United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
SCOTT COOGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
William Eugene Sanders (“Sanders” or
“Plaintiff”), who is white, brings suit alleging
racial discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e, et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.
Before the Court is Defendant Mercedes-Benz U.S.
International, Inc.'s (“MBUSI”) motion for
summary judgment. (Doc. 21.) Sanders has timely filed his
opposition. (Doc. 29.) The motion has been briefed and is
ripe for review. For the reasons stated below, MBUSI's
motion for summary judgment (doc. 21) is due to be granted.
hired Sanders as a Team Member (“TM”) in March
1997. Sanders was promoted to the Team Leader
(“TL”) position in 2003. In 2012, Sanders was
moved to a TL position in the KVP Shop. In 2014, Susan Warner
(“Warner”) became the manager over the KVP Shop.
Because there was no Group Leader (“GL”) in the
KVP Shop, Sanders as a TL reported directly to Warner. Warner
and Sanders worked well together, and Warner gave Sanders
positive evaluations in August 2014 and October 2015. These
evaluations noted that Sanders's performance was
satisfactory and that he was ready for consideration for
advancement to the next level. Due to these evaluations,
Warner planned to make Sanders the GL in the KVP shop, once
he satisfied certain required assessments.
of the process for a promotion to a GL position, MBUSI
collects peer input on the potential GL candidates. In
response to MBUSI's request for peer input on Sanders,
MBUSI received both solicited and unsolicited feedback about
Sanders that included a number of complaints about him.
Warner was concerned about these complaints so she spoke with
Dwight Barger, Jason Jones, Luke Smith, Jack Avery, and Casey
Cook, all of whom are white, about the complaints they
made. After speaking to these individuals,
Warner then turned these complaints over to Human Resources
(“HR”) for investigation. Among the complaints
made about Sanders's demeanor, there were specific
allegations that Sanders distributed a survey that used
racially insensitive language, that Sanders stated he did not
want blacks or females working in the shop, and that Sanders
would often force people to work overtime and would interfere
with other employee's ability to take vacation days.
Cooper (“Cooper”), Department Manager for Team
Relations at MBUSI, initiated an investigation into these
allegations. Cooper is African American. As part of her
investigation, Cooper interviewed all TMs in the KVP shop.
While five of the nine individuals interviewed corroborated
the allegations, the remaining four rebutted these
complaints. Specifically, Don Shane Flynn and Daniel Wallin,
who are both white, stated that they had no recollection of
the alleged survey or inappropriate comments that Sanders
made. Both also stated they had no complaints about how
Sanders treated them. James Snipes, who is white, said he had
not heard any inappropriate statements and Randy Channel, who
is white, stated that Sanders was the best person he ever
worked for. Cooper informed Sanders that she was
investigating complaints about him and then suspended him for
the remainder of her investigation.
report ultimately found that enough witnesses had confirmed
Sanders behavior and suggested termination. However, the
alleged survey Sanders supposedly handed out was not found on
his personal computer or any MBUSI computer. Cooper presented
her report to Sr. Manager David Olive (“Olive”),
a white male who had known Sanders since 1997. Olive
evaluated the report and discussed it with Cooper. After
meeting with Cooper, Olive determined that termination was
too severe of a punishment based on the conflicting evidence
and the lack of leadership training Sanders had received,
which Olive believed may have contributed to some of
December 22, 2015, Sanders met with Olive, Cooper, and Warner
and was informed that he was being demoted to a TM position
in the body shop as a result of the investigation. Sanders
was also issued a level 3 Corrective Performance Review
(CPR), even though he had not had any prior complaints about
his behavior. Given his strong work history and the small
number of people complaining, Sanders believed the results of
the investigation to be improvident and discriminatory. After
a discussion with Warner, Sanders insisted that he would
continue his efforts to clear his name.
March of 2016, Sanders filed an EEOC charge against MBUSI
regarding its investigation into his behavior. Sanders then
applied for a Quality TM position in April 2016. Due to his
recent discipline, Sanders was not eligible for the position.
Plaintiff also asserts that he applied for an X167 project
position in 2016 but was not chosen. Almost a year later, in
February of 2017, Sanders applied for a Quality SQO position-
job posting 1532. In August 2017, Sanders contacted Frank
Walls, Jr. (“Walls”) his Team Relations
Representative, to ask why he had not heard back from HR on
his application for the Quality SQO position.
then spoke to Valerie Banta (“Banta”),
MBUSI's HR Specialist-Employment, about why Sanders had
not been interviewed. Banta told Walls that “Sanders
did not qualify for the position and that by the way Sanders
had a lawsuit that Legal was handling so to be careful what
he said.” (Doc. 23-5 ¶7.) Walls then communicated
to Sanders Banta's statement “that everything
dealing with Sanders had been sent to Legal because Sanders
had a lawsuit.” (Doc. 23-6 ¶3.) However, Sanders
recollection of this conversation with Walls was that Walls
told him that “because [he] had filed a lawsuit against
the company, that [he] wasn't eligible for the job; that
everything pertaining to [Sanders] had been moved to Legal.
[He] wasn't considered for the job because [he] had filed
a lawsuit.” (Pl. Dep. at 186.) Ultimately, job posting
1532 for the Quality SQO position was pulled and no one was
hired to fill the position. In October of 2017, MBUSI posted
an opening for a MPS specialist. Sanders applied for the job
but did not get the position. In December 2017, the Quality
SQO position was reposted, and Sanders did not apply for the
judgment is appropriate “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). A dispute is genuine if “the record taken as a
whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the
nonmoving party.” Id. A genuine dispute as to
a material fact exists “if the nonmoving party has
produced evidence such that a reasonable factfinder could
return a verdict in its favor.” Greenberg v.
BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th
Cir. 2007) (quoting Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental
Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001)). The
trial judge should not weigh the evidence, but determine
whether there are any genuine issues of fact that should be
resolved at trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).
considering a motion for summary judgment, trial courts must
give deference to the non-moving party by “view[ing]
the materials presented and all factual inferences in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party.”
Animal Legal Def. Fund v. U.S. Dep't of Agric.,
789 F.3d 1206, 1213-14 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Adickes
v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970)).
However, “unsubstantiated assertions alone are not
enough to withstand a motion for summary judgment.”
Rollins v. TechSouth, Inc., 833 F.2d 1525, 1529
(11th Cir. 1987). Conclusory allegations and “mere
scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party will
not suffice to overcome a motion for summary judgment.”
Melton v. Abston, 841 F.3d 1207, 1220 (11th Cir.
2016) (per curiam) (quoting Young v. City of Palm Bay,
Fla., 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th Cir. 2004)). In making a
motion for summary judgment, “the moving party has the
burden of either negating an essential element of the
nonmoving party's case or showing that there is no
evidence to prove a fact necessary to the nonmoving
party's case.” McGee v. Sentinel Offender
Servs., LLC, 719 F.3d 1236, 1242 (11th Cir. 2013).
Although the trial courts must use caution when granting
motions for summary judgment, “[s]ummary judgment
procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural
shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules
as a whole.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 327 (1986).
VII prohibits, among other conduct, “discriminat[ion]
against any individual with respect to his compensation,
terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of
such individual's race.” 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-2(a)(1). “[A] plaintiff may use three different
kinds of evidence of discriminatory intent: direct evidence,
circumstantial evidence or statistical evidence.”
Standard v. A.B.E.L. Services, Inc., 161 F.3d 1318,
1330 (11th Cir.1998) (Both ...