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Johnson v. CC Metals & Alloys, LLC

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

September 20, 2019

DAVID T. JOHNSON PLAINTIFF,
v.
CC METALS & ALLOYS, LLC DEFENDANT.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant CC Metals & Alloys, LLC’s Motion for Summary Judgment. [DN 14]. Plaintiff David Johnson responded [DN 15], and Defendant replied, [DN 16]. This matter is now ripe for adjudication. For the reasons stated herein: Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of Plaintiff David Johnson’s employment with Defendant CC Metals & Alloys, LLC (“CCMA”). [DN 1]. In July 2017, CCMA hired Johnson to work as a furnace operator in its plant in Calvert City, Kentucky. Id. According to Johnson, teasing and horseplay were common among the workers at the plant. [DN 14-1 at 91]. Between July and December 2017, Johnson claims coworkers made three comments about his car, clothing, and hobbies. Id. at 96– 99. First, Johnson overheard a coworker in the lunchroom state: “only gay guys drive two-door BMW sports cars.” Id. at 96. In the locker room, Johnson also overheard a colleague say his clothes were “tight-fitting clothes, not camouflage, [but] pretty boy clothes.” Id. at 97. Finally, Johnson claims a coworker asked him, “Everyone else here hunts, so why don’t you?” Id. at 98, 99. In his deposition, Johnson testified that these comments did not upset him. Id. at 98, 99, 102. In fact, Johnson admitted that he also engaged in “horseplay” while at work. Id. at 91. On several occasions Johnson took photographs of his coworkers at the plant, edited the pictures to include sexually and racially explicit content, and then sent the edited photos to his coworkers. Id. at 71–75, 125–128. Johnson claims he was also a target of his coworkers’ edited photos, but he found the photos funny. [DN 15 at 190].

         In December 2017, the nature of Johnson’s relationship with his coworkers changed. [Id.; DN 14-1 at 91]. Johnson was sitting on a work bench when he was approached by his coworker, Emmit Gentry, who wanted to sleep where Johnson was sitting. [DN 14-1 at 89–90]. When Johnson refused to move, Gentry became upset and poured glue on Johnson’s work area. Id. at 88. Johnson retaliated by messing up Gentry’s work area. Id. at 89. The men exchanged words and planned to fight after work, though no fight ever took place. Id. at 92–93. After this encounter, Johnson believes that his coworkers started treating him differently. Id. at 91. He claims coworkers erased his name from the union’s overtime sign-up sheet and wrote “fag” and “queer” next to his name on the overtime sheet and schedule. Id. at 91, 93, 94. Johnson does not know which of his coworkers wrote the derogatory language next to his name, but he estimates that it occurred 15-20 times between December 2017 and May 2018. Id. at 95. Johnson testified that he believed the offensive language was written because people had assumed his sexual orientation. Id. at 94.

         On April 29, 2018, Johnson overfilled a casting bed with liquid metal. [DN 14-2 at 147]. As a result, Jason Forsythe, the employee taking over for Johnson in the next shift, had to spend time correcting Johnson’s mistake. Id. Forsythe reported the incident to his supervisor, and the next day Johnson received a write-up. Id. Later that day, Forsythe shouted at Johnson in a crowded lunchroom: “You wouldn’t fuck a guy, would you?” [DN 14-1 at 76]. Johnson immediately left the lunchroom. Id. at 87.

         On May 1, Johnson reported the comment to CCMA’s Human Resource Administrator Treasa Cook and provided a list of people who had been present in the lunchroom. Id. at 76. Cook testified that she called each person identified by Johnson to investigate the incident, though no one recalled hearing the comment. [DN 15-1 at 213, 217]. Moreover, Cook claims that she did not inform any of the potential witnesses that Johnson had requested an investigation into the incident. Id. at 213. However, on May 3, Johnson informed Cook that his coworker, Adam Dawson, had told him that people at the plant believed that Johnson had gone to Human Resources over the incident. [DN 14-3 at 160; DN 15-1 at 215]. Johnson told Cook that he was stressed about the situation, his coworkers had given him bad looks, and he planned to leave early that day. [DN 14-3 at 160]. Cook told Johnson that she would speak to Dawson, but when she called him, he did not answer or get back to her. [DN 15-1 at 217, 218]. Although Johnson suspected that his coworkers knew the source of the complaint, he testified that no one talked to him about the complaint, and that he experienced no problematic comments or incidents after making the complaint. [DN 14-1 at 118–21].

         Over the next few days, Johnson worked his normal eight-hour shift. Id. at 105. Again, he testified that there were no incidents regarding the complaint and that his coworkers did not speak to him. Id. at 119, 120. However, May 7 through May 10, Johnson did not come to work. Id. at 106–07. On May 11, Johnson attempted to email his resignation to CCMA. Id. at 129. The email stated that Johnson was resigning from CCMA due to “discrimination of sexual orientation and hostile work environment.” Id. at 129. Additionally, the email noted that Forsythe was still working on Johnson’s shift after making “homophobic remarks” to him in “front of 20 other employees.” Id. Finally, the email stated that the company had “done nothing to support [Johnson] legally with the known facts of harassment [because] of [his] sexual orientation.” Id. During his deposition, Johnson also testified that he resigned because he feared for his safety. Id. at 84–85.

         CCMA did not receive Johnson’s resignation email because he sent it to an address that did not belong to the company. [DN 14 at 47]. However, when an employee does not come to work for several days, CCMA considers their absence a resignation of their position. [DN 15-1 at 213]. Accordingly, Cook drafted a letter to Johnson accepting his resignation as of May 14. Id. At this point, Cook testified that she terminated the investigation into the lunchroom incident but could not give a specific reason for this decision. Id. at 215.

         Prior to filing this lawsuit, Johnson filed a charge against CCMA with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). [DN 1-2]. The EEOC dismissed the charge and authorized Johnson to bring the current lawsuit. Id.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, reveals “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 genuine dispute of material fact exists where “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The Court “may not make credibility determinations nor weigh the evidence when determining whether an issue of fact remains for trial.” Laster v. City of Kalamazoo, 746 F.3d 714, 726 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Logan v. Denny's, Inc., 259 F.3d 558, 566 (6th Cir. 2001); Ahlers v. Schebil, 188 F.3d 365, 369 (6th Cir. 1999)). “The ultimate question is ‘whether the evidence presents a 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.’” Back v. Nestlé USA, Inc., 694 F.3d 571, 575 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251–52).

         As the party moving for summary judgment, CCMA must shoulder the burden of showing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact as to at least one essential element of Johnson’s claims. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). Assuming CCMA satisfies its burden of production, Johnson “must-by deposition, answers to interrogatories, affidavits, and admissions on ...


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