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Riggs v. D X P Enterprises Inc.

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

October 31, 2019

NICOLE RIGGS
v.
D X P ENTERPRISES, INC., ET AL.

          PATRICK J. HANNA MAG. JUDGE

          ORDER

          TERRY A. DOUGHTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         RULING

         Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 58] filed by Defendant DXP Enterprises, Inc. (“DXP”), doing business as the C.W. Rod Tool Co. (“C.W. Rod Tool”). DXP moves for summary judgment dismissing Plaintiff Nicole Riggs' (“Riggs”) claims for retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964');">4');">4');">4 (“Title VII”); intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) under Louisiana state law; and defamation under Louisiana state law.

         On October 9, 2019, Riggs filed a Memorandum in Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 64');">4');">4');">4].

         On October 16, 2019, DXP filed a Reply Memorandum in support of its Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 67].

         For the following reasons, DXP's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED, and Riggs' retaliation, IIED, and defamation claims against DXP are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Riggs was employed by DXP from October 16, 2013, to February 22, 2016, in the New Iberia, Louisiana branch of the company's Integrated Tooling Solutions (“ITS”) department. The ITS department handles the inventory and billing of vending machines that DXP stocks with state-of-the-art metal working and cutting tools and places at its customers' locations. Riggs was responsible for filling the tool orders for the customer accounts - or “consignments” - assigned to her, maintaining electronic inventory reports of the vending machines at her consignments, and generating bills for the tools used.

         Tranae Marks (“Marks”) was hired shortly after Riggs and also worked in the ITS department of DXP's New Iberia branch, holding the same position as Riggs.

         In the fall of 2014');">4');">4');">4, Gary Key (“Key”), the General Manager over DXP's seven C.W. Rod Tool offices at that time, and Brian Ross (“Ross”), the then-Operations Manager for the same seven offices, determined that the company needed an employee who could act as a lead technician at the New Iberia location. Key and Ross did not envision the lead technician as a managerial role, but as someone who could assist other technicians when questions or issues arose with the vending machines or computer system. DXP, acting through Key and Ross, selected Marks for the Lead ITS position, asserting that her knowledge of the vending machines, computer systems, and processes was superior to Riggs [Doc. No. 58-6, Declaration of Gary Key]. Despite both women starting at DXP around the same time and receiving the same training, DXP alleges that Riggs would often have to ask questions and seek assistance when problems arose, contacting the Integrated Tooling Solutions Manager at the main office in Houston, who would try to walk her through the problem by phone.

         DXP contends that, starting in late 2014');">4');">4');">4 and continuing through 2015, it faced a significant decline in business stemming from the economic downturn in the oil and gas industry. In the Louisiana and Texas markets, machine shops that perform repair work for the oil and gas industry are DXP's primary customers. During this time, the price of oil dropped drastically, forcing oil companies to operate on a deficit. This meant that the oil companies ceased farming out repair work on their rigs and machinery to machine shops, and machine shops were going out of business, leaving little need for the tools and products DXP supplied.

         Because of this decline in its key source of business, DXP asserts it was forced to reduce its staff. DXP laid off nine employees from its main Houston branch in April of 2015. While some markets improved, the oil and gas industry continued to decline throughout the remainder of 2015 and into the following year. According to DXP, this market shortfall directly impacted its profitability, a fact that it openly shared with all DXP employees as reflected in a company-wide email from David Little, DXP's Chief Executive Officer, on June 9, 2015. Six months after the April 2015 layoffs, DXP was again forced to reduce its personnel, laying off four employees at its main Houston branch, one employee from the West Houston office, one employee from the South Houston location, and two employees from the New Iberia branch.

         Riggs was one of the two New Iberia branch employees laid off. February 22, 2016 was Riggs' last day at DXP. DXP asserts that it did not hire a replacement for Riggs and that Marks remained as the sole employee in the ITS department of its New Iberia location. DXP further asserts that, because the oil and gas industry still had not rebounded, it was forced to lay off nine more employees in April 2016.

         On December 22, 2017, Riggs filed the pending lawsuit against DXP, Marks, and another former co-worker, Brian Ross (“Ross”). Riggs made allegations of sexual harassment and employment discrimination against DXP. She further asserted claims under Title VII and the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law (“LEDL”). She claimed that she was discriminated against for having complained about sexual harassment by a customer, she claimed that the sexual harassment resulted in her being subject to a hostile work environment, and she claimed that her employer's response to her complaints about this violated her constitutional rights protected under 4');">4');">4');">42 U.S.C. § 1983. Riggs also asserted Louisiana state-law claims for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, tortious interference with her contractual and business relationships, invasion of privacy, harassment, negligent hiring, negligent supervision, and negligent retention of employees. Further, Riggs contended that she was denied leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”), and alleged that she filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) after allegedly being forced to operate a forklift despite not being trained to do so.

         On August 17, 2018, the Court granted in part a motion to dismiss filed by DXP and Marks, and dismissed with prejudice eleven of the claims that were asserted against the Defendants: the Section 1983 claim, the FMLA claim, the OSHA claim, the tortious interference with contract claim, the tortious interference with business relations claim, the five negligence claims, and the conspiracy-to-defame claim. The court also dismissed with prejudice any sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims asserted against Marks [Doc. Nos. 24');">4');">4');">4 and 27].

         DXP and Marks subsequently filed additional motions to dismiss, which the Court converted to motions for summary judgment [Doc. No. 4');">4');">4');">45]. On January 23, 2019, the Court granted the motions and dismissed with prejudice Riggs' invasion of privacy claim; her sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims under state law; and her retaliation claims under federal law except for her claim that she was terminated from her employment in violation of Title VII [Doc. Nos. 50 and 52]. The Court also dismissed Riggs' claims against Ross as abandoned [Id.]

         As a result of these rulings, Riggs' only remaining claims are her Title VII claim for retaliatory termination of her employment against DXP, her state-law intentional infliction of emotional distress against DXP and Marks, and her defamation per se claim against DXP and Marks.

         DXP now moves for summary judgment dismissing Riggs' remaining claims against it.[1]

         I. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review for Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment “shall [be] grant[ed] . . . 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). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the lawsuit under applicable law in the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 4');">4');">4');">477 U.S. 24');">4');">4');">42');">4');">4');">4');">477 U.S. 24');">4');">4');">42, 24');">4');">4');">48 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable fact finder could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

         If the moving party can meet the initial burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Norman v. Apache Corp., 19 F.3d 1017, 1023 (5th Cir. 1994');">4');">4');">4). The nonmoving party must show more than “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 4');">4');">4');">475 U.S. 574');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">475 U.S. 574');">4');">4');">4, 586 (1986). In evaluating the evidence tendered by the parties, the Court must accept the evidence of the nonmovant as credible and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Anderson, 4');">4');">4');">477 U.S. at 255.

         B. Analysis

         As set forth in her First Amended Complaint, Riggs' sole remaining Title VII claim against DXP is premised upon her allegations that DXP laid her off as part of a reduction-in-force in retaliation for filing a charge of discrimination against DXP with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“First EEOC Charge”) and for voicing concerns about workplace safety violations. However, during her deposition, Riggs also attributed her lay off to her race.

         Riggs also asserts that DXP employees defamed her during her employment with the company and on one occasion after she was laid off. The substance of these alleged defamatory statements ranges from false comments to DXP consignment customers that Riggs made inventory mistakes, inter-office gossip that Riggs slept around, to a single remark allegedly made to a DXP-customer employee insinuating that Riggs was selling drugs after her employment with DXP ended. In support of her claim that DXP intentionally inflicted emotional distress on her in violation of Louisiana ...


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