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Walker v. Blanchard Refining Co. LLC

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

August 28, 2019

WILLIAM WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
BLANCHARD REFINING COMPANY, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GEORGE C. HANKS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, William Walker (hereinafter called "Walker"), has filed suit against his former employer, Blanchard Refining Company LLC (hereinafter referred to as "Blanchard"). Walker alleges that Blanchard engaged in unlawful employment practices and discriminated against Walker on the basis of his race, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (2)(a) and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

         The Court has previously GRANTED Blanchard's motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 31. Below are the reasons for that ruling.

         BACKGROUND

         Blanchard hired Walker to work as an Operator and later promoted him to the Chief Operator position based on his experience and bargaining unit seniority. Dkt. 13-5 at 3. Walker contends that Blanchard engaged in a pattern of racial discrimination against him, culminating in his demotion and termination. Walker stated that "he made several efforts for recertification in order to re-apply for the Chief Operator position" after his demotion, which were denied. Dkt. 1. Blanchard argues that Walker was demoted and terminated due to unsatisfactory evaluation results and violation of company policy.

         Walker contends that after his promotion to Chief Operator, he began to receive unsupported negative evaluations and was subsequently demoted. However, Walker has not provided any summary judgment evidence to support his claims. The summary judgment evidence establishes that Walker received two evaluations with overall "unsatisfactory" ratings within a two-month period. In those evaluations, Walker received unsatisfactory ratings for each of the six categories examined: health, safety, security, and environmental; process safety; leadership; unit knowledge; work attitude; and performance under abnormal situations. Dkt. 13-8 at 2-8. Under the "improvements needed section," Walker's supervisor noted that Walker was not knowledgeable, was not a leader, did not engage with his team, and needed to improve on knowledge regarding equipment and procedures. Dkt. 13-8 at 7. Walker also failed all of the written unit qualification and drawing tests that the Chief Operator position required him to pass. Dkt. 13-9 at 2-7. Blanchard provided a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") that governed Walker's employment, which contained a Chief Operator Memorandum of Agreement ("MOA"). Dkt. 13-5. The MOA requires that the Chief Operator be qualified on all the control room board and outside field jobs in his area of responsibility. Dkt. 13-5 at 3-4. This includes a "satisfactory" evaluation rating as well as passage of the written qualification tests with an overall score of eighty-five percent or higher. Id.; Dkt. 13-9 at 2. Performance evaluations are performed yearly, and if the Chief Operator receives a "Progress Marginal" or "Unsatisfactory" rating, the Chief Operator placed in a developmental plan under the MOA. Id. There is a second evaluation that may be accelerated based on performance during such a plan. Id. Per the MOA, the Chief Operator is to be disqualified if the second evaluation again results in a "Progress Marginal" or "Unsatisfactory" rating. Id. The disqualification period lasts for four years, during which a disqualified Chief would not be eligible to fill Chief vacancies. Id.

         The failure of the tests disqualified Walker from the Chief Operator Position under the MOA. Dkt. 13-5 at 3-4. There was a follow-up evaluation in early 2016, which reflected Walker's failure of all qualification tests and unsatisfactory performance in all six evaluation criteria. Dkt. 13. Walker admitted in his deposition that he received consecutive poor performance evaluations and that he failed the testing related to the operations of the unit. Dkt. 13-2 at 31, 39. Bobby Cash was promoted to the Chief Operator position following Walker's demotion. Dkt. 1. Blanchard stated that Bobby Cash was promoted automatically based on his seniority under the terms of the CBA. See Dkt. 13-5 at 3. In Walker's deposition testimony, he admitted that Cash was automatically promoted to the Chief Operator position because of his seniority and not due to a decision made by the Defendant. Dkt. 13-2 at 65.

         The summary judgment evidence establishes that Walker was eventually terminated for violating company policy when he failed to apply a lock to a valve during a drum swap. Dkt. 13-11 at 2-20. The failure to apply the lock resulted in an oil spill and potentially could have caused more serious damage as well as personal injury. Dkt. 13-11 at 2-20. The company deemed the procedure Walker violated as one that is "Life Critical" from a safety perspective in which "other employees have been similarly terminated" for failure to follow the procedure. Dkt. 13-11.

         APPLICABLE LAW

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment should be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celtic Marine Corp. v. James C. Justice Cos., 760 F.3d 477, 481 (5th Cir. 2014). A "genuine issue of material fact exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant." Davis-Lynch, Inc. v. Moreno, 667 F.3d 539, 549 (5th Cir. 2012). The moving party "has the burden of establishing that there is no genuine dispute of material fact." Id. at 550. To avoid summary judgment, "the non-movant must go beyond the pleadings and come forward with specific facts indicating a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 550. The non-moving party may "defeat the motion by showing a genuine dispute of material fact." Johnston v. City of Houston, 14 F.3d 1156, 1060 (5th Cir. 1994). '"[A] 11 facts and evidence must be taken in the light most favorable to the non-movant.'" Davis-Lynch, Inc., 667 F.3d. at 549-50. However, "[u]nsworn pleadings, memoranda, or the like are not...competent summary judgment evidence." Larry v. White, 929 F.2d 206, 211 n.12 (5th Cir. 1991); see also Solo Serve Corp. v. Westowne Assoc., 929 F.2d 160, 164 (5th Cir. 1991) ("[O]nly evidence -not argument, not facts in the complaint -will satisfy [the nonmovant's] burden.").

         B. Title VII

         Under Title VII, it is unlawful for an employer "to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual...because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Where a plaintiff does not present direct evidence of discrimination, Title VII claims proceed under the McDonnell Douglas framework. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04 (1973). Under that framework, the complainant in a Title VII case "must carry the initial burden under the statute of establishing a prima facie case of racial discrimination." Id. at 802. To establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination under Title VII, Walker must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he (1) is a member of a protected class; (2) was qualified for the position; (3) was subject to an adverse employment action; and (4) was replaced by someone outside the protected class. Bryan v. McKinsey & Co., 375 F.3d 358, 360 (5th Cir. 2004); Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prod., 530 U.S. 133, 143 (2000). "Adverse employment actions can include discharges, demotions, refusals to hire, refusals to promote, and reprimands." Sharp v. City of Houston, 164 F.3d 923, 933 (5th Cir. 1999).

         Once the prima facie case has been established, the burden then shifts to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. See McDonnell Douglas Corp., 411 U.S. at 802; see, e.g., Marcantel v. Dep't of Transp. & Dev.,37 F.3d 197, 199 (5th Cir. 1994) (where a business judgment was held to be a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason). The employer's burden "is one of production, not persuasion." Alvarado v. Texas Rangers,492 F.3d 601, 611 (5th Cir. 2007) (quotations omitted). When the employer produces sufficient evidence to support a legitimate, nondiscriminatory explanation for the decision, the plaintiff is afforded the "opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons ...


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