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Cain v. Exxon Mobile Corp.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

August 26, 2019

ERIC W. CAIN
v.
EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION, BATON ROUGE CHEMICAL PLANT

          ERIN WILDER-DOOMES MAG. JUDGE

          RULING AND ORDER

          JOHN W. deGRAVELLES JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Exxon Mobil Corporation's[1](“Defendant” or “Exxon”) Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 14). Plaintiff, Eric W. Cain (“Plaintiff” or “Cain”), opposed the motion. (Doc. 18). Defendant replied, (Doc. 23), and Plaintiff submitted a sur-reply. (Doc. 28). Also before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Summary Judgment Evidence. (Doc. 24). Plaintiff opposed the motion. (Doc. 29). Defendant replied. (Doc. 30). The Court has carefully considered the law, the facts in the record, and the arguments and submissions of the parties and is prepared to rule. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion for summary judgement is denied. Defendant's motion to strike is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Relevant Factual and Procedural Background

          Plaintiff served active duty in the United States Marine Corps from December of 1986 until January of 2007. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 3). Around December of 2014, Plaintiff began working with Capitol Ultrasonics, LLC at Exxon as a Non-Destructive Testing Technician. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 5). In May of 2015, Plaintiff decided that he wanted to work for Exxon as an Assistant Operator. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 6). When he applied for the position, Plaintiff disclosed his military experience. (Doc. 14-2, p. 21, ll. 17-23).

         In order to work as an Assistant Operator, Plaintiff was required to complete the Basic Operator's Course or “Basic Operator Training” (“BOT”). (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 7; Doc. 14-3, ¶ 7). After completing the course, Plaintiff was assigned to a unit and a trainer. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 8). On or about July 13, 2015, Plaintiff was assigned to the Oxidation Unit and to his trainer, David Mobile. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 9). Plaintiff claims that once it was disclosed that he served in the United States Armed Services, Mobile began accusing Plaintiff of suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”). (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 12). Plaintiff avers that “Mobile singlehandedly initiated and circulated the unsupported allegation that [he] suffered from PTSD, a psychiatric condition, throughout the workplace”. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 13). Mobile allegedly told co-workers that Plaintiff “may freak out on the unit at any time”. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 14). Additionally, Mobile allegedly recorded his thoughts and concerns about Plaintiff in notes, including concerns about Plaintiff's ability to perform work tasks and that Plaintiff's PTSD “drew a red flag” for Mobile. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 15). Due to these concerns and his military service, Plaintiff claims that he was subjected to a “pattern of disparate and discriminatory treatment that resulted in [his] wrongful termination”. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 16).

         Defendant contends that over the course of his training, Plaintiff was evaluated. Mobile observed that Plaintiff had difficulty retaining information. (Doc. 14-6, pp. 50-51). Plaintiff jokingly attributed his memory issues to “the medicine that [he] took in the war”. (Doc. 14-2, p. 51). Defendant claims that Plaintiff attributed the medicine to PTSD, (Doc. 14-6, pp. 59-60); Plaintiff admits that he made a joke about his memory, but avers that he never mentioned PTSD. (Doc. 14-2, pp. 51-53). Due to this, Mobile was concerned, and he admits that he documented the events and comments and that he reported this to his supervisors. (Doc. 14-6, pp. 56-61).

         Plaintiff further details that Defendant failed to provide him with an adequate training, leaving him alone for four weeks to “train himself”. (Doc. 1-2, ¶¶ 17-22). Plaintiff alleges that Mobile then evaluated him and reported that Plaintiff was behind in his training “due to his past military service and perceived PTSD”. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 29). Plaintiff was re-assigned to a new trainer who trained him for six days. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 32). Plaintiff alleges that his new trainer observed and reported that Plaintiff had the requisite knowledge to do his job and that he had been treated differently. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 33). A supervisor allegedly noted that Plaintiff was behind the training schedule, that he would be a “burden”, and that he was a “major safety risk”. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 34). Plaintiff was terminated on December 5, 2015. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 35). Defendant denies that Plaintiff's PTSD, real or perceived, and/or his military service played a role in his termination. (Doc. 14-1, pp. 6, 9, and 10).

         Plaintiff alleges that a post-termination investigation revealed that Mobile “doctored” his notes regarding Plaintiff's perceived PTSD. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 36).

         Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on March 31, 2016, and the EEOC mailed a “Right to Sue” letter on April 27, 2017, which was received on May 1, 2017. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 37).

         Plaintiff originally filed suit in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court, Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana, and the suit was removed to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana on November 2, 2017. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff originally plead causes of action pursuant to the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law based on age and disability discrimination, (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 41), and the Louisiana Military Service Relief Act because Plaintiff's past military service and perceived PTSD were motivating factors behind his termination, (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 42).

         Defendant filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12 on December 11, 2017. (Doc. 5). The Court ruled on March 27, 2018, that Plaintiff's claims pursuant to state law were dismissed; however, the Court found that Plaintiff had stated a claim pursuant to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”). (Doc. 12). Defendant now brings the instant motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, seeking to dismiss Plaintiff's claims pursuant to USERRA. (Doc. 14).

         II. Relevant Standard

         A. Motion for Summary Judgment

         “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). If the mover bears his burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of fact, “its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts … [T]he nonmoving party must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) (internal citations omitted). The non-mover's burden is not satisfied by “conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a ‘scintilla' of evidence.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994)(citations and internal quotations omitted). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment may not sit on his hands, complacently relying on the pleadings. Weyant v. Acceptance Ins. Co., 917 F.2d 209 (5th Cir. 1990). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587. General allegations that fail to reveal detailed and precise facts will not prevent the award of summary judgment. Walton v. Alexander, 20 F.3d 1350, 1352 (5th Cir. 1994).

         Further:

In resolving the motion, the court may not undertake to evaluate the credibility of the witnesses, weigh the evidence, or resolve factual disputes; so long as the evidence in the record is such that a reasonable jury drawing all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party could arrive at a verdict in that party's favor, the court must deny the motion.

Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1263 (5th Cir. 1991).

         B. Motion to Strike

          Motions to strike are generally disfavored and infrequently granted due to the fact that they are a drastic remedy and are often used as a dilatory tactic. FDIC v. Niblo, F.Supp. 441, 449 (N.D. Tex. 1993)(citing Augustus v. Bd. of Pub. Instr. of Escambia County, Florida, 306 F.2d 862, 868 (5th Cir. 1962)). See also Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Sales, Inc. v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc., 677 F.2d 1045 (5th Cir. 1982). Motions to strike “should only be granted when the pleading to be stricken has no possible relation to the controversy.” Augustus, 306 F.2d at 868 (quoting Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. v. United States, 201 F.2d 819, 822 (6th Cir. 1953)). “A motion to strike should be denied if there is any disputed question of fact.” Joe Hand Promotions, Inc. v. HRA Zone, L.L.C., 2013 WL 5707813 at 2(W.D. Tex. 2013) (citing Augustus, 306 F.2d at 868). Finally, when considering a Rule 12(f) motion, the court has “ample” discretion. In re Beef Indus. Antitrust Litig., 600 F.2d 1148, 1168 (5th Cir. 1979).

         III. Discussion

         A. Parties' Arguments

         1. Defendant's Memorandum in Support (Doc. 14-1)

         Defendant argues that Plaintiff “lacks any evidence” that his military service was a motivating factor in Defendant's decision to terminate his employment. (Doc. 14-1, p. 13). Defendant points to Plaintiff's testimony, arguing that Plaintiff “admits he was not treated differently by Mobile because he served in the military”. (Id. (citing Doc. 14-2, pp. 72-73)).

         Plaintiff testified:

Q. Do you have any reason to believe that the fact that you had served in the United States Marine Corps had anything to do with the way in which David Mobile conducted your computer-based training?
A. I do.
Q. Okay. What?
A. I believe, at that point, David Mobile had made up in his mind that he didn't want me in the unit.
Q. Because of your military service?
A. Yes.
Q. Okay. So what leads you to believe that David Mobile didn't want you in the unit because of your military service?
A. Because he was making notes about PTSD and had made comments about PTSD.
Q. Okay. So I want to make a distinction here. Did you think that David Mobile was concerned about your PTSD being a problem for you being employed with ExxonMobil?
A. Yes.
Q. Okay. Did you think that David Mobile was concerned about the fact that you had served in the United States military being a problem with your employment at ExxonMobil?
A. No.

(Doc. 14-2, pp. 72-73, l. 3).

         Defendant also argues that Plaintiff admitted that Mobile did not have any concerns about his military service, (Doc. 14-1, p. 13 (citing Doc. 14-2, p. 43)); that Mobile did not make comments about Plaintiff serving in the military, (id. (citing Doc. 14-2, p. 57)); that there are no allegations that Kenneth Gregorie, a supervisor in Plaintiff's unit, made negative comments about Plaintiff's military service or that it played a role in Plaintiff's evaluations, (id. (citing Doc. 14-3, ΒΆ 30)); and that there are no allegations that Daniel Underwood, a supervisor in Plaintiff's unit, made negative comments ...


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