United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the court is Defendants’ joint motion for summary
judgment. (Doc. 47). In addition, Plaintiff Shawnetta Collins
requested, in her response brief, that the court strike
paragraph 31 of Defendants’ statement of undisputed
facts. (Doc. 61 at 6 ¶ 31).
Collins is an African-American woman. Defendants Koch Foods,
Inc., and Koch Foods of Alabama, Inc. (collectively,
“Koch Foods”), are related companies that, at the
time of the events involved in this lawsuit, ran two poultry
processing and packaging plants in Montgomery, Alabama. At
that time, Defendant Robert Elrod was the Director of Human
Resources for Koch Foods. Until July 2017, Ms. Collins was
the Human Resources Manager for one and then the other of the
two plants. In July 2017, Ms. Collins married the Plant
Manager for the two plants, and Defendants fired her for
violating their anti-fraternization policy. She has now
brought suit against Defendants. The only claims remaining in
(1) race discrimination, in violation of 42 U.S.C. §
1981, against Mr. Elrod and Koch Foods, Inc., (“Count
One”) (doc. 10 at 4–13)
(2) sex discrimination, in violation of the Civil Rights Act
of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e,
et seq., against Koch Foods, Inc., and Koch Foods of
Alabama (“Count Two”) (doc. 10 at 13–16)
(3) intentional infliction of emotional distress, under
Alabama law, against all three defendants (“Count
Four”) (doc. 10 at 18–19)
(5) negligent and wanton hiring, training, supervision, and
retention, in violation of Alabama law, against all three
defendants (“Count Five”) (doc. 10 at
the court DENIES Ms. Collins’ motion
to strike paragraph 31 of Defendants’ statement of
undisputed facts because, contrary to her assertion, that
paragraph does not rely on any unproduced, privileged
the court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES
IN PART Defendants’ motion for summary
judgment. The court GRANTS the motion for
summary judgment as to Count One (the claims of race
discrimination under § 1981) because Ms. Collins has
either not presented evidence to establish a prima
facie case of race discrimination, or she has not
rebutted Defendants’ legitimate, non-discriminatory
reasons for the challenged employment actions. The court
DENIES the motion for summary judgment as to
Count Two (the claims of sex discrimination under Title VII)
because Ms. Collins has presented evidence from which a
reasonable jury could find that Koch Foods discriminated
against her based on her sex. The court
GRANTS the motion for summary judgment as to
Count Four (intentional infliction of emotional distress)
because Ms. Collins’ only evidence of outrage relates
to a theory that she did not assert in her amended complaint,
and because Count Four fails, the court also
GRANTS the motion for summary judgment as to
Count Five (negligence and wantonness).
motion for summary judgment, the court “draw[s] all
inferences and review[s] all evidence in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party.” Hamilton v.
Southland Christian Sch., Inc., 680 F.3d 1316, 1318
(11th Cir. 2012) (quotation marks omitted).
Foods operates a chicken processing plant complex in
Montgomery Alabama, consisting of a processing plant (also
called the “kill plant”) and a debone plant.
(Doc. 48-1 at 6, 29; see also Doc. 51 at 5 ¶ 4;
Doc. 61 at 3 ¶ 4). Until Koch Foods combined the two
plants in 2017, each plant had its own Human Resources
Manager and Plant Manager. (Doc. 48-3 at 37). During the
events that are the subject of this lawsuit, Koch Foods was
working on combining the two plants into one single campus.
(Doc. 48-1 at 28; Doc. 48-3 at 6; Doc. 48-4 at 40).
complex as a whole also had a Complex Human Resources
Manager, who oversaw each plant’s Human Resources
Manager, and a Complex Manager, who oversaw all of the
managers at the complex, including the Plant Managers and the
Human Resources Managers. (See Doc. 48-3 at 60). The
Complex Human Resources Manager position changed multiple
times during the course of the events that are the subject of
this lawsuit, but at all relevant times, Rod Thomas was the
Complex Manager. (Doc. 48-1 at 16; Doc. 48-5 at 91).
addition to the management of the complex, Koch Foods had a
Corporate Human Resources Director who managed all of the
Human Resources departments for all of Koch Foods’
facilities, including the Montgomery complex. (Doc. 48-5 at
9, 19). Defendant Robert Elrod was the Corporate Human
Resources Director. (Id. at 9, 19, 40).
Collins became a Human Resources Manager in January 2008,
serving first at the kill plant, then at the debone plant,
then back at the kill plant. (Doc. 48-1 at 6, 8, 15). When
she became a Human Resources Manager, Koch Foods had an
anti-fraternization policy prohibiting managers and
supervisors from “engag[ing] in intimate relationships
with anyone under their direct or indirect
supervision.” (Doc. 48-2 at 10). Employees were
required to report any such relationship to their supervisor.
2014, while serving as the Human Resources Manager for the
kill plant, Ms. Collins began dating Johnny Gill, the Plant
Manager for the kill plant. (Doc. 48-12 at 7, 9; Doc. 48-1 at
15, 22). Because neither Ms. Collins nor Mr. Gill supervised
each other, their relationship was not a violation of that
version of the anti-fraternization policy. (Doc. 48-3 at 20).
Nevertheless, Ms. Collins disclosed the relationship to her
supervisor, David Birchfield (a Caucasian man), who at that
time was the Complex Human Resources Manager. (Doc. 48-1 at
22; see Doc. 48-16 at 3 ¶ 7).
April and June 2016, two Koch Foods employees filed charges
of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (“EEOC”) based on alleged sexual
harassment by Mr. Birchfield and Melissa McDickinson, who was
a Human Resources Manager. (Doc. 59-15 at 21, 23). According
to Koch Foods, an internal investigation revealed evidence
that Mr. Birchfield and Ms. McDickinson were involved in an
“intimate relationship.” (Id. at 23).
Koch Foods determined that Mr. Birchfield could no longer
serve “as an effective manager, ” and allowed him
to resign effective August 24, 2016. (Id.; Doc.
48-10 at 73; Doc. 48-16 at 3 ¶ 7).
Birchfield’s resignation left the position of Complex
Human Resources Manager open, and in August 2016, Ms. Collins
applied for the position. (Doc. 48-1 at 24; Doc. 48-8 at 44).
Koch Foods’ manual on “Employee Hiring for
Salaried Employees” provides that it gives “first
consideration” to current employees unless a Human
Resources Manager decides to seek outside candidates:
Current employees who want to transfer to or apply for an
open position should be given first consideration. . . . If
no internal candidates meet the job requirements, or if the
Local Human Resources Manager determines that it is
appropriate to do so, then the Local Human Resources Manager
can seek outside candidates.
(Doc. 48-2 at 1, 4). Koch Foods solicited outside candidates
to apply. (See Doc. 48-4 at 4, 11).
September 2016, while Koch Foods was making its decision
about who to hire, Mr. Thomas (the Complex Manager) and Mr.
Elrod (the Corporate Human Resources Director) learned of Ms.
Collins and Mr. Gill’s relationship. (Doc. 48-3 at 19;
Doc. 48-5 at 89; Doc. 48-12 at 16–17). They called Ms.
Collins and Mr. Gill in for a meeting to ask them about their
relationship. (Doc. 48-1 at 26–27; Doc. 48-3 at 25;
Doc. 48-5 at 89). Mr. Elrod testified that, while they were
waiting for Ms. Collins and Mr. Gill, Mr. Thomas asked him
not to hire Ms. Collins for the Complex Human Resources
Manager position because he (Mr. Thomas) did not trust Ms.
Collins, given her relationship with Mr. Gill. (Doc. 48-5 at
Collins and Mr. Gill admitted that they were living together
and engaged to be married. (Doc. 48-1 at 27, 48; Doc. 48-3 at
25; Doc. 48-5 at 89). Mr. Elrod testified that, to avoid the
conflict of interest that arose because of their
relationship, he transferred Ms. Collins to the debone plant
so that she and Mr. Gill would not be working in the same
plant. (Id.; see also Doc. 48-1 at
28–29; Doc. 48-3 at 25).
September 2016, Mr. Elrod began working on revising Koch
Foods’ anti-fraternization policy. (Doc. 48-8 at
44–45; Doc. 48-16 at 3 ¶ 7). He testified that he
did so because of the issues with Mr. Birchfield (doc. 48-16
at 3–4 ¶ 7; doc. 48-8 at 68), and because he was
“very unhappy about all of these issues coming up in
human resources, and I was ready to get it stopped. . . .
[T]hey had gone on for some time with different people, and I
was tired of it” (doc. 48-8 at 45). He and an attorney
worked on revising that policy through September 2016.
(Id. at 3–4 ¶¶ 7– 8).
Ms. Collins was working at the debone plant, Koch Foods
released its revised anti-fraternization policy.
(See Doc. 48-1 at 40). The new anti-fraternization
policy provides that “[n]o person in a management or
supervisory position shall have a romantic or dating
relationship with an employee whom he or she directly
supervises or whose terms or conditions of employment he or
she may influence.” (Doc. 48-2 at 25). It also
specifically “prohibits employees who work in the human
resources department from dating or having any type of
romantic or sexual relationship with any other employee who
works at the same facility or complex regardless of whether
or not the human resources employee has direct managerial or
supervisory authority over the employee.” (Id.
at 26). The policy states that “one of the individuals
involved in the relationship may be subject to transfer or
termination of employment.” (Id. at 25). Ms.
Collins and Mr. Gill’s relationship was a clear
violation of the revised anti-fraternization policy. Mr.
Elrod testified that after finalizing the revised
anti-fraternization policy, he asked Ms. Collins to sign it
and to distribute it among Koch Foods’ other employees,
but she did not complete either task. (Doc. 48-8 at 5).
the same time, Koch Foods hired Michael Carow, a Caucasian
man, to be the Complex Human Resources Manager. (Doc. 48-4 at
3). Ms. Collins and Mr. Gill continued their relationship,
each working in a different plant.
Carow resigned as the Complex Human Resources Manager eight
months later. (Doc. 48-8 at 59–60; Doc. 48-10 at 9). He
later took on the newly-created position of Human Resources
Director. (Doc. 48-4 at 24). Ms. Collins applied to replace
Mr. Carow as the Complex Human Resources Manager. (Doc. 48-8
at 59). Mr. Carow, tasked with finding his own replacement
for the Complex Human Resources Manager position, testified
that he received Ms. Collins’ application but he did
not interview her. (Doc. 48-4 at 35–36). He testified
that he did not make a hiring decision until later, but he
knew when he received her application that she was involved
with Mr. Gill and would not be qualified for the position.
3, 2017, Mr. Gill was promoted to become the Plant Manager of
both plants (doc. 48-4 at 61–62; doc. 48-9
at 14), although the plants were not officially ...