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Young v. AlaTrade Foods, LLC

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

September 6, 2019

JUDY YOUNG, Plaintiff,
v.
ALATRADE FOODS, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KARON OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In this employment discrimination case, Plaintiff Judy Young alleges that a supervisor working for her employer, Defendant AlaTrade Foods, LLC, sexually harassed her over the course of several months. According to Ms. Young, AlaTrade let the sexual harassment continue until the company transferred her to a position that she physically could not perform because of her pregnancy and vertigo and then terminated or constructively discharged her.

         Ms. Young brings eight claims against AlaTrade arising out of the alleged harassment and termination or constructive discharge. She brings five employment discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981: (1) hostile work environment based on sexual harassment; (2) retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment; (3) discrimination on the basis of sex; (4) discrimination on the basis of pregnancy; and (5) discrimination on the basis of race. And she brings three tort claims under Alabama law: (1) invasion of privacy; (2) assault and battery; and (3) negligent and/or wanton hiring, supervision, training, and/or retention. (See Doc. 17 at 7- 14).

         AlaTrade has moved for summary judgment on all of Ms. Young's claims. (Doc. 28). According to AlaTrade, Ms. Young quit her job so she cannot show that the company terminated or constructively discharged her for being African-American, female, and/or pregnant, or in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment. AlaTrade also contends that no evidence supports Ms. Young's allegations of a hostile work environment, invasion of privacy, assault and battery, and negligent hiring, supervision, training, and/or retention, and that no basis exists to hold the company liable for those claims.

         As further explained below, the court will deny summary judgment on Ms. Young's hostile work environment claim and state law tort claims: genuine disputes of material fact exist as to each of those claims because evidence shows that Ms. Young suffered sufficiently offensive harassment and reported such to AlaTrade. But the court will grant summary judgment for AlaTrade on Ms. Young's claims for retaliation and discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and pregnancy: no evidence supports the inference that Ms. Young suffered an adverse employment action under Title VII or § 1981 as required to state any of those claims.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A trial court can resolve a dispositive issue on summary judgment only when the moving party establishes two essential elements: (1) no genuine disputes of material fact exist; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

         Under the first element of the moving party's summary judgment burden, “‘[g]enuine disputes [of material fact] are those in which the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant.'” Evans v. Books-A-Million, 762 F.3d 1288, 1294 (11th Cir. 2014) (emphasis added) (quoting Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996)). And when considering whether any genuine disputes of material fact exist, the court must view the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. White v. Beltram Edge Tool Supply, Inc., 789 F.3d 1188, 1191 (11th Cir. 2015).

         A non-moving party's self-serving sworn testimony can create genuine issues of fact. See United States v. Stein, 881 F.3d 853, 857 (11th Cir. 2018) (“A litigant's self-serving statements based on personal knowledge or observation can defeat summary judgment.”); Feliciano v. City of Miami Beach, 707 F.3d 1244, 1253 (11th Cir. 2013) (“To be sure, Feliciano's sworn statements are self-serving, but that alone does not permit us to disregard them at the summary judgment stage.”). But only factual allegations in sworn testimony based on personal knowledge can defeat summary judgment; conclusory allegations cannot. See Stein, 881 F.3d at 857 (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990)). And even if the court doubts the veracity of self-serving testimony, the court cannot make credibility determinations at the summary judgment stage. Feliciano, 707 F.3d at 1252 (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)).

         Consistent with the summary judgment standard, the court will present the facts of this case in the light most favorable to Ms. Young. The court draws most of the facts from Ms. Young's sworn testimony at her deposition. AlaTrade challenges most of Ms. Young's testimony for lack of documentary support, and the person who Ms. Young alleges sexually harassed her “emphatically den[ies]” each of Ms. Young's accusations against him. (See Doc. 28-17 at ¶¶ 6, 28). But the court cannot weigh evidence or make credibility determinations at the summary judgment stage. And the court notes that these facts may not be the facts presented at trial.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Ms. Young began working at AlaTrade's chicken processing facility in Albertville, Alabama in August 2016. At first, she worked full time on the production line separating chicken. Then, about a month after she started working at AlaTrade, she requested to work part time three days a week so she could devote more time to her son and her schooling. AlaTrade granted her request and transferred her to the cube table where she graded whole chicken breasts three days a week. Soon after, AlaTrade transferred her to the box room where she assembled boxes to hold chicken. In the box room, she was sometimes required to climb ladders to pick boxes off the top of six-foot-tall stacks.

         In January 2017, Ms. Young discovered that she was pregnant with twins. She asked the box room supervisor, Shane Craig, for the pregnancy-related accommodation of not having to climb ladders to retrieve boxes. Ms. Young testified that Mr. Craig never acted on her request. (See Doc. 28-9 at 40). According to Ms. Young, the lead supervisor in the box room, Sheila, told Ms. Young that she “just [could not] be accommodating people in the box room like that all [sic] because when somebody get [sic] pregnant.” (Id.).

         Ms. Young testified that the supervisor for the chicken deboning line, Jose Corona, began visiting Ms. Young in the box room. Though Mr. Corona was not a supervisor of the box room, Mr. Craig testified that Mr. Corona had supervisory authority over Ms. Young because “every supervisor has authority over every employee in the building.” (Doc. 28-2 at 14).

         According to Ms. Young, Mr. Corona regularly struck up casual conversation with her, but, over time, his statements grew more inappropriate and ultimately turned sexually explicit and offensive. Ms. Young testified that he first told her, “I like you.” (Doc. 28-9 at 42). Ms. Young asked what he meant and Mr. Corona said, “oh, come on. You know what I'm trying to tell you. I like you.” (Id.). Ms. Young told him that she was married.

         Ms. Young testified that Mr. Corona twice tried to convince her to leave the plant with him to “have a sexual encounter” and proposed that they take off work every other Wednesday to “get together.” (Doc. 28-9 at 43, 65). She also testified that, when he learned that she was pregnant, Mr. Corona said that he was upset because he did not want anyone else to have her. (Id. at 43). According to Ms. Young, Mr. Corona made sexual hand gestures with his smock in front of her and told her that she had “nice breasts” that were “a nice size for sucking.” (Id. at 63).

         Ms. Young testified that she complained to her supervisor, Adam Motley, about Mr. Corona sexually harassing her, but the harassment did not stop. According to Ms. Young, Mr. Corona kept visiting her in the box room; her co-worker in the box room testified that Mr. Corona did so two to three times a day when Ms. Young was working and stood very close to her. (Doc. 31-5 at ¶ 3). Ms. Young testified that, on one occasion, Mr. Corona pointed out a pole in the box room, talked to her about strippers, and told her, “[i]f I could just get you one of those poles and bend you over and-he said something to the effect [of] pop your ass or your ass something.” (Doc. 28-9 at 44).

         Ms. Young testified that she again complained about Mr. Corona's sexual harassment to Mr. Motley and reported the pole comments, but the harassment continued. She testified that Mr. Corona grabbed her from behind, told her that she had a “fine sexy ass, ” touched her arm and back, whispered and blew in her ear, and said “you like that.” (Doc. 28-9 at 45, 69). According to Ms. Young, he also either “touched” or “grazed”-but did not “grab”-her buttocks. (Id. at 45-46, 59). Finally, Ms. Young testified that Mr. Corona showed her unsolicited pictures of himself partially undressed and exposing himself. (Id. at 70).

         According to Ms. Young, in early May 2017, she told AlaTrade's vice president, Jarl O'Barr, that she needed to speak to him “about being sexually harassed out here, discriminated out here, working in this hostile environment.” (Doc. 28-9 at 46). At a follow-up meeting with Mr. O'Barr on an unknown date in May, Ms. Young recounted her allegations of sexual harassment by Mr. Corona. (Doc. 28-9 at 48, 80; Doc. 31-5 at ¶ 8). She also told Mr. O'Barr that she was experiencing race and pregnancy discrimination, though Ms. Young did not testify as to what specific acts of discrimination she reported to Mr. O'Barr. (See Doc. 28-9 at 80).

         On May 17, 2017, Mr. Craig told Ms. Young that AlaTrade was transferring her out of the box room and placing her back on the chicken production line. Ms. Young told him that she could not work on the line anymore because she had vertigo and had to stand too far back from the table because of her pregnancy. Mr. Craig would not accept Ms. Young's stated limitations and, according to Ms. Young, responded, “either do what I tell you to do or go home.” (Doc. 28-9 at 53). As Ms. Young prepared to leave, Mr. Craig continued to tell her to obey him or leave, and, according to Ms. Young, at some point “turned red in his face like he was just very angry and mad about something.” (Id.). Ms. Young testified that Mr. Craig told her, “I'm telling you to do-go where I told you to go or you need to leave the premises. You need to leave, ” and, “hey, hey, let's go. Get out of here. Get off-get out of here. Get out the building. I need you to leave the building now.” (Id. at 53). Ms. Young left AlaTrade's facility and considered herself terminated.

         Ms. Young called the staffing company that had placed her at AlaTrade to inquire about her final paycheck. Ms. Young testified that her contact at the staffing company, Patricia Peralta, informed her that AlaTrade “[did not] want [her] back on the premises” because she “got terminated for insubordination and misconduct.” (Doc. 28-9 at 55; see Doc. 31-3 at 2).

         AlaTrade reported on a separation form that Ms. Young “[q]uit, due to being moved out of box room.” (Doc. 28-8 at 2). AlaTrade replaced Ms. Young with Kim McGowan, who is white and was not pregnant. (Doc. 28-2 at 41).

         The court next analyzes each of Ms. Young's claims against AlaTrade arising out of these facts.

         III. ...


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