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Gibson v. Leson Chevrolet Co., Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 29, 2017

TERRY GIBSON
v.
LESON CHEVROLET COMPANY, INC.

         SECTION: “J” (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          CARL J. BARBIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 19) filed by Leson Chevrolet Company, Inc (“Defendant”), an opposition thereto filed by Terry Gibson (“Plaintiff”) (Rec. Doc. 25), a reply filed by Defendant (Rec. Doc. 26), and a sur-reply (Rec. Doc. 30) filed by Plaintiff. Having considered the motion and legal memoranda, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motion should be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This case arises from an employment dispute between Plaintiff, an African American male, and Defendant, a company that operates a car dealership. Plaintiff began working for Defendant as a sales representative in January 2012. (Rec. Doc. 1 at 2.) He alleges that during the course of his employment, management at the dealership exhibited preferential treatment to Caucasian sales representatives. For example, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant prohibited African American representatives from congregating on the sales floor to wait on customers but allowed Caucasian representatives to do so. (Rec. Doc. 1 at 2.) On November 24, 2012, Plaintiff resigned his employment. (Rec. Doc. 19-2 at 2.) Plaintiff asserts that he resigned because of the disparate treatment that he and other African American employees received on the job. (Rec. Doc. 25 at 2.)

         On May 6, 2013, Plaintiff returned to work for Defendant as a sales representative. (Rec. Doc. 19-2 at 2.) Plaintiff alleges that during this second stint of employment he was routinely passed over for promotions. (See Rec. Doc. 1 at 2-3.) On November 6, 2014, after being passed over for a promotion to the finance manager position, Plaintiff complained to Michael Brenner, Defendant's general sales manager. Plaintiff avers that he told Brenner that he believed Defendant failed to promote him because of his African American race and informed Brenner that he was going to resign his employment. (Rec. Doc. 1 at 3.) That same day, Brenner and Lisa Rebowe, the dealer and owner of the dealership, decided to promote Plaintiff to the finance manager position, and Plaintiff accepted the position. (Rec. Doc. 25 at 3.)

         Plaintiff contends that his job performance as finance manager was excellent and that he never received any reprimand from his supervisors, either written or otherwise. (Rec. Doc. 1 at 3.) Defendant, however, argues that shortly after the promotion, Plaintiff failed to perform duties that were expected of finance managers. (Rec. Doc. 19-1 at 3.) Additionally, Defendant asserts that on several occasions during Plaintiff's tenure as finance manager, the finance companies charged back amounts on sales handled by Plaintiff. Id. at 3-4. According to Defendant, these charge backs were often the result of mistakes made by Plaintiff. Id. at 4. Defendant also asserts that Plaintiff would periodically re-allocate the amount of revenue from the sale of a vehicle in a way that would benefit Plaintiff, but not necessarily the dealership.[1] (Rec. Doc. 19-1 at 4.) Defendant states that Plaintiff did not have the unilateral authority to shift the revenue in this way. Id.

         Defendant asserts that in January 2015, Brenner verbally instructed Plaintiff to stop re-allocating the revenue for the sale of vehicles, but that Plaintiff continued this practice. (Rec. Doc. 19-1 at 5.) Defendant further contends that because the verbal counseling seemed to be ineffective, Brenner prepared a written warning notice. (Rec. Doc. 19-1 at 5; Rec. Doc. 19-2 at 3.) It is undisputed that Plaintiff did not sign the warning notice. (Rec. Doc. 19-2 at 4.) The notice, which is dated January 22, 2015, includes a handwritten notation stating that “Employee refused to sign.” (Rec. Doc. 19-8.) Although the “Supervisor Signature” line is signed by Brenner, the “Employee Signature” line is blank. Id. Another line, titled “Next level of supervision or witness signature” is also blank. Id.

         Plaintiff “categorically denie[s] receiving any verbal or written counseling during his entire tenure as finance manager, including any such written warning from Brenner.” (Rec. Doc. 25 at 3.) Defendant, on the other hand, contends that Brenner presented the notice to Plaintiff, who refused to sign it. (Rec. Doc. 19-1 at 5.) Defendant further contends that Plaintiff's refusal to sign the warning notice resulted in Brenner and Rebowe determining that Plaintiff was insubordinate. Id. at 4. Defendant argues that at that time, Brenner and Rebowe decided to replace Plaintiff as finance manager and began searching for another qualified person. Id. at 5-6. In May 2015, Defendant hired Ronea Wood, a Caucasian female, to replace Plaintiff as finance manager. Id. at 4. Defendant terminated Plaintiff's employment on May 5, 2015, after hiring Ronea Wood. (Rec. Doc. 19-1 at 6.)

         On or about August 22, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Rec. Doc. 1 at 2.) The EEOC issued a Right to Sue on or around February 24, 2016, and Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on April 6, 2016. Id. The complaint alleges that Defendant intentionally discriminated against him on the basis of race and retaliated against him in connection with the termination of his employment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), as amended, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law. (Rec. Doc. 1.) On February 14, 2017, Defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment which is now before the Court.

         PARTIES' ARGUMENTS

         Defendant argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims of race discrimination and retaliation. (Rec. Doc. 19-1.)[2] Defendant argues that it terminated Plaintiff's employment for insubordination after Plaintiff refused to sign the written disciplinary notice on January 22, 2015. Defendant further argues that this is a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the termination, and that Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that it was pretextual. Defendant also argues that Plaintiff's retaliation claim should be dismissed because Plaintiff cannot prove a causal connection between his complaint of discrimination on November 6, 2014 and his termination nearly six months later. Even if Plaintiff could establish a prima face claim of discrimination, Defendant asserts that it is still entitled to summary judgment because it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating him.

         In opposition, Plaintiff argues that Defendant's proffered reason for Plaintiff's termination is false, unworthy of credence, and pretextual. Plaintiff argues that he never received any written or verbal disciplinary notice regarding his job performance while he was finance manager. Thus, he argues that he could not have been insubordinate for failing to sign the disciplinary notice. Plaintiff also argues that Defendant terminated his employment because he complained to Brenner about racial discrimination at the workplace.

         LEGAL ...


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