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Lawson v. AT&T Mobility Services LLC

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

August 9, 2019

LUCIANA F LAWSON
v.
AT&T MOBILITY SERVICES LLC

          WHITEHURST MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          Robert R. Summerhays, Judge

         Before the Court in this employment discrimination suit is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant AT&T Mobility Services LLC ("AT&T") [Doc. No. 36]. Pursuant to its motion, AT&T seeks dismissal of Plaintiff Luciana Lawson's claim of race discrimination. For the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED.

         I.

         Background Luciana Lawson ("Plaintiff) is a former employee of AT&T, who brought this suit in the 16th Judicial District Court, alleging that AT&T discriminated against her on the basis of race when it terminated her employment. Plaintiffs petition alleged that she had filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and had exhausted her administrative requirements for filing a suit, presumably for an alleged violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq. In her petition, Plaintiff alleged that AT&T's actions were in violation of the "Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law as amended by Act 1409 [La. R.S. 23:301 et seq.] and all other applicable statutes." AT&T then filed a Notice of Removal on December 14, 2016, removing the case to this Court.

         Plaintiff Luciana Lawson is an African-American woman who worked for AT&T as a retail sales consultant in its New Iberia, Louisiana store.[1] As part of her job, she handled cash transactions with AT&T customers.[2] On September 22, 2015 Raphael Turner, an Assistant Store Manager in the New Iberia store, reported that there was a cash register shortage of $417.25 from September 3, 2015.[3] AT&T Asset Protection manager Joe Mato investigated the register shortage, reviewing surveillance video and cash register records. Mr. Mato matched a receipt for a $416.99 cash transaction handled by Ms. Lawson with the corresponding store surveillance video, which showed Ms. Lawson opening the cash drawer, removing something from it, and closing the drawer without placing any cash in the drawer.[4] Mr, Mato interviewed Ms. Lawson on October 20, 2015 and showed Ms. Lawson the video corresponding to the $416.99 cash transaction. Ms. Lawson had no explanation for why she did not place any cash in the drawer.[5] Plaintiff denied stealing any money.[6] Ms. Lawson reported to store manager Marcia Bonnet, who is African-American.[7] Ms. Bonnet reported to area retail sales manager David Reed, who is African-American.[8] Mr. Reed reported to Robert Sellman, who is also African-American.[9] Mr. Sellman reviewed the report of investigation prepared by Mr. Mato, as well as the video tape that Mr. Mato had showed Ms. Lawson during her interview on October 20, 2015. Mr. Sellman concluded that Ms. Lawson had stolen cash, and after receiving concurrence from Sonny Jasso in AT&T's Human Resources department, made the decision to terminate Ms. Lawson's employment.[10]

         Plaintiff testified that she did not recall any instances which would cause her to conclude that either Ms. Bonnet or Mr. Reed were prejudiced against African-American individuals. She believed that her termination was motivated by race due to the fact that, prior to this incident, two white employees were accused of theft and were only given written warnings, but were not terminated.[11]

         In the spring of 2015, two white employees, Amber Mire and Laney LeBlanc, had been suspected of theft.[12] The two employees had worked together to prepare a cash deposit, which was short by $3, 699. Rick Fernandez, another Asset Protection manager, had investigated that matter and reviewed surveillance video of the two employees preparing the deposit.[13] The surveillance video was inconclusive because there were times when the employees were not in video surveillance camera range.[14] Mr. Sellman also reviewed the surveillance video of Ms. Mire and Ms. LeBlanc and agreed it was inconclusive.[15] As a result, AT&T concluded that it did not have sufficient evidence to charge these two employees with theft.

         At the time of these incidents, Berenice Lewis was the Human Resources manager who provided advice to Mr. Sellman. According to Ms. Lewis, where there was neither video evidence nor eye witnesses of theft, human resources recommends that the matter be treated as a performance issue, which is subject to a lower level of discipline than termination.[16] Where the evidence shows employee theft, the matter is considered a code of business conduct issue, in which case the employee would be terminated.[17]

         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 Care, Inc. v. Health Care Service Corp., 628 F.3d 725, 728 (5th Cir. 2010). As summarized by the Fifth Circuit:

When seeking summary judgment, the movant bears the initial responsibility of demonstrating the absence of an issue of material fact with respect to those issues on which the movant bears the burden of proof at trial. However, where the nonmovant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant may merely point to an absence of evidence, thus shifting to the non-movant the burden of demonstrating ...

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