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Muniz v. Dynamic Systems, Inc.

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

September 16, 2019

EDWIN MUNIZ, Plaintiff,
v.
DYNAMIC SYSTEMS, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          J. RANDAL HALL, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 33.) In this action, the Clerk of Court gave Plaintiff notice of the motion for summary judgment and informed him of the summary judgment rules, the right to file affidavits or other materials in opposition, and the consequences of default. (Doc. 34.) Thus, the notice requirements of Griffith v. Wainwright, 772 F.2d 822, 825 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam), are satisfied. The time for filing materials in opposition has expired, and the motion is ripe for consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Edwin Muniz ("Plaintiff") is Hispanic. (Def.'s St. of Mat. Facts, Doc. 33-2, at ¶ 1 (undisputed).) He is a journeyman pipefitter and member of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union, Local Union 803. (Id. ¶ 2 (undisputed).) In 2015, Defendant Dynamic Systems, Inc. ("Defendant") offered Plaintiff a job as an orbital welder at the Eli Lilly plant in Augusta, Georgia, which Plaintiff accepted. (Id. ¶ 3, (undisputed).) At all relevant times, foreman Troy Weiser ("Foreman Weiser") served as Plaintiff's supervisor on the project. (Id. ¶ 4 (undisputed).)

         Two of Plaintiff's fellow crew members were Termonja Carlton and Ebony Parker, both African-American. (Id. ¶ 5 (undisputed); Pl's St. of Mat. Facts, Doc. 37-1, ¶¶ 7, 8 (undisputed).) Plaintiff, Mr. Carlton, and Mr. Parker were involved in two incidents on June 8, 2016, on the second floor of the project. (Def.'s St. of Mat. Facts, ¶¶ 5, 7 (undisputed).)

         A. Purge Cap Incident

         The first incident primarily involved Plaintiff and Mr. Carlton. (Muniz Dep., Doc. 33-3, at 70-73; Weiser Dep., Doc. 33-4, at 42-47.) It is undisputed that, unbeknownst to Plaintiff, Mr. Carlton removed the purge cap from Plaintiff's weld to use on his own weld. (Muniz Dep., at 71; Weiser Dep., at 42, 44-45.) Plaintiff proceeded with the weld; however, the absence of the necessary cap damaged the weld. (Muniz Dep., at 71; Weiser Dep., at 42-43.) The Parties dispute the fallout from the weld damage, but both Parties acknowledge that Foreman Weiser witnessed the incident. (Def.'s St. of Mat. Facts, ¶ 6 (undisputed).)

         According to Foreman Weiser, Mr. Carlton showed immediate contrition for his mistake and offered to correct the harm. (Weiser Dep., at 43, 46.) Based upon Foreman Weiser's observation, he understood that the purge cap mishap was an accident. (Id. at 43-45.) Plaintiff tells a different story, and he testified that when he confronted Mr. Carlton about the missing weld cap, Mr. Carlton accosted him with racial slurs. (Muniz Dep., at 71.) Plaintiff states that he expressed concerns to Foreman Weiser regarding Foreman Weiser's failure to intervene in the incident. (Id. at 72.)

         B. Ladder Incident:

         Later the same day, the second altercation occurred involving Plaintiff and Mr. Parker. (Muniz Dep., at 73-74; Weiser Dep., at 48.) Again, Foreman Weiser witnessed the event. (Def.'s St. of Mat. Facts, ¶ 6 (undisputed).) Pursuant to Plaintiff's testimony, Mr. Parker was upset because Plaintiff chose to continue making his weld instead of helping with the cleanup and began directing racial slurs at Plaintiff. (Muniz Dep., at 73-74.) Mr. Parker then bumped Plaintiff's ladder with a vacuum cleaner.[1] (Id.; Weiser Pep., at 48.) Foreman Weiser explained that, from his perspective, Mr. Parker did not contact the ladder intentionally. (Weiser Dep., at 56-57.) The Parties agree that an argument between Plaintiff and Mr. Parker ensued following the ladder incident. (Muniz Dep., at 74; Weiser Dep., at 48, 49-50.) Plaintiff again challenged the level of Foreman Weiser's intervention. (Muniz Dep., at 77; Weiser Dep., at 51.)

         C. Plaintiff's Termination

         After the second incident within the same day, Foreman Weiser went to the project superintendent, Ron Gravely. (Def.'s St. of Mat. Facts, ¶ 7 (undisputed) .) Because the project needed a welder on the first floor in a few days, the decision was made to move Plaintiff early to diffuse the mounting friction between Plaintiff, Mr. Carlton, and Mr. Parker. (Def.'s St. of Mat. Facts, ¶¶ 7-9 (undisputed) .) The Parties agree that Defendant did not move Plaintiff as punishment. (Def.'s St. of Mat. Facts, ¶ 8 (undisputed) .)

         As Foreman Weiser recalls, although he informed Plaintiff that the move reflected the needs of the project, Plaintiff expressed that he felt the move was punishment. (Def.'s St. of Mat. Facts, ¶ 11 (undisputed); Weiser Dep., at 51.) The following morning, Foreman Weiser discovered that Plaintiff had removed a section of piping ("Fabrication") on the second floor. (Def.'s St. of Mat. Facts, ¶¶ 12, 13 (undisputed).)[2] Foreman Weiser did not observe Plaintiff remove the piping. (Pl's St. of Mat. Facts, ¶ 30 (undisputed).) Upon discovering the removed Fabrication, Foreman Weiser confronted Plaintiff, questioned why he removed the Fabrication, and ordered Plaintiff to restore it. (Def.'s St. of Mat. Facts, ¶ 14 (undisputed).)

         Foreman Weiser interpreted Plaintiff s reaction as a dismissal of his instruction that Plaintiff repair the Fabrication. (Weiser Dep., at 35.) At that point, Foreman Weiser went to superintendent Robert Smith ("Superintendent Smith") to request Plaintiff's removal from the project site. (Def.'s St. of Mat. Facts, ¶ 17 (undisputed); Weiser Dep., at 39.) It is undisputed that Foreman Weiser informed Superintendent Smith that Plaintiff intentionally and maliciously removed the Fabrication:

Weiser told [Superintendent Smith] that Plaintiff needed to be removed from the project because, "when it came down to impacting my job from doing a childish thing like that i.e., pulling down the [F]abrication, just for spite, no. I won't have that type of individual on my work crew. No, I won't do it."

         (Def.'s St. of Mat. Facts, ¶ 17 (undisputed) (quoting Weiser Dep., at 39).) Foreman Weiser testified that he believed Plaintiff's actions amounted to deliberate sabotage of the project, and therefore, Plaintiff's termination was necessary. (Weiser Dep., at 44.) Defendant terminated Plaintiff after Foreman Weiser informed Superintendent Smith of Plaintiff's actions. (Def.'s St of Mat. Facts, ¶ 18 (undisputed); Pl's St. of Mat. Facts, ¶ 31 (undisputed).) The Parties agree that, throughout Plaintiff's time working under Foreman Weiser, Foreman Weiser "never made any racially derogatory remarks, comments or statement[s] to or about Plaintiff, or in Plaintiff's presence." (Def.'s St. of Mat. Facts, ¶ 23 (undisputed).)

         Plaintiff recalls the June 9, 2016 events differently. He maintains that he informed Foreman Weiser that he removed the piping because he did not want it to fall and he mistakenly brought the piece to the first floor with the rest of his tools. (Muniz Dep., at 82-83.) Plaintiff recounts that Foreman Weiser looked at him "funny" and then left. (Id.)

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if "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). 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), and a dispute is genuine "if the non [-]moving party has produced evidence such that a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict in its favor." Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., Inc., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001). The Court must view factual disputes in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986), and must "draw all justifiable inferences in [the non-moving party's] favor." United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991) (en banc) (citation, internal quotation marks, and internal punctuation omitted). The Court should not weigh the evidence or determine credibility. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

         The moving party has the initial burden of showing the Court, by reference to materials in the record, the basis for the motion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Because the standard for summary judgment mirrors that of a directed verdict, the initial burden of proof required by either party depends on who carries the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 322-23. When the movant does not carry the burden of proof at trial, it may carry the initial burden in one of two ways - by negating an essential element of the non-movant's case or by showing that there is no evidence to prove a fact necessary to the non-movant's case. See Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 606-08 (11th Cir. 1991) (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144 (1970); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. 317). The movant cannot meet its initial burden by merely declaring that the non-moving party cannot meet its burden at trial. Id. at 608.

         If - and only if - the movant carries its initial burden, the non-movant must "demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment." Id. When the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the non-movant must tailor its response to the method by which the movant carries its initial burden. For example, if the movant presents evidence affirmatively negating a material fact, the non-movant "must respond with evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial on the material fact sought to be negated." Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1116 (11th Cir. 1993). On the other hand, if the movant shows an absence of evidence on a material fact, the non-movant must either show that the record contains evidence that was "overlooked or ignored" by the movant or "come forward with additional evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency." Id. at 1116-17. The non-movant cannot carry its burden by relying on the pleadings or by repeating conclusory allegations contained in the complaint. See Morris v. Ross, 663 F.2d 1032, 1033-34 (11th Cir. 1981). Rather, the non-movant must respond with affidavits or as otherwise provided by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. In reaching its conclusions herein, the Court has evaluated the Parties' briefs, other submissions, and the evidentiary record in this case.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff's complaint alleges discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seg. Defendant moves for summary judgment as to all claims. The Court addresses each below.

         A. Title VII Discrimination - National Origin

         Plaintiff checked the box in the complaint alleging "Defendant[] discriminated against me based on my . . . national origin." (Compl., Doc. 1, at 4.) Defendant argues it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's national origin discrimination claim because Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies as to that specific claim. (Br. Supp. Mot. for Summ. J., Doc. 33-1, at 5-7.) Plaintiff did not respond to Defendant's argument in his opposition brief; therefore, he arguably abandoned this claim. See Horton v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., No. 1:07-cv-1069-WSD-LTW, 2008 WL 11320065, at *2 n.3 (N.D.Ga. Aug. 15, 2008) (citing Iraola & CIA, S.A. v. Kimberly-Clark Corp., 325 F.3d 1274, 1284 (11th Cir. 2003); Wilkerson v. Grinnell Corp., 270 F.3d 1314, 1322 (11th Cir. 2001)); Blankenship v. City of Russellville, ...


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