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Bond v. Georgia Power Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

May 29, 2018

ELTRED BOND, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGIA POWER COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          TILMAN E. SELF, III, JUDGE

         Plaintiff Eltred Bond claims that his former employer, Defendant Georgia Power Company, discriminated against him because of his race. Plaintiff brought claims against Georgia Power under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Defendant seeks summary judgment contending that all claims raised by Plaintiff are both legally and factually deficient, and as a result, no genuine dispute of material fact exists to be tried on this case. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 15].

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Georgia Power hired Bond as a Truck Operator on January 14, 2013. [Doc. 17, at 59:2-9]. The Truck Operator position is an entry level, probationary position covered under the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union, Local 84. [Doc. 15-3, at 148; ¶ 4]. Truck Operators are part of a statewide, traveling construction crew responsible for assisting linemen and other Georgia Power employees in constructing new and replacing existing transmission lines. [Id. at 149; ¶ 6].

         Upon his hire, Bond completed orientation at Georgia Power's training facility and began job training throughout his assignment to his traveling construction crew. [Doc. 17, at 71:7-9]; see also [Doc. 15-3, at 148; ¶ 6]. Although clearly qualified for his job, Bond, from the outset, frequently retrieved the incorrect tools and struggled with tying knots and “barreling armour [sic] rods, ” all of which were integral parts of Bond's duties as a Truck Operator. [Doc. 15-3, at 149; ¶¶ 9, 10, 11]. When compared to other entry level Truck Operators who typically barrel rods within five minutes, Bond took almost 40 minutes. [Id. at 150; ¶ 14]. Despite more experienced Georgia Power employees' attempts to help Bond, he refused their help. [Id. at 150; ¶ 11]. For example, Nick Tinsley, Bond's direct supervisor, witnessed Bond's lack of initiative to improve his knot tying skills, and in response, cut Bond a piece of rope for practice. [Id. at 150; ¶ 10]. After telling Bond to practice with the rope, Tinsley later saw Bond leave the rope at their work site rather than take the rope with him to practice. [Id.]. This, along with Bond's desire to “bid out” to other positions within Georgia Power, displayed to Tinsley, “a lack of initiative and drive required of an entry level truck Operator.” [Id.]; see also [Doc. 15-3, at 150; ¶ 12].

         On March 19, 2013, while installing spacers on three phase transmission lines, an incident occurred. See [Doc. 17, at 110:12-112:5]. In order to install spacers on a transmission line, a lineman must work from a transmission cart approximately 90 feet above the ground. [Doc. 15-3, at 151; ¶ 16]; see also [id., at 157; ¶ 9]. The transmission cart moves along the wire by pulling it with a rope attached from the transmission cart to an all-terrain vehicle (“ATV”). [Id.]. While driving an ATV with a rope attached to Lineman Chuck Raper's transmission cart, Bond drove across a creek at an abrupt and accelerated rate of speed. [Id.]; see also [Doc. 17, at 113:19-22]. This burst of speed caused Raper's cart to travel suddenly down the line, nearly throwing Raper from the transmission cart. [Doc. 15-3, at 151; ¶16]; see also [id., at 157; ¶ 9]. Although Bond did not hear Raper's yells, Raper yelled at Bond because he was allegedly going too fast. [Doc. 17, at 115:19-116:3]. Clearly upset by the incident, and after Bond explained to Raper that he did not hear him yell anything, Raper replied, “[I]f [I] had had a gun [I] would have shot [you].” [Id. at 118:15-19]. When discussing the incident with Jody Tillman, another Georgia Power employee, Tillman told Bond “if [you] were pulling [me] that fast [I] would have thrown a wrench and hit [you] in the head.” [Id. at 118:6-14]. Following this incident, Bond never acknowledged making a mistake or apologized to Raper or Tinsley for the way he pulled the transmission cart. [Id. at 120:15-121:2].

         The next day, Tinsley, reported the incident to Transmission Line Construction Manager, Ben Webb. [Doc. 15-3, at 152; ¶ 19, 155; ¶ 3]. Shortly thereafter, Webb consulted with two other members of Georgia Power's management, and they ultimately decided to terminate Bond based on his work performance, probationary status, and his lack of understanding regarding safety protocols. [Id. at 157; ¶ 10]; [id. at 152; ¶ 19]. Consequently, Plaintiff filed suit.

         In support of his claims, Bond contends that three co-workers made racial comments relating to his employment and work ethic. [Doc. 1, at ¶¶ 9, 10]. Bond claims that fellow entry level Truck Operator, Justin McAllister, stated that, “the company's not going to fire you because you're black.” [Doc. 17, at 143:19-22]. Additionally, McAllister allegedly stated that, “[I] ha[ve] to work ten times harder than [you] because [you are] black.” [Id. at 143:23-144:2]. On another occasion, Bond asserts that he overheard co-worker, Tillman say, “the only reason you got hired is because you are black.” [Id. at 143:15-18]. Next, Bond asserts that DJ Ray's comment, “two out of three is not bad” when referring to the “three new hires” (Bond, McAllister, and Satcher) was an indication that Bond was “not doing a good job.” [Id. 148:4-25]. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that “[the crew] lied about how [Bond] did [his] job” to Tinsley and presumably upper management. [Id. at 149:13-20]. However, when questioned about these alleged lies in regards to his work ethic Bond believes he “did a great job” and that his performance as a Truck Operator “went above and beyond what they asked.” [Doc. 17, at 141:24-142:1].

         As for opportunities as a Truck Operator, Bond alleges that his fellow entry level Truck Operators (Justin McAllister and Jay Satcher) received unwarranted training opportunities that he did not. [Id. at 130:15-22]. In essence, Bond contends that neither he, McAllister, nor Satcher should have been driving certain vehicles without proper training or a commercial driver's license. Moreover, Bond complains that his fellow entry level co-workers drove certain commercial vehicles in violation of Georgia Power's policy. [Id.]; see also [id. at 129:23-25]. Lastly, Bond alleges that certain discriminatory acts extended to off-duty social activities. However, Bond states that “some nights [he] participated” and “some nights [he] didn't.” [Id. at 133:5-15]. The foregoing facts encompass Bond's claims against Georgia Power. In making its ruling, the Court examines each instance and its relation to federal law, in turn below.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment may be granted only “if the movant shows 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).

         In determining whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists to defeat a motion for summary judgment, “the evidence of the [nonmovant] is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [the nonmovant's] favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The moving party “bears the initial burden 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 material fact.” Jones v. UPS Ground Freight, 683 F.3d 1283, 1292 (11th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation omitted); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A fact is material if it is relevant or necessary to the outcome of the suit. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

         The burden then “shifts to the [nonmoving] party to rebut that showing by producing affidavits or other relevant and admissible[1] evidence beyond the pleadings.” Jones, 683 F.3d at 1292 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Josendis v. Wall to Wall Residence Repairs, Inc., 662 F.3d 1292, 1315 (11th Cir. 2011) (emphasis added)). The nonmovant fails to “satisfy its burden if the rebuttal evidence ‘is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative' of a disputed fact.” Jones, at 1292 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (1986)). Moreover, a “mere ‘scintilla' of evidence supporting the [nonmovant's] position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably find for [the nonmoving party].” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990). Courts “are required to draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, not all possible inferences.” Horn v. UPS, 433 F. App'x. 788, 796 (11th Cir. 2011).

         Under the Court's local rules, a party moving for summary judgment must attach to its motion “a separate and concise statement of the material facts to which the movant contends there is no genuine dispute to be tried.” M.D. Ga. R. 56. Those facts must be supported by the record. The respondent to a summary judgment motion must respond “to each of the movant's numbered material facts.” Id. “All material facts contained in the movant's statement which are not specifically controverted by specific citation to particular parts of materials in the record shall be deemed to have been admitted, unless otherwise inappropriate.” Id.

         LEGAL AUTHORITY AND ANALYSIS

         A. Plaintiff's Race Discrimination Claims Under Title VII and § 1981

         1. Plaintiff Failed to Establish a Prima Facie Case of Race Discrimination

         In the employment context, § 1981 provides for protection against discrimination based on race. Standard v. A.B.E.L. Services, Inc., 161 F.3d 1318, 1330-34 (11th Cir. 1998).

         Similarly, Title VII prohibits an employer from discharging or otherwise discriminating against a person based on his race. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Therefore, courts analyze § 1981 claims using the same evidentiary requirements and analytical framework as claims brought under Title VII. See Standard, 161 F.3d 1318, 1330 (11th Cir. 1998). Disparate treatment claims can be proven using direct evidence (requiring no inference or presumption) or circumstantial evidence. Burke-Fowler v. Orange County, Fla., 447 F.3d 1319, 1323 (11th Cir. 2006). If racial ...


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