Brown v. Berg Spiral Pipe Corporation
ORDER granting defendant's 47 Motion for Summary Judgment; denying plaintiff's 56 First Motion to Strike Portions of Declarations Submitted by Defendant in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment; granting defendant's 69 Motio n to Strike Charles Weidinger's Affidavit; denying plaintiff's 84 Motion to Strike Portions of James Robert Key's Supplemental Declaration; and denying as moot defendant's 89 Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Surreply. Signed by Judge Callie V. S. Granade on 8/17/2011. (mab)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
) CIVIL ACTION NO. 10-237-CG-B
BERG SPIRAL PIPE CORP.,
This matter is before the court on defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
(Doc. 47). The parties have filed briefs and filed evidentiary materials in support of
their respective positions (Docs. 48, 59, 62, 71, 81, and 89), and the motion is now
ripe for resolution. After careful consideration of the foregoing, the court concludes
that the motion is due to be GRANTED.
Plaintiff’s cause of action arises under 42 U.S.C. §1981. Plaintiff alleges that
he was subject to intentional racial discrimination and retaliation while he was
employed by the defendant, and seeks declaratory, injunctive, and equitable relief,
compensatory damages, punitive damages, as well as interest, attorneys fees,
expenses, and costs. (Doc. 1, pp. 6-9). Defendant has moved this court for summary
judgment as to all of plaintiff’s claims. (Doc. 47, p. 1).
Plaintiff, Tommy Brown (“Brown”), is an African-American male who worked
for the defendant, Berg Spiral Pipe Corp. (“Berg”), as a support operator from
February 2, 2009, until his termination on April 25, 2009. (Doc. 93, p. 1). Brown
alleges that while he was employed by Berg he was subject to intentional racial
discrimination in the form of unjust reprimands, denial of pay, denial of training,
denial of positions, and termination. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Brown also alleges that his
termination was an unlawful act of retaliation for Brown’s having complained to
Berg’s human resources manager about the alleged racial discrimination. (Id. at 8),
(Doc. 62, p. 28).
Berg specializes in spiral pipe production for the oil and gas industries and
has its manufacturing facility located in Mobile, Alabama. (Doc. 93, p. 8). Berg’s
Mobile facility consists of a pipe mill, which rolls steel into pipe, and a coating mill,
which applies a fusion-bonded epoxy to both the outside and inside of the pipe. Id.
The coating mill was built from 2008 to 2009, and began operating in August 2009
after the pipe mill began operation. Id. The two mills are housed in separate
facilities and utilize different supervisors. (Doc. 48-1, p. 1). Berg has a sister
company, eb Pipe Coating (“eb Pipe”), which is located in Panama City, Florida.
(Doc. 93, p. 8).
Brown worked as an hourly exit rack coordinator in the coating mill at eb
Pipe in Panama City from 2007 until 2009. (Doc. 59-11, pp. 3-4). In late 2008,
Brown sought to transfer to Berg. (Doc. 93, p. 8). He interviewed for a position with
Jim Key, the human resources manager, in December 2008 (Doc 59-11, pp. 5-6).
Key told Brown that he wanted Brown to train workers in Berg’s coating mill and
then move over to the pipe mill, an arrangement that Brown understood and
accepted. (Doc. 93, p. 8). Brown received an offer letter dated December 23, 2008,
which set forth the terms of his new employment at Berg, including being placed on
a 90 day introductory period. (Doc. 93, p. 8). The letter states:
Hire date: Your start date is scheduled for Monday, February
2, 2009 unless another date is mutually agreed upon. Your
introductory period of employment will begin effective
this date and your work performance will be evaluated by your
supervisor after 45 days and again at 90 days of employment
service. This date will be considered your seniority date and will
be used to administer any potential adjustments to the work
force such as layoffs and recalls to work. Benefits: Your initial
hire date at Berg Steel Pipe Corp., Panama City, Florida will be
used to determine eligibility for benefits such as vacation, group
health, and 401(k) plan participation. (Id. at 9-10). [emphasis
Brown also received and signed for an Employee Handbook, No Harassment Policy,
and Equal Employment Opportunity Policy. (Id. at 10).
Brown was one of eight eb Pipe employees who transferred to Berg in
February 2009, six of whom were white and two of whom were African-American.
(Id. at 9). All eight employees were allowed to continue their health insurance,
retirement benefits, and vacation benefits as accrued from their start date at eb
Pipe. Id. Additionally, one of these eight transferring employees, Charles
Weidinger, who is white, received a relocation assistance package. Id. The other
seven transferring employees did not receive relocation assistance packages. (Doc.
48-1, p. 3).1
When Brown started work in the coating mill, it was not yet operational, nor
would it be operational during Brown’s tenure at Berg. (Doc. 93, p. 10). Brown
helped to set up the facility under the supervision of the coating mill’s supervisor,
Stanley Key. Id. There were also two employees who were “team leads,” at the
coating mill, along with Berg’s shipping department supervisor, Jason Milam. Id.,
(Doc. 48-1, p. 155). After three weeks in the coating mill, Brown sought and
received a transfer to the pipe mill. (Doc. 93, p. 10). Brown alleges that he sought
this transfer because of racial discrimination in the coating plant, and further
alleges that he brought these concerns to Jim Key at the time. (Doc. 56-11, p. 26).
To illustrate what Brown believed was racial animosity in the coating plant,
Brown informed Jim Key of a group photo of three or four coating mill employees
which was posted in a locked bulletin board. (Doc. 56, pp. 25-26). Brown was in the
group photo at one end of the group that was posing for the picture, Id., and was the
only African-American employee in the photo. (Doc. 59-12, p. 5). Someone had
placed a piece of paper on the bulletin board in such a way that Brown’s image was
covered. (Doc. 93, p. 10). Jim Key investigated that same day and determined that
the shipping department supervisor, Jason Milam, placed a copy of a pipeline map
In July 2009, however, Berg decided to provide relocation assistance retroactively to
those employees who began in February 2009 and who were still employed in July. (Doc. 48-1,
p. 3). Brown and another employee, Tom Jennings, who is white, were no longer employed by
this time, and therefore did not receive the relocation assistance. Id.
on the bulletin board, which overlapped with the employee group photo. (Doc. 48-1,
p. 3). Milam and Brown had little interaction with each other at Berg and no
apparent conflict (Id. at 80). Milam asserts that he did not intentionally cover
Brown’s image and that his placing of the map over Brown’s picture was
inadvertent. (Id. at 156). Brown admits that Jim Key removed the map covering his
photo on the same day that they spoke. (Id. at 103).
Brown subsequently was transferred to the pipe mill where he reported to the
team lead, Ken Johnson. (Doc. 93, p. 10). Johnson, in turn, reported to production
manager, Denis Desjardin. Id. Brown started at the cutting station of the “first
inspection” section cutting off pipe defects. Id. Brown’s responsibilities included
placing tracking numbers on both ends of the pipe, and placing both a tracking
number and a color-coded band on any scrap piece of pipe. (Doc. 48-1, pp. 44, 46).
Brown was verbally reprimanded at least once by Johnson and Desjardin while
working at the cutting station for not putting tracking numbers or color-coded
bands in or around pieces of scrap pipe. (Id. at 45).
Brown then moved to the clean out inspection station of the “first inspection”
section. (Doc. 93, p. 11). At the clean out inspection station, Brown was responsible
for placing numbers on both ends of the pipe before it proceeded down the
production line. Id. Brown worked with and was trained at the clean out inspection
station by Nick Morris, who is white. (Doc. 62, pp. 11-12). On one occasion, Brown
and Morris were verbally reprimanded by Johnson because they did not place
numbers on pipes that passed through their station. (Doc. 48-1, pp. 49-50). Brown
admits to a another occasion when he forgot to place tracking numbers on pipes
passing through the clean out inspection station, but asserts that no one from
management said anything to him about it. (Id. at 57). Johnson also verbally
reprimanded Brown on one occasion about standing around and talking at work.
(Id. at 79).
During his time in the pipe mill, Brown received cross-training in various
areas, such as crane operation and fork lift operation. (Id. at 59-62). Brown also
took a course in Level 1 radiographic (“X-ray”) testing, which was the first stage of
X-ray training and consisted of a 40-hour classroom course. (Id. at p. 63). There
were no open positions in X-ray testing at the time, but Berg was looking to add
second and third shifts in the future, and therefore had started to train employees
in X-ray testing. (Id. at 159). Successful completion of this course, on its own, did
not qualify Brown to work in X-ray testing because it was only an introductory step
in the training process. (Id.).
On the afternoon of April 22, 2009, Johnson told Brown to manually clean out
a pipe passing through his station due to a malfunction with a vacuum that
normally was used. (Doc. 48-1, p. 81). However, Johnson and Desjardin discovered
the following day that Brown had not cleaned out the pipe as instructed and instead
left for the day without Johnson’s approval. Id. at 82. Both became upset with
Brown, and confronted him about it. Id. Brown asserts that he did not follow
Johnson’s instructions because doing so would have caused him to exceed his hours
for the week and go into overtime. Id. Brown further asserts that Johnson also told
Nick Morris to manually clean out the pipe, and that both he and Morris decided
instead to do the work the following morning. Id. at 85. Brown does not dispute
that Morris was not his supervisor and that neither of them sought Johnson’s
permission before leaving for the day. Id. at 86.
Approximately one or two days before he was terminated on April 25, Brown
went to see human resources manager, Jim Key. Id. at 91. Brown told Key that
Johnson and Desjardin informed him (Brown) they were not pleased with his work,
and Brown asked Key if he was going to be fired. Id. Key told Brown that he was
aware of concerns about Brown’s work, but that he was not able to answer Brown’s
question. Id. Brown also requested a transfer back to the coating mill because
Johnson and Desjardin did not like his work. Id. at 92.
Shortly thereafter, Johnson recommended to Desjardin that Brown be
terminated, and Desjardin agreed. Id. at 134. Jim Key, the human resources
manager, notified Brown on April 25, 2009, that Brown was being terminated for
unsatisfactory job performance during his introductory period. Id. at 93.
Brown filed suit on May 10, 2010. (Doc. 93, p. 11).
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment shall
be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material
fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” The trial
court’s function is not “to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter
but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). “The mere existence of some evidence to
support the non-moving party is not sufficient for denial of summary judgment;
there must be ‘sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return
a verdict for that party.’” Bailey v. Allgas, Inc., 284 F.3d 1237, 1243 (11th Cir. 2002)
(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249). “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not
significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at
249-250. (internal citations omitted).
The basic issue before the court on a motion for summary judgment is
“whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a
jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.”
See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-252. The moving party bears the burden of proving
that no genuine issue of material fact exists. O'Ferrell v. United States, 253 F.3d
1257, 1265 (11th Cir. 2001). In evaluating the argument of the moving party, the
court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party,
and resolve all reasonable doubts about the facts in its favor. Burton v. City of
Belle Glade, 178 F.3d 1175, 1187 (11th Cir. 1999). “If reasonable minds might
differ on the inferences arising from undisputed facts, then a court should deny
summary judgment.” Hinesville Bank v. Pony Exp. Courier Corp., 868 F.2d 1532,
1535 (11th Cir. 1989) (citing Mercantile Bank & Trust v. Fidelity & Deposit Co., 750
F.2d 838, 841 (11th Cir. 1985)).
Once the movant satisfies his initial burden under Rule 56(a), the nonmoving party “must make a sufficient showing to establish the existence of each
essential element to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden
of proof at trial.” Howard v. BP Oil Co., 32 F.3d 520, 524 (11th Cir. 1994)(citing
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). Otherwise stated, the nonmovant must “demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that
precludes summary judgment.” Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608
(11th Cir. 1991). The non-moving party “may not rely merely on allegations or
denials in its own pleading; rather, its response .... must be by affidavits or as
otherwise provided in this rule be set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for
trial.” Vega v. Invsco Group, Ltd., 2011 WL 2533755, *2 (11th Cir. 2011). “A mere
‘scintilla’ of evidence supporting the [non-moving] party’s position will not suffice;
there must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably find for that
party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted).
“[T]he nonmoving party may avail itself of all facts and justifiable inferences in the
record taken as a whole.” Tipton v. Bergrohr GMBH-Siegen, 965 F.2d 994, 998
(11th Cir. 1992). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier
of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.”
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)
(internal quotation and citation omitted).
MOTIONS TO STRIKE
Before beginning its summary judgment analysis, the court first turns its
attention to the multiple motions to strike that both parties have submitted.
Plaintiff’s First Motion to Strike Portions of Declarations Submitted
by Defendant in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment
In his first Motion to Strike (Doc. 56), Brown asks the court to strike certain
portions of the declarations of Jim Key and Ken Johnson because he claims that
they conflict with the deposition testimony of the two men. (Doc. 56, p. 2). The
Eleventh Circuit has explained in Lane v. Celotex Corp., 782 F.2d 1526, 1532 (11th
Cir. 1986), that “we may only disregard an affidavit that ‘contradicts, without
explanation, previously given clear testimony.’ ” (quoting Van T. Junkins & Assoc.
v. U.S. Indus., Inc., 736 F. 2d 656, 657 (11th Cir. 1984)). Thus, Eleventh Circuit
jurisprudence requires that a court find some inherent inconsistency between an
affidavit and a deposition before disregarding the affidavit. The court must also
distinguish “between discrepancies which create transparent shams and
discrepancies which create an issue of credibility or go to the weight of the
evidence.” Tippens v. Celotex Corp., 805 F.2d 949, 953 (11th Cir. 1986).
For the reasons enumerated below, the court finds that Brown has not
established any inherent inconsistencies between the portions of the declarations he
challenges and the corresponding deposition testimony. Accordingly, Brown’s
Motion to Strike is denied.
(i) Declaration of James Key
Brown seeks to strike several portions of the declaration of Jim Key (Doc. 481, pp. 1-6), Berg’s human resources manager. First, Key states in Paragraph 11 of
his declaration that the eight individuals who came to work at Berg from eb Pipe
Coating, including Brown, were placed on 90 day introductory periods at Berg. (Doc.
48-1, p. 2). Brown claims that this conflicts with Key’s deposition testimony that
Brown was eligible for health insurance, vacation benefits and was entitled to
participate in defendant’s 401(k) program. (Doc. 56, p. 3). The court finds no
inherent conflict in these statements. Berg has maintained throughout these
proceedings that plaintiff was placed in an introductory status when he arrived to
work at defendant, and that he was eligible for certain benefits based on his hire
date at eb Pipe Coating. Brown does not explain how these two statements cannot
both be true.
Second, Brown moves to strike paragraph 31 of Key’s declaration, which
states that Brown was terminated at the determination of his supervisor, Ken
Johnson, and Denis Desjardin, the pipe mill production manager. (Doc. 48-1, p. 4).
Brown claims this is inconsistent with Key’s deposition testimony in which he
admitted to participation in Brown’s termination. (Doc. 56 at p. 4). Once again, the
court finds no inherent conflict in these statements. Key consistently maintained in
his deposition that his participation in plaintiff’s termination was limited to
ensuring that Berg’s company policy was followed and reiterated that, as human
resources manager, he does not make determinations as to whether an employee is
discharged or not. (Doc. 64-1, pp. 32-33). There is no basis for striking this part of
Next, Brown asks the court to strike Paragraph 36 of Key’s declaration, in
which he asserts that “Brown came to me stating he was concerned Johnson and
Desjardin were going to fire him because of his performance.” (Doc. 48-1, p. 5).
According to Brown, this statement directly contradicts Key’s deposition testimony
in which he said “what prompted the conversation was [Brown] was not on the
overtime roster and that [Johnson and Desjardin] told him that they were not
pleased with his work and he asked me if he was being fired.” (Doc. 64-1, p. 23).
The court finds no basis for striking this part of the declaration. Far from being
directly contradictory, these two statements can reasonably read as being entirely
consistent with one another, and as actually saying the same thing using different
Finally, Brown seeks to strike paragraphs 24, 28, and 29 of Key’s declaration.
Brown asserts that the statements are not based on personal knowledge, and
therefore do not comport with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(4)2, which
requires that affidavits or declarations used to support or oppose a summary
judgment motion must be made upon personal knowledge. Paragraph 24 of Key’s
declaration, regarding the covering up of Brown’s picture, was based on his personal
participation in the investigation of the incident at the request of Brown.
Brown actually cites Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) in his Motion to Strike, but the court infers
that he intended to cite Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4).
Furthermore, the statement is ultimately the opinion of Key based on his
investigation, and not a fact in and of itself, and will be considered as such by the
court in ruling on Berg’s motion for summary judgment. Paragraphs 28 and 29 deal
with certain training obtained by Brown while working for defendant. Although
Key says the statements are based on his “understanding,” he also states that all of
the information in his declaration is based on his “personal knowledge.” (Doc. 48-1,
p. 1). Further, it is reasonable to believe that Key, as the human resources
manager, would have personal knowledge of the training provided to Berg’s
employees. Finally, Brown has not disputed the fact that he received the training
discussed in the declaration, so his point here is essentially a moot one.
(ii) Declaration of Oris Kenneth Johnson
Brown first seeks to strike Paragraphs 8 and 11 of the declaration of Oris
Kenneth Johnson (“Johnson”) because Johnson used the word “counseled” in his
declaration, and used the term “talked” in his deposition when testifying as to
Brown’s job performance and discussions between the two. (Doc. 56, pp. 6-7). This
issue merits little attention. The words “counseled” and “talked” are synonymous
and therefore cannot be directly contradictory with one another. That Johnson used
one word at his deposition and the other in his declaration provides no basis for
striking any portion of the declaration.
Secondly, Brown asks that the court strike the paragraphs 21, 22, and 24 of
Johnson’s declaration, which concern his interactions with plaintiff over the manual
cleaning of a pipe. (Doc. 56, p. 7). This is based on the fact that the declaration
omits mention of Nick Morris (“Morris”), Brown’s co-worker, while in his deposition,
Johnson states that it was his intention to have both plaintiff and Morris clean out
the pipe. (Doc. 59-13, p. 6). Once again, the two statements in question are not
inherently inconsistent. There is nothing in Johnson’s declaration which states that
he did not ask Morris to participate in the clean out. Brown is certainly entitled to
point to Johnson’s deposition testimony if he believes it creates a genuine dispute of
material fact sufficient to defeat summary judgment, and has availed himself of this
opportunity (Doc. 81, pp. 8-9), but he is not entitled to have this portion of Johnson’s
Finally, Brown moves to strike Paragraphs 26 and 27 of Johnson’s
declaration, two portions of which deal with the decision to terminate him. (Doc. 56,
p. 9). Brown objects to Johnson’s declaration that he “recommended” that Brown be
terminated. Id. A review of the relevant parts of Johnson’s deposition reveals
nothing inherently inconsistent with his declaration that he recommended
plaintiff’s termination. (Doc. 59-13, p. 5). The fact of the matter is that Johnson was
never directly asked in his deposition whether or not it was his recommendation to
fire Brown. If it was his recommendation, it would not be inconsistent for him to
testify that he and Desjardin acted on his recommendation and decided to terminate
Brown. For the same reasons, Brown’s objection to Johnson’s declaration that
Desjardin supported his decision to terminate Brown is without merit. Considered
in its context, this statement is entirely consistent with Johnson’s position that it
was his recommendation to terminate plaintiff, that he brought his concerns to the
attention of his supervisor, Desjardin, and the two of them, along with Key, made
the ultimate determination to fire Brown. Brown has given the court no valid
reason to strike these portions of Johnson’s declaration.
Defendant’s Motion to Strike Charles Weidinger’s Affidavit
In support of his Opposition to Summary Judgment, Brown filed the affidavit
of Charles Weidinger (”Weidinger”). (Doc. 59-8). In the affidavit, Weidinger
testifies to the quality of Brown’s work, the circumstances of Weidinger’s move to
Mobile to work for Berg, his observations of racially suspect activity at the Berg
facility, and an incident in which a photograph of Brown was covered up on a
bulletin board. Berg has moved to strike Wiedinger’s affidavit. (Doc. 69).
It is undisputed that Brown, in his initial and supplemental Rule 26
disclosures, failed to list Weidinger as someone who was likely to have discoverable
information. Brown also failed to list Weidinger in response to Berg’s interrogatory
asking plaintiff to identify all persons who he believed may have information
relating to the claims or defenses in the case. (Doc. 69-1, pp. 36-37). The only notice
relating to Weidinger in the written discovery in the case came in response to Berg’s
interrogatory asking Brown to identify comparators, similarly situated employees
who were allegedly treated differently than plaintiff. In response to the question,
plaintiff responded: “Charles – received a relocation package and help with finding
a house. When I asked, I was turned down.” (Doc. 69-1, p. 37). Discovery in this
case closed April 11, 2011.
Berg argues that Weidinger’s affidavit should be stricken because Brown
failed to properly disclose him as a potential witness. Rule 37(c)(1) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure provides in pertinent part:
Failure to Disclose or Supplement. If a party fails to provide
information or identify a witness as required by Rule 26(a) or (e), the
party is not allowed to use that information or witness to supply
evidence on a motion, at a hearing, or at a trial, unless the failure was
substantially justified or is harmless. In addition to or instead of this
sanction, the court, on motion and after giving an opportunity to be
(A) may order payment of the reasonable expenses, including
attorney's fees, caused by the failure;
(B) may inform the jury of the party's failure; and
(C) may impose other appropriate sanctions, including any of the
orders listed in Rule 37(b)(2)(A)(i)-(vi).
In ruling on the exclusion of a witness or his testimony, a district court is to
consider: (1) the importance of the testimony; (2) the reason for the appellant's
failure to disclose the witness earlier; and (3) the prejudice to the opposing party if
the witness had been allowed to testify. Bearint ex rel. Bearint v. Dorell Juvenile
Group, Inc., 389 F.3d 1339, 1353 (11th Cir. 2004).
Brown responds by claiming that defendant was made aware prior to the
litigation, as well as in Brown’s response to interrogatories, that Weidinger was a
potential witness. However, this notice or awareness only related to the fact that
Weidinger received relocation assistance in his move from Panama City, Florida, to
Mobile. Berg does not and has not disputed the fact that Weidinger received this
assistance. It was only when Brown filed his response to the summary judgment
motion that Berg was made aware of the scope of Weidinger’s purported knowledge
about this case.
Brown cites Ojeda-Sanchez v. Bland Farms, LLC, 2010 WL 2382542 (S.D. Ga.
June 14, 2010), in support of his position, but that case actually supports the
striking of Weidinger’s declaration. In that case, plaintiffs moved to strike the
affidavits of two witnesses submitted by the defendants where, as here, the
witnesses were not disclosed pursuant to Rule 26. Id. at *1. The defendants
responded by pointing out that the names of the witnesses were mentioned in a
deposition. Id. While noting that in determining such a motion, “the focus is on
whether the moving party is aware that the affiant is an individual with
discoverable information . . .,” the court proceeded to consider the context in which
each witness’ name arose. Id. at *1-2. The affidavits in question concerned certain
contract negotiations. Id. at *2. In the deposition under consideration, one witness
was identified only as someone who worked in the defendant’s sales department.
Id. The second witness was discussed in the deposition as someone who may have
participated in the contract negotiations. Id.
The court in Ojeda-Sanchez ruled that the affidavit of the first witness was to
be excluded because it could not “say from this limited disclosure that Plaintiffs
were alerted to the fact that [the first witness] had discoverable information
relating to contract negotiations . . . .” Id. The court also noted that there was no
indication that the exclusion of the witness from Rule 26 disclosures was harmless
or substantially justified. Id. On the other hand, the court found that the
defendants were excused for their failure to disclose the second witness under Rule
26 because the plaintiffs should have been aware from the deposition that the
witness “had discoverable information related to the topics testified to in his
In the instant case, Brown admits that he did not disclose Weidinger
pursuant to his Rule 26 obligations. (Doc. 83, p. 4). He also acknowledges that his
only mention of Weidinger in the written discovery was the disclosure that
Weidinger was a potential comparator for Brown because he received relocation
assistance, a fact not disputed by defendant. Id. Brown states that “Weidinger was
discussed in every deposition taken in the case,” but does not cite from any
deposition transcript. Id. In this situation, it is Brown’s duty to direct the court to
the portions of such transcripts which he contends placed defendant on notice of the
nature of the discoverable information possessed by Weidinger. The court will not
undertake to do this for Brown. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3) (“The court need consider
only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.”).
Brown also claims that any failure to disclose Weidinger and the nature of
the information he possessed was both substantially justified and harmless. (Doc.
83, p. 6). That is Brown’s burden as the non-producing party. Stallworth v. E-Z
Serve Convenience Stores, 199 F.R.D. 366, 368 (M.D.Ala. 2001). Brown argues that
his actions were justified in that he only learned about Weidinger’s information in
May 2011 when Weidinger called the office of plaintiff’s counsel. (Doc. 83, p. 4).
Brown is, of course, free to prepare his case as he sees fit, but as the party with the
burden of proof, he must marshal his facts and evidence so that Berg has a proper
opportunity to respond. If instead of actively seeking out evidence, he waits for it to
come looking for him, he runs the risk of that evidence being excluded. Brown
either knew or should have known that Weidinger possessed potentially relevant
and discoverable information. If he wanted to be able to use that information, it
was incumbent upon Brown to contact Weidinger to determine what information he
might have, and to do so within the case management framework established by the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Accordingly, the court cannot agree that Brown’s
untimely disclosure of Weidinger and his information is substantially justified.
Likewise, the court finds that allowing this declaration to stand would
prejudice Berg. Discovery in this case closed on April 11, 2011. Berg’s summary
judgment motion is ripe and under consideration by the court. Because it cannot
depose him under the current schedule, defendant is unable to respond to
Weidinger’s declaration. This is clear prejudice to Berg.
Therefore, Berg’s motion to strike (Doc. 69) is granted. Because of this order,
the court need not consider defendant’s substantive objections to the contents of the
Plaintiff’s Motion to Strike Portions of James Robert Key’s
In his second Motion to Strike (Doc. 84), Brown requests that the court strike
portions of James Robert Key’s Supplemental declaration (Doc. 71-1, p. 116),
without specifying which paragraphs he wishes to strike. Brown claims that it is
unlikely for Key to personally recall the hire and discipline dates of “several
employees”3 (Doc. 84 at p. 2). Therefore, according to Brown, Key must have relied
upon documents to refresh his recollection. Id. Brown offers no basis for this
assertion other than his conclusion that “it is highly unlikely” for Key to remember
the dates in question. Id. Nor does Brown cite any legal authority for the
proposition that a declarant may not refresh his recollection as he would if he were
a witness at trial. Furthermore, as the human resources manager for Berg, it is
reasonable that Key would have personal knowledge of the dates that employees
were hired. Therefore, this cannot serve as a basis for striking any portion of Key’s
Brown also complains that Berg did not produce any documents relating to
Forrest, Porter, Maleck, or Baughman. Id. However, Berg subsequently filed a
“New Employee Checklist” for each of the four employees mentioned in Key’s
supplemental declaration as part of its opposition to Brown’s Motion to Strike.
(Doc. 88-1, pp. 1-4). To the extent that Berg did not properly support the factual
assertions contained in Key’s declaration, this supplement cures the failure. Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56(e)(1). Accordingly, this cannot serve as a basis for striking any portion of
Key’s supplemental declaration.
The court infers from its review of Documents 84 and 88 that the “several employees”
to whom Brown alludes are Charlie Forrest, Ray Porter, Ronnie Maleck, Jr., and Tom
Finally, Brown also objects that Key testified that Forrest, Porter, Maleck,
and Baughman were disciplined, but did not testify that he personally disciplined
each employee, nor did he specify who actually disciplined each employee. Id. Key
testified that he was not aware of Forrest, Porter, Maleck, or Baughman receiving
discipline during their introductory periods. (Doc. 71-1, p. 117). Therefore, the
question of who disciplined these employees outside of their introductory periods is
irrelevant to this case, because such facts do not address whether the men were
Brown’s comparators. Accordingly, this cannot be a basis for striking Key’s
references to Porter, Forrest, Maleck, and Baughman.
Brown’s second Motion to Strike (Doc. 84) is therefore denied.
Defendant’s Motion to Strike Plaintiff’s Surreply and Incorporated
Memorandum of Law
Because the court has granted Berg’s Motion for Summary Judgment as to all
counts of Brown’s Complaint, Berg’s Motion to Strike Plaintiff’s Surreply and
Incorporated Memorandum of Law (Doc. 89) is denied as moot.
Statement of the Law
42 U.S.C. §1981 prohibits intentional race discrimination in the making and
enforcement of public and private contracts, including employment contracts. See,
e.g., Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, 421 U.S. 454 (1975) (holding
unequivocally that §1981 protects against racial discrimination in private
employment.) Section 1981 liability must be founded on purposeful discrimination.
See General Building Contractors Association v. Pennsylvania, 458 U.S. 375, 389
(1982); Lincoln v. Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, 697 F.2d
928, 935 n. 6 (11th Cir. 1983). Thus, a showing of disparate impact through a
neutral practice is insufficient to prove a §1981 violation because proof of
discriminatory intent is essential. See Id. at 388. (recognizing that the drafters of
§1981 were not concerned with practices that were facially neutral). Accordingly,
only direct or circumstantial modes of proving intentional discrimination are
available to the §1981 plaintiff. See Larkin v. Pullman-Standard Div., Pullman,
Inc., 854 F.2d 1549, 1561 (11th Cir. 1988), overruled on other grounds by Swint v.
Pullman-Standard, Inc., 493 U.S. 929 (1989) (where plaintiff proceeded on a theory
of disparate impact, plaintiff is limited to Title VII and cannot seek the broader
§1981 remedies and longer liability period).
The test for intentional discrimination in suits under §1981 is the same as
that used in Title VII discriminatory treatment cases. Ferrill v. Parker Group, 168
F.3d 468 (11th Cir. 1999).4 The plaintiff has the burden of establishing a prima
facie case of employment discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence.
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). This prima facie case can
be established in any one of three ways: (1) by presenting direct evidence of
However, while Title VII provides only for equitable relief, §1981 provides for both
equitable and legal relief, including compensatory and punitive damages. Johnson v. Railway
Express Agency, Inc., 421 U.S. 454, 460 (1975).
discriminatory intent; (2) by presenting circumstantial evidence of discriminatory
intent through the McDonnell Douglas test; or (3) by demonstrating through
statistics a pattern of discrimination. Earley v. Champion International Corp., 907
F.2d 1077, 1081 (11th Cir. 1990).
Where the plaintiff wishes to prove a claim of discrimination through
circumstantial rather than direct evidence, the court evaluates the claims using the
burden-shifting framework established by the Supreme Court in McDonnell
Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under the McDonnell-Douglas
framework, the plaintiff must satisfy the initial burden under the statute by
establishing a prima facie case of intentional discrimination. Smith v. LockheedMartin Corporation, 2011 WL 2567777, *2 (11th Cir. 2011). To do so, the plaintiff
must show that (1) he is a member of a protected class (here, African-American); (2)
he was qualified for the position he held; (3) he suffered an adverse employment
action; and (4) his employer treated him less favorably than similarly situated
individuals outside of his protected class. Alvarez v. Royal Atlantic Developers, Inc.,
610 F.3d 1253, 1264 (11th Cir. 2010). With respect to this last showing, “the
individuals must be similarly situated in all relevant respects besides race, since
different treatment of dissimilarly situated persons does not violate civil rights
laws.” Jackson v. BellSouth Telecommunications, 372 F.3d 1250, 1273-1274 (11th
Cir. 2004) (internal citations and quotation omitted).
If the plaintiff is successful in proving a prima facie case, then a presumption
of discrimination or retaliation is raised and the burden shifts to the defendant to
provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its employment action. Smith,
2011 WL 2567777 at *2. If the defendant meets this burden, then the presumption
of discrimination is rebutted and disappears. Id. The inquiry then proceeds to a
“new level of specificity,” whereby the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of
evidence that the defendant’s reason is a mere pretext for unlawful discrimination
or retaliation. Id. at *3 (citations omitted). “Thus, if a jury reasonably could infer
from the evidence presented that the employer’s legitimate justification is
pretextual, the question becomes whether the evidence, considered in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff, yields the reasonable inference that the employer engaged
in the alleged discrimination. Id. at *3 (citing Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,
Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 146-48 (2000)).
Brown’s Intentional Discrimination Claim
Brown’s claim consists of several incidents which he claims evidence
intentional discrimination by Berg. First, he asserts that he was denied financial
relocation assistance when he moved from Panama City to Mobile while a white
employee did receive such assistance. (Doc. 1, p. 3). However, Brown admits that the
white employee who received relocation assistance, Charles Weidinger, was
recruited by Berg because of his experience as a heavy equipment operator. (Doc.
48-1, p. 20). Berg asserts that it was for this reason that Weidinger received
financial relocation assistance from Berg. Id. at 2. Accordingly, Weidinger and
Brown were not similarly-situated employees, and, therefore, the matter cannot
give rise to a prima facie case of discrimination.
Furthermore, the remaining seven transferring employees – five white
employees and two African American employees – were all treated the same with
respect to the entitlement to relocation assistance (Doc. 48-1, p. 3), which tends to
undercut Brown’s claim that he was treated differently than similarly situated
Brown also argues that he was denied a position as an x-ray tester for Berg
based on his race. (Doc. 1, p. 4). However, it is undisputed that, at the time Brown
was employed by Berg, there were no job openings in the x-ray section of the pipe
mill because the position was already filled. (Doc. 48-1, p. 4). Therefore, Brown
cannot show that there was a similarly situated white employee who requested and
was given such a position. Not being given a job that was not available in the first
place is clearly not evidence of discrimination.
Furthermore, Brown claims that he “took all of the required tests to work in
x-ray and passed all testing requirements for the position,” (Doc. 1, p. 4) but he has
offered nothing to support this assertion. On the other hand, Berg has offered the
declaration of Dennis Desjardin, the production manager for the pipe mill, who
states that Brown took only the Level 1 radiographic testing course, which was one
in a series of courses necessary to become qualified in X-ray testing. (Doc. 48-1, p.
159). Without further training and testing, Brown was simply not qualified to work
in X-ray testing.
Thus, Brown has failed to establish two of the necessary elements of a prima
facie claim of discrimination based on the fact that he was not assigned to the X-ray
testing section of the pipe mill.
Brown claims that he was denied opportunities to cross-train at Berg while
white employees were cross-trained. (Doc. 1, p. 4). Yet Brown contradicts his own
sworn testimony by admitting that he was trained in a variety of skills, such as
crane operation (Doc. 71-1, p. 18), X-ray testing (Id. at p. 19), quality awareness (Id.
at p. 20), and forklift operation (Id. at pp. 20-21). Brown is further unable to name
any white employees who were provided cross-training opportunities that he was
denied (Doc. 71-1, pp. 24, 28). Brown claims that he was denied cross-training in
welding (Doc. 62, p. 7), yet also admits that he spoke to an African-American
employee named Lawrence Smith, who told him that he (Smith) had been crosstrained on a sub-arc welding machine. (Doc. 71-1, p. 29).
“To evaluate the sufficiency of proof of a prima facie case of discriminatory
training, courts typically require the plaintiff to show…that he was denied training
opportunities provided to similarly situated employees outside the protected class.”
Woods v. Austal, U.S.A., LLC, 2011 WL 1380054 (S.D. Ala. April 11, 2011). The
court finds that Brown falls short of this requirement.
Brown also claims that he “has been unjustly reprimanded for alleged
offenses he did not commit and has been harassed and reprimanded when
Caucasian employees have not been harassed and/or reprimanded for engaging in
the same or similar conduct.” (Doc. 1, p. 5).
Brown cites extensively to the deposition testimony of Ken Johnson, his
supervisor in the pipe mill, as evidence that five white Berg employees were not
disciplined despite doing “the same or worse than Brown.” (Doc. 62, p. 17).
Yet Brown offers no evidence that any of these purported comparators were
introductory employees or that they committed the same offenses as Brown is
alleged to have committed, i.e., forgetting to place tracking numbers on pipes, and
leaving work instead of cleaning out a pipe as instructed by his supervisor. (Doc. 481, pp. 133-134), (Doc. 48-1, pp. 157-158). The Eleventh Circuit requires that “the
quantity and quality of the comparator’s misconduct be nearly identical to prevent
courts from second-guessing employers’ reasonable decisions and confusing apples
with oranges.” Burke-Fowler v. Orange County, Florida, 447 F.3d 1319, 1323 (11th
Brown has not identified any introductory employee who engaged in the same
conduct to which Brown has admitted, and who was not reprimanded by Berg.
Instead, Brown devotes considerable energy to insisting that he was not an
introductory employee. (Doc. 62, pp. 20-22). However, Brown has offered no fact
which counters the plain language of his offer letter from Berg, namely, that “[y]our
introductory period of employment will begin effective this date…” (Doc. 93, p. 9).
Therefore, the court must conclude here that Brown has not adequately stated a
prima facie case on this issue.
Next, Brown asserts that he asked to be promoted to a supervisor position
upon his transfer to Berg’s coating mill from eb Pipe, but was told that no
supervisor positions were available. (Doc. 1, p. 3). Brown later contradicted himself
at his deposition by stating that he had no recollection of asking to be made a
supervisor (Doc. 48-1, pp. 117-118), and stated that he did not consider himself to be
“a supervisor type.” (Id. at p. 24). Even setting Brown’s self-contradictory testimony
aside, Brown has not offered any evidence to suggest that there were in fact
supervisor positions open and available when he started working at Berg, and he
could not identify any similarly-situated white employee (or any person, for that
matter) who was made a supervisor in the coating mill while Brown worked there.
(Doc. 48-1, pp. 31-32). Nor could Brown identify a single “lead” person who was
assigned while he worked in the coating mill. Id. at p. 31. Accordingly, the court
concludes that Brown has not adequately stated a prima facie case of intentional
discrimination on this issue.
As with the issue of discipline above, Brown does not identify any
comparators who were introductory employees, who had the same or similar job
performance problems, and who were not terminated by the company. This failure
is fatal to Brown’s prima facie case of discrimination in his termination.
The court’s finding that Brown has failed to make out a prima facie case of
discrimination is dispositive of this matter. However, the court notes that even if
Brown had made out such a prima facie case, it finds that he has failed to offer
evidence to rebut the legitimate reason which Berg offers for Brown’s termination,
that reason being poor performance during his introductory period.
Brown argues that Berg failed to consistently apply its written policies with
regard to introductory employees and progressive discipline, and that this is
evidence of pretext. (Doc. 62, p. 25). For example, Brown points out that Berg did
not complete a written 45-day employee evaluation of Brown nor otherwise
document Brown’s poor performance, and, therefore, this raises a question as to
whether Berg’s proffered reason for terminating him is really a cover for racial
discrimination. Id. However, Berg’s human resources manager, Jim Key, testified
that Brown’s supervisor, Ken Johnson, did not typically complete 45-day
evaluations of introductory employees, and that company policy did not require a
written evaluation. (Doc. 71-1, pp. 76-77). Furthermore, Berg’s corrective
discipline/dispute resolution policy states that Berg may terminate an introductory
employee without resorting to progressive discipline. (Doc. 48-1, p. 182). But even if
Berg’s policy had required a written evaluation or had not allowed summary
termination of an introductory employee, the Eleventh Circuit has found that a
company’s failure to conform to its progressive discipline policy does not establish
pretext. Ritchie v. Industrial Steel, Inc., 2011 WL 1899570 (11th Cir. 2011).
As further circumstantial evidence of pretext, Brown points to two EEOC
charges filed against Berg by Rence Perkins and Michael Johnson on August 20,
2010. (Doc. 59-16).5 The Eleventh Circuit held in Goldsmith v. Bagby Elevator Co.,
Inc., 513 F.3d 1261, 1286 (11th Cir. 2008), that such “me too” evidence is admissible
Brown sought to admit nine EEOC charges into evidence. However, seven of the
charges were stricken by Judge Bivins in a June 2, 2011 Order (see Docket #67).
to prove the intent of an employer to discriminate. However, unlike Goldsmith,
Brown’s complaint does not include a pattern and practice claim. Id. at 1275.
Therefore, the only relevant evidence is that pertaining to actions taken against
Brown. See Lane v. Terry, 2010 WL 2721896, *17 (N.D. Ga. 2010). Brown does not
allege that he was involved in either EEOC complaint, nor does either complaint
mention Brown. In fact, they were filed more than one year after Brown’s
termination. Accordingly, the court finds that the EEOC charges do not establish a
genuine dispute of material fact as to pretext.
Brown also points to a handwritten note made by James Key, the human
resources manager, and dated February 23, 2009. (Doc. 82-1, p. 2). The note
documents a meeting Key had with Rence Perkins, one of the employees who later
filed an EEOC complaint, as well as a meeting with Brown.6 As it pertains to
Perkins, the note must fail as evidence of pretext for the same reason that the
EEOC charges fail – Brown has not alleged a pattern and practice claim, and
therefore such “me too” evidence is irrelevant. As it pertains to Brown, the note
does not tend to prove a pretextual reason for Brown’s termination, and even tends
to suggest the opposite -- that Key did not transfer Brown from the coating mill for
racial reasons (“this is not what I said, just for the record”). Nevertheless, the note
The note states in pertinent part that Perkins complained to Key because he believed
that he was being passed over for a promotion to team leader, “I was hoping to avoid this type
treatment [sic] but I see what I see. I hoped to stay here but if I continue to see this I will have to
look elsewhere.” (Doc. 82-1, p. 2). At the bottom of the same page, Key wrote that Brown came
to his office and that “someone said to me that I transferred from coating because they are racist
there. This is not what I said, just for the record.” Id.
is sufficiently vague that it cannot rebut Berg’s proffered reason that it terminated
Brown for poor performance.
Finally, Brown asserts that the absence of disciplinary records in the
personnel files of Johnson, Stanley Key, James Key, or Denis Desjardin, is
circumstantial evidence of pretext, in light of Brown’s complaint and the EEOC
charges. (Doc. 81, p. 4). Brown claims that it is significant that Berg did not
generate documentation of accusations made against these four supervisory
employees. Id. The point of this argument is not totally clear to the court, but it
appears that Brown wishes to allege that Berg did not properly investigate
employee complaints of racial discrimination, in violation of its anti-discrimination
policies. For example, Brown points to an excerpt from the deposition of Jim Key,
the human resources manager, in which Key states that he retrained supervisors
upon the advice of the company’s legal counsel due to complaints of racial
discrimination. (Doc. 82-4, p. 2). But there is nothing in Key’s testimony to indicate
that any of the complaints were made against the supervisors. Id. Nor does Key say
anything about disciplinary action against a supervisor. Id. Brown does not cite one
fact on the record which supports the notion that Berg failed to investigate
accusations made against Johnson, Stanley Key, James Key, or Denis Desjardin, or
failed to document disciplinary action taken against any of them. This simply is not
enough for Brown to establish pretext.
Finally, Brown cites the Eleventh Circuit’s recent opinion in Smith v.
Lockheed-Martin Corp., 2011 WL 2567777 (11th Cir. June 30, 2011) for the
proposition that “[e]stablishing the elements of the McDonnell Douglas framework
is not, and never was intended to be, the sine qua non for a plaintiff to survive a
summary judgment motion in an employment discrimination case.” Id. at *4. “A
triable issue of fact exists if the record, viewed in a light most favorable to the
plaintiff, presents ‘a convincing mosaic of circumstantial evidence that would allow
a jury to infer intentional discrimination by the decisionmaker.’ ” Id. (quoting
Silverman v. Board of Education, 637 F.3d 729, 733 (7th Cir. 2011)).
Brown asserts that Lockheed provides a sufficient basis upon which to deny
summary judgment in the instant case. (Doc. 90, p. 2). He is mistaken. The
Eleventh Circuit decided that the Lockheed plaintiff could survive summary
judgment despite the fact that he could not point to a comparator, because the
plaintiff produced a significant evidentiary record (the “convincing mosaic”) that
Lockheed-Martin had considered the plaintiff’s race in their decision to terminate
him. This evidence included a (i) spreadsheet which listed employees by name and
race; (ii) a documented history of inconsistent treatment of white and AfricanAmerican employees; and (iii) a television news expose covering racial tension and
workplace violence at Lockheed-Martin.
As discussed in detail in the above paragraphs, the circumstantial evidence
that Brown has provided falls short in comparison to the significant record provided
by the Lockheed plaintiff, and certainly does not form a “convincing mosaic.” Brown
has offered the Court nothing with which to set aside or look beyond the McDonnell
Douglas framework, and accordingly cannot survive summary judgment on the
issue of racial discrimination.
Statement of the Law
As with §1981 discrimination claims, when a plaintiff wishes to make a §1981
claim of retaliation with circumstantial evidence using the McDonnell Douglas
framework, he first is required to establish a prima facie case. In order to do so, the
plaintiff must prove 1) that he engaged in statutorily protected activity; 2) that he
suffered a materially adverse action; and 3) that there was some causal relation
between the two events. Dixon v. The Hallmark Companies, Inc., 627 F.3d 849
(11th Cir. 2010). The Eleventh Circuit construes the “causal link” element broadly,
so as “to require merely that the plaintiff establish that the protected activity and
the adverse action were not wholly unrelated.” Goldsmith, 513 F.3d at 1278
(quoting Simmons v. Camden County Bd. of Educ., 757 F.2d 1187, 1189 (11th Cir.
Once a plaintiff has established the prima facie elements of the claim, the
defendant has an opportunity to articulate a legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for
the challenged employment action as an affirmative defense to liability. Smith v.
Lockheed-Martin Corporation, 2011 WL 2567777, *2 (11th Cir. 2011). The plaintiff
must then prove that the reason provided by the employer is a pretext for
prohibited retaliatory conduct. Id.
Brown’s Retaliation Claim
Brown alleges that while he worked in the coating mill, he complained to Jim
Key, the human resources manager, that he felt he was not wanted in the coating
mill because of his race and requested a transfer to the pipe mill. (Doc. 59-11, p. 26).
Brown also drew Key’s attention to the fact that Brown’s image in a group employee
photograph had been covered with a piece of paper. Id. Brown maintains that his
complaint to Key was the statutorily protected activity for which he was later
terminated. (Doc. 62, p. 28). Brown also states that he only complained about race
discrimination to Key. Id. Brown’s complaint to Key took place slightly more than
two months before his termination on April 25, 2009. (Doc. 93, p. 10). Brown stated
that he had no recollection of speaking about race to Key again. (Doc. 71-1, pp. 3637).
A plaintiff can satisfy his burden of establishing a causal connection by
showing temporal proximity between the protected activity and the retaliatory
conduct. Thomas v. Cooper Lighting, Inc., 506 F.3d 1361, 1364 (11th Cir. 2007).
Where temporal proximity is the only evidence of causation, that proximity must be
“very close.” Id. (quoting Clark County Sch. Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 273
(2001)). In the absence of other evidence tending to show causation, if there is a
substantial delay between the protected expression and the adverse action, the
complaint of retaliation fails as a matter of law. A two month gap between the two
events is not enough to establish causation. Williams v. Waste Mgmt., Inc., 2011
WL 207932, *3 (11th Cir. Jan. 25, 2011). Here, the lapse in time between Brown’s
complaint to Key and Brown’s termination was two months, which is insufficient on
its own to establish causation.
Temporal proximity is not the only means available to establish a causal
connection even as to retaliatory acts occurring long after the protected activity,
where those events are temporally linked by a chain of intervening retaliatory acts.
Odom v. Mobile Infirmary, 2008 WL 748398 (S.D. Ala. March 17, 2008). However,
Brown has not pointed to any such intervening acts that would be consistent with a
causal link between his complaint to Key in February 2009 and his termination in
April 2009. Accordingly, the court finds as a matter of law that Brown has failed to
establish a causal connection. Brown has therefore failed to establish a prima facie
case of retaliation.
The court’s finding that Brown has failed to make out a prima facie case of
retaliation is dispositive of this matter, but the court notes that even if Brown had
made out such a prima facie case, it finds that he has failed to offer evidence to
rebut Berg’s proffered reason for Brown’s termination. As discussed above in
greater detail, under the McDonnell-Douglas framework, once a plaintiff has
established the elements of a prima facie claim, the employer has an opportunity to
articulate a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the challenged employment action
as an affirmative defense to liability. Smith, 2011 WL 2567777, supra. The plaintiff
then bears the ultimate burden of rebutting the employer’s proffered reason as a
pretext for prohibited retaliatory conduct. Id.
Berg asserts that Brown was terminated for poor performance during the
introductory phase of his employment. (Doc. 48-1, p. 4), and bolsters its assertion
with the testimony and declaration of Jim Key, its human resources manager; the
testimony and declaration of Ken Johnson, Brown’s supervisor; the declaration of
Denis Desjardin, the pipe mill production manager; and the plain language of
Brown’s employment offer letter.
Brown, in turn, points to the EEOC charges filed by Michael Johnson and
Rence Perkins as “me too” evidence that Berg’s proffered reason for terminating
Brown was pretextual. (Doc. 62, p. 25). For the reasons enumerated above with
respect to Brown’s discrimination claim, the court finds that this case is
distinguishable from Goldsmith. Therefore, because neither Perkins nor Johnson’s
EEOC charges involve Brown (or Johnson or Desjardin, for that matter), they do not
tend to prove that Johnson and Desjardin’s decision to terminate Brown for
performance reasons was a pretext for retaliation.
The court also reaches the same conclusion, for the reasons enumerated
above with respect to Brown’s discrimination claim, regarding the absence of
disciplinary records for Johnson, Stanley Key, James Key, and Denis Desjardin, and
regarding the handwritten note by James Key.
HOSTILE WORKING ENVIRONMENT
Brown alleges in his Memorandum in Opposition to Summary Judgment that
he endured a hostile working environment while employed at Berg. (Doc. 62, pp. 4-
7; pp. 30-31). Yet Brown’s Complaint does not state a claim for a hostile working
environment, nor has Brown moved to amend his Complaint to include this
additional count. It is within the court’s discretion to take the Complaint at face
value and hold that unpleaded claims are not before it. Coon v. Georgia Pacific
Corp., 829 F.2d 1563 (11th Cir. 1987). Nevertheless, the court addresses Brown’s
Complaint as if it contained the additional claim and finds that summary judgment
is due to be granted.
Statement of the Law
“A hostile work environment claim under Title VII is established upon proof
that ‘the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and
insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s
employment and create an abusive working environment.’ ” Miller v. Kenworth of
Dothan, Inc., 277 F.3d 1269, 1275 (11th Cir., 2002) (quoting Harris v, Forklift Sys.,
Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993)). A plaintiff must show that (1) he belongs to a
protected group, (2) he has been subject to unwelcome harassment, (3) the
harassment was based on a protected characteristic of the employee, such as race or
national origin, (4) the harassment was “sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the
conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment,”
and (5) the plaintiff’s employer is responsible for such an environment, either
directly or vicariously. Miller, 277 F.3d at 1275.
In order to determine whether harassment meets the “severe and pervasive”
requirement, the court must consider an additional four factors in order to evaluate
the objective severity of the harassment, including: (1) the frequency of the conduct,
(2) the severity of the conduct, (3) whether the conduct is physically threatening or
humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance, and (4) whether the conduct
unreasonably interferes with the employee’s job performance. Mendoza v. Borden,
Inc., 195 F.3d 1238, 1246 (11th Cir. 1999). The employee must establish not only
that he subjectively perceived the environment as hostile, but that a reasonable
person would perceive the environment to be hostile and abusive. Barrow v. Georgia
Pacific, Inc., 144 Fed. Appx. 54, 56 (11th Cir. 2005).
Furthermore, “[t]his is not, and by its nature cannot be, a mathematically
precise test.” Harris, 510 U.S. at 22. Whether a work environment is hostile can be
determined only by looking at all the circumstances. Id. at 23.
Brown’s Hostile Work Environment Claim
The parties agree that Brown appeared in a group photograph of employees
which was posted on a bulletin board in the coating mill. (Doc. 93, p. 10). They also
agree that the photograph was partially covered over with a piece of paper so as to
obscure only Brown’s image. Id. Brown testified at deposition that he did not know
who placed the paper on the photograph. (Doc. 48-1, p. 103). He has not offered any
evidence that the photo was covered out of any racial animus on the part of a Berg
employee. Berg, on the other hand, has offered the testimony and declarations of
two supervisory employees, Jim Key and Jason Milam, which suggest that there
was no racial element to the incident. Key stated that he investigated the matter
on the same day that Brown brought it to his attention; that he found a pipeline
map obscuring the group photo; that he removed the map from over the photograph;
and that he determined that the shipping supervisor, Jason Milam, had placed the
map on the bulletin board. (Doc. 48-1, p. 3). Milam stated in his declaration that he
placed the pipeline map on the board in order to encourage workers in the coating
mill by showing them where their work product would end up, and that his covering
of Brown’s image in the photograph was inadvertent. (Doc. 48-1, p. 156). Brown
testified at his deposition that he and Milam had little interaction with each other
and no apparent conflict. (Doc. 48-1, p. 80).
Brown also alleges that he saw Berg employees with Confederate flag t-shirts
and stickers, which offended him. (Doc. 62, p. 5). Brown also testified that no
supervisors or co-workers at Berg ever directed a racial slur to him (Doc. 71-1, p.
38). And although Brown alleges that he overheard a comment that someone said in
the Berg cafeteria regarding a “black ass,” (Id. at p. 39), Brown admits that he does
not know who made the comment, and states that he did not report it to anyone Id.
As an exhibit to his Response in Opposition to Summary Judgment (Doc. 5915), Brown attached photocopies of photographs containing what he describes as
“racially-motivated paraphernalia,” at the Berg facility, including the
aforementioned t-shirts and stickers; what appears to be a small, white, plastic
figurine hanging by a rubber band from an office cubicle wall which Brown
describes as a “noose baby” (Doc. 62, p. 4);7 and what Brown claims is a “racial
Berg disputes Brown’s characterization of the plastic figurine, offering the Declaration
of Kellie Roberts, a Berg employee at whose desk the plastic figure hung. (Doc. 71-1, pp. 63-64).
Roberts asserts that the plastic figurine was a “small, white, plastic Baby Jesus” which she found
comment” scrawled inside of a portable toilet. (Doc. 59-15, pp. 1-10). Brown did not
submit original photographs, and the picture quality in the photocopies is so poor
that it is difficult for the court to ascertain what is being presented. Furthermore,
Brown admits that the photographs were not taken by him, nor were they taken
while he was employed by Berg (Doc. 71-1, p. 60), raising serious doubt about
whether he can allege to have “subjectively perceive[d]” much of the harassment he
alleges in his brief.
Finally, Brown points to EEOC charges of retaliation filed against Berg by
Rence Perkins and Michael Johnson, both on August 20, 2010, as evidence of a
hostile work environment. (Doc. 59-16).8
Even if the Court regards as true all of Brown’s allegations, they do not
establish that Berg was “permeated with ‘discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and
insult’ that is ‘sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of [Brown’s]
employment and create an abusive working environment.” Barrow, 144 Fed. Appx.
at 57-58 (quoting Harris, 510 US at 21). The incidents Brown complains of were not
frequent enough to be pervasive, nor were they especially severe when compared
with conduct that the Eleventh Circuit has found to fall short of severe harassment.
in a Mardi Gras king cake in January or February 2010. Id. Roberts states that she tacked the
plastic figurine onto her cubicle wall to remind herself to bring a king cake to the next Mardi
Gras party she would be attending, and that the plastic figurine was not at her desk for more than
two or three weeks. Id. This took place at least eight months after Brown’s termination. Brown
does not dispute Ms. Roberts’ declaration.
See Note 5, supra.
For example, the Eleventh Circuit found in Barrow that a group of AfricanAmerican plaintiffs failed to establish a hostile working environment despite
testimony that some plaintiffs saw Confederate flag stickers on toolboxes and hard
hats; saw the letters “KKK” on a bathroom wall and on a block-saw console; saw a
noose hanging in another employee’s locker; and that one of the plaintiffs was called
“nigger” three times in one year by a shift superintendent. Barrow at 57.
Furthermore, the conduct Brown complained of was not physically threatening nor
particularly humiliating, nor has he alleged that it interfered with his ability to
perform his duties at work. While Brown may have been understandably offended
at the sight of Confederate flags or stickers, or at the thought that his photograph
might have been purposely covered over because he is African-American, these
allegations simply do not meet the standard of severe and pervasive harassment set
forth by the Supreme Court or the Eleventh Circuit and which are necessary to
establish a prima facie case of hostile working environment pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
Upon a thorough analysis of all matters presented, the court concludes that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law. The Berg’s motion for summary judgment (Doc. 47)
is therefore GRANTED as to all claims.
DONE and ORDERED this 17th day of August, 2011.
/s/ Callie V. S. Granade
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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