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Williams v. Texas Facilities Commission

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

July 1, 2019





         Before the Court are Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 16); Williams' Response (Dkt. No. 17); and Defendant's Reply (Dkt. No. 22). The District Court referred the Motion to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b) and Rule 1(c) of Appendix C of the Local Rules.

         This is a race discrimination and retaliation case. Plaintiff Charles Williams, who is African American, sues his former employer, the Texas Facilities Commission, pursuant to Title VII. The Texas Facilities Commission now moves for summary judgment on all of Williams' claims.


         “Summary 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 EEOC v. LHC Grp., Inc., 773 F.3d 688, 694 (5th Cir. 2014)); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         “Where 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.” Id. (quotation marks omitted); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. “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) (quotation 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) (per curiam)). “Once the moving party [meets its initial burden], the nonmoving 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. 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.


         The following facts are based on the summary judgment evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to Williams. Williams worked as an HVAC technician for the Texas Facilities Commission in for 5 years prior to his termination on July 25, 2016. In 2013, an incident occurred where Williams' supervisor, Jaime Barrington, attempted to terminate Williams from his position in the TFC downtown warehouse. Williams asserted that he had complained about race discrimination prior to the termination, and ultimately, after an internal investigation finding incidents of race discrimination, the termination was rescinded. The TFC found that a co-worker, Danny Simms, created a hostile work environment for Williams and another employee, Orlando Medrano, who is Hispanic, through his use of racial slurs, such as “boy.” Simms received a written reprimand for his actions, and a six month period of probation. Simms served out his period of probation at the downtown warehouse. Williams was moved to another location in North Austin. Simms quit the TFC in October 2013 for another job.

         In June 2015, Williams returned to the downtown warehouse location. Will Jones supervised Williams in a temporary capacity, as the position directly above Williams was vacant. In August 2015, Williams learned that the TFC was planning on hiring Simms to fill the vacant supervisor position directly over him and Medrano. Williams and Medrano complained to Will Jones about Simms being rehired and acting as their supervisor. Jones arranged a meeting with Williams, Catherine Camp, the TFC's HR Director, and Jones' supervisor Terri Rodgers. Williams stated at the meeting that he could not work for Simms. The parties dispute how it was communicated to Williams, but ultimately Simms was rehired and Williams was transferred to the Texas School for the Deaf, effective September 14, 2015. Dkt. No. 17-5 at 7. As Williams departed his position in the downtown warehouse, Jones prepared a performance review, dated September 11, 2015. The review was mixed, and indicated that Williams needed “a general attitude adjustment.” Id. at 8-10. Though Williams initialed the review, he stated that he did so “under stress.” Id. at 10.

         Williams' new position at the Texas School for the Deaf was “HVAC Tech III Lead.” Id. at 7. Williams asserts that this was technically a promotion, but he did not receive a salary increase when he was transferred. The parties dispute whether Williams refused to function as a Lead due to the lack of increased salary, and whether this was a lateral move. Williams maintains that after his transfer to TSD, he continued to contact the TFC's HR department complaining about the decision to rehire Simms and transfer Williams. In February of 2016, Catherine Camp, the TFC's HR Director, asked Williams to put his complaints about Simms in writing, which Williams did on February 8, 2016. Williams alleges that Camp informed him that his complaint was made too late, despite his earlier oral complaints.

         Nick Sultemeier was Williams' supervisor at TSD. On February 15, 2016, Sultemeier gave Williams a positive evaluation. On July 25, 2016, Williams was terminated for “utilizing state owned property for personal use.” Dkt. No. 16-1 at 47. The specific reasons given for his termination were that: (1) he removed two TSD ladders from TSD property for personal on June 23, 2016, during his lunch hour and again on June 30, 2016, returning the ladders on July 5, 2016; (2) on July 6, 2016, while on agency time and driving an agency vehicle, he stopped at Robert Madden Industries to purchase a part for personal use and again at Goodwill Industries to sell that part to an acquaintance; (3) he improperly parked his personal trailer on TSD property for a number of weeks and was asked to remove the trailer on July 20, 2016; and (4) his Outside Employment Notification Form did not indicate that he was performing work outside the agency. Dkt. No. 16-1 at 46. The termination notice also contained a list of “previous discussions or disciplinary actions taken” including various instances of tardiness, absenteeism, sleeping after his authorized break time or extending his break time, and socializing at the warehouse across the street instead of attending a TFC luncheon. Id.

         Williams filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging he was improperly terminated because of his race and in retaliation for his prior complaints. Dkt. No. 16-1 at 92. He thereafter filed this lawsuit, alleging race discrimination and retaliation.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

         The TFC first asserts that any events that occurred more than 300 days prior to the day Williams filed his EEOC Charge, April 10, 2017, are barred for failure to exhaust. Williams responds that he only seeks recovery for damages associated with his July 25, 2016, termination, and is not seeking damages ...

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