United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
F. ATLAS, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
race discrimination and retaliation case is before the Court
on the Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”)
[Doc. # 58] filed by Defendant Exxon Mobil Corporation
(“Exxon”), to which Plaintiff Tolulope Odubela
filed a Response [Doc. # 66], and Exxon filed a Reply [Doc. #
68]. Having reviewed the full record and applicable legal
authorities, the Court grants the Motion.
who was born in Nigeria, is a resident of Houston, Texas.
Plaintiff identifies himself as a black male whose race is
began working at Exxon as an intern in 2007. During his
internship, Plaintiff expressed a willingness to work for
Exxon in Nigeria. See Plaintiff's Depo., Exh. C
to Motion, p. 49.
October 2008, after he completed his internship, Plaintiff
was offered and accepted a full-time position with Exxon as a
Public & Government Affairs Advisor. Alexandra
Roberts-Judd was Plaintiff's supervisor. Plaintiff has
presented evidence that he received positive comments from
Roberts-Judd regarding his performance, and that he received
pay increases in 2009 and 2010. Exxon has presented evidence
that by September 2009, Roberts-Judd had concerns regarding
Plaintiff's failure to complete assignments in a timely
manner, and the frequent need to edit his writing. As was the
case during his internship, Plaintiff continued to express a
willingness to be assigned to work for Exxon in Africa in the
January 2010, Nora Scheller became Plaintiff's
supervisor. Plaintiff has presented sworn testimony that, for
most of that year, his frequent interactions with Scheller
were positive, and that Scheller never expressed any concerns
regarding Plaintiff's performance. Exxon has presented
evidence that Scheller soon found Plaintiff's work
product and performance to be “well below
average” for an Exxon employee in his position and with
his experience. Exxon has presented evidence that Scheller
counseled Plaintiff regarding his failure to deliver on his
self-imposed time commitments, his problems with general time
management, and his poor writing ability. Plaintiff testified
that he expressed to Scheller a willingness to be assigned to
work for Exxon in Africa. See Id. at 88.
has presented evidence that, after he mentioned to Scheller
in October 2010 that he was originally from Nigeria, Scheller
began to complain generally about his performance and
suggested that he explore other positions that might be a
“better fit” for him. Plaintiff states under oath
that Scheller asked him if he had considered moving back to
Nigeria and stated that she did not believe Plaintiff had
what it takes to make it in the United States. Exxon has
presented evidence that Scheller knew well before October
2010 that Plaintiff was from Nigeria, noting that his resume
included his education at the University of Nigeria.
states under oath that Scheller failed to give him any
specific information regarding his allegedly poor
performance, except to mention his lack of eye contact.
Plaintiff states that he explained to Scheller that lack of
eye contact was a trait stemming from his ancestry and
cultural background in which direct eye contact is considered
rude. In his deposition, Plaintiff testified that he told
Scheller that he was from Nigeria, but did not say that he
was a member of the Sub-Saharan African race. See
Id. at 159. Plaintiff testified also that he does not
distinguish between being from Nigeria and being a member of
the Sub-Saharan African race. See Id. at 158.
Plaintiff conceded, however, that some individuals from
Nigeria may not be of the Sub-Saharan African race, and
clearly the Sub-Saharan African race encompasses individuals
from many diverse nations throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.
January 2011, Scheller met with Plaintiff to discuss a
Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”). Plaintiff
and Scheller agreed to meet bi-monthly to follow up on the
PIP. Plaintiff has presented sworn testimony that Scheller
refused to provide specific feedback regarding his work
performance except to comment on his lack of eye contact.
Exxon has presented evidence that Scheller provided Plaintiff
with specific examples of the problems with his work product
and performance. Plaintiff admits that before he was placed
on the PIP, he was ranked in the bottom third relative to his
peers at Exxon. Exxon has presented evidence that his low
ranking was based, in part, on negative feedback from
Knowledgeable Others (“KOs”), individuals at
Exxon selected by Plaintiff to provide feedback. Plaintiff
has presented evidence that, although some of the KOs'
feedback was negative, some of it was positive.
has presented evidence that, after Scheller again commented
on his “inability to make it in the United
States” during a PIP meeting on May 9, 2011, he
complained to Exxon's Human Resources Department about
Scheller's repeated references to ethnic and cultural
traits that Plaintiff attributes to members of the
Sub-Saharan African race. Plaintiff also complained about
Scheller's repeated questioning of Plaintiff's
ability to succeed in the United States. Plaintiff believes
that Scheller targeted him and set him up for termination
because he is of the Sub-Saharan African race.
employment with Exxon was terminated on September 14, 2011.
Plaintiff alleges that he was terminated because of his
Sub-Saharan African race.
filed his First Amended Complaint on February 29, 2016,
asserting a race discrimination claim and a retaliation claim
under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Discovery has ended, and Exxon
has moved for summary judgment on both claims. The Motion has
been fully briefed and is now ripe for decision.