United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
MICHAEL B. NORTH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
the Court is the motion for summary judgment filed by
Defendant, Cornerstone Chemical Company
(“Cornerstone”). (Rec. doc. 18). Plaintiff, Tracy
Sorapuru (“Sorapuru”), filed an opposition (rec.
doc. 29), and the Court heard oral argument on the
motion on July 11, 2018. (Rec. doc. 34). Having considered
the parties' briefs, the exhibits attached thereto, and
the argument of counsel, the Court rules as follows.
Fortier Plant is located on the Mississippi River in
Waggaman, Louisiana. At Fortier, Cornerstone manufactures
“building block” chemicals for both its own use
and for sale to other companies. The plant employs
approximately 450 union employees who are represented by
Steelworkers Local 13-447. Sorapuru was one of those
was a shift firefighter for Cornerstone. The duties of a
shift firefighter include making rounds throughout the plant
to check on all fire protection and suppression systems.
Sorapuru was one of four shift firefighters who worked
alternating 12-hour shifts that were either 5:00 a.m. to 5:00
p.m. or 5:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Cornerstone considered shift
firefighters to be “on duty” for their entire
shift. The position is self-directed with little immediate
supervision or oversite.
August 26, 2014, then Warehouse Manager Andreas Hatch
(“Hatch”) informed Sorapuru that he had found a
document belonging to her on the warehouse printer. When
Sorapuru came to pick up the document on August 28, 2014,
Hatch informed her that the document he found was real
estate-related and that she was forbidden from using
Cornerstone's equipment to carry on her real estate
business. Hatch then threw the document away and informed
Sorapuru that he did not want to see any real estate-related
documents again. Additional discipline against Sorapuru was
March 20, 2015, Sorapuru's supervisor, Stephen Bull
(“Bull”) informed Employee Relations Manager,
Aaron Marques (“Marques”), that another real
estate document had been found on the firehouse printer. On
March 23, 2015, Marques requested that Tim Plunkett
(“Plunkett”), Cornerstone's IT Director, pull
the internet logs and search the computer records for all
four of the shift firefighters. Plunkett copied the
electronic profiles of all four shift firefighters and turned
them over to Marques. A review of Sorapuru's secure
profile revealed a significant number of real estate
documents. According to Cornerstone, no non-Cornerstone
commercial work documents were found on any of the other
three shift firefighter's unique login credentials or
Sorapuru's secure profile on the firehouse computer,
Marques also found pictures of real estate in her photos
folder, “.pdf” files labeled as real estate
documents and contracts, and folders entitled
“clients” and “misc.” Marques
believed that, because these documents were not related to
Cornerstone's business, they were unauthorized.
March 27, 2015, Marques discussed the matter with Bull. At
that time, Sorapuru was on vacation until April 5, 2015.
Prior to her return, Marques continued to investigate the
contents of Sorapuru's profile and internet usage logs.
The results of the investigation revealed that Sorapuru's
profile contained numerous documents related to real estate,
one of which was identical to the document found on the
firehouse printer on March 20th.
reviewing the documents, Marques concluded that all of the
documents were real estate documents, unrelated to
Cornerstone's business. Marques also checked the Xerox
equipment in the warehouse and found a number of these
documents had been scanned to the network server or
Sorapuru's email address. The documents were subsequently
downloaded onto Sorapuru's secure profile.
April 14, 2015, Marques requested that Sorapuru meet with him
to discuss the results of the Company's investigation
into the real estate document found on the firehouse printer.
Sorapuru was accompanied at that meeting by union
representatives. At the meeting, Marques presented Sorapuru
with the document that was found on the firehouse printer.
She denied ever seeing the document and stated that it did
not belong to her. As a result of the meeting and what
Marques believed was Sorapuru's failure to cooperate in
the investigation, Marques presented Sorapuru with a
“Letter of Suspension Pending Final Disposition.”
April 21, 2015, Marques met with Sorapuru and union
representatives for a “Final Disposition”
meeting. During the meeting, according to Cornerstone,
Sorapuru continued to deny that she engaged in any form of
work related to her real estate job while she was on duty at
Cornerstone. The meeting concluded with Marques informing
Sorapuru that she was terminated for using Cornerstone's
IT system to engage in activities in furtherance of her
outside real estate employment while on duty and being paid
further determined that Sorapuru's use of
Cornerstone's resources and equipment in connection with
her outside job violated the company's Code of Conduct
policy, and the amount of real estate business that she
engaged in while on duty as a shift firefighter as evidenced
by the volume of documents found on her secure profile, as
well as the activity on her internet search log, amounted to
a gross disregard of Cornerstone's Code of Conduct.
the April 21, 2015 meeting, Marques provided Sorapuru with a
“Final Disposition Letter” confirming her
termination for performing work in furtherance of her outside
employment while on duty.
Local 13-447 subsequently filed a Grievance on Sorapuru's
behalf, stating that her discharge was not for “just
cause” and that she should be reinstated. The matter
proceeded to arbitration, where Sorapuru was represented by
Daniel Jennings (“Jennings”) was mutually
selected by Steelworkers Local 13-447 and Cornerstone to
arbitrate Sorapuru's grievance. On September 23, 2015,
Jennings conducted the arbitration hearing at which both
parties were represented by counsel. The issue presented for
arbitration was framed as: “Was [Sorapuru] terminated
(discharged) for just cause? If not, what is the appropriate
hearing, the parties were afforded the opportunity for the
introduction of evidence, examination and cross-examination
of witnesses, and oral arguments. The parties also submitted
post-hearing briefs. In the Opinion and Award of the
Arbitrator, Jennings noted that “both parties were well
represented for the case at bar.” After the evidentiary
hearing and submission of post-hearing briefs, Arbitrator
Jennings determined that:
In summary, based on all the evidence presented during the
present arbitration hearing and the Parties' post hearing
briefs, this Arbitrator is convinced that [Sorapuru] has been
discharged for just cause.
(Rec. doc. 18-8, p. 61).
was further “convinced that [Sorapuru] used Company
computer equipment to support her activities as a real estate
agent while on Company time.” (Id. at p. 60).
to the issuance of the Opinion and Award of the Arbitrator,
on April 23, 2015, Sorapuru had filed a Charge of
Discrimination with the EEOC. That charge made two
allegations: (1) wrongful discharge based on age and/or sex
discrimination and (2) hostile work environment based on age
and/or sex discrimination. On May 1, 2017 the EEOC issued a
no-cause determination and dismissed Sorapuru's charge.
(Rec. doc. 18-10). Sorapuru then filed this lawsuit pro
se on August 3, 2017.
original complaint, Sorapuru complained of retaliation,
harassment, and age discrimination. (Rec. doc. 1). On January
3, 2018, Sorapuru, still acting pro se, filed an
amended complaint, adding claims of gender discrimination and
hostile work environment. (Rec. doc. 9). Current counsel for
Sorapuru, Natalie Blackman, moved to enroll as counsel on
June 1, 2018. (Rec. doc. 17). Cornerstone filed the instant
motion for summary judgment the following day. (Rec. doc.
18). On June 4, 2018, Ms. Blackmon was enrolled as counsel of
record and on July 3, 2018, she filed an opposition
memorandum on behalf of Sorapuru. (Rec. docs. 19, 29). In
that opposition, Sorapuru abandoned all claims in the case
save her claim for gender discrimination. (Rec. doc. 29, p.
Summary Judgment Standard
party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim
or defense - or the part of each claim or defense - on which
summary judgment is sought.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must
support the assertion by:
(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record,
including depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations
(including those made for purposes of the motion only),