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Johnson v. Cabot Corp.

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

February 19, 2019

CHARLES JOHNSON
v.
CABOT CORPORATION

          HANNA MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          ROBERT R. SUMMERHAYS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court in this employment discrimination suit is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Cabot Corporation ("Cabot"). [Doc. No. 21]. Pursuant to its motion, Cabot seeks dismissal of Plaintiff Charles Johnson's claim of race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. For the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED.

         I.

         Background

         Charles Johnson, an African American male, was hired by Cabot on March 21, 2011 as a warehouse technician at Cabot's carbon black facility in Franklin, Louisiana. [Doc. No. 26-1 at ¶¶ 1-2]. Johnson continued in that position until his termination on August 12, 2015. Id. at ¶ 2. Johnson's duties included packing and bulk loading carbon black into railcars and hopper trucks. Id. at ¶ 3. In order to load the carbon black into the railcars, Johnson had to climb on top of a railcar, open a spout located on the top of the railcar and pour the carbon black through the spout.

         At the time of Johnson's termination, Cabot had implemented a Fall Protection Procedure, which required all employees working on top of railcars to wear fall protection gear at all times. The fall protection gear included a harness, which was tethered to a guidewire running above the railcars. Id. at ¶¶ 7-8; Doc. No. 21-4 at ¶ 15. Cabot trained its warehouse technicians, including Johnson, to comply with the Fall Protection Procedure. [Doc. No. 26-1 at ¶¶ 9-10], Cabot stored extra fall protection gear at its facility to ensure employees were always able to comply with the Fall Protection Policy. Id. at ¶ 15. The Employee Disciplinary Policy in effect during the relevant time period identified the "flagrant or intentional violation" of Cabot's Fall Protection Procedure as "misconduct which may result in immediate termination." [Doc. No. 21-4 at 22-23 (emphasis omitted)]. Johnson was made aware of Cabot's Disciplinary Policy from the beginning of his employment, and he testified he knew that a violation of the Fall Protection Procedure could result in termination. [Doc. No. 26-1 at ¶¶ 13-14].

         At some point in time prior to August 5, 2015, Cabot installed hidden cameras around its warehouse at the plant. [Doc. No. 21-5 at ¶ 11]. On August 5, 2015, Jonathan Granger, Cabot's Technical Manager of Plant and Warehouse, observed misconduct in violation of protocol in all areas of the warehouse while reviewing footage from the video cameras. [Doc. No. 26-1 at ¶¶ 16-17; Doc. No. 21-7 at ¶ 12]. In addition to numerous minor violations, Granger saw three African American employees, including Johnson, in violation of the Fall Protection Procedure. [Doc. No. 26-1 at ¶ 18]. That same day, Granger reported the violations to the Facility General Manager, Steve Hubertus. Id. at ¶ 21. Hubertus directed Granger and Hugh Junca, a Cabot Warehouse Supervisor, to personally verify the conduct.[1] Id. at ¶ 22. That same evening, Granger and Junca walked to the railcar dock to inspect fall protection compliance and personally observed Johnson loading railcars without fall protection. Id. at ¶ 25; Doc. No. 21-6 at ¶ 7; Doc. No. 21-7 at ¶ 15. At the time of the inspection, Johnson was the only employee in the railcar dock who was observed not wearing fall protection gear. [Doc. No. 26-1 at ¶ 27], Junca and Granger instructed Johnson to climb down from the top of the railcar and go to the office to discuss why he was not wearing fall protection gear. Id. at ¶ 28. Johnson was unable to satisfactorily explain why he was not wearing his gear. Id. at ¶ 29. In light of the violation, Johnson was instructed to go home pending an investigation into the incident. Id. at ¶ 30.

         On August 6, 2015, Johnson was interviewed by Granger, Junca and Ruth Ortego, Human Resources Generalist for the plant, in the presence of a Union representative. Id. at ¶ 31; Doc. No. 21-5 at ¶ 16; Doc. No. 21-7 at ¶ 20. In the interview, Johnson admitted he was not wearing fall protection even though he was required to do so and had been trained with respect to same. Id. at ¶ 32. Johnson admitted he chose not to wear his fall protection gear without the knowledge of his supervisors. Id. at ¶ 33. When asked why he chose not to wear his fall protection gear, Johnson could not offer a satisfactory explanation. Id. at ¶ 34. Johnson was terminated on August 12, 2015, based on Defendant's finding he violated the Fall Protection Procedure. Id. at ¶ 36. Aside from the August 5, 2015 incident, Johnson had no other disciplinary violations during his employment with Cabot.[2] [Doc. No. 21-12 at 32-33].

         On June 7, 2016, Johnson filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Id. at ¶ 40. On September 26, 2017, the EEOC issued Johnson a Dismissal and Notice of Rights Letter. Id. at ¶ 41. Johnson timely filed the instant suit thereafter, asserting a claim of unlawful employment discrimination. [Doc. 21-1 at 5].

         II.

         Applicable Law

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         "A 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). "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." Id. "A genuine issue of material fact exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Quality Infusion ...


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