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Thomas v. Elixir Extrusions, LLC

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

June 27, 2019

RODERICK V. THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
ELIXIR EXTRUSIONS, LLC, MIKE MOORE, RHONDA DOUGLAS, STEVEN JONES, and DAVID WILKERSON, Defendants.

          ORDER

          HON. LISA GODBBY WOOD, JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Elixir Extrusions, LLC, Mike Moore, Rhonda Douglas, Steven Jones, and David Wilkerson. Dkt. No. 48. The Motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Plaintiff Has Not Responded to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment or Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts

         Plaintiff Roderick Thomas has not responded to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment or Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts. Southern District of Georgia Local Rule 56.1 provides that "[a]11 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." Moreover, Local Rule 7.5 provides that "failure to respond" to a motion "within the applicable time period shall indicate that there is no opposition to a motion." Because Plaintiff has not responded, pursuant to Local Rule 56.1, the facts as stated in Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Fact are deemed admitted for the purpose of considering Defendants' Motion. This is so, even though Plaintiff is pro se.[1] See Moon v. Newsome, 863 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1989) ("[O]nce a pro se [in forma pauperis] litigant is in court, he is subject to the relevant law and rules of court, including the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure."); see also Smith v. Mercer, 572 Fed.Appx. 676, 678 (11th Cir. 2014) ("The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure state that a party asserting that a fact is genuinely disputed must cite to specific materials in the record and a failure to do so allows the district court to consider the fact as undisputed for purposes of the motion for summary judgment." (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), (e) (2))); Reese v. Herbert, 527 F.3d 1253, 1268 (11th Cir. 2008) (stating in relation to a functionally identical local rule: "The proper course in applying Local Rule 56.1 at the summary judgment stage is for a district court to disregard or ignore evidence relied on by the respondent-but not cited in its response to the movant's statement of undisputed facts-that yields facts contrary to those listed in the movant's statement."). The Court has reviewed the entire record to ensure that summary judgment is appropriate. As explained below, it is.

         II. Plain-biff's Employment with Elixir

         This case involves Plaintiff's employment with, termination by, and subsequent discrimination and defamation suit against his former employer, Defendant Elixir Extrusions, LLC ("Elixir"). Elixir is a limited liability corporation that provides full-service, custom aluminum extrusions and fabricated parts for a variety of applications, including structural components, lighting fixture components, and door frames. Dkt. No. 48-1 ¶ l.[2] Elixir operated a large facility located in Douglas, Georgia ("the Facility"), and it employed 222 individuals in 2017. Id. ¶¶ 2-3. Of those 222 employees, 74 were African Americans, 108 were Caucasian, and 40 were of other races. Id. ¶ 4.

         Plaintiff, who is African American, worked as a Fab Machine Operator in the Fabrication Department at the Facility at all times relevant to this suit. Id. ¶¶ 2, 6, 9. In this position, Plaintiff was responsible for ensuring that when parts were sawed off, the rough edges were smoothed before a product was packaged for the customer. Id. ¶ 10. While working for Elixir, Plaintiff reported to Defendants David Wilkerson, his supervisor, and Michael Moore, his manager. Id. ¶¶ 8, 11. Defendant Rhonda Douglas, Elixir's HR Manager, was involved in initially hiring Plaintiff (along with Michael Moore). Id. ¶ 8. Lastly, Defendant Stephen Jones is the Vice President of Elixir. Id. ¶ 14.[3]

         III. The April 26, 2017 Incident

         On April 26, 2017, employee Carroll Dale emailed Jones and Douglas to inform them that a truck driver reported a small bag of marijuana in the main aisle of the Facility. Id. ¶ 14. Dale indicated in his email that he was alerted to what looked like a bag of marijuana that someone dropped on the floor and that he had placed the bag in his desk drawer. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. Dale suggested that Jones and Douglas check camera footage to see who dropped it.[4] Id. ¶ 17. Jones retrieved the bag of marijuana and went to Douglas's office where they both began an investigation into the matter.[5] Id. ¶¶ 18-19. Douglas and Jones obtained the footage from the surveillance cameras and reviewed that footage to determine from where the marijuana came. Id. ¶¶ 20-21.

         In the video footage, Plaintiff is seen entering the vending machine area from the Packing Department and begins speaking to, co-worker Orlando Spellman. Id. ¶¶ 22-23.[6] Another co-worker, Robert Keith Adams, can be seen standing toward the back of the video frame.[7] Id. ¶ 25. At 7:20:38, the video shows Plaintiff extending his right hand toward Spellman and the two appear to exchange an item that is clear or white. Id. ¶ 26. After this exchange, Spellman immediately puts both hands into his pockets and turns away from the camera as Plaintiff moves toward the vending machine. Id. ¶ 27. Then, Plaintiff, Adams, and Spellman are seen talking near the vending machine when Adams hurries into the men's restroom near the vending machines. Id. ¶ 28. About seven seconds after Adams enters the men's restroom, Spellman also enters that same restroom. Id. ¶ 29.

         At 7:22:50, Plaintiff leaves the vending area after getting a drink from the vending machine. Id. ¶ 30. About a minute later, Adams emerges from the restroom while drying his hands, then abruptly turns around and walks back into the restroom. Id. ¶ 31. A few seconds later, Spellman leaves the restroom and walks toward the vending machine areas, and then, he exits the frame and returns back to the Packing Department. Id. ¶ 32. Next, Adams emerges from the men's restroom a second time and is seen walking down the main aisle of the facility. Id. ¶¶ 35-37. While walking down the main aisle, a small package falls out of Adams's pocket at approximately 7:24:28. Id. ¶ 38. After the package drops, a small dark spot can be seen on the floor as Adams exits the video frame. Id. ¶ 39. This package was dropped in the same spot where the marijuana was found by Dale. Id. ¶ 40.

         Moore identified the individuals in the video for Douglas and Jones, [8] and based off of their review of the video and the bag of marijuana found on the floor, Douglas, Jones, and Moore believed that Plaintiff, Adams, and Spellman were involved in bringing drugs to work and distributing those drugs in violation of Elixir's Drug and Alcohol policy. Id. ¶¶ 42-44. In response, Douglas called the Coffee County Sheriff's Department to tell them that a bag of marijuana was found on the premises. Id. ¶ 45.

         IV. Sheriff's Office and Elixir Investigations

         Upon arrival, Detectives from the Coffee County Sheriff's Department reviewed the video footage and agreed with Douglas and Jones that, based on their experience, this behavior was consistent with drug activity. Id. ¶ 47-49. The Detectives also agreed with Defendants that the package that Plaintiff handed to Spellman looked like it could be drugs. Id. ¶ 48. The Detectives conducted a walk-through in the parking lot around employee vehicles with their K-9 unit. Id. ¶¶ 51-52. After conducting the walk-through, Adams was called to Douglas' office. Id. ¶ 5.4. One of the Detectives then quested Adams in the presence of Elixir's management employees. Id. ¶ 55. When asked about the incident, Adams initially denied any involvement with the package of marijuana but later admitted that the package was his. Id. ¶¶ 56-57. Adams was then transported to the Coffee County Jail for the charge of possession of marijuana. Id. ¶ 58. As for Spellman, he was terminated for his involvement in the alleged distribution of drugs at work and was transferred back to the Valdosta Transitional Center where he was residing at the time. Id. ¶¶ 60-61.

         That afternoon, Plaintiff and other Elixir employees were asked to take drug tests. Id. ¶ 62. All employees drug tested that day, including Plaintiff, passed. Id. ¶ 63. After the drug test, Plaintiff returned to work. Id. ¶ 64.

         V. Plaintiff's Meeting with Management and Subsequent Termination

         Later that afternoon, Wilkerson asked Plaintiff to come to Douglas's office to meet with him, Douglas, Jones, and Moore. Id. ¶¶ 65-66. Douglas showed Plaintiff the video footage and asked him to explain what was occurring in the video. Id. ¶¶ 67-68. Plaintiff responded that he did not know and asked Jones and Douglas what they thought was in his hand. Id. ¶ 70. Defendants continued to ask Plaintiff what it was that he gave to Spellman to which he continued to respond that he did not know. Id. at ¶¶ 71-72. Plaintiff then told Defendants that he did not have drugs in his hand.[9] Id. ¶ 74. Defendants responded that they had not mentioned anything about drugs. Id. ¶ 76. Defendants asked Plaintiff what was in his hand and explained that if he could not tell them, they would have to walk him out to his car and terminate his employment. Id. ¶ 89. Plaintiff provided no response so Defendants walked him to his car and shook his hand. Id. ¶¶ 90-91.

         Plaintiff testified to a different account of the events in his deposition. Id. ¶ 77. Plaintiff testified that after his drug test, he was called into the office and was told'"You good. You can go back to work but we need you to tell me what's on this video." Id. ¶ 78. He then testified that he told Defendants that "Tonya had told [him] to get her a monster drink . . . and she gave [him] change." Id. ¶ 79. Plaintiff testified that on the way to get the drink, he saw "Mr. Keith and Mr. Spellman, and [he] bumped hands with Mr. Spellman." Id. ¶ 80. Plaintiff later clarified that he bumped fists with Spellman to greet him and then went to get the drink requested by Tonya. Id. ¶ 81. During his deposition, Plaintiff testified that when Moore asked him what was in his hand, he told Moore that he had change in his hand for the monster drink. Id. ¶ 82. According to Plaintiff's testimony, Moore responded by saying "[w]ell that don't look like change. But if you can't tell me what's in your hand, we're going to have to walk you to the door." Id. ¶ 83. Plaintiff also testified that Moore said at one point "there's clearly something in your hand." Id. ¶ 102. During his deposition, Plaintiff testified that he did not have drugs and when asked what was in his hand, he stated "that's change in my hand. That's-it's nothing else in my hand" and said "there's no drug or nothing." Id. ¶¶ 84-85.

         VI. Procedural History

         After his termination, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, and on November 2, 2017, he received a right to sue letter. Dkt. No. 1-1. Plaintiff filed his pro se Complaint on February 15, 2018, alleging claims against Elixir as well as the four Individual Defendants for disparate treatment and retaliation under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et. seq., and defamation under Georgia law. Dkt. No. 1. On December 13, 2018, the Court granted the Individual Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss and dismissed Plaintiff's Title VII claims against the Individual Defendants. Dkt. No. 34. On April 25, 2019, Defendants filed the Motion for Summary Judgment currently at issue before the Court arguing for summary judgment on the remaining Title VII claims against Elixir and the defamation claim. Dkt. No. 48. Plaintiff has not responded to Defendants' Motion.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is required where "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). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." FindWhat Inv'r Grp. v. FindWhat.com, 658 F.3d 1282, 1307 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A dispute is "genuine" if the "evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. In making this determination, the court is to view all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Johnson v. Booker T. Washington Broad. Serv., Inc., 234 F.3d 501, 507 (11th Cir. 2000). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant must show the court that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving ...


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