United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION
ROSENTHAL, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
McCullough worked at an Aaron's, Inc. store as a Product
Technician. Aaron's disciplined and then fired him. He
alleges that Aaron's discriminated on the basis of his
race or color and retaliated for complaining about a racial
slur. Aaron's has moved for summary judgment on both the
discrimination and retaliation claims. (Docket Entry No. 17).
McCullough responded, and Aaron's replied. (Docket Entry
Nos. 18, 21). Based on the pleadings; the motion, response,
and reply; the record; and the relevant law, the court grants
Aaron's motion for summary judgment. Final judgment
dismissing this action with prejudice is entered by separate
reasons for this ruling are explained below.
McCullough was hired as a Product Technician at the
Aaron's, Inc. store C0068 in College Station, Texas, in
October 2015. (Docket Entry No. 17 at 11). Aaron's
asserts that McCullough had difficulty performing his job
responsibilities and had several behavioral issues.
(Id. at 12-13). On one occasion, Brian Perez, the
most senior Product Technician at Aaron's, reported to
Michael Cook, the store's general manager, that
McCullough was difficult to work with and train.
(Id. at 13). Cook discussed the situation with
November 25, 2015, McCullough had a disagreement with Chris
Gray, another Product Technician. (Id. at 14; Docket
Entry No. 1 at ¶ 7). McCullough asserts that during this
exchange, Gray directed a racial slur at him. (Docket Entry
No. 1 at ¶ 7). McCullough is African-American.
(Id. at ¶ 8). Aaron's denies that Gray used
a racial slur. (Docket Entry No. 17 at 11). McCullough told
Cook about what Gray had allegedly said and reported the
incident to the Aaron's employee hotline. (Id.
at 15; Docket Entry No. 1 at ¶ 7). Cook sent McCullough
home for the day after McCullough submitted a written
statement about his complaint. (Docket Entry No. 17 at 15).
Cook asserts that he had already decided to send McCullough
home before he complained about Gray. (Id. at 16).
McCullough disputes this and argues that there is a causal
link between the complaint he made, Cook sending him home for
the day, and his subsequent termination. (Docket Entry No. 18
recommended to Roger Hooker, Aaron's regional manager,
that McCullough be terminated. (Docket Entry No. 17 at 16).
After an investigation into McCullough's complaint
against Gray concluded that no racial slur had been used,
McCullough was fired. (Id. at 16-17).
January 2016, McCullough filed a Charge of Discrimination
with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging
discrimination on the basis of race or color and retaliation.
(Id. at 18). After receiving a Dismissal and Notice
of Rights, McCullough timely sued, asserting discrimination
and retaliation claims under Title VII and the Texas
Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA). (Id.).
Discovery and this motion followed.
Summary Judgment Standard
judgment is required when ‘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.'”
Trent v. Wade, 776 F.3d 368, 376 (5th Cir. 2015)
(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). “A genuine dispute of
material fact exists when the ‘evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.'” Nola Spice Designs, LLC v. Haydel
Enters., Inc., 783 F.3d 527, 536 (5th Cir. 2015)
(quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242,
248 (1986)). “The moving party ‘bears the initial
responsibility of informing the district court of the basis
for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the
record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact.'” Id.
(quoting E.E.O.C. v. LHC Grp., Inc., 773 F.3d 688,
694 (5th Cir. 2014)); see also Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).
the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant
may merely point to the absence of evidence and thereby shift
to the non-movant the burden of demonstrating by competent
summary judgment proof that there is an issue of material
fact warranting trial.” Nola Spice, 783 F.3d
at 536 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted);
see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. Although the
party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the movant does
not need to negate the elements of the nonmovant's case.
Pioneer Expl., L.L.C. v. Steadfast Ins. Co., 767
F.3d 503, 511 (5th Cir. 2014). “A fact is
‘material' if its resolution in favor of one party
might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under governing
law.” Sossamon v. Lone Star State of Texas,
560 F.3d 316, 326 (5th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted).
“If the moving party fails to meet [its] initial
burden, the motion [for summary judgment] must be denied,
regardless of the nonmovant's response.” United
States v. $92, 203.00 in U.S. Currency, 537 F.3d 504,
507 (5th Cir. 2008) (quoting Little v. Liquid Air
Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc)).
the moving party [meets its initial burden], the non-moving
party must ‘go beyond the pleadings and by her own
affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific
facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial.'” Nola Spice, 783 F.3d at 536
(quoting LHC Grp., 773 F.3d at 694). The nonmovant
must identify specific evidence in the record and explain how
that evidence supports that party's claim. Baranowski
v. Hart, 486 F.3d 112, 119 (5th Cir. 2007). “This
burden will not be satisfied by ‘some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by
unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of
evidence.'” Boudreaux v. Swift Transp.
Co., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Little, 37 F.3d at 1075). In deciding a summary
judgment motion, the court draws all reasonable inferences in
the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Connors
v. Graves, 538 F.3d 373, 376 (5th Cir. 2008); see
also Nola Spice, 783 F.3d at 536. Nevertheless,
“[i]f a party fails to properly support an assertion of
fact or fails to properly address another party's
assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may: .
. . consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the
motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2).