United States District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
WILLIE R. MEADS, Plaintiff,
LEXINGTON-FAYETTE URBAN COUNTY GOVERNMENT, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Danny C. Reeves United State District Judge
This matter is pending for consideration of pro se Plaintiff Willie R. Meads' and Defendant Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government's ("LFUCG") motions for summary judgment. [Record Nos. 42, 44] Meads alleges various claims resulting from his time as an employee and eventual termination from the LFUCG's Division of Waste Management. For the reasons outlined below, the Court will deny the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and grant summary judgment in favor of the defendant regarding all claims.
Meads is African-American and was 58 years old at the time of filing his motion for summary judgment on October 9, 2014. [Record No. 42, p. 9] He was employed by LFUCG from May 2012 through July 2012. During this employment, Meads worked as an Equipment Operator Senior in the Division of Waste Management. One of his primary duties was operating a rear loader truck and other equipment. At all times during his employment he was a probationary employee and employed on an at-will basis.
Steve Feese, the Director of the Division of Waste Management, decided to terminate Meads on June 19, 2012. [Record No. 44-8] Thereafter, on June 21, 2012, Meads filed a dual discrimination charge with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission ("LFUCHRC") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Meads alleged discrimination based on age, sex, and disability due to disparate treatment of terms and conditions of employment in training and evaluation. [Record No. 44-2] He was made aware of his impending employment termination on June 26, 2012. [Record No. 42-2, p. 16] Meads also filed a harassment complaint with the LFUCG's Division of Human Resources on June 28, 2012. [Id., p. 9–14] The harassment complaint was denied the same day because it was determined that his allegations did not meet the definition of harassment. [Id., p. 15]
Meads' final day of work was July 3, 2012. At that time, his charge of discrimination was still under investigation. Subsequently, on October 8, 2012, the LFUCHRC determined that it was unable to conclude that a violation of the statutes had occurred relating to Meads' allegations of discrimination. [Record No. 47-1] On May 29, 2013, the EEOC mailed Meads a notice of right-to-sue as well as notification that it had adopted the LFUCHRC's determination. [Record No. 44-3] Meads originally filed suit against the LFUCG in the Fayette County Circuit Court on June 27, 2013, asserting claims of race discrimination, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful termination, and illegal conspiracy. [Record No. 1-1, pp. 1, 3] Meads' claims are based upon allegations of disparate treatment during training for his employment, verbal abuse, and improper reasons for his termination. The case was removed to this Court on July 18, 2013.
On November 12, 2013, Meads amended his Complaint to add additional defendants and claims of age and sex discrimination. [Record No. 14, p. 3] On December 6, 2013, and December 12, 2013, the newly-added defendants moved to dismiss the claims against them for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [Record Nos. 18, 20] On December 31, 2013, the Court granted the motions to dismiss. [Record No. 23] Meads appealed this Court's decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on January 9, 2014; however, his appeal was denied for lack of appellate jurisdiction. [Record Nos. 24, 31] On June 11, 2014, the Court re-opened discovery for a period of ninety days. [Record No. 37] Thereafter, the parties moved for summary judgment. [Record Nos. 42, 44]
Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no genuine disputes regarding any material facts and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322–23; Chao v. Hall Holding Co., 285 F.3d 415, 424 (6th Cir. 2002). A dispute over a material fact is not "genuine" unless a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. That is, the determination must be "whether the evidence presents sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251–52 (1986); see Harrison v. Ash, 539 F.3d 510, 516 (6th Cir. 2008). In deciding whether to grant summary judgment, the Court views all the facts and inferences drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
Meads alleges multiple claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including race discrimination, retaliation, hostile work environment, and sex discrimination. He further alleges age discrimination and claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Finally, he alleges state law claims of wrongful termination, illegal conspiracy, and claims arising under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. [Record No. 14]
A. Title VII
Title VII is "an elaborate administrative procedure, implemented through the EEOC, that is designed to assist in the investigation of claims of . . . discrimination in the workplace, and to work towards the resolution of these claims through conciliation rather than litigation." Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U.S. 164, 180–81 (1989) (citing 42 A. § 2000e-5(b)). To bring a claim in federal court under Title VII, a plaintiff must satisfy two prerequisites: (1) timely file a charge of employment discrimination with the EEOC; and (2) act upon the EEOC's statutory notice of the right-to-sue. Puckett v. Tenn. Eastman Co., 889 F.2d 1481, 1486 (6th Cir. 1989) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1)). The Sixth Circuit has determined that "if a plaintiff did not first present a claim to the [EEOC], that claim may not be brought before the federal courts on appeal." Haithcock v. Frank, 958 F.2d 671, 675 (6th Cir. 1992); see Younis v. Pinnacle Airlines, Inc., 610 F.3d 359, 361 (6th Cir. 2010). However, because the Complaint in this case was filed by a pro se plaintiff, it is construed liberally so that the Court may consider claims that reasonably relate to or grow out of the allegations contained in the EEOC charge. See Randolph v. Ohio Dep't of Youth Servs., 453 F.3d 724, 732 (6th Cir. 2006). Thus, "where facts related with respect to the charged claim would have prompted the EEOC to investigate a different, uncharged claim, the plaintiff is not precluded from bringing suit on that claim." Davis v. Sodexho, 157 F.3d 460, 463 (6th Cir. 1998).
1. Race Discrimination
LFUCG asserts that the Meads' race discrimination claim is barred because he failed to exhaust administrative remedies. [Record No. 44-1, p. 4] As stated previously, on June 21, 2012, Meads filed a dual discrimination charge with the LFUCHRC and the EEOC in which he asserted discrimination on the basis of age, sex, and disability due to disparate treatment of terms and conditions of employment in training and evaluation. [Record No. 44-2] At the time of Meads' dismissal (i.e., July 3, 2012), his charge of discrimination was still being investigated. The LFUCHRC denied Meads' claims on October 8, 2012, and the EEOC adopted that decision on May 29, 2013. [Record Nos. 44-3; 47-1] Meads contends that his claim of race discrimination grows out of the allegations in his EEOC charge. He further contends that he amended his claim to include a charge of racial discrimination in a document that he allegedly filed with the Kentucky Division of Unemployment Insurance as part of an unemployment compensation proceeding. [Record Nos. 42-8, pp. 16–19; 46, pp. 2–3]
In this case, Meads did not allege a claim of race discrimination in his EEOC charge. The EEOC form checked the boxes only for discrimination based on age, sex, and disability and left blank the box for race. It also cited no related facts which would have prompted the EEOC to consider or investigate possible race discrimination. [Record No. 44-2] Additionally, there is no evidence that the document allegedly filed with the Kentucky Division of Unemployment Insurance was ever received by either the LFUCHRC or EEOC or that it constituted an amendment to Meads' EEOC charge. This is supported by the August 31, 2012, report of the LFUCHRC's investigator in which it was determined that there was insufficient evidence to support Meads' allegations of "disparate treatment on the basis of age, sex, and/or perceived disability." [Record No. 12-17, p. 4] Additionally, the Commission's October 8, 2012, dismal found no basis for statutory violations based on "age, sex, and disability in regards to Meads' employment, " without any mention of Meads' race. [Record No. 47-1] Therefore, viewing the claim brought before the EEOC and the LFUCHRC's investigation as a whole, Meads did not adequately allege a claim of race discrimination. Thus, he failed to exhaust the administrative remedies under Title VII and summary judgment is proper regarding that claim.
However, even if Meads had exhausted his administrative remedies, summary judgment would nevertheless be appropriate because the plaintiff has not demonstrated a prima facie case of race discrimination under Title VII. To demonstrate a prima facie case, a plaintiff must show that: (1) he was a member of a protected class; (2) he was qualified for the position and performed it satisfactorily; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) he was replaced by a member outside the protected class or was treated differently than similarly situated non-protected employees. Logan v. Denny's, Inc., 259 F.3d 558, 567 (6th Cir. 2001). If the plaintiff is able to demonstrate a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to show a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the actions. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973); Arendale v. City of Memphis, 519 F.3d 587, 603 (6th Cir. 2008). Once the defendant has met its burden, the plaintiff must prove that the stated explanation was a pretext for discrimination. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 804. Meads satisfies the first and third prongs. However, Meads has failed to demonstrate the second prong of the analysis.
To establish that a Title VII plaintiff is qualified for a position, he must demonstrate that he satisfies an employer's objective qualifications. Upshaw v. Ford Motor Co., 576 F.3d 576, 585 (6th Cir. 2009). The proper inquiry is whether the plaintiff is qualified for the position independent of the non-discriminatory justification produced by the defense. Clinev. Catholic Diocese of Toledo, 206 F.3d 651, 660–61 (6th Cir. 2000). Under Section 21-14 of the LFUCG Code of Ordinances, an employee must serve a six-month probationary period to demonstrate that he or she can meet the required standards of work prior to being appointed to permanent status. [Record No. 44-7] The objective qualifications for Equipment Operator Seniors at the Division of Waste Management include the ability to safely and responsibly operate LFUCG equipment and vehicles and successfully complete safety training. [Record No. 44-3, p. 2] Meads was never appointed to permanent status. Instead, the record demonstrates that during training Meads frequently collided with barrels and was unable to adequately complete ...