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Freeman v. Kansas City Southern Railway Co.

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

May 7, 2018

TAULESE FREEMAN
v.
KANSAS CITY SOUTHERN RAILWAY CO.

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE HAYES

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          ELIZABETH E. FOOTE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment [Record Document 18] filed by Defendant, Kansas City Southern Railway Company ("KCS"), which prays for this Court to dismiss all claims brought against it by Plaintiff, Taulese Freeman ("Freeman"). Plaintiff, a former employee of KCS, asserts claims of discrimination based on sex and retaliation for making complaints about the alleged discrimination[1] under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Upon consideration of the briefs filed by the parties and for the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff began working for KCS in 2009 as a conductor trainee. Record Document 3, p. 2; 18-2, p. 1. Plaintiff claims that she was one of the few females working at KCS and that, almost immediately after beginning her employment, she began experiencing sexual harassment, discrimination, and was made to feel unwelcome. Record Document 3, p. 2. During her employment, Plaintiff made complaints about two males she encountered at work. Specifically, it appears that in March of 2010, Plaintiff complained that a railroad taxi driver employed by a third party contractor made inappropriate comments to her. Record Document 18-2, p. 4; 18-4, p. 88. In response to her complaints, that particular driver was instructed that he was no longer to provide services for KCS or on KCS property. See Id. Additionally, in March 2011, Freeman reported the inappropriate behavior of a male KCS employee, Marlin Player, which she alleged had occurred between June 2010 and March 2011. Record Document 18-2, p. 5; 18-4, pp. 78-81. Mr. Player was disciplined as a result of Plaintiffs complaints. Record Document 18-4, pp. 80-82.

         Once she made complaints, Plaintiff claims she "began to be written up for infractions at the workplace for which her similarly situated male coworkers were not being similarly disciplined." Record Document 3, p. 3; 31-1, p. 2. On February 15, 2011, Freeman was written up for failing to wear proper eye protection. She admitted the rule violation and received a reprimand. Record Document 18-2, p. 5; 18-4, pp. 53-54. This was classified as a minor violation. Record Document 18-10, p. 3. On February 27, 2011, Plaintiff was written up for failing to switch cars safely and efficiently, resulting in damage to railcars. Record Document 18-4, pp. 55-56; 18-2, p. 5. She admitted the violation and received a 5-day suspension. Record Document 18-4, pp. 56-57; 18-2, p. 5. This was also classified as a minor violation. Record Document 18-10, p. 3. On June 27, 2012, Plaintiff was charged with another rule violation: failure to inspect a passing train. Record Document 18-4, pp. 60-61; 18-2, p. 7. This was characterized as a major infraction under the discipline policy. Record Document 18-2, p. 7; 18-4, p. 66; 18-10, p. 24. Following an investigation, Plaintiff was found to have committed the violation and received a 60-day suspension, of which she was to serve 30 days. Record Document 18-4, pp. 63-64; 18-2, p. 7. On June 30, 2012, prior to the imposition of the suspension, Plaintiff was accused of another rule violation: switches run through.[2] Record Document 18-2, p. 7; 18-4, p. 66. Following an investigation, Plaintiff was found to have committed the violation and was terminated. Record Document 18-2, p. 7. Plaintiff appealed, but the finding of responsibility and the dismissal were upheld by the Public Law Board. Record Document 18-2, pp. 7-8; 18-10, p. 4; see Record Document 18-8. Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC in November 2012, and received a right to sue letter on March 31, 2016. Record Document 18-2, p. 8; 18-7; 18-14.

         Plaintiff complains that she was subjected to harsher punishment than her male coworkers, and claims this occurred because she was female. Record Document 31, p. 3. She also claims she was terminated for making the above-referenced complaints against "prominent male peers.” Id. KCS argues that Plaintiff cannot make a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation and, even if she could, it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating Plaintiff-her history of rule violations-and she cannot demonstrate that its reason was pretextual.

         STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) directs that a 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."[3] Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, answers to interrogatories, admissions, depositions, and affidavits on file indicate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). When the burden at trial will rest on the non-moving party, the moving party need not produce evidence to negate the elements of the non-moving party's case; rather, it need only point out the absence of supporting evidence. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-323.

         If the movant satisfies its initial burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute of material fact with the motion for summary judgment, the nonmovant must demonstrate that there is, in fact, a genuine issue for dispute at trial by going "beyond the pleadings" and designating specific facts for support. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). "This burden is not satisfied with 'some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, '" by conclusory or unsubstantiated allegations, or by a mere scintilla of evidence. Id. (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). However, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1985) (internal citations omitted); Reid v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 784 F.2d 577, 578 (5th Cir. 1986) (the court must "review the facts drawing all inferences most favorable to the party opposing the motion"). While not weighing the evidence or evaluating the credibility of witnesses, courts should grant summary judgment where the critical evidence in support of the nonmovant is so weak and tenuous that it could not support a judgment in the nonmovant's favor. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

         Additionally, Local Rule 56.1 requires the moving party to file a statement of material facts as to which it contends there is no genuine issue to be tried. Pursuant to Local Rule 56.2, the party opposing the motion for summary judgment must set forth a "short and concise statement of the material facts as to which there exists a genuine issue to be tried." All material facts set forth in the statement required to be served by the moving party "will be deemed admitted, for purposes of the motion, unless controverted as required by this rule." Local Rule 56.2.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Title VII of the Civil Rights Act makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to refuse to hire or to discharge, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his or her "compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin ...." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). In addition, Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee because she "has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because [she] has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a).

         1. Discrimination

          In the absence of direct evidence, [4] Title VII cases are governed by the burden-shifting framework set out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Turner v. Kansas City S. Ry. Co., 675 F.3d 887');">675 F.3d 887, 892 (5th Or. 2012), as revised (June 22, 2012). First, Plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. If Plaintiff makes a prima facie showing, Defendant must then provide a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the employment action. Turner, 675 F.3d at 892 (citing Mayberrv v. Vouqht Aircraft Co., 6');">55 F.3d 1086, 1089 (5th Or. 1995)). "The burden on the employer at this stage is one of production, not persuasion; it can involve no credibility assessment." Alvarado v. Tex. Rangers, 492 F.3d 605, 611 (5th Or. 2007) (quotations and citations omitted). If the employer provides a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason, the burden shifts back to Plaintiff to prove that Defendant's reason was a pretext for discrimination. Turner, 675 F.3d at 892 (citing Mavberry, 55 F.3d at 1089). "A plaintiff can establish pretext 'either through evidence of disparate treatment or by showing that the employer's proffered explanation is false or "unworthy of credence.'"" Nasti v. CIBA Specialty Cherns. Corp., 492 F.3d 589, 593 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Laxton v. Gap Inc., 333 F.3d 572, 578 (5th Cir. 2003)). "Although intermediate evidentiary burdens shift back and forth under this framework, '[t]he ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff remains at all times with the plaintiff.'" Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prod., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 143 (2000) (quoting Tex. Dep't of Cmtv. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 249 (1981)).

         In order to establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination, Plaintiff must show that"(1) she belongs to a protected group, (2) she was qualified for her position, (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) she was replaced with a similarly qualified person who was not a member of her protected group, or in the case of disparate treatment, that similarly situated employees were treated more favorably."[5]Nasti, 492 F.3d at 593 (citing Okoye v. Univ. of Tex. Houston Health Sci. Ctr, 245 F.3d 507, 512-13 (5th Or. 2001)). Here, Defendant concedes that Plaintiff is a member of a protected class and that she suffered an adverse employment action when she was discharged. ...


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