United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
H. Miller Judge.
before the court are (1) defendant Mitsubishi Caterpillar
Forklift America Inc.'s (“MCFA”) motion for
summary judgment (Dkt. 21), and (2) plaintiff Ephrem
Eyob's motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. 22).
Having considered the motions, responses, reply, evidentiary
record, and the applicable law, the court is of the opinion
that (1) MCFA's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 21)
should be GRANTED, and (2) Eyob's motion for partial
summary judgment (Dkt. 22) should be DENIED AS MOOT.
a case about alleged employment discrimination and an alleged
hostile work environment. Dkt. 1. Eyob is an African American
male, originally from Ethiopia. Dkt. 1 at 2. Eyob was
terminated from his position as a Plant Supervisor at MCFA
after working there for fourteen years. Id. MCFA is
a manufacturer and distributor of forklifts. Dkt. 22.
Eyob's causes of action against MCFA are racial
discrimination and a hostile work environment under 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e (“Title VII”) and 42 U.S.C. §
1981. Dkt. 1 at 5.
Eyob's Employment with MCFA
5, 2000, Eyob began working for MCFA as a 2nd Shift
Assembler. Dkt. 21, Ex. A (Pierce Dec.). In 2009, Eyob was
promoted to Crew Leader, reporting to the Plant Supervisor,
Jimmy Uy. Dkt. 21, Ex. B (Eyob Dep.) at 3. During that time,
Uy reported to Marvin Chasteen, the Senior Manufacturer of
Marking. Id. Dkt. 21, Ex. A at 3.
January 2, 2012, MCFA promoted Eyob to Plant Supervisor in
the manufacturing division, reporting to Saravan Sigamani.
Dkt. 21, Ex A-1. Sigamani, in turn, reported to Chasteen.
Dkt. 21, Ex. B (Eyob Dep.) at 8. As a Plant Supervisor, Eyob
initially managed 16 employees on Manufacturing Main Line 2.
Id. at 6. A few months later, Eyob was transferred
to Manufacturing Main Line 1 (“Line 1"), managing
53 to 57 employees. Id. In 2012, Sigamani
administered Eyob's performance appraisal, and Eyob
recieved an overall score of “achieved expectations,
” with a mix of “exceeded expectations, ”
“achieved expectations, ” and “generally
met expectations” scores in the various categories of
the appraisal. Dkt. 23, Exs. F, G.
6, 2013, Eyob started reporting directly to Chasteen. Dkt.
21, Ex. A-2. The other Plant Supervisors who reported to
Chasteen were Carlos Perez (Mast Assembly), Uy (Final
Finish), and Chip Hilgert (Main Line 2). Dkt. 21, Ex. B (Eyob
Dep.) at 10.
claims that he repeatedly addressed quality and excessive
overtime issues with Eyob with respect to Line 1. Dkt. 21,
Ex. C (Chasteen Dep.) at 6. The quality issues were
documented in Eyob's performance evaluation both mid-year
and end-of-year 2013, where he received a “generally
met expectations” overall score, and his appraisal
reflected declining performance compared to 2012. Dkt. 23,
Exs. B, I. Late in 2013, Eyob's line encountered a
quality issue with the assembly of a hydraulic lever. Dkt.
21, Ex. C (Chasteen Dep.) at 14-15. The issue was addressed
with the engineering department. Id. at 18-19 In
April 2014, the hydraulic lever issue reoccurred on Line 1.
Id. On April 10, 2014, Chasteen claims that he
discussed the issue with his supervisor, Jay Gusler, and they
made the decision to terminate Eyob. Id. at 14. Eyob
was terminated that day. Id. Eyob was replaced with
Guillermo Amezaga, who is Hispanic, as Plant Supervisor for
Line 1. Dkt. 21, Ex. A (Pierce Dec.) at 3.
employee handbook contains a progressive discipline policy
that explains that MCFA can issue a series of verbal or
written warnings for poor performance. Dkt. 23, Exs. D
(“first policy”), E (“second
policy”). However, the policies also state that MCFA
can terminate an employee without warning. Dkt. 23, Exs. D,
E. MCFA admits that it terminated Eyob without issuing him
any warnings under the progressive discipline policy. Dkt. 21
Eyob's Allegations of Harrassment and
alleges that he was subjected to a number of instances of
harassment, beginning in 2009. Dkt. 23-13 (Eyob Dep.) at 5.
Though Eyob was not directly supervised by Chasteen, he
claims that throughout this time period, Chasteen found
opportunities to chastise him for taking time off work and to
raise concerns about his assembly line. Dkt. 21, Ex. B (Eyob
Dep.) at 3-4, 9. When Chasteen became Eyob's supervisor,
Eyob alleges that Chasteen made comments such as “you
work for me now, ” that he “just got lucky”
with his promotion, and that he should “be
careful” about raising an issue during a morning
meeting. Dkt. 21, Ex. B (Eyob Dep.) at 17, 28. In May 2013,
Eyob claims that Chasteen falsely accused the employees of
Line 1 of deliberately damaging trucks to create overtime.
Dkt. 21, Ex. B (Eyob Dep.) at 28-29. Additionally, Eyob
argues that Chasteen prevented him from leading a tour of the
MCFA facility during the 2014 Houston Livestock Show and
Rodeo. Id. at 26-27, 32 (claiming that Eyob believed
that Chasteen did not want an African American representing
the company to dealers); Dkt. 23-3 (Eyob. Dep) at 15.
Further, Eyob alleges that at least once he was told to
“deal with it, ” when he was shorthanded for the
day and asked for extra staff. Dkt. 21, Ex. B (Eyob Dep.) at
Eyob alleges that Chasteen told him, during the lead up to
the 2012 Presidential election, that he should not vote for
Barack Obama because the candidate was in favor of giving
“free health care and food stamp[s] for black
people.” Id. at 23. Chasteen disputes that
this conversation occurred and agrees that if it had, it
would be inappropriate. Dkt. 21, Ex. C (Chasteen Dep.) at
21-22. Sometime after April 2013, Eyob entered Chasteen's
office and witnessed Chasteen and Uy watching an offensive
video of a native, rural African village that depicted the
villagers as stupid. Dkt. 21, Ex. B (Eyob Dep.) at 22-23;
Dkt. 21, Ex. C (Chasteen Dep.) at 25-26 (disputing that Eyob
witnessed him watching the video and agreeing that the video
was inappropriate). Eyob also alleges that Chasteen would
waive his finger at Eyob to get Eyob to come to him. Dkt. 21,
Ex. B (Eyob Dep.) at 25-26. Eyob claims that he explained to
Chasteen that this type of gesture was rude in the Ethiopian
culture and asked him to stop, but that Chasteen continued to
make the gesture at least 20 or 30 more times. Id.
Chasteen claims that he did not know that finger-waving was
considered rude in Ethiopian culture. Dkt. 21, Ex. C
(Chasteen Dep.) at 23.
Eyob alleges that he witnessed Chasteen referring to black
employees other than Eyob as “Mr. Wayne” at least
four or five times, apparently in reference to a former
African American employee of MCFA named Wayne Billard. Dkt.
21, Ex. B (Eyob Dep.) at 25-26. But see Dkt. 21, Ex.
C (Chasteen Dep.) at 23 (denying this accusation). Finally,
Chasteen replied in his deposition testimony “[g]osh I
don't know” and “[i]t's possible”
that he may have used the n-word at some time in the last
five years. Dkt. 23-13 (Chasteen Dep.) at 56. However, Eyob
does not testify that he witnessed Chasteen using this
derogatory racial slur. Dkt. 21, Ex. B (Eyob Dep.); Dkt.
23-13 at 2-20 (Eyob Dep.).
initially filed his discrimination complaint under Title VII
with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(“EEOC”). Dkt. 1, Ex. A. On May 11, 2016, the
EEOC dismissed the case and notified Eyob of his right to
sue. Id. On June 13, 2016, Eyob filed his complaint
against MCFA. Dkt. 1. On December 29, 2016, MCFA answered and
asserted affirmative defenses. Dkt. 6. On March 13, 2017,
MCFA filed its motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 21. Eyob
responded, and MCFA replied. Dkts. 23, 24. On March 13, 2017,
Eyob filed a motion for partial summary judgment on
MCFA's mixed motive defense and failure to mitigate
damages defense. Dkt. 22. MCFA responded, but Eyob did not
reply. Dkt. 25.
shall grant summary judgment when a “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(c). “[A] fact is genuinely in dispute
only if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
non-moving party.” Fordoche, Inc. v. Texaco,
Inc., 463 F.3d 388, 392 (5th Cir. 2006). 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986). If
the party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the
non-moving party to set forth specific facts showing a
genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The court must
view the evidence in the light most favorable to the
non-movant and draw all justifiable inferences in favor of
the non-movant. Envtl. Conservation Org. v. City of
Dall., Tex., 529 F.3d 519, 524 (5th Cir. 2008).
the court will consider MCFA's motion for summary
judgment on Eyob's claims of employment discrimination
and a hostile work environment. Dkt. 21. Then, the court will
consider Eyob's motion for partial summary judgment on
MCFA's affirmative defenses. Dkt. 23.
Employment Discrimination Based on Race
alleges that he was terminated from his position with MCFA on
the basis of his race in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981. Dkt. 1 at 5. Title VII makes it unlawful for an
employer to discharge an employee because of his or her
“race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Section 1981 states “[a]ll
persons . . . shall have the same right[s] . . . as enjoyed
by white citizens.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a).
“Employment discrimination claims brought under 42
U.S.C. § 1981 . . . are analyzed under the evidentiary
framework applicable to claims arising under Title
VII.” Lawrence v. Univ. of Tex. Med. Branch at
Galveston, 163 F.3d 309, 311 (5th Cir. 1999).
plaintiff can prove intentional discrimination through either
direct or circumstantial evidence. See Turner v. Baylor
Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 345 (5th Cir. 2007).
Direct evidence is evidence which, if believed, proves the
fact without inference or presumption. Jones v. Robinson
Prop. Grp., L.P., 427 F.3d 987, 992 (5th Cir. 2005)
(citing Brown v. E. Miss. Elec. Power Ass'n, 989
F.2d 858, 861 (5th Cir.1993)). When race discrimination
claims are based on circumstantial evidence, courts apply the
McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework.
McCoy v. City of Shreveport, 492 F.3d 551, 556 (5th
Cir. 2007) (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green,
411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973)). Here, the parties agree that the
burden-shifting framework is applicable because Eyob presents
circumstantial evidence in support of his discrimination
claim. Dkt. 21 at 18; Dkt. 23 at 19-20.
under the burden-shifting framework, a plaintiff must present
a prima facie case of discrimination. McDonnell
Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. To establish a prima
facie discrimination case under Title VII, the plaintiff
must show that he (1) is a protected class member, (2) was
qualified for his position, (3) suffered an adverse
employment action, and (4) that others similarly situated
were treated more favorably. Okoye v. Univ. of Tex. Hou.
Health Sci. Ctr., 245 F.3d 507, 512-13 (5th Cir. 2001)
(citing Shackelford v. Deloitte & Touche, LLP,
190 F.3d 398, 404 (5th Cir. 1999)).
plaintiff is successful in presenting a prima facie
case of discrimination, the burden of production shifts to
the employer to “rebut a presumption of discrimination
by articulating a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for
the adverse employment action.” Turner v. Baylor
Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 345 (5th Cir. 2007)
(citing Auguster v. Vermilion Parish Sch. Bd., 249
F.3d 400, 402 (5th Cir.2001)). Then, “[if] the employer
meets its burden, then [the burden] shifts back to the
plaintiff to present substantial evidence that the
employer's reason was pretext for discrimination.”
Id. “If the plaintiff can show that the
proffered explanation is merely pretextual, that showing,