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North v. General Plastics and Composites, L.P.

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

August 5, 2019




         Pending before this Court is Defendant General Plastics and Composites, L.P.'s ("General Plastics") Motion for Summary Judgment, filed on May 20, 2019. (Doc. No. 35). Plaintiff North ("North" or "Plaintiff') moved for several extensions to respond to General Plastic's motion, which the Court granted. Pursuant to the last extension, North was given until July 5, 2019 to file his response but failed to do so. Therefore, General Plastic's motion for summary judgment is now ripe. For the reasons described below, the Court is of the opinion that the motion should be granted.

         Also pending before the Court is General Plastics' Motion for Immediate Relief from Pretrial Filing Deadlines Pending Resolution of Summary Judgment Motion. (Doc. No. 50). That motion will be denied as moot.

         I. Procedural Background

         North originally filed two lawsuits against General Plastics, the first of which was filed on August 24, 2017 alleging that General Plastics did not pay him overtime under the FLSA, and the second of which was filed on December 1, 2017 asserting claims of discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Court ordered that the two lawsuits be consolidated on January 23, 2019. (Doc. No. 31). The Parties conducted discovery under an extended scheduling order.

         General Plastic's Motion for Summary Judgment was filed on May 20, 2019. (Doc. No. 35). This Court's Local Rules state:

Opposed motions will be submitted to the judge 21 days from filing without notice from the clerk and without appearance by counsel .... Failure to respond to a motion will be taken as a representation of no opposition.

S. Dist. Tex. L.R. 7.3, 7.4 (emphasis added); see also Hanen L.R. 7(D). Accordingly, North's response in opposition was due no later than June 10, 2019.

         Since that date, several motions to extend this deadline have been filed and granted. On June 10, 2019, North filed his Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time to respond to the motion (Doc. No. 39), which the Court granted on June 12, 2019 (Doc. No. 40), thereby extending the filing deadline to June 12, 2019-the first new deadline requested by Plaintiffs counsel.

         Later that day, on June 12, 2019, North filed a Second Motion for Extension of Time (Doc. No. 41), requesting that the Court further extend the deadline for filing his response in opposition to June 20, 2019. The Court granted this motion on June 18, 2019, in which it extended the deadline to June 24, 2019. (Doc. No. 42).

         After that second extended deadline passed, Plaintiffs counsel filed a Motion for Leave to File Amending Pleading on June 29, 2019. (Doc. No. 47). Plaintiffs counsel did not attach any summary judgment response in conjunction with this motion. Opposing counsel agreed for Plaintiffs counsel to file the response on June 29, 2019. Nevertheless, the Court granted a longer extension than requested, with a new (third extended) deadline set for July 5, 2019. (Doc. No. 49). That deadline has passed with no response or additional requests for extensions filed by Plaintiff or his counsel.

         II. The Facts Established by the Summary Judgment Evidence

         General Plastics makes engineered components and turnkey products for oilfield services companies, such as composites, elastomers, and metal. (Doc. No. 35, Ex. A ("Williams Decl.") ¶ 4). The company hired North on March 1, 2013 as the Quality Control Inspector. (Id. ¶ 4). His title was changed in May 2015 to Quality Auditor. (Id. ¶ 5). In these positions, North's job responsibilities included "inspecting parts and processes to ensure quality and conformance with applicable standards." (Id. ¶ 5). In August 2015, North was promoted to Filament Wind Supervisor, a position in which he supervised the production process involved in winding filaments to make composite materials. (Id. ¶ 6).

         In each position that North held with General Plastics, he was paid on an hourly basis as a non-exempt employee. (Id. ¶ 8). General Plastics' former HR director avers that the company never paid a salary to any employee who had held any of the three positions held by North. (Id. ¶ 8). In addition to this hourly rate, North was paid time and one-half for all overtime hours worked over forty hours per week. (Id. ¶ 9). In each position North held, he answered to a Production Supervisor, who was tasked with overseeing the seven departments in General Plastics (of which North supervised one department). (Id. ¶ 7). The only person at General Plastics with authority to fire employees is the company's CEO, David Walstad ("Walstad"). (Id. ¶ 2).

         General Plastics had in place company policies and procedures during the entirety of North's employment. (See Id. ¶¶ 10-11). Many of those policies and procedures were contained in the Employee Information Handbook. (Id. ¶ 11; Doc. No. 35, Ex. A-7 ("Employee Info. Handbook")). All employees are expected to comply with these policies and procedures. The handbook states the terms of General Plastic's at-will employment agreement: "[T]he right of the employee or of the Company to terminate the employment relationship 'At Will' is recognized and affirmed as a term of employment. 'At will' means that any employee's employment can be terminated at any time with or without notice." (Employee Info. Handbook at 12). The Handbook further notes that while there are generally two steps to the disciplinary process, "[c]ause for immediate termination may include . . . violation of the drug-free workplace policy, the conflicts of interest policy or the harassment policy." (Id. at 31).

         Also amongst those policies were rules regarding compliance with the company's electronic time-keeping system, equal employment opportunity policies, and anti-harassment policies. (See Williams Decl. ¶¶ 10-11). North signed agreements that he understood and would follow company policies. (Doc. No. 35, Ex. A-8; Ex. A-9). General Plastics' anti-harassment policies delineate sexually harassing actions and explain that such conduct is prohibited. General Plastics' sexual harassment policy reads, in relevant part:

Prohibited conduct includes . . . Unwelcome acts of a sexual nature, committed by either supervisor or non-supervisory personnel, that interferes with an employee's performance and/or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. Such acts include, but are not limited to:
- Unwelcome sexual flirtations, advances and/or propositions;
- Verbal or written comments, jokes, teasing and/or other communications of a sexual nature;
- Graphic comments about an individual's body;
- The use of sexually degrading words to describe an individual;
- The display of sexually suggestive objects and/or pictures;
- Foul or obscene language and/or gestures; - Unwelcome physical conduct....

(Employee Info. Handbook at 37; Williams Decl. ¶ 11). The policies encourage employees to report perceived discrimination or harassment to an immediate supervisor, and if the issue remains unresolved, then to a company officer. (Employee Info. Handbook at 38; Williams Decl. ¶ 11).

         General Plastics' time-keeping policies and procedures required all hourly employees to work at the physical premises and always complete their work while clocked-in. (Williams Decl. ¶ 12). General Plastics provides overtime pay of time and one-half for all hourly employees who work more than forty hours per week. (Id. ¶ 12). General Plastics, according to Williams' sworn declaration, has never instructed supervisors, managers, or employees to work off-the-clock or permitted managers or supervisors to trim or otherwise adjust employee work time in a manner inconsistent with the time actually worked. (Id. ¶ 12). The handbook explains that employees are to use swipe cards for recording time, and that this method was implemented to fulfill the requirements of federal law. (Employee Info. Handbook at 38). The handbook states:

Swipe Cards are the sole means of recording the time each employee has spent working. Employees are required to swipe their card to fulfill the requirements of federal law, which ...

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