United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. MARKS, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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
Jurisdiction and Venue
Court exercises subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28
U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343, and 1367. Personal
jurisdiction and venue are uncontested.
Standard of Review
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)).
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.