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Douthit v. TC Heartland LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

April 21, 2014

BOBBY DOUTHIT, Plaintiff,
v.
TC HEARTLAND LLC F/K/A HEARTLAND SWEETENERS, LLC, Defendant.

ORDER

JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, District Judge.

Plaintiff Bobby Douthit brings this race discrimination suit against his former employer Defendant TC Heartland LLC ("Heartland"). [Filing No. 1.] Currently pending before the Court is Heartland's Motion for Summary Judgment. [Filing No. 37.] For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Heartland's motion.

I.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion for summary judgment asks the Court to find that a trial is unnecessary because there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, instead, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). As the current version of Rule 56 makes clear, whether a party asserts that a fact is undisputed or genuinely disputed, the party must support the asserted fact by citing to particular parts of the record, including depositions, documents, or affidavits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). A party can also support a fact by showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). Affidavits or declarations must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify on matters stated. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). Failure to properly support a fact in opposition to a movant's factual assertion can result in the movant's fact being considered undisputed, and potentially in the grant of summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

On summary judgment, a party must show the Court what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events. Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if no reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 875 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court views the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., 512 F.3d 903, 907 (7th Cir. 2008). It cannot weigh evidence or make credibility determinations on summary judgment because those tasks are left to the fact-finder. O'Leary v. Accretive Health, Inc., 657 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court need only consider the cited materials, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3), and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has "repeatedly assured the district courts that they are not required to scour every inch of the record for evidence that is potentially relevant to the summary judgment motion before them, " Johnson, 325 F.3d at 898. Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving party. Ponsetti v. GE Pension Plan, 614 F.3d 684, 691 (7th Cir. 2010).

II.

BACKGROUND

Heartland manufactures artificial sweetener products at a facility in Indianapolis. [Filing No. 40, at ECF p. 1.] Mr. Douthit, who is African American, was hired by Heartland on January 19, 2010, as a Blender Assistant and was paid $11.00 per hour. [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 84.] Three months later he was promoted to Blender and his pay increased to $12.50 per hour. [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 85.] He was subsequently given two more raises by Heartland and made $13.00 per hour when his employment with Heartland ended in June 2011. [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 100-04.]

Blenders at Heartland were responsible for, among other things, mixing the ingredients necessary to make Heartland's various artificial sweeteners. [Filing No. 41, at ECF p. 27.] They also supervised temporary workers who, when demand required, would perform some of the more difficult manual labor for the Blenders. [Filing No. 41, at ECF p. 30.]

Blending at the Heartland facility was performed in three shifts. [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 70.] The third shift was the night shift, running from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., Sunday through Thursday. [Filing No. 41, at ECF p. 48.] Near the end of 2010, Mr. Douthit's daughter was born, which led him to ask Dustin Mehringer, the facility's Production Manager, if Mr. Douthit "could move to third shift at the plant so [he] could stay home during the day to take care of [his] daughter." [Filing No. 54-1, at ECF p. 1.] Mr. Mehringer granted Mr. Douthit's request. [Filing No. 54-1, at ECF p. 1.] Mr. Douthit was the only Blender who worked the third shift. [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 70.] He reported to Jose Salcedo, who worked first shift but was in charge of the entire Blending Department. [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 89-90.] During the third shift, however, Mr. Douthit was directly supervised by third-shift supervisor Mike Buis. [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 90.]

On February 11, 2011, Heartland's Director of Global Quality Assurance, Mark Hayden, sent an email to several Heartland employees stating, in relevant part, that "[e]ffective immediately it is the directive from corporate quality assurance that all employees within the blending department pass a qualifying test of mathematics and comprehension. All existing as well as new employees moving into these positions will be required to pass the test with a minimum score of 80%." [Filing No. 41, at ECF p. 84.] Mr. Mehringer responded to the email, asking Mr. Hayden whether Blenders could use calculators on the test since they could use them during blending, to which Mr. Hayden replied, "NO." [Filing No. 41, at ECF p. 83-84.] At the time of Mr. Hayden's email, all of Heartland's Blenders, including Mr. Douthit, were African American. [Filing No. 40, at ECF p. 4.]

Two Blenders failed the test the first time they took it. [Filing No. 40, at ECF p. 3.] One of the two Blenders passed the test on the second try, while the other failed again and was offered another position until his third attempt, which he passed and then returned to his Blender position. [Filing No. 40, at ECF p. 3.] Before Mr. Douthit took the test, Mr. Buis provided Mr. Douthit with a copy of it to "ease his mind a little bit and kind of help him prepare and calm him down." [Filing No. 41, at ECF p. 57.] Mr. Douthit passed the test with a 95%, but Heartland thought there were things about his test that were "suspicious." [Filing No. 40, at ECF p. 4.] Specifically, his answers appeared to be in two or three different colors of ink, and he did not use any of the scratch paper to figure out the answers to the math problems. [Filing No. 40, at ECF p. 3-4.] Heartland therefore "suspected that [Mr.] Douthit might have used a calculator or had some other help on the test, and determined that he should re-take it." [Filing No. 40, at ECF p. 4.] Mr. Buis informed Mr. Douthit that he would have to re-take the test during a meeting on June 9, 2011, discussed in more detail below. During his deposition, Mr. Douthit could not remember why he changed pens during the test, [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 127], stated that he did not use a calculator on the test, and said that he did the math calculations on a separate sheet of paper that he threw away after the test, [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 161-62]. Mr. Douthit left his employment with Heartland before re-taking the test. [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 135.]

In the thirty to forty-five days prior to Mr. Douthit's leaving Heartland in June 2011, Heartland changed various aspects of Mr. Douthit's employment, in what he believed was an attempt to encourage him to quit his job. [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 52.] For example, Heartland did not provide him with Blending Assistants for a time, requiring him to complete third-shift blending on his own. [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 58.] According to Mr. Douthit, this and other changes were out of the norm. [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 60.]

Around that same time, Heartland decided to try and improve its blending process by increasing blending efficiency and cleanliness: instead of staging the material for each batch and cleaning the machines between batches, Heartland wanted to clean and stage several batches during the third shift, and then complete the actual blending during the other two shifts. [Filing No. 41, at ECF p. 28.] On June 9, 2011, Heartland Plant Manager Jeff Mack sent an email to senior Heartland employees, including Mr. Buis, stating, among other things that "[t]here are going to be changes in the blending room we are going to have blenders on 1st and 2nd only and all the prep will be done by the 3rd shift blender but he will be on days. I ask that all embrace these changes and help with any problems in blending we need to get blending fixed quickly, we are loosing [sic] money back there and a lot of it!" [Filing No. 41, at ECF p. 86.]

That same day, when Mr. Douthit arrived at work for the third shift, Mr. Buis told Mr. Douthit that he "had bad news." [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 136.] Mr. Buis gave Mr. Douthit three letters from Heartland. The first informed Mr. Douthit that he would have to re-take the Blender test. [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 136.] The second and third letters were disciplinary letters regarding two errors Mr. Douthit had made-namely, he wrote down the wrong ingredient for one batch of sweetener, [Filing No. 42-1], and he incorrectly documented a mistake and its correction regarding another batch, [Filing No. 42-2]. Both of the latter two letters served as notices of the need to improve, but did not lead to any specific consequences for Mr. Douthit's employment. [ See Filing No. 42-1; Filing No. 42-2.]

Lastly, Mr. Buis informed Mr. Douthit that blending was ending on third shift and that he would therefore be transferred to first shift. [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 50.] Mr. Douthit asked Mr. Buis if there was any way he could stay on third shift because he had to take care of his daughter during the day, and that he would be willing to do a different job to stay on third shift. [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 136.] Mr. Buis told him that there were no other jobs available on third shift and that he had to work first shift on Monday otherwise he did not have a job. [Filing No. 42, at ECF p. 136.] During his deposition, Mr. Douthit ...


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