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Lewis v. Montgomery Fitness, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

May 15, 2019

D'WAN LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
MONTGOMERY FITNESS, INC., d/b/a PLANET FITNESS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          EMILY C. MARKS, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the Defendant's motion for summary judgment (doc. 42), which has been fully briefed. (Docs. 43-44; Brief and Evidence); (Docs. 47 and 49; Responsive Brief and Evidence); (Doc. 53; Reply). After careful consideration and for the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that the Defendant's motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.

         I. Jurisdiction and Venue

         The Court exercises subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343, and 1367. Personal jurisdiction and venue are uncontested.

         II. Standard of Review

         “Summary judgment is proper if the evidence shows ‘that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'” Hornsby-Culpepper v. Ware, 906 F.3d 1302, 1311 (11th Cir. 2018) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). “[A] court generally must view all evidence and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment.” Fla. Int'l Univ. Bd. of Trs. v. Fla. Nat'l Univ., Inc., 830 F.3d 1242, 1252 (11th Cir. 2016). However, “conclusory allegations without specific supporting facts have no probative value.” Jefferson v. Sewon Am., Inc., 891 F.3d 911, 924-25 (11th Cir. 2018). If the record, taken as a whole, “could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, ” then there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Hornsby-Culpepper, 906 F.3d at 1311 (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).

         The movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the movant must identify the portions of the record which support this proposition. Id. (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The movant may carry this burden “by demonstrating that the nonmoving party has failed to present sufficient evidence to support an essential element of the case.” Id. The burden then shifts to the non-moving party to establish, by going beyond the pleadings, that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Id. at 1311-12.

         III. Background.

         Montgomery Fitness, Inc., operating under the name Planet Fitness in Montgomery, Alabama, provides gym and health club services. The general manager, Heath York, a white male, handles the day-to-day operations, including hiring, firing, and discipline. Plaintiff D'wan Lewis, an African-American male, was hired by York on April 15, 2015 to work at the front desk. Front desk duties require a significant amount of computer work. Lewis struggled with the front desk responsibilities and within a few months of employment, he asked York to move him to a position that did not require computer work. York obliged and moved Lewis to a maintenance and cleaning position, and Lewis made no objection to this transfer.

         In August of 2015, Lewis overheard a conversation between co-workers Katherine Ross, a white female, and Kijuan Jones, a black male, during which Ross used the term “nigger.” Jones reported the incident to York, and York investigated the matter. As part of the investigation, York interviewed Lewis. Roth admitted using the racial slur, and York terminated her that same day. Lewis never heard any of his supervisors use racially-derogatory language, and Roth's use of the slur was the only time he ever heard this type of language used at work.

         On September 1, 2015, a member of the gym complained that Lewis had sexually harassed his sixteen-year-old granddaughter. York investigated the allegation. The child's mother reported that Lewis retrieved the child's personal information from the gym's computer and spoke to her daughter using sexual language. Although Lewis denied the accusations, York found them to be credible and documented the incident.

         On December 10, 2015, Lewis received a write-up for failing to check off his daily cleaning tasks. The following day, on December 11, 2015, Lewis received a write-up for failing to refill paper towel dispensers and for exhibiting a bad attitude. Although the entire gym staff was responsible for changing out the paper towels, Lewis was the only maintenance worker on staff at the time and he could not recall whether the paper towels were replaced.

         In addition to the misconduct documented by write-ups, York claims to have received undocumented complaints from gym members about Lewis socializing on the job. On December 15, 2015, York met with Lewis to discuss his job performance. At the end of the meeting, York terminated Lewis. On the associated Employee Warning Notice Form, York wrote that Lewis “failed to meet performance requirements, ” that Lewis stated that “he did not need his job, ” and that Lewis “possessed a careless attitude.” Lewis claims he was terminated because York said Lewis wasn't happy. Lewis further claims that after his investigative interview with York, he was assigned additional job duties, such as cleaning under treadmills and dusting the lockers, and that his work overall was subjected to higher scrutiny.

         The day Lewis was terminated, Roth called the gym and asked for her job back. The gym was short-staffed at the time, so York conferred with the gym's third-party HR/payroll company and the only remaining employee who worked at the gym during Roth's use of the racial slur, an African-American woman named Mary Sloan. York asked Sloan how she would feel about working alongside Roth again after the incident, and Sloan indicated that she had no problem with Roth being rehired. Thereafter, York met with Roth, who acknowledged her wrongdoing, apologized, and assured York that it would never happen again. York rehired Roth; however, she resigned about a month later for unrelated reasons.

         Lewis claims he was treated less favorably than two white co-workers, Lane Buford and Katy Roth. Lewis alleges that Buford, who was late for work several times, was moved to another shift instead of being terminated. However, the undisputed evidence establishes that Buford received a write-up each time he was late, and that York never moved Buford to another shift or otherwise accommodated him. Buford voluntary left his job to enter the military-an arrangement that was understood from the beginning of his employment.

         Lewis also claims that he was treated less favorably than Roth. Specifically, he claims that Roth never did much cleaning, and she was never disciplined for her failure to do so. Additionally, he takes issue with York's rehiring of Roth. In drawing his comparison, Lewis asserts that both he and Roth were hired as front-desk employees and earned the same wage. Lewis points out that when he was moved to the maintenance position, his duties still overlapped with Roth's because front-desk employees have some responsibility for cleaning. However, front-desk employees only had minor cleaning responsibilities while the large majority of their responsibilities involve computer work. At all material times, Lewis was a maintenance worker, whose primary responsibility was cleaning. Throughout her employment, Roth worked at the front desk.

         Lewis claims that he suffered discrimination and retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1981. He further brings a state-law claim against Montgomery Fitness for negligent and/or wanton hiring, training, supervision, and retention.

         IV. ...


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