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Carter v. Swiftships, L.L.C.

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

January 19, 2018





         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Record Document 23) filed by the Defendant, Swiftships, L.L.C. ("Swiftships"). Plaintiff, Jordan Carter ("Carter") has sued Swiftships for alleged discrimination against her on the basis of her pregnancy in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 ("PDA"), 42 U.S.C.§ 2000e(k), as amended by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) and in violation of the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law ("LEDL"), La. Rev. Stat. 23:342. Swiftships moves for summary judgment dismissing all of Carter's claims. After careful consideration of all parties' submissions, and the law applicable before the Court, Swiftships' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.


         Carter is a former employee of Swiftships. Swiftships is a shipbuilder which designs and constructs vessels for government and commercial entities. See Record Document 23-2 at 1, ¶ 1. On March 19, 2016, Carter initiated this lawsuit, asserting that she has been discriminated against on the basis of her pregnancy in violation of the PDA. See Record Document 1 at 4, ¶ 18. Additionally, Carter alleges corresponding violations under the LEDL. See id. The parties conducted discovery on these claims. Discovery is Page 1 of 16 now complete, and Swiftships submits that summary judgment on all of Carter's claims is appropriate. In support of its Motion for Summary Judgment, Swiftships presents the Court with affidavits of Jeff Leleux ("Leleux"), the President of Swiftships, Danny Knope ("Knope"), the Purchasing Manager at Swiftships, and Shehraze Shah ("Shah"), the Chief Executive Officer of Swiftships. Carter presents the Court with affidavits from her mother, Tamara Thomas, her step-father, Michael Thomas, and herself. Furthermore, she submits to the Court email correspondence and other documents in order to defeat the present Motion for Summary Judgment.

         On April 22, 2013, Carter was hired by Swiftships to the role of Contracts Administrator. See Record Document 23-2 at 1, ¶ 2. Carter alleges that within a year of being hired as Contracts Administrator, she was promoted to the position of Contracts Manager. See Record Document 1 at 2, ¶ 6. She alleges that an increase in pay was supposed to accompany the position, but she never received the increase. See id. In September of 2014, Carter informed Shah and Rickie Bertrand ("Bertrand"), Human Resources Manager, that she was pregnant. See id. at 2-3, ¶ 8, see Record Document 23-5 at 8, ¶ 5. On November 23, 2014, Carter received an email from Shah advising her that he "appointed [Knope] as the [C]ontracts [M]anager and would like for [Carter] to report to him going forward for all [her] contracting responsibilities." Record Document 27-3 at 1. Carter alleges that she was replaced in this position by Knope, a Caucasian-male employee, "who was being promoted to the Contracts Manager position previously held by Carter." Record Document 1 at 3, ¶ 10. After the purported demotion, Carter alleges that she began to receive fewer work assignments and that the demotion occurred two months after informing Shah and Bertrand that she was pregnant. See id. at ¶ 11. She further claims that on or around December 26, 2014, she was notified that her employment with Swiftships was being terminated effective January 9, 2015 on account of a reduction in force. See id. at 3-4, ¶ 13. She alleges that Knope, her "replacement, " was not terminated as part of the reduction in force. See id. at 4, ¶ 14.

         Swiftships denied the allegations of discrimination. Swiftships argues that in 2014 there were economic developments that negatively impacted the company such as losing a bid to construct vessels for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that was estimated to be worth $ 1 billion dollars in gross revenue and the drastic decline in oil prices in 2014. See Record Document 23-2 at 2-3, ¶¶ 10-11. According to Swiftships, Shah and Leleux made a joint determination that a reduction in force in the areas of general administration and production was required to reduce overhead and expenses. See id. at 3, ¶ 12. Swiftships argues that there was no need for Carter's position due to the lack of anticipated work and that her pregnancy did not factor into the decision. See id. at ¶¶ 15-16.


         I. Legal Standards

         A. The Summary Judgment Standard

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs summary judgment. This rule provides that 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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Also, "a party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the motion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record." Fed R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). "If a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may . . . grant summary judgment." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(3).

         In a summary judgment motion, "a party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings . . . [and] affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553 (1986) (internal quotations and citations omitted). If the movant meets this initial burden, then the non-movant has the burden of going beyond the pleadings and designating specific facts that prove that a genuine issue of material fact exists. See id. at 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2554; see Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). A non-movant, however, cannot meet the burden of proving that a genuine issue of material fact exists by providing only "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence." Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. Additionally, in deciding a summary judgment motion, courts "resolve factual controversies in favor of the nonmoving party, but only when there is an actual controversy, that is when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Id. Courts "do not, however, in the absence of any proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts." Id.

         Affidavits are a permissible and common form of evidence that may be used to oppose a motion for summary judgment. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553. To be competent summary judgment evidence, an affidavit "must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant ... is competent to testify on the matters stated." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). However, a party may not manufacture a genuine issue of material fact by submitting an affidavit that impeaches sworn testimony without explanation. See S.W.S. Erectors v. Infax, Inc., 72 F.3d 489, 495 (5th Cir. 1996). If a party submits such a "sham" affidavit, the Court may properly disregard or strike such an affidavit, grant summary judgment for the movant, and award attorney's fees to the opponent of the submitting party. See id. at 495-96; see also Doe ex rel. Doe v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 220 F.3d 380, 385-86 (5th Cir. 2000); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(h).

         B. Standard of Proof under the PDA and LEDL

         "Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer 'to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.'" Laxton v. Gap Inc., 333 F.3d 572, 577 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)). Claims brought under the PDA are analyzed like any other Title VII discrimination claims. See id. at 578. Furthermore, Louisiana courts apply the same analysis to LEDL claims that federal ...

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