United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Columbus Division
D. LAND, CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
Bland previously worked for Sam's East, Inc.
(“Sam's”). Sam's claims it terminated Bland
for disrespectful conduct toward his manager. Bland alleges
that he was terminated after he complained of a race-based
double standard. He brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”) and
42 U.S.C. § 1981. Sam's moved for summary judgment
(ECF No. 20). For the following reasons, Sam's motion is
granted as to Bland's discriminatory termination claim
but denied as to Bland's retaliatory termination claim.
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 is viewed in the light
most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment,
drawing all justifiable inferences in the opposing
party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A fact is material if it
is relevant or necessary to the outcome of the suit.
Id. at 248. A factual dispute is genuine if
the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a
verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.
in the light most favorable to Bland, the parties'
citations to the record reveal the following facts:
Bland's Tenure at Sam's
is a white male. He started working at Sam's as a tire
technician in January 2017. He reported to team leader
Rebecca McCoy, who reported to assistant manager Walter
Capozucca. Edgar Cornell Robinson, a black male, also worked
as a Sam's tire technician. On April 24, 2017, Bland and
Robinson argued and cussed at one another. During the
argument, Robinson said he would “beat [Bland's]
ass.” Bland Dep. 86:14-15, ECF No. 22. In response,
Bland suggested they “go outside or do it right
here.” Id. at 86:15-17. Robinson said he did
not want to lose his job, so both Bland and Robinson walked
away. Id. at 86:17-21. Robinson also called Bland a
“dumbass, hillbilly, redneck, white boy” and
threatened to damage his new rims. Id. at 87:11-20.
the argument, Robinson complained to management that the
other technicians were arguing and not helping him enough.
McCoy then requested statements regarding the incident from
the tire technicians and told them Capozucca was on his way
to talk to them. Id. at 89:14-18. All the
technicians, including Bland, provided statements and handed
them to Capozucca when he arrived. Id. at 89:17-19.
Bland's statement included his complaint that Robinson
had called him a “dumb redneck/hillbilly.”
Id. at 97:4-11. Capozucca then gave the technicians
a twenty-five second “pep talk” and encouraged
them to work together. Id. at 86:23-25; 94:20-95:3.
Capozucca did not specifically address the incident between
Bland and Robinson or say anything about racial name-calling.
Darden Dep. 20:4-13, ECF No. 27. Capozucca took no other
action regarding Bland's complaint about Robinson's
next day, Bland texted McCoy regarding his work schedule for
the following day, April 26. See generally McCoy
Dep. Ex. 46, Text Messages from J. Bland to R. McCoy (Apr.
25, 2017), ECF No. 26-1. McCoy told him he was scheduled to
work with Robinson that day and encouraged him to behave
himself and stay out of trouble. Id. When Bland
reported to work the next day, he approached Capozucca and
said, “[h]ey, just so you know, I'm opening with
[Robinson].” Bland Dep. 102:8-9. Capozucca then pulled
both Bland's and Robinson's statements from his
pocket and told Bland that he and Robinson were
“embarrassing” and should both be fired.
Id. at 102:13-18. Bland replied that he was one of
the best employees in the shop. He also told Capozucca that
if Bland had used the “N word” during his
argument with Robinson, he would have been fired immediately.
Id. at 102:23-25. Bland complained that Capozucca
had taken no action against Robinson for being racist toward
him. Id. at 113:3-12; see also Bland Aff.
¶ 4, ECF No. 35-42. Capozucca then grew angry and
directed Bland to clock out and go home. Bland Dep. 103:2-5.
called the store later that day and learned he had been
terminated for being rude, disrespectful, and aggressive
toward Capozucca. See id. at 120:11-25 (describing
exit interview document which stated that Bland was
“very aggressive” with Capozucca and
“didn't know what might happen” between him
and Robinson). Bland, however, felt he was not rude to
Capozucca in any way. Id. at 114:2-10. He testified
that he did not raise his voice, step forward or lunge toward
him, or stand over him in a hostile way. Id. at
105:18-106:1. He also testified that he
“particularly” was not trying to intimidate
Capozucca and did not walk near him for that reason.
Id. at 106:15-19.
employees remembered the encounter differently. Bland's
exit interview information states that when he arrived at
work on April 26, he “was very aggressive and negative
with [Capozucca] about another associate.” Exit
Interview 1, ECF No. 22-4. It also stated that Bland
“had very aggressive body language.” Id.
After his termination, Bland also made a complaint to
Sam's Ethics Hotline about his termination and the lack
of discipline for Robinson. See Case Details Mem.
1-2 (May 2, 2017), ECF No. 35-16. Sam's opened an
investigation and took another statement from Capozucca.
Capozucca Dep. 60:13-16, ECF No. 28. In that statement,
Capozucca noted that Bland came by “with a mean
attitude” and complained about having to work with
Robinson that morning. Capozucca Statement (May 16, 2017),
ECF No. 35-21 at 3. Capozucca stated that Bland “looked
like he wanted to fight [him] and [Robinson].”
Id. Capozucca also claimed Bland had “his arms
and hands like he was going to start with me. He disrespected
me because I never talked to him in a bad tone or bad
attitude towards him.” Id. Capozucca likewise
testified that Bland “got really close” to him,
causing him to step back because he “didn't know
what was going to happen.” Capozucca Dep. 46:15-18. He
thought it was possible that Bland would take a swing at him.
Id. at 91:7-15. But Capozucca also testified that at
the time of the interaction he “[c]ould have
been” afraid that Bland would physically harm him, but
that he did not know. Id. at 80:14-17.
Sam's employee, Latasha Wims, was present at the time of
the encounter. She likewise testified that Bland spoke to
Capozucca about scheduling and “[t]hen from there he
just, like exploded.” Wims Dep. 14:5-10, ECF No. 24.
She stated that Bland was “saying bad things” to
Capozucca, getting “aggressive, ” had “a
bad attitude and filthy mouth, ” and “use[d] foul
language.” Id. at 14:10-18.
Video Footage of the Termination
recorded video, but not audio, of the interaction between
Bland and Capozucca. After he was terminated, Bland returned
to the store several days later to try to speak with the
store manager, Madeline Torres. When she refused to speak
with him, Bland told her she would hear from his lawyer.
Hayes Dep. 12:3-6, ECF No. 38 (describing conversation
between Bland and Torres); see also Torres Dep.
39:12-40:6, ECF No. 31 (recalling the conversation). Bland
also applied to the Georgia Department of Labor for
unemployment benefits and explained to the state examiner
that he was suing Sam's in federal court over his
termination. See Email from J. Bland to V. Wilberd
(June 2, 2017), ECF No. 35-26. The Department of Labor
approved Bland's request for benefits, and Torres decided
to appeal that decision, presumably having read Bland's
rebuttal to the state examiner describing his prospective
federal lawsuit. See Cooper Dep. 20:5-12, ECF No. 34
(explaining that Torres made the decision to appeal); Letter
from T. Freeman to ...