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Gilmore v. Land O'Frost, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division

June 7, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [DN 24]. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for decision. For the following reasons, the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. Background

         PLAINTIFF Quincy Gilmore filed this action after he was terminated from his position at Land O'Frost, Inc., a meat processing company in Madisonville, Kentucky. He brings this lawsuit against Land O'Frost and certain members of Land O'Frost management, LaSenna Powell, James Texas, and James Feeney.

         Gilmore began working at Land O'Frost in February 2014 in the Maintenance Department. According to the Complaint, he was just one of three African-American employees working second shift. Gilmore alleges that he was treated differently than his Caucasian coworkers, particularly when it came to discipline. For example, Gilmore claims that he was regularly written up for behaviors that were acceptable for his Caucasian coworkers. Gilmore also claims that he was treated especially harshly by Land O'Frost management, particularly Human Resources Manager LaSenna Powell, Plant Maintenance Manager James Feeney, and Processing Maintenance Manager James Texas.

         Eventually, Gilmore's belief that he was being treated unfairly at Land O'Frost led him to file a discrimination claim with the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights (“KCHR”). Within the Charge of Discrimination, Gilmore alleges he was “treated differently and disciplined because of [his] race, black.” (Charge of Discrimination [DN 1-2] at 26). Gilmore states that after he filed his KCHR Charge, he endured constant criticism from his manager, who he believes was retaliating against him for filing his claim. In order to resolve the issues alleged in Gilmore's KCHR Charge, Gilmore and Land O'Frost participated in mediation. Their mediation was successful and Gilmore withdrew his KCHR Charge pursuant to a settlement agreement. Gilmore had all disciplinary action removed from his record and was moved to day shift at his request.

         Less than a month later, another issue arose when Gilmore requested a day of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) to take his son to the hospital. Although he had been given the entire day off for FMLA leave, Gilmore clocked in at 5:02 a.m., worked for several hours and then left to care for his son. The next day, Gilmore's supervisor, James Texas, informed him that he had been docked half of an attendance point as a punishment for clocking in two minutes late. Gilmore argued that there should be no deduction in attendance points given that he was granted an entire day of FMLA leave and his decision to work for a few hours was voluntary. He further attempted to resolve this issue with LaSenna Powell. Eventually, Powell told Gilmore that his half-point had been returned to him. Gilmore requested documentation to prove that his half-point had indeed been returned but Powell did not provide any. According to Gilmore, Powell would not respond to his emails and hung up when he attempted to call.

         Gilmore also complains of a new lunch schedule implemented by Defendants that required employees to be on call throughout their lunch breaks although they were not being paid. Gilmore states that this new policy meant that he was often unable to take uninterrupted breaks during lunch because he was required to work. He also received a write-up for taking a late lunch break on a day that he was forced to work during his scheduled break and claims that Caucasian employees were not written up for the doing the same thing. Gilmore voiced his concerns to his supervisor, James Texas, who forwarded them to James Feeney. When nothing was done, Gilmore filed a complaint with the Department of Labor in July 2015. This resulted in the Department of Labor initiating a wage and hour investigation of Land O'Frost. Eventually, Land O'Frost reached a settlement with its employees regarding back pay for lunch break where they were forced to work. Regardless, Gilmore argues that the back pay from the settlement was only a portion of the time for which he claims he is entitled to overtime wages.

         After he filed the complaint with the Department of Labor, Plaintiff alleges that “Mr. Feeney and Mr. Texas continued to single out Mr. Gilmore for disparate and retaliatory treatment.” (Compl. ¶ 92.) Gilmore claims that he was purposefully excluded from meetings. In addition, Texas told Gilmore's coworkers to keep an eye on Gilmore and “be careful around Mr. Gilmore because [Land O'Frost was] looking for any reason to get rid of him.” (Id. ¶ 94.) The Complaint states that “Mr. Feeney and Ms. Powell were searching for any excuse to fire Mr. Gilmore.” (Id. ¶ 95.) Gilmore also believes that an individual within Land O'Frost was sabotaging some of the equipment for which Gilmore was responsible for maintaining “in order to fire him.” (Compl. ¶ 56.)

         Then, in the fall, Land O'Frost management became aware that a large amount of copper wire was stolen from the facilities. After conducting an investigation, Defendants concluded that two individuals, Gilmore and Lee Kautzman, were responsible for the theft. Both Gilmore and Kautzman were terminated from Land O'Frost.

         Gilmore filed this action in Hopkins County Circuit Court in May 2016. Defendants later removed to this Court on the basis of federal jurisdiction. (Notice of Removal [DN 1] ¶ 5). Gilmore's Complaint alleges claims under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act (“KCRA”) for discrimination based on race (Count I), hostile work environment (Count II), and retaliation (Count III); claims under the FMLA for interference (Count IV) and retaliation (Count V); promissory estoppel (Count VI); defamation (Count VII); and unpaid wages and liquidated damages under KRS § 337.385 (Count VIII). Defendants now move for partial summary judgment.[1]

         II. Standard of Review

         Before the Court may grant a motion for summary judgment, it must find that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of specifying the basis for its motion and identifying that portion of the record that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies this burden, the non-moving party thereafter must produce specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         Although the Court must review the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the non-moving party must do more than merely show that there is some “metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Instead, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require the non-moving party to present specific facts showing that a genuine factual issue exists by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in ...

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