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Peterson v. Linear Controls Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

September 5, 2017

Peterson
v.
Linear Controls Inc.

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          CAROL B. WHITEHURST UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion For Summary Judgment filed by defendant, Linear Controls Inc. (“Linear Controls”), [Rec. Doc. 29]. Plaintiff, David D. Peterson, filed a Memorandum In Opposition [Rec. Doc. 33] and Linear Controls filed a Reply thereto [Rec. Doc. 39]. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Motion.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff is a former employee of Linear Controls who worked offshore as an electrician on a construction crew and also periodically performed maintenance work on offshore rigs. Plaintiff was employed with Linear Controls for approximately seven (7) years before he submitted a resignation letter on September 23, 2015.

         Plaintiff filed an EEOC Charge against Linear Controls on October 21, 2015 alleging that for an approximately six (6) week period in 2015, July 15-August 22, 2015, while working for Linear Controls on the Fieldwood Energy, LLC (“Fieldwood”) East Breaks 165 platform, he was discriminated against on the basis of his race-African-American, and that he was subjected to discrimination based on his religion-Muslin. Plaintiff also claimed “retaliation” in his EEOC charge because he was late for a safety meeting along with two white employees, but he was the only one written-up for the violation.[1] R. 29-3, Exh. B. Plaintiff asserted claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. §2000e) ("Title VII"). After conducting an investigation the EEOC ruled in Linear Controls' favor and found that the evidence did not establish a violation of Title VII on either the race or the religious discrimination claims.

         On May 25, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this action asserting race and religious discrimination claims under Title VII. Plaintiff also asserted a claim of racial discrimination under Louisiana's Employment Discrimination Law and a state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         On May 25, 2017, Linear Controls filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment seeking dismissal on the merits of all of the Plaintiff's asserted federal and state law claims. Plaintiff filed an Opposition to Linear Control's Motion for Summary Judgment on June 29, 2017. R. 33.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is mandated when the movant shows there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Am. Home Assurance Co. v. United Space Alliance, LLC, 378 F.3d 482, 486 (5th Cir. 2004). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the applicable law in the case. Minter v. Great American Insurance Co. of New York, 423 F.3d 460, 465 (5th Cir. 2005). A genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable jury could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. Thorson v. Epps, 701 F.3d 444, 445 (5th Cir. 2012).

         The party seeking summary judgment has the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those parts of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of genuine issue of material fact. Washburn v. Harvey, 504 F.3d 505, 508 (5th Cir. 2007). If the moving party carries its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of a material fact. Id. In such a case, the non-movant may not rest upon the allegations in his pleadings, but rather must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). All facts and justifiable inferences are construed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by pointing out that there is insufficient proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. Norwegian Bulk Transport A/S v. International Marine Terminals Partnership, 520 F.3d 409, 412 (5th Cir. 2008). The motion should be granted if the non-moving party cannot produce sufficient competent evidence to support an essential element of its claim. Condrey v. Suntrust Bank of Ga., 431 F.3d 191, 197 (5th Cir. 2005). However, metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions and those supported by only a scintilla of evidence are insufficient. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994).

         In an employment discrimination case, the focus is on whether a genuine issue exists as to whether the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff. Grimes v. Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, 102 F.3d 137, 139 (5th Cir. 1996) (and cases cited therein). As in any case, unsubstantiated assertions and conclusory allegations are not competent summary judgment evidence. Hervey v. Mississippi Dept. of Educ., 404 Fed.Appx. 865, 869 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Ramsey v. Henderson, 286 F.3d 264, 269 (5th Cir. 2002)) (“conclusory allegations, speculation, and unsubstantiated assertions are inadequate to satisfy the nonmovant's burden on a motion for summary judgment”). In response to a motion for summary judgment, it is therefore incumbent upon the non-moving party to present evidence-not just conjecture and speculation-that the defendant retaliated and discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of his race. Grimes, 102 F.3d at 140.

         III. Undisputed Facts

         Linear Controls publishes and distributes company policies addressing discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Linear Controls's Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) Policy stated in pertinent part:

Linear Controls, Inc. provides equal employment opportunities without regard to race, color, age, sex, national origin, religion, disability or veteran status. Linear Controls, Inc.'s commitment to equality extends to all personnel actions including: recruitment, advertising or soliciting for employment, selection for employment, determining rates of pay or other forms of compensation, performance evaluation, upgrading, transfer, promotion, demotion, selection for training or education, discipline, suspension, termination, treatment during employment, and participation in social and recreational programs.

R 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 2, citing R. 29, Exh. R, Declaration of Clemons; Exh. S, Employee Handbook.

         Linear Controls also prominently displays at its facilities EEO posters published by the U.S. Department of Labor. These posters provide that discrimination, harassment and retaliation are prohibited. The posters also provide contact information for the U.S. Department of Labor, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). In addition, Linear Controls has a written grievance or complaint policy. Linear Controls' management also maintains an open door policy under which employee complaints or concerns can be raised. Employees may raise complaints or concerns with supervisors or with Human Resources. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 3, citing Exh. R, Declaration of Clemons; Exh. S, Employee Handbook.

         Plaintiff acknowledged receipt of copies of the above-referenced policies as shown by the signed Receipt and Acknowledgment forms dated October 28, 2008 and March 28, 2012, copies of which are marked as Exhibit T, in globo. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 4, also citing Plaintiff's Depo., Exh. D, pp. 175-179.

         Linear Controls originally hired Plaintiff on October 28, 2008 as a Helper earning $9.00/hr. Plaintiff's employment was separated in March of 2009 due to lack of work. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 5 citing Exh. R, Declaration of Clemons.

         During the time period relevant to this litigation, Plaintiff worked offshore for Linear Controls as an Electrician on a construction crew. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 8 citing Exh. R, Declaration of Clemons.

         On July 13, 2015, while offshore in the Grand Isle area on a job for Linear Controls' customer, Fieldwood Energy, LLC (“Fieldwood”), Plaintiff was late for a safety meeting. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 9 citing Exh. O, 7/13/15 Employee Disciplinary Report.

         Plaintiff admits he was late for the meeting. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 10 citing Exh. D, Plaintiff's Depo., pp. 152-159, 233-235, 246.

         The next day, July 14, 2015, Plaintiff was sent in from the Grand Isle job. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 11 citing Exh. P, 07/14/2015 Employee Disciplinary Report.

         Plaintiff became confrontational with Linear Controls' Maintenance Supervisor, Michael Book, when Plaintiff learned that he was being sent in from the job. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 14 citing Exh. Q, Depo. of Davis, pp. 21-25; Exh. P, 07/14/2015 Employee Disciplinary Report. Michael Book and Plaintiff were the only Linear Controls' employees on the job. Id. citing Exh. Q, pp. 21-25.

         After being sent in from the Grand Isle job, Plaintiff was put back to work immediately by Linear Controls on another location. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 15 citing Exh. R, Declaration of Clemons.

         Plaintiff admits he was late for a safety meeting in August 2015 on the East Breaks 165 project. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 17 citing Exh. E, 8/13/2015 (p. 12/100) notes submitted by Plaintiff to EEOC.

         No disciplinary action was incurred by any employee, including Plaintiff, in August 2015 on the East Breaks 165 project as Linear Controls did not receive any reports from Fieldwood that either Duhon, Hammett or Plaintiff were late for any safety meeting in August 2015. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 18 citing Declaration of Clemons.

         On September 15, 2015, Plaintiff called Tim Davis, Linear Controls' Construction Project Manager, asking to have his employment terminated by Linear Controls. Davis declined since the company was not conducting layoffs at the time and had a project coming up and needed Plaintiff to work. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 21 citing Depo. of Davis, pp. 19-20; Plaintiff's Depo., pp. 160-169.

         On September 23, 2015, Plaintiff submitted a letter to Linear Controls stating: “I will like to resign from Linear Control's, due to I am continuing my education as an electrician to further my career.” R. 29, Exh. C, Plaintiff's 09/3/2015 letter.

         Plaintiff's resignation letter makes no reference to discrimination or harassment based upon race or religion or to any other alleged unlawful discriminatory acts or conduct. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 25 citing Exh. C, Plaintiff's 09/3/2015 letter.

         After his resignation, Plaintiff did continue his education, receiving additional training and/or education through the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (“IB EW”) and otherwise. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 26 citing Plaintiff's Deposition, pp. 10, 41-43, 174-175.

         Plaintiff filed his Charge of Discrimination on October 28, 2015, and the EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue at Plaintiff's request, due to the passage of time, on February 22, 2016. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 27 citing Exh. B, EEOC Charge, Exh. F, EEOC Notice of Right to Sue.

         Plaintiff worked for Linear Controls on Fieldwood's East Breaks 165 platform from July 16, 2015 to July 26, 2015 and from August 2, 2015 to August 22, 2015. From July 27, 2015 to August 1, 2015, Plaintiff was off. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 28 citing Declaration of Clemons.

         Duhon denies making any comments to Plaintiff about being a Muslin. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 31 citing Exh. I, Depo of Duhon, pp 21-22.

         The job description for an Electrician on a Linear Controls' construction crew, as was Plaintiff, called for working outdoors including exposure to “a typical offshore site” and the “ability to work in a work area where work temperatures may be affected by outside temperatures.” R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 37 citing Plaintiff's Depo., pp. 179-182; Exh. L, Job Description, Bates Nos. L00720-L000721.

         Working in an outdoor environment was part of Plaintiff's job description and regular job duties. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 38 citing Plaintiff's Depo., pp. 179-182; Exh. L, Job Description, Bates Nos. L00720-L000721; Declaration of Clemons.

         Although he was an Electrician and a member of Linear Control's construction crew, Plaintiff was given assignments on maintenance projects from time to time if the work was within his capabilities. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 40 citing Exh. N, Declaration of Macdonald.

         Plaintiff was offered a maintenance position within his capabilities and for which he was qualified, pursuant to an inquiry from Plaintiff. R. 29-2, Undisputed Fact No. 41 citing Exh. ...


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