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Meads v. Lexington-Fayette County Urban Government

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

July 10, 2017

WILLIE MEADS, Plaintiff,
v.
LEXINGTON-FAYETTE URBAN COUNTY GOVERNMENT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Danny C. Reeves United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Willie Meads' remaining claims arising under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, K.R.S. § 344.010 et seq., were tried before a jury on April 24 through April 26, 2017. Meads alleges that his former employer, Defendant Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government discriminated against him based on his race and retaliated against him because he had complained of age discrimination. At the conclusion of the plaintiff's case and at the close of all the proof, the defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court reserved ruling on the motions and submitted the case to the jury. In rendering a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, the jury determined that the Urban County Government did not discriminate against Meads based on race, but that it had retaliated against him by firing him because of his complaints of discrimination.

         The matter is now pending for consideration of the defendant's renewed motion for judgment as matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and for a new trial under Rule 59. [Record No. 105');">105');">105');">105] The motions will be denied because the defendant's arguments to do not support the relief sought under the applicable legal standards.

         I.

         Meads learned in late 2011 of a possible employment opportunity with the Urban County Government. [Record No. 102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102, p. 53][1] He submitted an application and eventually was hired as an “Equipment Operator, Senior” within the Division Waste Management. [Record No. 102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102, p. 154] Pursuant to the Urban County Government's Code of Ordinances, Unclassified Civil Service employees are required to serve a six-month probationary period. Urban Cnty. Gov. Ordinance §§ 22-13, 21-14(c). [See also Record No. 103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103, p. 252.] This period is used to supervise, counsel, and evaluate new employees, as well as fire probationary employees who do not meet the Urban County Government's standards. Urban Cnty. Gov. Ordinance § 21-4(d). Employees are at-will workers due their probationary status. See Urban Cnty. Gov. Ordinance §§ 22-29, 21-44(a). [See also Record No. 103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103, p. 273.]

         May 21, 2012, was Meads' first day of employment. [Record No. 102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102, pp. 70, 73] His primary duty as a senior equipment operator would involve driving a garbage truck in the city for trash collection. The Division of Solid Waste conducted new-driver training classes once per week, typically on Wednesdays. Id. New drivers were evaluated and received a score from an assigned trainer at the end of each training session. A score of nine out of ten was necessary to complete training and to be released to drive a garbage truck on the city streets. Id. at pp. 165, 200.

         On Meads' first day, Emma Turley, the Division's Safety Coordinator, met with the new employees for orientation. Id. at p. 72. Turley oversaw the safety training program and explained that she ran a “tight ship.” Id. As part of orientation, Turley gave out a list of hand signals and reviewed them with the new employees. Id. Meads worked seven to eight hours the following day, riding along a collection route with an experienced driver. Id. at p. 73. The following day (May 23, 2012) was Meads' first day of training. Id. That morning, Turley asked the new employees whether they had learned the hand signals she had given them previously. Id. at p. 74. According to Meads, all of the new employees told Turley “no, ” and that they had “been busy.” Id. Meads contends that this caused Turley to fly into a rage. Meads claims that he proceeded to explain that he needed “a little more time, ” whereupon Turley “threw another fit for about five more minutes.” Id. Another instructor then taught the class the hand signals.[2]

         Turley assigned John Brown to act as Meads' trainer later that morning. Id. at p. 74. Meads contends that Turley overheard him telling Brown that he planned to attend an appointment during the lunch hour, but that he “probably [wouldn't] miss any training at all.” Id. at p. 75. According to Meads, Turley launched into an expletive-filled tirade in which she told Meads that he should report such issues to her rather than Brown. Id. Meads contends that Turley then called the Director of Waste Management, Steve Feese, and stated, “[w]e've got one here that ain't going to work out. I need you to let him go right now.” Id. at 76. Meads went to the driving area known as the “test pad” to work with Brown following this incident. Id. at p. 76.

         Meads testified that he had some trouble with one of the mirrors on his truck and Brown told him, “We didn't do very good today.” Id. at p. 79. If the statement was actually made, it would clearly have been an understatement due to Meads' poor performance. However, Brown stated that he had seen drivers “a lot worse than [Meads]” and that “everything [would] be okay.” Id. Meads received a score of two out of ten. He testified that Turley berated him again, stating that he should be more respectful and “[w]e've got things that happen to people like you.” Id. at p. 80.

         There was no training the following week due to the Memorial Day holiday. Id. at p. 82. However, Meads attended a meeting on or around May 30, 2012, during which he was approached by several co-workers who told him that they had “heard about [his] situation.” Id. at p. 84. While Meads was considering their suggestion that he speak with Steve Feese, the individuals “[ran] [Feese] down, ” telling him “Willie needs to talk to you. He's got a whole lot of problems, same problems everybody has had with Emma Turley.” Id. at p. 84. Meads then told Feese that he was “the oldest person in class . . . 60 years old. . . . I'm the oldest person that's been in class for a long time. I feel that I'm treated different for those reasons.” Id. at p. 84. According to Meads, Feese wrote something down and told Meads he would get back in touch with him. Id.

         Meads heard Turley say something under her breath the following day. Id. at p. 85. Others told him that she had referred to him as an “old black dark ass.” Id. Another co-worker overheard Turley say that Meads was “too old to be working there.” [Record No. 103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103, p. 22] At the next training session on June 6, 2012, Meads claims that Turley assigned a trainer to all of the new drivers except him. Instead, Turley, who was not a day-to-day safety trainer, told Meads, “You're [expletive] coming with me today. I'm training your ass.” Id. 85-86. Meads further claimed during his trial testimony that Turley refused to provide him with any guidance at the test pad when she told him to inspect his truck. Id. Meads contended that he was unsure of how to perform the inspection, but he could hear a trainer giving another trainee instructions nearby. Id. at p. 86-88. Meads attempted to listen and inspect the truck accordingly.

         Later, Turley instructed Meads to “take the lead” with respect to the road course, so he drove onto the course and proceeded in the wrong direction. Id. at p. 88. Shortly thereafter, Turley pulled into Meads' path with a pickup truck, forcing him to stop. Id. at p. 89. Unknown to Meads, Turley had been shouting frantically into her two-way radio, instructing him to stop. Meads contended that his truck's radio was turned off, however, so he claims was unable to hear her commands. Id. Managers Kelvin Johnson and Kevin Bennett heard Turley's radio transmission from their offices and came to the training pad to assess the situation. [Record No. 103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103');">103, p. 191][3]

         Once Meads stopped the truck, Turley got inside and showed him how to turn on the radio. [Record No. 102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102, p. 89] By that time, another trainee's truck had passed by, so Meads resumed driving and followed that individual. Id. at p. 90. The remainder of the session was relatively uneventful. Trainer Tim Jones worked with the plaintiff at some point, but Turley advised Jones to “let [Meads] figure it out.” Id. at p. 92. Jones commented at the end of the day that Meads had done much better that session. [Defendant's Ex. 4] But Turley had a less favorable view, having commented that Meads “hit all serpentine barrels” and did “not retain directions given.” Id. Turley also believed he had “something personal against [her].” [Record No. 102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102, p. 91');">p. 91] Meads testified that he scored a seven out of ten on his second evaluation.[4] Id.

         On June 11, 2012, Meads had a two-week evaluation with Senior Program Manager Kevin Bennett. Id. at p. 93, 202. According to Meads, Bennett asked him, “[w]hat's going on between you and Ms. Turley?” Id. Meads advised Bennett, “[i]n front of everybody I've been attacked several times. I've been referred to by names that I don't even want to mention to you.” Id. Bennett told Meads that he would look into it. Id.

         The following day, Turley's “under-the-breath comments got louder and clearer.” Id. at p. 94. Co-workers began telling Meads that Turley was going to “get rid” of him. Id. Shortly thereafter, Meads was called in to speak with Feese and Kelvin Jackson, who was the Operations Manager over collection. Id. at pp. 94, 187. Feese told Meads that Turley had reported that Meads was not following instructions and was not doing well on the test course. Id. at p. 95. Meads disputed several of Turley's comments, including her allegation that he had run over a barrel and trapped it under his truck during training. Id. Feese told Meads that he would look into the issues but, as of that time, he was no longer training. Id. at p. 96.

         Following the meeting with Jackson and Feese, Meads went to the Urban County Government's central office and expressed that he was having “all kinds of age-related problems” at work. Id. at p. 96. He was told that he would need to complete a grievance form and submit it to his immediate supervisor, Darryl Clay. Id. at p. 97-98. Meads submitted a grievance form to Clay on June 13, 2012, which stated simply “age discrimination-not sure.” Id. at 98. Clay returned the form to Meads two days later, stating that “they” said Meads had not been employed long enough to file a grievance.

         On June 18, 2012, Turley sent an e-mail to Bennett and Feese that began “Mr. Willie Meade [sic]/serious concerns.” [Defendant's Ex. 26] Turley described her “serious safety concerns” regarding Meads, as well as his “negative actions in the workplace” that had taken place on May 23 and June 6, 2012. See Id. The following day, Feese forwarded the e-mail to Human Resources Manager Ashley Case, and requested Meads' termination. Id. Unaware of his imminent discharge, Meads reported for training on June 20. Id. at p. 98. However, Jackson advised Meads that he would not be permitted to train that day, but he could return to work the following day. Id. Shortly thereafter, Meads went to the Lexington-Fayette County Human Rights Commission and filed a charge alleging age, sex, and disability discrimination. Id. at p. 100.

         Approximately one week later, Meads returned to the Urban County Government's central office and filed a complaint of age and sex-related discrimination. Id. at p. 101. Ashley Case took Meads' statement but determined that his allegations did not warrant further investigation. Although a termination letter had already been drafted, Meads was not formally notified of this decision until a week later. Id. at p. 104. Meads was provided a standard letter advising him that he was an at-will probationary employee and his services were no longer needed. [Defendant's Ex. 11]

         II.

         Judgment as a matter of law is appropriate only when “a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for [a] party” regarding a particular issue. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1). It may only be granted “when viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, giving that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences, there is no genuine issue of material fact for the jury, and reasonable minds could come to but one conclusion in favor of the moving party.” Balsey v. LFP, Inc., 691 F.3d 747, 757 (6th Cir. 2012). The Court may not “reweigh the evidence, question the credibility of witnesses, or substitute [its] own judgment for that of the jury.” Smith v. Rock-Tenn Servs., Inc., 813 F.3d 298, 306 (6th Cir. 2016).

         Stated differently, judgment as a matter of law is appropriate only when “there is a complete absence of fact to support the verdict, so that no reasonable juror could have found for the nonmoving party.” Kiphart v. Saturn Corp., 251 F.3d 573, 581 (6th Cir. 2001). Although the Court reviews the record as a whole, it disregards all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe. Williams v. CSXTransp. ...


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