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Traylor v. Southern Components Inc.

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

August 1, 2019

ERIC JEROME TRAYLOR
v.
SOUTHERN COMPONENTS, INC., ET AL.

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE HAYES

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          FOOTE, JUDGE

         Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Southern Components, Inc. ("Southern") and Matt Kral ("Kral"). [Record Document 20]. For the reasons given below, the motion is GRANTED, and all claims against Defendants are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. Background[1]

         Plaintiff Eric Traylor ("Traylor"), a forty-four-year-old African-American man, applied for work as a night forklift operator at Southern, a company that produces roof and floor trusses. [Record Documents 1 at 4, 7 and 20-2 at 1]. After he was hired by Kral, Southern's Production Manager, on July 12, 2016, [Record Document 20-2 at 2], Traylor began training under Britney Wells ("Wells"), an African-American woman and Southern's senior forklift operator, [Record Document 20-5 at 3]. Although Wells supervised Traylor's training, she was not a manager at Southern and had no authority over hiring or firing. [Record Document 20-2 at 2]. During this training period, Southern expects new forklift operators to learn the skills necessary to handle and load Southern's specialized products. [Record Document 20-5 at 1- 2]. The position for which Traylor was training "requires someone able to handle a large amount of responsibility and who is able to work independently." [Record Document 20-2 at 1].

         When he applied for his position, Traylor indicated that he was in good physical health with no medical restrictions and that his only medical condition was asthma; he also provided Southern with a copy of his military discharge paperwork which indicated "disability" as the reason for separation. [Record Documents 20-2 at 1-2, 20-3 at 36, and 23-1 at 24]. While working with Wells, Traylor told her that he could not stand for long periods because "I have pain in my legs and they well up." [Record Document 20-3 at 42]. She replied that being able to stand for long periods was a part of the job. [ Id. at 43]. Traylor never requested accommodations, such as being allowed to sit more frequently, nor did he inform Kral of any need for accommodations. [Record Documents 20-3 at 43 and 20-5 at 3]. Traylor was older than some of the other employees, and Wells told him that he was old. [Record Document 20-3 at 53-54]. Traylor also believes that Wells received preferential treatment because she was a woman. [Id. at 52].

         On August 10, 2016, Southern terminated Traylor because he "was not learning at an acceptable pace and did not exhibit the level of skill, responsibility, and independence necessary to believe that he would be able to successfully fulfill the duties of a night forklift operator." [Record Document 20-5 at 3]. Traylor believes that his discharge was the result of racial and age discrimination because he was replaced by a white man in his forties. [Record Document 20-3 at 50]. He also believes that his discharge was in retaliation for telling Wells that he intended to file an EEOC charge because she was not training him appropriately. [Id at 56-57]. Kral did not know that Traylor had expressed an intention to file the EEOC charge. [Record Document 20-5 at 4]. Following his discharge, Traylor filed a charge, and the EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter on March 19, 2018. [Record Document 20-2 at 3].

         Traylor now asserts discriminatory termination claims under the race and gender discrimination provisions of Title VII, hostile work environment and discriminatory termination claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the "ADEA"), unlawful termination and failure to accommodate claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA"), and wage discrimination claims under the Equal Pay Act. [Record Document 1 at 4, 12-13].[2] Defendants have moved for summary judgment. [Record Document 20]. Traylor has filed an opposition, and Defendants have filed a reply, rendering this matter ripe for decision. [Record Documents 23 and 24].

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) directs a court to "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. 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 Id. at 322-23.

         If the movant satisfies its initial burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute of material fact, the nonmovant must demonstrate that there is, in fact, a genuine issue for 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) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325). "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. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). 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) (citing Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970)). 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 or tenuous" that it could not support a judgment in the nonmovant's favor. Armstrong v. City of Dall., 997 F.2d62, 67 (5th Cir. 1993).

         Additionally, Local Rule 56.1 requires the movant to file a statement of material facts as to which it "contends there is no genuine issue to be tried." The opposing party must then set forth a "short and concise statement of the material facts as to which there exists a genuine issue to be tried." W.D. La. R. 56.2. All material facts set forth in the movant's statement "will be deemed admitted, for purposes of the motion, unless controverted as required by this rule." Id.

         III. Analysis

         A. Claims Against Kral

         Traylor has sued Kral in his capacity as a supervisor at Southern. [Record Document 1 at 2]. "[T]itle VII does not permit the imposition of liability upon individuals unless they meet [T]itle VII's definition of 'employer.'" Grant v. Lone Star Co., 21 F.3d 649, 653 (5th Or. 1994). A Title VII "employer" is "a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees ... and any agent of such a person." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b). Although the latter phrase could suggest individual liability, the Fifth Circuit has approvingly cited a Ninth Circuit case that concludes that the "any agent" language "incorporate [s]" respondeat superior liability into [T]itle VII." Grant, 21 F.3d at 653 (citing Miller v. Maxwell's Int'l Inc., 991 F.2d 583, 587 (9th Cir. 1993)). Because no evidence suggests that Kral personally employs anyone, he is not liable under Title VII. The same logic also applies to Traylor's ADEA claims. See Stults v. Conoco, Inc., 76 F.3d 651, 655 (5th Cir. 1996) (applying Grant to ADEA claims).

         Although the Fifth Circuit has not spoken directly on this issue, the "virtually universal view" is that the employment-discrimination provisions of the ADA do not expose supervisors to individual liability. Roman-Oliveras v. P.K Elec. Power A.uth., 655 F.3d 43, 52 (1st Cir. 2011); see Parker v. Benteler Steel Tube Mfg. Corp., No. CV 17-1453, 2018 WL 3685383, at *3 (W.D. La. July 18, 2018) (concluding that the Fifth Circuit would follow the consensus view of the other circuits), report and recommendation adopted, No. CV 17-1453, 2018 WL 3672744 (W.D. La. Aug. 2, 2018). A Title VII employer is a "person engaged in an industry affecting commerce ... and any agent of such a person," 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b), while an employer under the ADA is "a person engaged in any industry affecting commerce . . . and any agent of such person," 42 U.S.C. § 12111(5)(A). As the ADA's definition of employer is identical to Title VIFs, this Court concludes that Title I of the ADA does not impose individual liability on supervisors and hence that Kral is not liable for any of Southern's alleged ADA violations.

         Similar consensus is lacking regarding individual liability under the Equal Pay Act. Some courts hold that individual supervisors are not liable for Equal Pay Act violations, while others conclude the opposite. Compare Harris v. Harvey, 992 F.Supp. 1012, 1013-14 (N.D. 111. 1998) with Boy kin v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., C/A No. 3:18-599, 2018 WL 4999780, at *2 (D.S.C. Aug. 14, 2018), report and recommendations adopted, 2018 WL 4962077 (D.S.C. Oct. 12, 2018). In an unpublished opinion, the Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court's grant of summary judgment to an individual supervisor on an Equal Pay Act claim. Souter v. Univ. of Tex. at San Antonio, 459 Fed.Appx. 506, 511-12 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (unpublished). The district court had concluded that the claim against the supervisor "was a remedial redundancy" when the plaintiff "already had a claim against the [employer] under the Equal Pay Act." Id. at 511 n.4. Because Traylor cannot recover twice for the same alleged act of discrimination, this Court concludes that Traylor's Equal Pay Act claim against Kral is also redundant of his claim against Southern. Therefore, the Court grants summary judgment for Kral on all claims raised against him under Title VII, the ADEA, the ADA, and the Equal Pay Act.

         B. Equal Pay Act Claims

         Traylor has alleged a violation of the Equal Pay Act because Wells "went inside the office and got his wage information and went out and told it to other employees which created a hostile work environment." [Record Document 10 at 5]. With a few exceptions not relevant here, under the Equal Pay Act:

No employer . . . shall discriminate . . . between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees ... at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex . . . for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions ....

29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1). A prima facie case under the Equal Pay Act has three elements: (1) the employer must be subject to the Equal Pay Act; (2) the employee's work must "require[e] equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions" to that of an opposite-sex comparator; and (3) the employee must be paid less than the comparator. Chance v. Rice Univ., 984 F.2d 151, 153 (5th Cir. 1993) (quoting Jones v. Flagship Int'l, 793 F.2d 714, 722-23 (5th Or. 1986)).

         Although his filings are not entirely clear, it appears that Traylor has pointed to Wells as the appropriate comparator, as he asserts that she was treated more favorably than he was. [Record Document 20-2 at 2]. There is no dispute that Wells had more experience with the company. [Record Document 20-3 at 52-53]. Moreover, Traylor was paid $12.00 per hour, [Record Document 20-2 at 2], and no summary judgment evidence establishes Wells's compensation. Therefore, Traylor has satisfied neither the second nor third prongs of his prima facie case, and so this Court must grant summary judgment to Southern on Traylor's Equal Pay Act claim.

         C. Title VII Unlawful Termination Claims

         Construing Traylor's pro se complaint and other documents in the record liberally, the Court concludes that Traylor has asserted that his termination resulted from race and gender discrimination. [Record Documents 1 at 4 and 20-3 at 51-53]. An employer may not "discharge any individual. . . because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Where, as in the instant case, a plaintiff offers only circumstantial evidence of discrimination, the three-step McDonnell Douglas framework applies. Wallace v. Methodist Hosp. Sys., 271 F.3d 212, 219 (5th Or. 2001) (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 792, 802 (1973)). To survive summary judgment within that framework, a plaintiff must first make out a prima facie case. Manning v. Chevron Chem. Co., 332 F.3d 874, 881 (5th Cir. 2003). To do so, a Title VII plaintiff must establish that he or she:

(1) is a member of a protected group; (2) was qualified for the position at issue; (3) was discharged or suffered some adverse employment action by the employer; and (4) was replaced by someone outside [the] protected group or was treated less favorably than ...

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