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Brown v. Praxair, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

July 23, 2019

JONATHAN BROWN
v.
PRAXAIR, INC., ET AL.

          RULING AND ORDER

         Before the Court is Praxair's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 56). Plaintiff filed an opposition. (Doc. 57). Oral argument is not required. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED.

         I. FACTUAL HISTORY

         The Court will not re-state in its entirety the factual and procedural history of this case, having set forth the facts in the Court's prior Ruling and Order (Doc. 63). In short, this matter arises from allegations of racial discrimination and unlawful termination made against Praxair, Inc ("Praxair")[1], James Willis, Brian Burt, Todd Dunn, and Vanjia Thomas[2] (collectively "Defendants") by Plaintiff Jonathan Brown. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff alleges that he was falsely accused of violating company policies, leading to a reprimand from Brian Burt, one of his supervisors. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-8). Plaintiff alleges that despite attempts to complain to Vanjia Thomas and Courtni Booker, employees within Praxair's Human Resources Department, his concerns remained unaddressed. Plaintiff alleges that eventually, he was given the option to accept a severance package or to participate in a performance improvement plan ("PIP"). Plaintiff asserts that after beginning the PIP, he eventually submitted his two weeks' notice due to the issues he faced at work. (Id. at ¶ 14). Plaintiff claims that these work related issues were violations of Title VII[3], the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law ("LEDL")[4], and 28 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs complaint. The Court granted Defendants' motion in part, and dismissed Plaintiffs claims against James Willis, Brian Burt, Todd Dunn, and Vanjia Thomas ("Individual Praxair Employees") with prejudice. (Doc. 31). Defendants further moved for attorney's fees to be awarded. (Doc. 34). The Court issued a ruling granting attorney's fees and costs to Defendants, and on its own motion, dismissed Plaintiffs § 1986 claims against the individual Praxair employees. (Doc. 63). The only remaining claims are against Praxiar, which now moves for summary judgment.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate "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). "[W]hen a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (quotation marks and footnote omitted).

         In sum, summary judgment is appropriate if, "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, [the non-movant] fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         To establish a case for race discrimination under Title VII, a plaintiff must show that 1) he is a member of a protected class, 2) he was qualified for his position, 3) he was subjected to an adverse employment action, and 4) he was replaced by someone outside the protected class. McCoy v. City of Shreveport, 492 F.3d 551, 556-57 (5th Cir. 2007).

         Once a plaintiff establishes the aforementioned factors, the burden shifts to the defendant to provide a non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Id. at 557. Once the defendant offers a non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action the burden then shifts once more to the plaintiff to establish that the reason offered by the defendant is a mere pretext for racial animus. (Id.). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has determined that the Title VII test also applies to claims brought under the LEDL, See DeCorte v. Jordan, 497 F.3d 433, 437 (5th Cir. 2007) (noting that claims of race discrimination under the LEDL are governed by the same analysis required for Title VII claims).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Praxair is Entitled to Summary Judgment

         Praxair argues that Plaintiff cannot establish the prima facie case for race discrimination because he was not subjected to an adverse employment action. (Doc. 56-1 at pp. 5-6). Praxair claims that Plaintiff resigned rather than be discharged, and that he has failed to establish that "working conditions [were] so intolerable that a reasonable person in the employee's position would have felt compelled to resign." Nassar v. Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr., 674 F.3d 448, 453 (5th Cir. 2012). Praxair argues that Plaintiff was reprimanded repeatedly due to his own poor job performance. (Doc. 56-1 at p. 5).

         Praxair also alleges that it has a non-discriminatory basis for all actions taken against Plaintiff. (Id. at p. 11). Again, Praxair asserts that any complained of behavior was a direct result of Plaintiffs own poor work performance. (Id.). Praxair further argues that Plaintiff cannot establish that the reasons offered for Plaintiffs termination are pretextual. (Doc. at p. 15). Praxair claims that there are no facts in controversy that dispute that Plaintiff, in his own words, "had a bad year."[5] (Id.).

         Plaintiff argues that he was offered the choice of being placed on a PIP for 90 days or accepting a severance package, which effectively served as constructive termination. (Doc. 57 at p. 5). Plaintiff cites the deposition of David Schein, a "liability expert" who opined that Praxair had not offered any real method for Plaintiff to succeed at his job, ...


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