3d 1336, 1339-40 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Wilkerson v. Grinnell Corp., 270 F.3d 1314, 1317 (11th Cir. 2001) (Title VII) and Maynard v. Pneumatic Prods. Corp., 256 F.3d 1259, 1262 (11th Cir. 2001) (ADA)). Moreover, a failure to mention specific claims or events that gave rise to that claim “would otherwise preclude the EEOC from performing its role in obtaining voluntary compliance and promoting conciliation efforts on that claim.” Litman v. Sec'y, of the Navy, 703 Fed.Appx. 766, 771-72 (11th Cir. 2017). Thus, the court need not consider the new claims Harris raised in his complaint, doc. 1, or response opposing summary judgment, doc. 16.

         Third, although “a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976), the court may not “serve as de facto counsel for a party.” Campbell v. Air Jamaica Ltd., 760 F.3d 1165, 1168-69 (11th Cir. 2014). Relevant here, Harris's response to Defendants' motion raises new allegations regarding false statements and discrimination that are appropriate for a new claim against the non-parties Athens Thrift Store, Joanna Thompson, and Ron Dabbs. Doc. 16 at 1-2. Also, in his two summary judgment motions, Harris contends that there are “genuine issue[s]” and that he is “entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Docs. 17; 20. Because Harris's motions actually outline his reasons for why he believes the court should deny Defendants' motion, the court will treat his motions as responses in opposition to Defendants' motion under Rule 56(c)(3), which allows the court to “consider other materials in the record” including his attached exhibits and declarations. Docs. 17 at 2-3; 20 at 3-9.

         Having addressed these preliminary issues, the court will now turn to Harris's three surviving claims beginning with the Title VII race discrimination claim in Section A, ADA discrimination ...


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