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Starks v. Superior Energy Services, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 20, 2018

COURTENAY STARKS
v.
SUPERIOR ENERGY SERVICES, LLC

         SECTION: "A" (5)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JAY C. ZAINEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The following motion is before the Court: Motion for Partial Dismissal and Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 6) filed by Defendant, Superior Energy Services, LLC. Plaintiff Courtenay Starks opposes the motion. The motion, submitted for consideration on March 7, 2018, is before the Court on the briefs without oral argument. For the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         This is an action under Title VII and the Louisiana Anti-Discrimination Law for a hostile work environment (race) and retaliatory discharge. Plaintiff Courtenay Starks, who is African-American, was employed at Defendant's valve shop in Belle Chasse, Louisiana from February 2010 through February 2016. Plaintiff alleges that Frank Cherry (white supervisor), Max Schneck (coworker), and Carnell Mediamass (coworker) subjected him to a racially discriminatory workplace throughout his six-year employment with Defendant. Sometime in 2013, and then again in November 2015, Plaintiff made a complaint of race discrimination to Defendant's Human Resources department but Defendant failed to take any action to stop the racially abusive treatment. Plaintiff contends that Cherry and Schneck retaliated by continuing to harass him after he complained about the abuse.

         In February 2016 Defendant began to relocate the shop operation and lay off the employees at the Belle Chasse facility. Plaintiff was laid off on February 12, 2016, but so were Cherry and the other harassing co-workers at the shop. Plaintiff contends, however, that his lay off was retaliatory because he overheard Cherry's supervisor ask the person administering the lays offs to “do him a favor” and “get rid” of Plaintiff. (Rec. Doc. 1, Complaint ¶ 20).

         Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC claiming retaliatory discharge and workplace harassment. This lawsuit followed.

         Defendant now moves for summary judgment arguing that Plaintiff released the claims at issue in this lawsuit when he left Defendant's employ.[1]

         II. Discussion

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, " when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact." TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James, 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986)). A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). The court must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Id. (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). Once the moving party has initially shown "that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's cause, " Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986), the non-movant must come forward with "specific facts" showing a genuine factual issue for trial. Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). Conclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Id. (citing SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1993)).

         Exhibit B-1 to Defendant's motion is a Confidential Separation and Release Agreement that Plaintiff executed on February 12, 2016. (Rec. Doc. 6-5 pp. 3-7). Paragraph 2 of the Release is a waiver and release in favor of Defendant “from any and all claims, demands, causes of action, lawsuits and liabilities of whatever kind or nature, known or unknown, asserted or unasserted, that may have arisen prior to or that may exist as of the date of EMPLOYEE's execution and acceptance of this AGREEMENT for any damages, costs, fees (including attorney's fees), wages, salary, back pay, front pay, liquidated damages, penalties, or any other compensation or benefits except as expressly provided under this AGREEMENT.” The consideration offered to Plaintiff in exchange for the release was $2, 256.00.

         According to Plaintiff, he was first given the Release at the time he learned that he was being laid off. (Rec. Doc. 11-1, Declaration ¶ 2). Plaintiff was given until February 19, 2016, to execute the agreement in exchange for the $2, 256.00 but he signed the document that same day.

         Plaintiff was having doubts, however, about accepting the agreement and taking the money, so he drove to Lafayette, Louisiana to revoke the agreement. Plaintiff was concerned that if he executed the Release he would not be able to bring his discrimination and retaliation claims against Defendant. (Id. ¶ 7). Plaintiff consulted with an attorney (not his current counsel) and he performed Google internet searches to determine the difference between an “agreement” and a “contract.” Plaintiff performed this specific search because Defendant's HR Manager, Thomas LaFleur, told him that the release was an agreement, not a contract, and therefore “no big deal.” (Id. ¶ 7).

         Based on his internet research and the advice that the attorney gave him, Plaintiff decided to revoke his revocation and execute the Release because he really needed the money after losing his job. (Id. ΒΆ 9). Defendant paid Plaintiff the $2, 256.00, which ...


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