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Neal v. Thomson Plastics, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

October 23, 2014

LINDA MICHELLE NEAL, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMSON PLASTICS, INC., Defendant.

ORDER

J. RANDAL HALL, District Judge.

Presently pending before the Court is Defendant Thomson Plastics, Inc.'s ("Thomson") Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 23.) In this action, Plaintiff Linda Michelle Neal, proceeding pro se, alleges that during her one-month tenure as a temporary employee at Thomson Plastics a supervisor sexually harassed her, and the company immediately terminated her for reporting that harassment. Ms. Neal has since failed to respond to Defendant's summary judgment motion even after this Court issued an Order allowing her additional time to respond.[1] Defendants' motion, therefore, is deemed unopposed. LR 7.5, SDGa. ("Failure to respond within the applicable time period shall indicate that there is no opposition to a motion."). All material facts set forth in Defendant's Statement of the Material Facts ("DSMF") are deemed admitted for the purpose of this motion because Ms. Neal has not controverted them by filing her own statement of facts or any other materials in opposition. LR 56.1, SDGa. ("All material facts set forth in the statement required to be served by the moving party will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted by a statement served by the opposing party.").

Upon due consideration, the Court hereby GRANTS Defendant Thomson Plastic's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 23.)

I. BACKGROUND

Thomson employed Ms. Neal for approximately ten months - from October 15, 2010 until August 7, 2011 - before she was laid off. (DSMF, Doc. 23-1, ¶ 3.) Ms. Neal asserts that during her 2010-11 tenure with Thomson, Stanley Brown, a supervisor at the company, would ask to take her out to eat, try to rub against her, make inappropriate sexualized comments, and attempt to get her telephone number. (Id. ¶ 5; Compl., Doc. 1, at 5.) At no point, however, did Ms. Neal alert Thomson to Mr. Brown's alleged misconduct during this employment period despite knowing she could complain to management or the human resources department. (DSMF ¶¶ 6-9.)

Ms. Neal returned to Thomson on February 24, 2012 as a temporary worker ("temp") through an assignment with Peoplelink Staffing Solutions ("Peoplelink"). (Id. 10; Compl. at 6.) She accepted the assignment because she enjoyed working at Thomson during 2010-11. (DSMF ¶ 12.) As a temp, Thomson assigned Ms. Neal to the second shift as a Machine Operator. (Id. ¶ 14.) In particular, on March 27, 2012, Brenda Newsome, one of the two Shift Supervisors, assigned Ms. Neal to work in the Rework area of the plant. (Id. ¶ 15; Compl. at 6.) Mr. Brown, the other Shift Supervisor on duty, then requested that Ms. Neal help two machine operators at Press 137 who were behind. (DSMF ¶ 16.) After collecting the necessary tools, Ms. Neal informed Mr. Brown that she did not have the requisite training to assist at Press 137 and insisted that she was supposed to be assigned to Rework. (DSMF ¶ 17.) Mr. Brown attempted to explain to Ms. Neal the job he needed her to do at Press 137, but according to two witnesses, Ms. Neal became upset, raised her voice, and shouted profanity. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 21.) Mr. Brown then asked Ms. Neal to leave the press area, and he immediately requested that Ms. Newsome send Ms. Neal home until he could speak to human resources. (¶¶ 19, 20.) Ms. Newsome also overheard the "outburst" and elected to send Ms. Neal home after explaining to her that if she could not do what was asked, she would not be needed. (¶ 22.) In defense, Ms. Neal reported to Ms. Newsome that Mr. Brown was "mad" and "cussing" at her because she "wouldn't fool around with him." (Compl. at 5.)

On the following day, Thomson's Human Resources Manager, Larry Collins, investigated the incident by interviewing the three witnesses - Shirley Gibson, Erica Sims, and Ms. Newsome - as well as Mr. Brown. (DSMF ¶¶ 23, 24.) Each was required to supply a written statement. (Id. ¶ 24.) Mr. Collins also spoke with Ms. Neal directly, and at this point she complained that "Stanley just mad because I wouldn't give him no attention, no play." (Id. ¶ 29.) Following up on Ms. Neal's claims as to Mr. Brown's inappropriate behavior, Mr. Collins found nothing to substantiate them. (Id. ¶ 33.) Thereafter, Mr. Collins notified Peoplelink Staffing Solutions that Thomson did not want Ms. Neal to return and requested that she not receive assignments in the future with Thomson because of the March 27 incident whereby she yelled at a supervisor and used profanity on the production floor in violation of Thomson's Standards of Conduct. (Id. ¶¶ 34, 35.) The Staffing Specialist at Peoplelink later confirmed that Ms. Neal had not made any complaints about sexual or other harassment until Peoplelink informed her that Thomson declined to have her back under any circumstances. (Id. ¶ 37.) As set forth in Thomson's Statement of Material Facts, the "decision to ask Peoplelink Solutions not to assign Ms. Neal to work assignments at Thomson Plastics was based entirely on her inappropriate outburst and use of profanity when asked by one of her supervisors to assist in a different area." (Id. ¶ 36.)

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate only if "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court shall grant summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law." Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co. , 357 F.3d 1256, 1259, 1260 (11th Cir. 2004); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The "purpose of summary judgment is to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal citation omitted). "[The] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the [record before the court] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If - and only if - the movant carries itsinitial burden, the non-movant may avoid summary judgment by demonstrating that there is indeed a genuine issue as to the material facts of its case. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc. ("Clark I") , 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). Facts are "material" if they could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of those material facts "is *genuine'... [only] if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Id.

When ruling on the motion, the Court must view all the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all factual disputes in the non-moving party's favor. Matsushita , 475 U.S. at 587. The Court must also avoid weighing conflicting evidence. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 255; McKenzie v. Davenport-Harris Funeral Home , 834 F.2d 930, 934 (11th Cir. 1987). Nevertheless, the non-moving party's response to the motion for summary judgment must consist of more than conclusory allegations, and a mere "scintilla" of evidence will not suffice. Walker v. Darby , 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990); Pepper v. Coates , 887 F.2d 1493, 1498 (11th Cir. 1989).

Additionally, despite the liberality with which courts are obliged to interpret pro se complaints, "a pro se litigant does not escape the essential burden under summary judgment standards of establishing that there is a genuine issue as to a fact material to his case in order to avert summary judgment." Brown v. Crawford , 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990); see also Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Tannenbaum v. United States , 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998). As the requirements of Griffith v. Wainwright were satisfied, see, supra, n.1, and Ms. Neal's time for filing materials in opposition has expired, Thomson's motion is ripe for consideration.

III. DISCUSSION

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e)(3) provides that if a party "fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact..., the court may grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials... show that the movant is entitled to it" (emphasis added). Thus, the Court "cannot base the entry of summary judgment on the mere fact that the motion was unopposed, but, rather, must consider the merits of the motion." Howard v. Gee , 538 F.App'x 884, 891 (11th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks ...


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