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Ricks v. Wyatt Field Service Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

July 17, 2015

PERCY R. RICKS,
v.
WYATT FIELD SERVICE COMPANY

RULING

SHELLY D. DICK, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment [1] filed by Defendant, Wyatt Field Service Company ("Wyatt"). Plaintiff, Percy R. Ricks ("Ricks"), has filed an Opposition [2] to which Wyatt has filed a Reply. [3] For the following reasons, Wyatt's Motion shall be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

This removal action arises out of Ricks' assertion that Wyatt wrongfully terminated him for reporting an on-the-job-injury.[4] Wyatt is an industrial contracting company that provides personnel to industrial facilities for turnaround and other maintenance projects.[5] Wyatt contracted with ExxonMobil to provide such services for a turnaround at ExxonMobil's facility in Chalmette, Louisiana, from February 25, 2013 through April 18, 2013.[6] In March of 2013, Ricks began working the night-shift as a boilermaker for Wyatt on the ExxonMobil-Chalmette turnaround project.[7] On March 30, 2013, Ricks reported a job injury to his foreman, Steve Austin.[8] Incident reports were completed and Wyatt safety personnel were notified.[9] For a few days following the work place incident, Ricks was given lighter duty assignments.[10] On April 1, 2013, Wyatt managers gave Ricks permission to leave work early and Ricks was instructed to see his personal doctor.[11]

As instructed, the next day Ricks went to see his family doctor, who issued Ricks a "certificate to return to work" on April 5, 2013.[12] It is undisputed that Ricks did not report to work at Wyatt on April 2, April 3, or April 4, 2013.[13] Ricks testified that he called and spoke to "someone" in the Chalmette office, either on April 2 or April 3, and explained that he had a doctor's note excusing him from work until April 5.[14] Ricks claims that the unidentified person with whom he spoke told him to return to work on April 5, 2013 and to bring his doctor's excuse with him.[15] When Ricks reported to work on April 5, he was informed that he had been terminated for violating Wyatt's "no call, no show" attendance policy.[16]

Ricks points to the circumstances surrounding his termination as evidence that he was illegally terminated by Wyatt because he reported a work-related injury.[17] Ricks refers to his deposition testimony wherein he testified that his supervisors not only knew of his work-related injury but that they had also filled out incident report forms regarding his accident. Ricks further testified that Wyatt General Superintendent, Calvin Schulte ("Schulte"), was present "at the other end of the safety office" when he completed his accident report.[18] According to Ricks, he told Schulte that he suffered a work-related injury on the day of his accident and, in response, Schulte's sole comment was to get it "checked out."[19] Ricks also testified that, during daily work-shift assignments, Wyatt employees were told that Wyatt had too many recordables, or OSHA reportable workrelated injuries, and that Wyatt "didn't need no more", or Wyatt would lose its contract with Exxon.[20] Ricks, however, did not identify who made these statements.[21]

On the other hand, Wyatt has offered evidence of a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for Rick's termination. Wyatt submits that it was experiencing excessive absenteeism problems among its employees on the ExxonMobil-Chalmette jobsite.[22] As a result, Schulte routinely reviewed attendance records to ensure the employees were complying with Wyatt's attendance policy which requires that employees notify the jobsite timekeeper prior to their scheduled shift to report an absence or incidence of tardiness.[23] Pursuant to Wyatt's no call, no show' policy, "employees who fail to report to work for three (3) consecutive days without calling in to the timekeeper will be terminated."[24] Wyatt offered evidence that its employees are trained about the attendance policy and instructed that "absences or incidences of tardiness must be reported to the timekeeper on duty before the employee's scheduled shift begins."[25] It is undisputed that Ricks attended an employee orientation on January 2, 2013 and knew of his obligation to report absences to Wyatt.[26]

In opposition to Wyatt's summary judgment motion, Ricks does not contravene or dispute these facts. Rather, Ricks opposes summary judgment solely on the grounds that the Court must make a credibility determination in order to ascertain Wyatt's "true motive" for the Ricks termination.[27]

II. LEGAL STANDARD

"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."[28] "When assessing whether a dispute to any material fact exists, we consider all of the evidence in the record but refrain from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence."[29] "A party moving for summary judgment must "demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, " but need not negate the elements of the nonmovant's case.'"[30] If the moving party satisfies its burden, "the non-moving party must show that summary judgment is inappropriate by setting forth specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue concerning every essential component of its case.'"[31] However, the non-moving party's burden "is not satisfied with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence."[32]

Notably, "[a] genuine issue of material fact exists, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'"[33] The Court must resolve all reasonable factual inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.[34] However, "[t]he court has no duty to search the record for material fact issues. Rather, the party opposing the summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate precisely how this evidence supports his claim."[35] "Conclusory allegations unsupported by specific facts, however, will not prevent an award of summary judgment; the plaintiff [can]not rest on his allegations... to get to a jury without "any significant probative evidence tending to support the complaint."'"[36]

Considering that the parties in this case have requested that their case proceed as a bench trial, further considerations come into play. The Fifth Circuit has explained that "it makes little sense to forbid the judge from drawing inferences from the evidence submitted on summary judgment when that same judge will act as the trier of fact, unless those inferences involve issue of witness credibility or disputed material facts."[37] Additionally, "[i]f a trial on the merits will not enhance the court's ability to draw inferences and conclusions, then a district judge properly should draw his inferences without resort to the expense of trial.'"[38]

III. LAW AND ANALYSIS

La. R.S. 23:1361(B) provides that "[n]o person shall discharge an employee from employment because of said employee having asserted a claim for [workers compensation]." "The purpose of La. R.S. 23:1361 is to prevent unjust dismissals and to allow employees to exercise their right to workman's ...


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