United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division
LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE.
James Laska, a former employee of Kelley Manufacturing Co.
d/b/a KMC Manufacturing Company (“Kelley Manufacturing
Co.” or “KMC”), filed this lawsuit pursuant
to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”),
alleging that Defendant terminated his employment in
retaliation for Plaintiff reporting what he believed to be
discriminatory conduct. Now before the Court is
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 28).
After reviewing the pleadings, briefs, depositions, and other
evidentiary materials presented, the Court concludes that
there is no genuine dispute of the material facts and finds
that Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Manufacturing Co. is an employee-owned manufacturing company
located in Tifton, Georgia. (Doc. 28-10, ¶¶ 2-3).
The company is managed by an Executive Committee, which is
comprised of the Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”),
Lanier Carson, the President, Bennie Branch, and the Chief
Financial Officer (“CFO”), Jimmy Tomberlin.
(Branch Dep., p. 9; Doc. 28-19, ¶¶ 8, 37). The
Executive Committee reports to the Sole Shareholder and the
Trustees,  which in turn report to a Board of
Directors. (Branch Dep., p. 9; Doc. 28-19, ¶ 37).
the end of 2016, KMC’s long-time Vice President of
Sales and Marketing announced his retirement. (Laska Dep., p.
107). As the company began its search for a replacement,
Plaintiff’s wife Debra Laska, who served as KMC’s
Director of Human Resources, discussed the possibility of
Plaintiff applying for the position with Lanier Carson.
(Id.). Plaintiff submitted his resumé in
December 2016. (Id. at p. 108). On January 5, 2017,
KMC extended a formal written offer to Plaintiff. (Doc. 28-7,
p. 29). Per the terms of the offer, Plaintiff would be hired
as the Director of Sales and Marketing. (Id.).
Additionally, after an opportunity to acclimate to the
equipment and culture of the business, KMC would promote
Plaintiff to Vice President of Sales and Marketing and offer
him a seat on the Board of Directors. (Id.).
Plaintiff accepted the terms of employment on January 9,
2017, and began working for KMC on February 1, 2017. (Doc. 28
7, p. 30). Plaintiff’s title changed from Director to
Vice President some time shortly thereafter. (Laska Dep., p.
120; Carson Dep., p. 35).
Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Plaintiff was
accountable for a number of responsibilities. (Doc. 28-7, p.
31). Plaintiff coordinated and managed the activities of
KMC’s Territory Managers, Field Service
Representatives, Distributers, and Advertising Manager.
(Id.). He was responsible for determining staffing
needs, including the hiring and firing of new personnel, with
the approval of the company’s President.
(Id.). Additionally, Plaintiff’s job entailed
developing, editing, and publishing price lists and updates;
disseminating marketing and sales information; accounting for
lost sales; monitoring margins on all products; providing
adequate and timely availability of finished goods; and other
related tasks. (Id.).
Peele, who first began working for KMC as the Advertising
Manager in 2011, resigned her position on June 30, 2017.
(Peele Dep., p. 7-8; Laska Dep., p. 184). Prior to her
resignation, Peele received an e-mail from a woman named
Erica Thrift, who worked for Black Crow Media. (Peele Dep.,
p. 46-47). Thrift expressed an interest in meeting with Peele
to discuss potential advertising opportunities.
(Id.). Peele scheduled a meeting with Thrift but
resigned prior to the meeting taking place. (Id. p.
48-49; Laska Dep., p. 214).
week following Peele’s resignation, Thrift contacted
Plaintiff and asked if he would keep the appointment Thrift
previously scheduled with Peele. (Laska Dep., p. 214). Thrift
also inquired whether KMC intended to fill the Advertising
Manager position. (Id.). Plaintiff set an
appointment with Thrift for July 10, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.
(Id.). Plaintiff met with Thrift and another male
salesperson from Black Crow Media on July 10 to discuss
agriculture-related advertising programs. (Id. at p.
215, 217). At the conclusion of the meeting, Thrift again
asked about the Advertising Manager position. (Id.
at p. 218). Plaintiff suggested that she e-mail her
e-mailed Plaintiff at 10:33 a.m. on July 10, once more
expressing an interest in the marketing position and asking
whether she could send him her resumé. (Doc. 28-7, p.
63). Plaintiff responded to Thrift at 11:19 a.m., directing
her to send her resumé to his wife, Debra Laksa, in
Human Resources. (Id.). Thrift then e-mailed Debra
Laska at 2:54 p.m. (Id. at p. 64-67). Mrs. Laska
testified that after receiving Thrift’s resumé,
she provided a copy to Plaintiff. (D. Laska Dep., p. 158).
She also printed a copy and placed it in Lanier
Carson’s box, along with numerous other resumés
for various positions open throughout the company.
(Id. at p. 158-160).
later correspondence with the Department of Labor, Plaintiff
described Thrift’s physical appearance on the day of
their meeting in great detail:
I must admit that when I turned the corner I was a bit
surprised as I was greeted by an attractive dark tanned tall
brunette in very fit condition wearing a snakeskin print pair
of pants and very revealing tight black sleeveless shirt
exposing quite a bit of cleavage. I also noticed there was a
script tattoo on her left shoulder and arm that read
“love me for who I am” and some other tattoo on
her right arm. My first thought was this did not appear to be
appropriate business wear for a woman to be calling on
(Doc. 28-7, p. 82; Laska Dep., p. 216-217).
provided a similar description to Rhonda Pearman, Lanier
Carson’s Executive Administrative Assistant,
immediately after his meeting with Thrift. (Laska Dep., p.
200; Pearman Dep., p. 30-31). On the way back to his office,
Plaintiff stopped by Pearman’s office and engaged in
the following interchange:
I asked her, I said, “Did you happen to see that lady
and man that just came by here with me?” And she said
no. I said, “Yeah, well, ” I said, “in my
opinion she wasn’t dressed correctly for a business
engagement or business meeting.”
And she said, “Well, what do you mean by that?”
And I explained what I just did, a tube top, you know, she
was a very fit, attractive young lady, very bosomy, and she
had on this small tube top with the tattoos. Rhonda
immediately blurted out, “What a whore.”
(Laska Dep., p. 220).
testified that he promptly chastised Pearman, saying,
“Rhonda, you cannot call people whore. You don’t
know anything about this woman.” (Id. at p.
220-221). He further stated, “Now, she might have been
just a visitor when she came in, but now she’s a job
applicant.” (Id.). Pearman responded,
“Well, I’m telling you right now the old man
[Carson] ain’t going to never let no bombshell like
that work up in here.” (Id.). Plaintiff then
reiterated, “You can’t discriminate against this
woman, and you can’t prejudge her. . . . She’s
got two kids, she’s struggling to make ends meet. And,
you know, just because she looks different from other people,
you can’t discriminate.” (Id.). Pearman
then told Plaintiff to “[g]et the F out of my office
the afternoon of July 10, Plaintiff recounted his experience
with Thrift and Pearman’s reaction with employees in
both the customer service department and the international
sales department. (Id. at p. 225). While Plaintiff
denies the allegation that when relaying his encounter with
Thrift he referred to her as a “bombshell” and
gestured with his hands to describe Thrift’s physical
features, he admits that he described her attire in detail
and referred to her as being “fit, very attractive,
[and having] dark skin.” (Id. at p. 225-227).
Plaintiff also admits that he repeated Pearman’s
reference to Thrift as a “whore.” (Id.
at p. 225).
Tomberlin, KMC’s CFO, testified that Plaintiff also
relayed the incident to him. (Tomberlin Dep., p. 29).
According to Tomberlin, Plaintiff came to his office and
“described exactly what she was wearing. I remember he
said she had on this fantastic leopard-skinned something,
pants or outfit or something, tattoos in various places, very
well-endowed, and was really – seemed excited to tell
me about it.” (Id.).
had a meeting with KMC’s President, Bennie Branch, and
Charles Sumner on July 10 as well. At the conclusion of the
meeting, Plaintiff asked the two gentlemen if they had seen
the “bombshell” in his office that morning.
(Branch Aff., ¶ 6). Branch thought perhaps Plaintiff was
referring to a large equipment order, but then Plaintiff
began describing the “well endowed, ”
“very, very, very well built” female visitor.
(Id.). Branch testified that he was embarrassed by
Plaintiff’s comments. (Branch Dep., p. 62). Because the
door to Branch’s office was open, and because Plaintiff
was speaking so loudly, Branch was also concerned that Rhonda
Pearman, whose office was next door, may be embarrassed by
Plaintiff’s remarks as well. (Id.). Branch
approached Pearman after the meeting and asked whether she
heard Plaintiff’s comments. (Id. at p. 60).
Pearman responded “that [Plaintiff] had already been up
and down the hall that morning saying the same things to
other people.” (Id. at p. 60-61).
wrote a statement concerning the interaction on July 10,
2017. (Id. at p. 59-60). He felt as though the
situation was serious enough that he “wanted to make
sure that the details were . . . accurate.”
(Id. at p. 62). Branch also called Lanier Carson,
who was not in the office at the time, to report the
conversation with Plaintiff. (Id. at p. 63; Carson
Dep., p. 49). Carson said that he would handle it.
(Id.). Carson testified that after receiving the
call from Branch, he was concerned because “[o]ur
company doesn’t have a reputation of having people
dress like [Plaintiff] had described to Mr. Branch.”
(Carson Dep., p. 51). ...