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Hall v. Ak Steel Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division

September 29, 2017



          Henry R. Willhoit, Jr., United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant AK Steel Corporation's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 33]. The matter has been fully briefed by the parties [Docket Nos. 33-1. 35 and 38]. For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.


         This case arises from Plaintiff Stanley Hall'semployment5 with Defendant AK Steel Corporation ("AK Steel"). The relevant facts are as follows:

         On or around April 6, 1989, AK Steel hired Plaintiff to work at its coke plant. While at the coke plant, Plaintiff held a number of positions including coal handler, laborer, crane operator, engine operator, lidman, storage room clerk, flue tender, machine operator, heating system cleaner, and for a brief time in a "step-up" position. Hall worked in the coke plant for approximately twenty-two years.

         He claims that he had minimal problems with his employment until 2010, when Plaintiff alleges that his supervisor, Section Manager Nick Greene, began "targeting" him. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Greene disciplined Plaintiff for frivolous reasons and "would write [Plaintiff] up." Plaintiff claims he was" written-up" for performing work duties in the same way his co-workers performed the same duties. [Docket No. 34-1, Deposition of Stanley Hall, pp. 30-32]. When asked about this allegation, Hall could identify only one specific example. He recalled a time that he and a co-worker, Roger Daniels, received a write-up for not taking temperatures of the ovens at the coke plant. Id. at pp. 33-34. Hall could not identify a date and had no documentation of the incident. Id. at pp. 38-39. Hall believed the write-up was "frivolous" because he felt the temperature readings were the responsibility of the preceding shift. Id. at pp. 38-40. He also believed that Greene "had an issue" with him, but admitted, "[w]hether it was race, I don't know." Id. at p. 42. He acknowledged that Greene did not say or do anything to suggest that the write-up was racially motivated, and he further acknowledged that Daniels, who is white, also received a write-up for the incident. Id. at pp. 36, 42-43.

         Although Hall admitted that he knew of AK Steel's policy for reporting discrimination and harassment to the Human Resources department, he did not report any belief that he was written up because of his race. Id. at pp. 43-45, 46-48. Nor did file a grievance with his union to challenge any allegedly "frivolous" write-up at the coke plant. Id. at p. 53.

         In September 2010, while working the midnight shift at the coke plant, Plaintiff was told by a co-worker, Von Woodson, that someone had written "WHITE POWER" and drawn a swastika symbol at the top of a large piece of equipment at the No. 3 block of the coke plant. Id. at pp. 54-55.

         Upon hearing about the graffiti, Plaintiff stated over the plant-wide radio channel, "F, not going to deal with this." Id. at pp. 55-57. He told his supervisor Michael Marks who informed Plaintiff that it would be taken care of. Plaintiff also reported the incident to his Labor Relations Representative J.P. Bradley. Id. at p. 59.

         Following Plaintiffs complaint both over the radio and to his supervisor, Michael Marks, Defendant's upper management, including Labor Relations Representative/Manager J.P. Bradley and Human Resources Manager Edna Holbrook, conducted an investigation into the incident and determined Defendant's employee Jimmy Adams had written the graffiti. Soon thereafter, Defendant terminated Mr. Adams' employment. Id. at pp. 59-60. Hall Testified that he had no issue with AK Steel's investigation and response to the incident. Id. at p. 62-63.

         Although in his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was "shocked to see a piece of equipment with a swastika symbol painted on it, with the phrase 'WHITE POWER' written on it, " [Docket No. 1, Complaint, ¶ 13], he testified that he did not personally see the writing and further conceded that there is no evidence in the record that a swastika was painted on the equipment. [Docket No. 34-1, Deposition of Stanley Hall, pp. 28-29, 54].

         At some point soon thereafter, an unknown individual wrote "BLUE POWER" with a magic marker in the locker room at the coke plant. The graffiti, presumably a substitute for "white power", was written close to Plaintiffs locker. The "blue power" graffiti remained untouched in the locker room for an extended period of time.

         In June 2011, AK Steel close the coke plant and Plaintiff, along with several other employees, was transferred to Defendant's "West Works" facility.

         In October 2011, Plaintiffs co-worker, Tammy Johnson, brought charges of sexual harassment against Plaintiff. In his deposition, Plaintiff explained that Ms. Johnson was upset about a scheduling issue and became angry at Plaintiff. She began cursing at Plaintiff, and to try to calm her down, Plaintiff tried to give her a hug. Prior to this incident, Plaintiff and Ms. Johnson had been friends for many, many years. Id. at p. 78.

         AK Steel investigated Johnson's complaint, interviewing approximately fifteen employees, including Hall and Ms. Johnson. Plaintiff told his employer that Ms. Johnson was sexually provocative and said inappropriate things of a sexual nature and that sexual banter among employees was not uncommon in the Warehouse, where both Plaintiff and Ms. Johnson worked. Id. at pp. 74-78.

         However, other employees corroborated Ms. Johnson's allegations that Hall had engaged in inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature. [Docket No. 33-3, Deposition of J.P. Bradley, pp. 58, 62-65]. Based on its investigation, AK Steel concluded that Hall's conduct violated its harassment and discrimination policy. Id. at pp. 27, 62-65. The decision was made to terminate Hall's employment. He was given a five-day subject to discharge letter. However, at the request of the Union, the Company agreed to convert Hall's discharge to a last chance agreement between AK Steel, the Union, and Hall. Id. at pp. 27, 59. The Agreement placed Hall on a two year probation and reassigned him from steelmaking to the iron making department. Hall testified that he has no evidence that this Agreement was in any way discriminatory or motivated by race. [Docket No. 34-1, Deposition of Stanley Hall, pp. 84-85]. Indeed, the Agreement saved his job.

         The next incident alleged by Plaintiff occurred in early February 2012. On that day, Plaintiff and co-worker Leroy Stevens were called to pressure test the furnace during a shutdown. Ryan Grubb is the foreman in that area. Stevens explained to Foreman Grubb that he was too short to reach the equipment. Id. at p. 88. Grubb responded, stating "[d]on't worry about it, that boy behind you is tall enough to reach the valves" or some similar statement, addressing Plaintiff as "Z>oy." Id. at p. 89 (emphasis added). Although Plaintiff did not tell Grubb he was offended by what he perceived to be a racial slur, he testified that he was visibly upset by Grubb's comment and Stevens approached Plaintiff to console him. Id. at p. 89. Plaintiff did not report Grubb's comment to management, the Union or Human Resources because he feared retaliation. Id.

         The next incident alleged by Plaintiff occurred in March 2012. Plaintiff and Andrew Thrower were working in the iron making department on the "highline." Id. at p. 92. The highline involves moving railcars back and forth over raw material bins. The rail cars open to drop materials into the bins, which are ...

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