United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division
PATRICK J. HANNA MAG. JUDGE
A. DOUGHTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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.
October 9, 2019, Riggs filed a Memorandum in Opposition to
the Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 64');">4');">4');">4].
October 16, 2019, DXP filed a Reply Memorandum in support of
its Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 67].
following reasons, DXP's Motion for Summary Judgment is
GRANTED, and Riggs' retaliation, IIED, and defamation
claims against DXP are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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].
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.]
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.
moves for summary judgment dismissing Riggs' remaining
claims against it.
LAW AND ANALYSIS
Standard of Review for Summary Judgment
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.
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.
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.
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 ...