Carstarphen v. United Steelworkers, Local No. 1421 et al

Filing 76

ORDER granting 61 Motion for Summary Judgment; granting 63 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Senior Judge Charles R. Butler, Jr on 9/21/2015. copies to parties. (sdb)

Download PDF
IN  THE  UNITED  STATES  DISTRICT  COURT  FOR  THE   SOUTHERN  DISTRICT  OF  ALABAMA   SOUTHERN  DIVISION     DARRYL  W.   CARSTARPHEN,     Plaintiff,     v.     KIMBERLY-­‐CLARK  CORP.   and  UNITED   STEELWORKERS  LOCAL   NO.  1421,     Defendants,         )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )        ORDER           CIVIL  ACTION  NO.   14-­‐00162-­‐CB-­‐C         This  matter  is  before  the  Court  on  motions  for  summary  judgment  filed  by   the  Defendants.    After  considering  the  motions  (Docs.  61  &  63)  and  supporting   briefs  (Docs.  62  &  64),  Plaintiff’s  response  (Doc.  72),  and  Defendants’  replies  (Docs.   73  &  74),  the  Court  finds  that  the  motions  are  due  to  be  granted.   Facts1     The  Parties     Plaintiff  Darryl  Carstarphen,  an  African-­‐American  male,  was  employed  by   Defendant  Kimberly-­‐Clark  Corporation  (the  Company)  at  its  Mobile,  Alabama  paper   mill  from  1996  until  his  employment  was  terminated  in  2013.    The  mill’s  workers   are  represented  by  two  separate  locals  of  the  United  Steelworkers  (USW).    Local                                                                                                                   1  The  facts,  and  all  inferences  from  them,  are  set  forth  in  the  light  most   favorable  to  the  Plaintiff.    See  Allen  v.  Tyson  Food,  Inc.,  121  F.3d  642,  646  (11th  Cir.   1997)  (facts  and  all  justifiable  inferences  must  be  viewed  in  favor  of  nonmoving   party).    Below,  citations  are  provided  for  facts  in  dispute  and  direct  quotations  but   not  for  undisputed  facts.   1421  represents  the  bargaining  unit  within  the  maintenance,  paper  mill,  fiber,  and   storeroom  departments.    Local  1575  represents  the  bargaining  unit  within  the   distribution  center/warehouse  and  the  converting,  material  flow,  and  exporting   departments.    Both  locals  were  governed  by  the  same  Collective  Bargaining   Agreement  (CBA)  during  the  relevant  time  period.    Carstarphen,  who  had  been  a   member  of  both  Locals  during  his  employment  at  Kimberly-­‐Clark,  was  a  member  of   Local  1421  when  his  employment  was  terminated.     Work  History     Prior  to  2010,  Carstarphen  worked  for  several  years  in  the  converting   department.    In  2010,  he  transferred  to  the  dry  fiber  department  where  he  worked  a   little  over  a  year  before  being  transferred  back  to  converting  due  to  poor   performance.    In  the  converting  department,  employees  were  expected  to  master   certain  tasks,  which  were  documented  in  a  book,  in  order  to  be  certified  as  a  Level  II   operator  and  pay  grade.    In  October  2011,  because  Carstarphen  was  falling  behind   on  his  Level  II  book  Patrice  Lemonde,  the  mill’s  Human  Resources  manager,   Carstarphen’s  supervisor,  and  a  union  representative  met  with  Carstarphen.    The   discussion  at  that  meeting  centered  around  Carstarphen’s  failure  to  make  sufficient   progress  on  his  book  as  well  as  his  overall  performance.    Within  the  past  twelve   months,  Carstarphen  had  received  an  oral  reprimand  for  poor  performance  and  a   three-­‐day  suspension  for  a  safety  violation  for  failing  to  lock  out  equipment  he  was   working  on.    At  the  meeting,  Carstarphen  commented  that  he  had  left  his  lock   (necessary  to  lock  out  equipment)  in  the  fiber  department  when  he  transferred,   leading  the  company  to  believe  that  he  had  not  locked  out  equipment  at  all  during     2   the  three  months  since  his  transfer.    The  company  considered  this  a  major  safety   violation  and  decided  to  terminate  Carstarphen’s  employment.         Ultimately,  Carstarphen  was  not  terminated  for  this  violation.    Local  No  1575,   which  represented  Carstarphen  at  the  time,  filed  a  grievance  on  his  behalf.    The   company  and  the  union  reached  a  settlement.    The  parties  entered  into  a  last  chance   agreement.  Kimberly-­‐Clark  agreed  not  terminate  Carstarphen’s  employment  under   the  following  conditions:    (1)  Carstarphen  was  required  to  complete  certain  Level  II   proficiencies  by  April  1,  2012;  (2)  Carstarphen  received  a  16-­‐day  suspension;  and   (3)  “any  future  violation  of  company  rules  or  unacceptable/inappropriate  behavior   or  performance”  would  result  in  termination  of  Carstarphen’s  employment.    (Pl.’s   Dep.  vol.  I  Ex.  13,  Kimberly-­‐Clark  Mot.  Summ.  J.  Ex.  2,  Doc.  62-­‐2.)    Carstarphen  did   not  sign  this  agreement,  but  it  was  read  to  him.         In  2013,  Carstarphen  inquired  about  a  transfer  to  “the  broke  center,”  where   waste  paper  is  “repulped”  for  use  in  paper  production.    Castarphen  requested  the   transfer  even  though  he  had  completed  his  Level  II  book  and  the  broke  center  job   was  a  lower-­‐paying  Level  I  job.    Eventually,  Lemonde,  the  HR  manager,  allowed  the   transfer  and  arranged  for  Carstarphen  to  keep  his  Level  II  pay.    At  that  time,   Carstarphen  was  not  meeting  expectations  in  the  converting  department,  and   Lemonde  hoped  to  place  Carstarphen  in  a  position  where  he  could  succeed.    The   transfer  became  effective  April  21,  2013.    Due  to  the  transfer,  Carstarphen  once   again  became  a  member  of  Local  1421.    In  the  broke  center,  Carstarphen’s   supervisor  was  Rick  Lewis,  who  had  worked  with  Carstarphen  in  the  converting     3   department.    Lewis  was  familiar  with  Castarphen’s  work  history  and  met  with  him   to  set  clear  performance  expectations.     Coworker’s  Sexually-­‐Charged  Conduct  &  Statements       Lewis  assigned  Mack  McInnis,  an  experienced  trainer,  to  train  Carstarphen.     Almost  immediately,  McInnis  began  using  vulgar,  offensive  sexually  explicit   language  to  and  in  front  of  Carstarphen.    McInnis  “always  talk[ed]  about  sex  the   whole  time,  his  whole  conversation.  .  .  .    [H]is  whole  conversation  was  about  sex.  .  .   [a]bout  sex  with  men.”    (Pl.’s  Dep.  vol.  I  97,  Kimberly-­‐Clark  Mot.  Summ.  J.  Ex.  1,  Doc.   62-­‐1.)    In  one  conversation,  McInnis  told  Carstarphen  that  McInnis’s  ex-­‐wife  said  in   divorce  papers  that  McInnis  was  gay.    (Id.  110.)    Carstarphen  testified  that  it  would   take  “a  book”  to  write  every  statement  of  a  sexual  nature  that  McInnis  made.2    (Id.   106.)         Carstarphen  went  to  Lewis,  his  supervisor,  about  two  weeks  after  he  started   in  the  converting  department  and  asked  him  to  talk  to  McInnis  because  “he  used   vulgar  language,  profanity  [and  was]  always  talking  about  gay  things,  gay  stuff[.]”     (Id.  107.)    At  this  point,  Carstarphen  did  not  go  into  detail  about  the  specifics  of   McInnis’s  behavior  or  statements.    Lewis  responded  to  Carstarphen’s  complaint  by                                                                                                                   2  Some  examples:    Once  McInnis  said  that  “back  in  the  day  .  .  .  when  they   work  on  the  paper  machine  on  the  hot  side,  it  was  real  hot.    When  they  get  done,   they  go  to  the  cool  rooms  and  they’ll  take  off  their  shirts  and  pull  up  their  pants  and   the  mens  (sic)  in  there  will  rub  each  other,  just  rub  on  each  other.”    (Pl.’s  Dep.  98)..   McInnis  also  said  that  “when  a  man  got  married  [McInnis  and  others  would]  hold   him  down  and  pull  [the  victim’s]  willie  whacker  out  and  paint  it  blue.”  (Id.)    On  one   occasion  McInnis  said  to  Carstarphen  that  “he  was  tired  of  jacking  off  with  his  right   hand.”    (Id.  95.)    In  Carstarphen’s  presence,  McInnis  made  several  remarks  to  the  a   coworker  about  wanting  to  hold  that  coworker,  hug  him,  get  into  bed  with  him.”    (Id.   99.)    In  front  of  Carstarphen,  McInnis  asked  the  same  coworker  “to  lean  over  the   desk  so  he  could  stick  his  ____  in  his  _______.”    (Id.  96.)    On  another  occasion,  McInnis   “was  humping  the  door  frame  as  if  he  was  having  sex.”    (Id.  97.)         4   suggesting  that  he  take  his  break  in  a  different  area.    Carstarphen  explained  that  the   offensive  conduct  was  not  happening  on  break  but  in  the  work  area.    Lewis  just   “brushed  it  off,  .  .  .  like  he  didn’t  really  want  to  hear  it.”    (Id.  119.)       Carstarphen  discussed  the  issue  again  at  a  sixty-­‐day  progress  review  meting   with  Lewis  and  Ricky  Byrd,  the  union  shop  steward.    At  that  time,  Carstarphen  told   Lewis  how  McInnis  had  been  carrying  on  and  specifically  told  him  that  McInnis  had   “asked  Ricky  McGhee  to  lean  over  the  desk  .  .  .  so  he  could  stick  his  ____  in  his  ______.”3   (Id.  139.)4    Carstarphen  asked  to  be  moved  to  another  shift,  and  Lewis  agreed.         Quality  Defect  Leads  to  Carstarphen’s  Termination     Carstarphen  was  reassigned  to  C  shift  where  his  supervisor  was  Calvin   Crosby.    On  July  7,  2013,  his  first  day  on  C  shift,  a  problem  occurred  with  a  batch  of   pulp  sent  from  the  broke  center  to  the  tissue  manufacturing  department.    The  result   was  a  quality  defect  known  as  “broke  spots”  causing  the  rejection  of  an  entire  batch   of  product.      When  fiber  in  the  pulp  is  not  sufficient  broken  down,  chunks  of  fiber   show  up  in  the  paper  as  colored  spots,  known  as  broke  spots.    To  prevent  broke   spots,  a  batch  test  of  the  pulp  mixture  is  performed  before  the  mixture  is  sent  to  the   tissue  manufacturing  center.    The  process  of  mixing  and  sending  a  batch  is  an  entry-­‐ level  job  that  could  be  mastered  in  a  day  or  two.    Testing  a  batch  before  sending  it  is                                                                                                                   3  The  Court  has  omitted  the  specific  words  used.       4Lewis’s  version  of  events  is  different.    According  to  Lewis,  at  Carstarphen’s   thirty-­‐day  progress  review,  on  May  31st,  Lewis  talked  with  Carstarphen  about   teamwork  and  the  need  to  inform  his  team  of  his  whereabouts  because  Lewis  had   been  informed  that  Carstarphen  was  not  keeping  his  team  informed  when  he  took   outside  breaks  or  left  the  area.    (Lewis  Decl.  ¶  10,  Kimberly-­‐Clark  Ex.  F,  Doc.  62-­‐9.)   At  the  sixty-­‐day  meeting,  Lewis  says,  Carstarphen  told  him  only  that  he  wanted  to   transfer  to  a  different  shift  because  his  coworkers  used  profanity  and  were  nasty   because  they  chewed  tobacco  which  Carstarphen  “disliked  to  be  around.”    (Id.  ¶  14.)     5   the  first  thing  an  employee  learns  when  working  in  the  broke  center.    The  employee   who  sends  the  batch  (a  process  known  as  “making  the  dump”)  is  responsible  for   testing  it.         Carstarphen  mixed  and  tried  to  send  a  batch  of  pulp,  but  “[i]t  wouldn’t   dump.”  (Pl.’s  Dep.  vol.  II  520,  Kimberly-­‐Clark  Ex.  E,  Doc.  62-­‐6.)    He  went  to  a   coworker  and  asked  for  help,  and  his  coworker  sent  him  to  Crosby.  (Id.)    Crosby  told   him  not  to  worry  about  it  and  that  he  would  handle  it.    Carstarphen  admits  that  he   did  not  test  the  batch  before  he  tried  to  dump  it.    (Id.  524.)    Ultimately,  Crosby   dumped  the  batch.    Later,  someone  from  the  tissue  manufacturing  center  told  the   employees  in  the  broke  center  that  the  batch  contained  broke  spots.         Lewis  questioned  the  employees  who  were  working  “when  the  broke  spots   occurred  and  learned  that  [Carstarphen]  was  responsible  for  sending  the  defective   batch  of  pulp.”    (Lewis  Decl.  ¶  19.)    According  to  Lewis,  Carstarphen,  as  the  person   sending  the  batch,  also  was  responsible  for  testing  it.    (Id.)  Carstarphen  denied,   however,  that  he  had  sent  the  batch  but  “eventually  admitted  that  he  had  and  had   even  contacted  .  .  .  Crosby.  .  .  for  assistance  because  the  batch  clogged  as  he  tried  to   send  it.”    (Id.  ¶  20.)    Carstarphen  told  Lewis  that  “he  was  not  sure  if  he  had   performed  a  batch  test  before  he  sent  the  pulp  and  admitted  he  did  not  always   perform  the  test.”    (Id.¶  21.)    Lewis  reported  his  findings  to  Patrice  Lemonde,  human   resources  manager.     Lemonde  made  the  decision  to  terminate  Carstarphen’s  employment   “because  of  a  culmination  of  events  all  in  violation  of  his  Last  Chance  Agreement.”     (Lemonde  Decl.  ¶  16,  Kimberly-­‐Clark  Ex.  C,  Doc  62-­‐4.)    Those  events  include,  “his     6   operator  error  in  the  broke  center  resulting  in  defective  product,  his  failure  to  take   responsibility  for  that  error  and  his  poor  performance,  both  in  mastering  skills  and   working  effectively  with  his  co-­‐workers.”    (Id.)     The  Grievance  Procedure     Kimberly-­‐Clark  notified  Carstarphen  of  his  termination  on  July  25,  2013.    The   following  day,  Local  1421  filed  a  grievance  on  Plaintiff’s  behalf.    A  “first  step”   meeting  was  held  in  accordance  with  the  grievance  procedures  set  forth  in  the   Collective  Bargaining  Agreement  (CBA)  between  the  union  and  the  company.     Carstarphen  was  represented  at  that  meeting  by  Randy  Calhoun,  Local  1421   president,  and  Rodney  Byrd,  Local  1421  shop  steward.    Because  the  grievance   involved  a  termination,  the  grievance  process  proceeded  immediately  to  the  “third   step,”  and  the  USW  International  Union  representative,  David  Trostle  became   involved.    As  an  employee  of  the  International  Union,  Trostle  negotiates  collective   bargaining  agreements  and  handles  third  step  grievances  and  arbitrations  for   several  Locals  in  Alabama  and  Florida.    At  the  third  step  meeting  on  August  19,   2013,  Trostle  advocated  on  Carstarphen’s  behalf,  presented  Carstarphen’s  side  of   the  events,  and  requested  that  the  company  reinstate  him.    Carstarphen  was  present   at  the  meeting  and  had  an  opportunity  to  speak.         In  late  August,  the  company  denied  Carstarphen’s  appeal.    Under  the  terms  of   the  CBA  the  Union  had  the  option  to  take  that  decision  to  arbitration.    The  Union   continued  to  investigate.    Employees  in  the  broke  center  denied  allegations  of  sexual   harassment,  and  employees  who  were  present  when  the  defective  batch  occurred   did  not  support  Carstarphen’s  version  of  events.    In  addition,  Trostle  obtained     7   information  from  the  company  regarding  the  2011  Last  Chance  Agreement.    On   September  23,  Calhoun  and  Trostle  met  with  Carstarphen.    They  discussed  the   company’s  evidence  and  asked  Carstarphen  if  he  had  information  or  witnesses  who   could  support  his  version  of  events      Trostle  also  told  Carstarphen  that  the  terms  of   the  last  chance  agreement  permitted  termination  based  on  violation  of  a  company   rule  or  unacceptable  job  performance.    After  the  meeting,  Trostle  investigated   whether  other  current  employees  were  subject  to  last  chance  agreements  (none   were)  and  also  investigated  the  circumstances  leading  to  Carstarphen’s  last  chance   agreement.    Trostle  concluded  that  the  last  chance  agreement  was  valid,  even   though  Carstarphen  did  not  sign  it,  as  the  settlement  of  a  grievance  between  the   Union  and  the  Company.     Based  on  his  investigation,  Trostle  decided  not  to  arbitrate  Carstarphen’s   termination.    Trostle  took  into  account  Carstarphen’s  work  history,  prior  discipline,     and  the  company’s  efforts  to  work  with  Carstarphen  to  find  a  job  he  could  do   successfully.    Trostle  also  considered  the  effect  of  the  last  chance  agreement  which   allowed  for  termination  based  on  a  single  instance  of  poor  performance.   Carstarphen’s  claim  that  he  was  not  responsible  for  the  reject  batch  on  July  7  was   not  credible,  in  Trostle’s  opinion.     Carstarphen’s  Complaints  About  Sexual  Harassment       As  noted  above,  Carstarphen  first  reported  McInnis’s  behavior  to  Lewis,  his   supervisor,  in  mid-­‐May,  but  Lewis  brushed  him  off.    He  reported  it  again,  this  time   with  more  specificity,  at  his  performance  review  in  late  June  with  Lewis  and  Union   representative  Byrd.    At  that  time,  Carstarphen  requested,  and  was  granted,     8   reassignment  to  a  different  shift.    On  July  24,  2013,  one  day  prior  to  his  termination,   Carstarphen  reported  to  Patrice  Lemonde  that  McInnis  was  talking  about  sex  “all   day”  and  “using  heavy  vulgar  language  and  profanity.”    On  August  5,  2013,   Carstarphen  filed  a  charge  of  discrimination  with  the  EEOC.    On  that  form,   Carstarphen  checked  boxes  indicating  that  he  was  complaining  of  discrimination   based  on  race,  sex  and  retaliation.    (Pl.’s  Dep.  vol.  1  Ex.  5,  Doc  62-­‐2.)       Procedural  Background     On  April  8,  2014,  Carstarphen  initiated  this  action  by  filing  a  complaint   against  Kimberly-­‐Clark  and  the  Union  under  §  301  of  the  Labor  Management   Relations  Act  (LMRA),  29  U.S.C.  §§  141  et  seq.    This  action  was  assigned  to   Magistrate  Judge  Cassady  for  trial.5    In  his  amended  LMRA  complaint,  Plaintiff   asserted  that  the  Union  violated  its  duty  of  fair  representation  as  follows:    (1)  by   failing  to  take  “meaningful  action”  on  Plaintiff’s  grievance,  (2)  by  failing  to   communicate  honestly  or  provide  information  to  Plaintiff  regarding  the  grievance   process,  (3)  by  failing  and  refusing  to  communicate  about  his  grievance  or  to  inform   him  of  its  decision  regarding  arbitration,  (4)  because  its  actions  (or  inactions)  were   the  result  of  racial  discrimination,  and  (5)  because  its  actions  (or  inactions)  were   the  result  of  retaliation  for  Plaintiff’s  complaints  of  sexual  harassment.  (Id.  ¶¶  26-­‐ 27.)    Finally,  the  amended  LMRA  Complaint  alleged  that  both  the  Union  and  the   Company  are  liable  for  violating  the  LMRA  because  Plaintiff’s  termination  was                                                                                                                   5  The  case  was  randomly  assigned  to  Magistrate  Judge  Cassady  on  an  “opt   out”  basis,  meaning  that  any  party  could  opt  to  have  the  case  reassigned  for  trial  to  a   district  judge.    (Doc.  2.)    No  party  did  so,  and  the  case  was  assigned  to  Magistrate   Judge  Cassady.  (Doc.  25.)       9   motivated  by  discrimination  and  retaliation  and,  therefore,  violated  the  CBA’s   nondiscrimination  clause.     On  October  20,  2014,  Plaintiff  filed  a  motion  for  leave  to  file  a  second   amended  complaint.    The  proposed  second  amended  complaint  added  retaliation   and  discrimination  claims  under  Title  VII.    The  motion  for  leave  to  amend  was   denied  because  Plaintiff  failed  to  show  good  cause  for  his  failure  to  amend  within   the  Rule  16(b)  deadline  for  amending  pleadings.         After  his  attempt  to  amend  was  rebuffed,  Plaintiff  filed  a  new  action  (Civil   Action  14-­‐00504)  against  Kimberly-­‐Clark  and  Local  1421,  based  on  the  same  facts  in   the  LMRA  action,  asserting  claims  under  Title  VII.    In  the  Title  VII  complaint,  Plaintiff   asserted  claims  against  Kimberly-­‐Clark  for  sexual  harassment,  retaliation,  and  race   discrimination  and  claims  against  the  Union  for  retaliation  and  race  discrimination.     (Doc.  52,  Entry  1.)  The  Title  VII  action  was  assigned  to  the  undersigned  district   judge.    The  parties  filed  a  joint  motion  to  consolidate  the  LMRA  action  and  the  Title   VII  action.    That  motion  was  granted  and  the  civil  actions  were  consolidated.  (Doc.   51.)   Issues  Presented     In  response  to  Defendants’  motions  for  summary  judgment,  Plaintiff  has   failed  to  address,  and  therefore  abandoned,  numerous  claims.6    Specifically,   Plaintiff’s  Title  VII  claims  based  on  race  discrimination  and  sexual  harassment                                                                                                                   6  “[T]he  onus  is  upon  the  parties  to  formulate  arguments;  grounds  raised  in   the  complaint  but  not  relied  upon  in  summary  judgment  are  deemed  abandoned.”    RTC   v.  Dunbar  Corp.,  43  F.3d  587,  599  (11th  Cir.  1995).         10   against  both  defendants  are  abandoned  as  are  most  of  Plaintiff’s  fair  representation   claims  under  the  LMRA.         Plaintiff’s  remaining  claims  are  based  on  his  allegation  that  he  was   terminated  in  retaliation  for  complaints  of  sexual  harassment.    As  a  result,  he     asserts  that  both  Defendants  are  liable  under  Title  VII  and  the  LMRA  for  retaliation.7   Legal  Analysis     Summary  Judgment  Standard     Summary  judgment  should  be  granted  only  if  "there  is  no  issue  as  to  any   material  fact  and  the  moving  party  is  entitled  to  a  judgment  as  a  matter  of  law."       Fed.  R.  Civ.  P.  56(c).    The  party  seeking  summary  judgment  bears  "the  initial  burden   to  show  the  district  court,  by  reference  to  materials  on  file,  that  there  are  no  genuine   issues  of  material  fact  that  should  be  decided  at  trial."    Clark  v.  Coats  &  Clark,  Inc.,   929  F.2d  604,  608  (11th  Cir.  1991).    Once  the  moving  party  has  satisfied  his   responsibility,  the  burden  shifts  to  the  nonmoving  party  to  show  the  existence  of  a   genuine  issue  of  material  fact.    Id.    On  summary  judgment  review,  “the  facts-­‐-­‐as   supported  by  the  evidence  in  the  record-­‐-­‐and  reasonable  inferences  from  those   facts”  must  be  viewed  in  the  light  most  favorable  to  the  nonmoving  party.    Young  v.   City  of  Palm  Bay,  Florida,  358  F.3d  859,  860  (11th  Cir.  2004).     Title  VII  Retaliation  Claim   Title  VII  makes  it  unlawful  for  an  employer  or  a  labor  union  to  discriminate   on  the  basis  of  race,  color,  religion,  sex,  or  national  origin.    42  U.S.C.  §  2000e-­‐2.    It   also  prohibits  retaliation  by  an  employer  or  labor  union  against  one  who  has                                                                                                                   7  Although  Plaintiff  merges  his  Title  VII  and  LMRA  claims  into  one  Title  VII   argument,  they  are  separate  claims  and  will  be  addressed  separately  below.     11   engaged  in  statutorily  protected  conduct.    Clover  v.  Total  Sys.  Servs.,  Inc.,  176  F.3d   1346,  1350  (11th  Cir.  1999);  42  U.S.C.  §  2000e-­‐3(a).    Statutorily  protected  conduct   includes  opposition  to  “any  practice  made  unlawful  by  [Title  VII].”    Clover,  176  F.3d   at  1350.    When  a  plaintiff  relies  on  circumstantial  evidence  to  support  a  retaliation   claim  under  Title  VII,  the  evidence  is  evaluated  using  the  familiar  “shifting  burdens”   analysis  set  forth  in  McDonnell  Douglas  v.  Green,  411  U.S.  792  (1973)  and  Texas  Dep’t   of  Community  Affairs  v.  Burdine,  450  U.S.  248  (1981);  Hairston  v.  Gainesville  Sun  Pub.   Co.,  9  F.3d  913,  919  (11th  Cir.  1993)  (retaliation).    “To  prove  discriminatory  [or   retaliatory]  treatment  through  circumstantial  evidence:    (1)  a  plaintiff  must  first   make  out  a  prima  facie  case,  (2)  then  the  burden  shifts  to  the  defendant  to  produce   legitimate,  nondiscriminatory  reasons  for  the  adverse  employment  action,  and  (3)   then  the  burden  shifts  back  to  the    plaintiff  to  establish  that  these  reasons  are   pretextual.”    Mayfield  v.  Patterson  Pump  Co.,  101  F.3d  1371,  1375  (11th  Cir.  1996)   (internal  citations  omitted). To  establish  a  prima  facie  case  of  discrimination,   Plaintiff  must  establish:  (1)  that  he  engaged  in  statutorily  protected  expression,  (2)   that  he  suffered  an  adverse  employment  action,  and  (3)  a  causal  link  between  the   two.    Goldsmith  v.  City  of  Atmore,  996  F.2d  1155,  1163  (11th  Cir.  1993). Plaintiff  cannot  prevail  on  a  Title  VII  retaliation  claim  against  the  Union.     Because  Plaintiff  conflates  his  Title  VII  and  LMRA  claims,  his  precise  theory  of   liability  is  murky.    He  takes  issue  with  the  Union’s  failure  to  arbitrate  his  grievance,   which  could  be  considered  an  adverse  action  on  the  part  of  the  Union.    However,  the   reason  he  claims  the  Union  failed  to  arbitrate  is  the  epitome  of  a  nonretaliatory   reason.    Plaintiff  argues  that  the  Union,  in  making  its  decision  not  to  arbitrate,  “failed     12   to  even  consider  the  possibility  that  the  company  acted  in  retaliation  for  Plaintiff’s   allegations.”    (Pl.’s  Br.  8,  Doc.  72.)    Obviously,  if  retaliation  wasn’t  considered  by  the   Union,  it  was  not  a  motivating  factor  for  the  decision.8    Therefore,  the  Union  cannot   be  held  liable  for  retaliation  under  Title  VII.     Plaintiff’s  retaliation  claim  against  Kimberly-­‐Clark  fails  as  well.    Although   Kimberly-­‐Clark  mounts  a  multi-­‐pronged  attack  on  Plaintiff’s  Title  VII  claim,  the   Court  need  address  only  one.    Kimberly-­‐Clark  had  a  legitimate  nonretaliatory  reason   for  its  decision  to  terminate  Plaintiff’s  employment.    The  settlement  of  a  previous   grievance  had  placed  Plaintiff  on  a  last  chance  agreement.    The  terms  of  that   agreement  provided  that  “any  future  violation  of  company  rules  or   unacceptable/inappropriate  behavior  or  performance”  would  result  in  Plaintiff’s   termination.         Plaintiff  was  terminated  for  unacceptable  performance,  a  legitimate   nonretaliatory  reason.    On  July  7,  2013,  Plaintiff  attempted  to  send  a  batch  of  pulp   without  testing  it.    That  batch  resulted  in  a  large  quantity  of  rejected  product.     Plaintiff  subsequently  tried  to  shift  responsibility  to  a  coworker.    Plaintiff  admitted   that  he  did  not  always  follow  procedure,  which  required  that  each  batch  be  tested.         Plaintiff  maintains  that  the  reason  for  his  termination  was  pretextual  for   three  reasons,  none  of  which  is  sufficient  to  create  a  genuine  issue  of  fact.    First,  he   argues  the  last  chance  agreement  violated  the  CBA,  and  if  not  for  the  last  chance   agreement  he  could  not  have  been  terminated  for  his  actions.    The  logic  in  this                                                                                                                   8  Plaintiff  argues  that  the  Union’s  “decision  not  to  arbitrate  and  its  failure  to   consider  the  company’s  conduct  as  retaliation.  .  .  amounts  to  the  union  joining  in  the   discrimination  of  the  company.”    (Id.)    Plaintiff  provides  no  legal  authority  for  his   novel  theory  that  retaliatory  intent  can  be  imputed  from  the  actions  of  another.     13   argument  is  elusive  since  the  last  chance  agreement  was  entered  two  years  before   Plaintiff’s  complaints  of  sexual  harassment  or  his  termination.      As  Kimberly-­‐Clark   points  out,  it  strains  credulity  to  believe  that  the  company  entered  into  an   agreement  to  return  Plaintiff  to  work  so  that  it  could  later  fire  him  in  retaliation  for   a  complaint  that  had  not  yet  occurred.    Second,  Plaintiff  maintains  that  he  did   nothing  wrong  because  he  did  not  actually  “dump”  the  material.    He  does  not   dispute,  however,  that  he  created  and  failed  to  test  the  batch  that  resulted  in  the   rejected  product,  or  that  he  shifted  blame  to  a  coworker,  or  that  he  admitted  that  he   did  not  always  test  each  batch.    Third,  Plaintiff  argues  that  his  discipline  was   disproportionate  because  “[t]he  only  other  person  disciplined  for  ‘broke’  spots  as   far  back  as  the  union  president  could  remember  received  only  an  oral  reprimand.”     (Pl.’s  Br.  8.)      This  attempted  reliance  on  comparator  evidence  falls  short  because   “the  quantity  and  quality”  of  the  comparator’s  misconduct  must  be  “nearly  identical”   to  that  of  the  plaintiff  before  the  Court  can  consider  it. Maniccia  v.  Brown,  171  F.3d   1364,  1368  (11th  Cir.1999)  (nearly  identical  conduct  requirement  keeps  courts   “from  second-­‐guessing  employers'  reasonable  decisions  and  confusing  apples  with   oranges”).    Plaintiff  has  failed  to  point  to  evidence  from  which  a  reasonable  trier  of   fact  could  conclude  that  the  Company’s  legitimate  nonretaliatory  reasons  for  firing   him  were  pretext  for  discrimination.    Kimberly-­‐Clark  is,  therefore,  entitled  to   summary  judgment  on  Plaintiff’s  retaliation  claim  against  it.       LMRA Claim   14   In DelCostello v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Supreme Court explained the nature of a “hybrid” § 301/fair representation, which is the type of claim Plaintiff has asserted here. It  has  long  been  established  that  an  individual  employee  may  bring   suit  against  his  employer  for  breach  of  a  collective  bargaining   agreement.  Ordinarily,  however,  an  employee  is  required  to  attempt   to  exhaust  any  grievance  or  arbitration  remedies  provided  in  the   collective  bargaining  agreement.  Subject  to  very  limited  judicial   review,  he  will  be  bound  by  the  result  according  to  the  finality   provisions  of  the  agreement.  In  Vaca  [v.  Sipes,  386  U.S.  171,  (1967)]   and  Hines  [v.  Anchor  Motor  Freight,  424  U.S.  554  (1976)],  however,  we   recognized  that  this  rule  works  an  unacceptable  injustice  when  the   union  representing  the  employee  in  the  grievance/arbitration   procedure  acts  in  such  a  discriminatory,  dishonest,  arbitrary,  or   perfunctory  fashion  as  to  breach  its  duty  of  fair  representation.  In   such  an  instance,  an  employee  may  bring  suit  against  both  the   employer  and  the  union,  notwithstanding  the  outcome  or  finality  of   the  grievance  or  arbitration  proceeding.  Such  a  suit,  as  a  formal   matter,  comprises  two  causes  of  action.  The  suit  against  the  employer   rests  on  §  301,  since  the  employee  is  alleging  a  breach  of  the  collective   bargaining  agreement.  The  suit  against  the  union  is  one  for  breach  of   the  union's  duty  of  fair  representation,  which  is  implied  under  the   scheme  of  the  National  Labor  Relations  Act.  “Yet  the  two  claims  are   inextricably  interdependent.  ‘To  prevail  against  either  the  company  or   the  Union,  ...  [employee-­‐plaintiffs]  must  not  only  show  that  their   discharge  was  contrary  to  the  contract  but  must  also  carry  the  burden   of  demonstrating  a  breach  of  duty  by  the  Union.’”.       DelCostello  v.  Int'l  Brotherhood  of  Teamsters,  462  U.S.  151,  163-­‐65  (1983)  (quoting   Mitchell,  451  U.S.,  at  66–67  (Stewart,  J.,  concurring  in  the  judgment))  (emphasis   added).    Plaintiff’s  claims  fail  on  both  requirements  set  forth  in  DelCostello.    He   cannot  demonstrate  that  retaliatory  termination  violates  the  CBA,  nor  can  he   demonstrate  that  the  Union  breached  its  duty  of  fair  representation.         Plaintiff  asserts  that  his  termination  violates  the  CBA’s  nondiscrimination   clause,  which  states:     15   The  parties  signatory  to  this  agreement  shall  not  discriminate  against   any  employee  because  of  race,  color,  religion,  sex,  national  origin,   creed,  age,  handicap,  marital  status,  union  membership  or  union   activity  which  is  not  in  conflict  with  law  or  the  provisions  of  this   agreement.     (Pl.’s  Dep.  Vol.  II  Ex.  26  ¶2(H).)    This  provision  clearly  prohibits  discrimination,  but   it  neither  explicitly  nor  implicitly  prohibits  retaliation.    Since  retaliation  is  not   covered  by  the  nondiscrimination  clause,  Plaintiff’s  termination  did  not  violate  this   provision  of  the  CBA.9     Like  many  of  his  other  arguments,  Plaintiff’s  theory  regarding  the  Union’s   alleged  breach  of  the  duty  of  fair  representation  is  not  clearly  presented.    As  best  the   Court  can  discern,  Plaintiff  contends  that  the  Union  breached  its  duty  by  failing  to   arbitrate  when  it  knew  the  company  had  terminated  Plaintiff  shortly  after  he   complained  of  sexual  harassment.    “In  order  to  establish  that  the  union  has  breached   its  duty  of  fair  representation  it  must  be  shown  that  the  union's  handling  of  the   grievance  was  either  “‘arbitrary,  discriminatory,  or  in  bad  faith,’  as,  for  example,   when  it  ‘arbitrarily  ignore(s)  a  meritorious  grievance  or  process(es)  it  in  (a)   perfunctory  fashion.’”    Harris  v.  Schwerman  Trucking  Co.,  668  F.2d  1204,  1206  (11th   Cir.  1982)  (quoting  Int’l  Brotherhood  of  Elec.  Workers  v.  Foust,  442  U.S.  42,  47   (1979)).  The  Union  did  not  ignore  Plaintiff’s  grievance  or  treat  it  perfunctorily.     Rather,  it  advocated  on  Plaintiff’s  behalf  through  the  third  step  of  the  grievance   process.         A  decision  not  to  arbitrate  a  nonmeritorious  grievance,  made  after   investigation,  does  not  violate  the  duty  of  fair  representation.    McCollum  v.  Bolger,                                                                                                                   9  Plaintiff  relies  on  the  nondiscrimination  clause  but  makes  no  effort  to   demonstrate  how  or  why  it  might  prohibit  retaliation.     16   794  F.2d  602,  612  (11th  Cir.  1986).    Trostle,  the  Union  representative,  diligently   investigated  Plaintiff’s  case  before  declining  to  take  the  case  to  arbitration.  Trostle   apparently  considered  and  rejected  two  possible  bases  for  pursuing  Plaintiff’s  case   in  arbitration.    First,  he  could  not  challenge  the  factual  basis  for  the  company’s   decision  because  he  could  find  any  witnesses  to  support  Plaintiff’s  version  of  events   regarding  either  the  alleged  sexual  harassment  or  the  events  resulting  in  the   defective  product.      Second,  after  conducting  research,  he  concluded  that  he  could   not  attack  the  validity  of  the  last  chance  agreement,  which  was  the  legal  basis  for  the   termination.    Because  Trostle  concluded,  after  adequate  investigation,  that  Plaintiff’s   claims  lacked  merit,  the  Union  cannot  be  held  liable  for  violating  the  duty  of  fair   representation.10   Conclusion     The  evidence,  even  viewed  in  the  light  most  favorable  to  the  Plaintiff,  does   not  support  a  judgment  in  Plaintiff’s  favor  against  either  Defendant  on  any  of  the   claims  presented.    Therefore,  Defendants’  motions  for  summary  judgment  filed  are   GRANTED.     DONE  and  ORDERED  this  the  21st  day  of  September,  2015.                                 s/Charles  R.  Butler,  Jr.       Senior  United  States  District  Judge                                                                                                                     10  The  Court  declines  to  address  the  Union’s  alternative  argument  that  it   cannot  be  held  liable  for  any  violation  by  Trostle  because  Trostle  is  employed  by  the   International  Union,  not  the  Local.     17  

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?