United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division
HUGH LAWSON, Senior District Judge.
Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 21) by Defendants Lanco Trucking, Inc., Langdale Forest Products Company, and Jerald Stroud (collectively "Defendants"). For the reasons stated below, this motion is granted.
I. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and... the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact arises only when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must evaluate all of the evidence, together with any logical inferences, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 254-55. The court may not, however, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Id. at 255; see also Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000).
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 pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of a material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 (internal quotation omitted). If the movant meets this burden, the burden shifts to the party opposing summary judgment to go beyond the pleadings and present specific evidence showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact, or that the movant is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. at 324-26. This evidence must consist of more than conclusory allegations. See Avirgan v. Hull, 932 F.2d 1572, 1577 (11th Cir. 1991). In sum, summary judgment must be entered "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.
II. Factual Summary
This case arises from the July 5, 2012 decision by Lanco Trucking, Inc. ("Lanco") to terminate the employment of Plaintiff Clifford McMaugh ("Plaintiff"). Lanco is a subsidiary of Langdale Forest Products Company ("Langdale Forest Products"). First hired in 2008, Plaintiff initially drove a truck filled with wood chips for Lanco, but, by July 2012, he had switched to driving dump trucks. His supervisors were Chris Parker ("Parker") and Joe Singley ("Singley"). Parker is a superintendent at Lanco and is supervised by Singley, who is a general manager. Jim Hickman ("Hickman"), the technical director at Lanco, is the superior of both Parker and Singley. Plaintiff, Parker, Singley, and Hickman are all white males. (Defendants' Statement of Material Facts ("DSMF"), Doc. 23, ¶¶1-7, 10, 34; Deposition of Barbara Barrett, Doc. 37-6, p. 9; Deposition of Joseph Singley, Doc. 29, pp. 14-15).
Plaintiff accepted a position as a dump truck driver because he thought there was "nonsense going on" among the drivers of the wood chip trucks and he "wanted to be away from certain people." Black and white employees, including Plaintiff, believed that a black driver named Jerald Stroud ("Stroud") was receiving preferential treatment. Among other things, Stroud did not do his work, slept on the job, and worked a second job after his Lanco shift, which violated company policy. Among other reasons, Plaintiff believed that Parker showed favoritism to Stroud because they grew up together, Stroud's father was a police officer, Stroud knew that Parker used illegal drugs, and Parker owed Stroud money for drugs. (DSMF, ¶¶12-15, 17-18; Deposition of Plaintiff, Doc. 25, pp. 120-23).
During their time at Lanco, Stroud called Plaintiff a "cracker" on two occasions prior to the incident leading to Plaintiff's termination. The first time Stroud used this slur with regard to Plaintiff was in 2011, and afterwards Plaintiff complained about Stroud's behavior to Joe Singley. The supervisor told Plaintiff that if he disciplined black employees then he would be sued by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP") and that a black employee had just threatened to file a discrimination lawsuit. Singley said that he did not need "a bunch of niggers" causing problems and that Plaintiff should ignore Stroud and do his work. Stroud also called Plaintiff a "cracker" in early 2012. When Plaintiff complained to Jim Hickman, the supervisor ordered him to get his "ass in the truck and get on the road or hit the clock." Shortly before July 5, 2012, Lanco reduced Plaintiff's work hours. (DSMF, ¶¶42-44; Plaintiff's Response to DSMF, Doc. 32, ¶¶47-50).
In the afternoon of July 5, 2012, Plaintiff and Stroud became involved in an altercation at work after Plaintiff's work shift ended. Plaintiff, Stroud, and at least one other employee, Anthony Evans ("Evans"), were in the employees' break room when the incident occurred. Having heard that Plaintiff resented how Lanco's management treated Stroud, Stroud walked up to Plaintiff and said "you been running your fucking mouth about me." Stroud began shoving Plaintiff, at one point also grabbing his wrists, and said, "I'll fuck you up, cracker." As another employee came into the break room, Stroud shoved Plaintiff through the open door, and they carried their argument outside. It was at this point that Joe Singley heard their quarreling as he walked over from Lanco's scale house. He got in between Stroud and Plaintiff and tried to calm them. Singley told Stroud and Evans, who had also come outside, to go to his office and wait for him. Stroud did as he had been instructed. (DSMF, ¶¶19-24; Plaintiff's Response to DSMF, ¶¶51-54; Plaintiff's Depo., pp. 150-53, 166-68, 174-77; Deposition of Anthony Evans, Doc. 37-9, pp. 20-21).
Plaintiff turned to Singley and said, "You need to do your job... because you don't do your job." Singley felt that Plaintiff was irate, would not calm down, and would not listen to him. Before leaving work on July 5, Plaintiff asked Singley if he were fired, and the supervisor reassured him that he was not, but that he should go home. Plaintiff then told Singley that he would be speaking with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and Wesley Langdale, an individual in Lanco's upper management. Singley called Jim Hickman to discuss the altercation between Plaintiff and Stroud. Singley told his superior that Plaintiff had acted irrationally and was insubordinate. (Plaintiff's Response to DSMF, ¶56; DMSF, ¶¶24-27; Plaintiff Depo., pp. 101-02).
Hickman proceeded to investigate the incident. He spoke with Stroud and Evans. Stroud said that when he approached Plaintiff to ask if the other employee had a problem with him, Plaintiff began yelling and threatened to "mess you up." Both Stroud and Evans indicated that after Singley broke up the tussling employees, Plaintiff told his supervisor he should do his job and that if he did not, then Plaintiff would speak with Wesley Langdale. After asking Singley, Stroud, and Evans to provide written statements about the incident, Hickman determined that Plaintiff had been the aggressor in his argument with Stroud and that he had been insubordinate. On July 5, 2012, Hickman and Singley decided to terminate Plaintiff's employment. (DSMF, ¶¶28-30, 32-34; Statements of Jerald Stroud and Anthony Evans, Ex. 1 to Declaration of Jim Hickman, Doc. 30).
After leaving work, Plaintiff refused to let matters rest. That same day he filed a police report against Stroud. He also returned to Lanco and attempted to speak with Hickman, but the supervisor told him to return at 8 o'clock the next morning, July 6. When Plaintiff returned the next day, Hickman cursed at him, chiding him for not being there at 8:00. Hickman also used a slur in reference to another Lanco employee, E. R. Williams ("Williams"), a black male. Referring to Williams, Hickman said that "your boy's ass will be going out the gate with you...." ...