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Stringer v. Cambria Fabshop -- Indianapolis, LLC

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

March 31, 2015

JEFFREY STRINGER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAMBRIA FABSHOP --INDIANAPOLIS, LLC, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

This cause is before the Court on Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 44], filed on July 25, 2014. Plaintiff Jeffrey Stringer brings this action against his former employer, Defendant Cambria Fabshop – Indianapolis, LLC (“Cambria”), alleging that Cambria discriminated against him because of his race (African-American) and retaliated against him, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981.[1] Mr. Stringer also brings a state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. For the reasons detailed below, we GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Defendant’s motion.

Factual Background

General Background

Mr. Stringer began his employment with Cambria on September 4, 2012. Bill Goers, Plant Manager of Cambria’s Indianapolis Fabshop, hired Mr. Stringer as Administrative Assistant. Mr. Stringer received $15.00 per hour plus overtime pay and reported directly to the Plant Manager. Mr. Stringer received a copy of Cambria’s Employee Handbook when he began his employment. He understood that Cambria published its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies in the Handbook and that the Handbook outlined several avenues for reporting harassment, including: to an employee’s manager; to another manager at the Indianapolis Fabshop; to the corporate Performance Management Department; or to the corporate Legal Department.

When he first began his employment, Mr. Stringer performed administrative duties related to Cambria’s safety and training programs. For example, Mr. Stringer played the training videos that comprised the safety portion of Cambria’s new employee orientation program and administered the applicable test to new employees following the showing of the videos. He also ensured that employees received mandatory safety equipment. New hires could not begin working on the production floor until they had completed the safety training administered by Mr. Stringer and received proper certification. Mr. Stringer had no previous safety experience or other experience training employees in a manufacturing or fabshop environment.

Plaintiff Encounters Safety and Training Issues at the Indianapolis Fabshop

According to Mr. Stringer, when he first began working at Cambria in September 2012, neither the managers nor the employees were following the safety and training policies and were instead more focused on production. Stringer Dep. at 32-34. Mr. Stringer spoke with Mr. Goers about his concerns and was told that Cambria had to “get product out the door.” Id. at 34. Mr. Stringer then discussed the matter with Cory Eccles, who was based in Minnesota and was the safety manager for all Cambria facilities. Mr. Stringer contends that Mr. Eccles told him, “you know what you need do, ” and further stated that he (Eccles) would hold Stringer responsible if he did not enforce Cambria’s safety and training policies. Id. at 35. Mr. Eccles then sent an email to Indianapolis management stating that he had not been receiving paperwork for new hires in a timely fashion. Id. at 35-36. Upon receipt of Mr. Eccles’s email, Mr. Goers spoke with Mr. Stringer and told him never to go to Mr. Eccles for anything that happened at the Indianapolis Fabshop. Id. at 36. Mr. Stringer testified that Megan Patton, Cambria’s drawing area manager, called him a “snitch.” Id. at 26, 37.

In October 2012, Mr. Stringer approached Mr. Goers about getting an office in the fabshop area so that he could observe the production floor for safety purposes. Mr. Goers told him that there was no space, although Mr. Stringer believed there was enough space to place another desk in one of the offices where he could see the production floor. Id. at 39-40. Because Mr. Stringer did not have a designated office, he had to keep employee safety files in a bag that he carried with him, or use a shack area on the truck dock to keep his files and training materials. Id. at 41-42. Mr. Stringer contacted Mr. Eccles and informed him of the issue. Shortly after that, Mr. Stringer contends that Mr. Goers began sending him out on deliveries to homes and businesses and that he made deliveries for the whole month of October. According to Mr. Stringer, he sometimes drove 11 or 12 hours per day making deliveries, was required to stay in hotel rooms, and once was required to drive to Wisconsin for a delivery. Although other Cambria employees were responsible for deliveries, Mr. Stringer testified that Mr. Goers assigned the long hauls to him, which caused his safety trainings to become backed up. Id. at 43-46.

Plaintiff’s Training in Minnesota

On November 1, 2012, Mr. Goers emailed Brian Scoggin, Vice President of Operations, to obtain approval to send Mr. Stringer and another Cambria employee, Brandon Grose, to Minnesota for training from November 11 through November 16, 2012. Mr. Goers recommended that Mr. Stringer receive one day of management training at Cambria University and work with Mr. Eccles on safety and training the remainder of the time. Mr. Scoggin approved Mr. Goers’s request the same day. The next day, on November 2, 2012, Mr. Goers told Mr. Stringer the training dates and Stringer traveled to Minnesota as scheduled. He received safety and training instruction from Mr. Eccles on the first day, observed supervisors on the fabshop floor during the second and third days, and spent the fourth day reviewing safety and training manuals. While he was in Minnesota, Mr. Stringer also spent time with DeQuan Spencer, a Cambria employee who performed performance management (human resources) administration duties at the Minnesota fabshop. Mr. Spencer provided Mr. Stringer with guidance on interview questions, instructed him to be very detailed in his paperwork, and offered to be a resource if Mr. Stringer ever needed assistance.

Plaintiff Becomes Performance Manager

Shortly after Mr. Stringer returned from Minnesota, Cambria entrusted him with responsibility for performance management administration at the Indianapolis Fabshop. His new duties included conducting initial applicant interviews, placing advertisements for open positions, administering the Test of Adult Basic Education (“TABE”), and partnering with Area Owners (managers) to coordinate employee discipline policies and other employee issues. Mr. Stringer had no authority, however, to hire, fire, or discipline employees, but could recommend discipline for employees and managers. Mr. Stringer had no prior experience working in human resources.

Mr. Scoggin told Mr. Stringer that he wanted Stringer to bring change to the front office and “light a spark” under the employees at the Indianapolis Fabshop. Stringer Dep. at 79. Mr. Scoggin also told Mr. Stringer that he would be given an office. According to Mr. Stringer, the office he received was originally supposed to go to Barbara Kamminga, the receptionist at the time. Mr. Stringer contends that his co-workers were angry that he had been given the office and started making comments that he had stolen Ms. Kamminga’s furniture. Mr. Stringer noticed that his office was the only one that was not being cleaned and that there were always files and paperwork all over his chair and floor each morning. Id. at 79-82. When he asked Anna Ferguson, the office manager, about this, she said that she placed the paperwork in his office and “maybe it would just slide off” his desk. Id. 27, 85.

Mr. Stringer testified that he was subjected to other comments from unnamed co-workers, including that he was a “suck up”, a “goody boy they put in the front”, and that he was “kissing Brian Scoggins’ ass.” Id. at 86. Ms. Ferguson also told him, “[w]e don’t want you all up here.” Id. Rex Nelson, a sales manager, made comments such as: “This is the hood up in here now. This is the hood up in this piece.” Id. at 27, 88. Mr. Nelson also greeted Mr. Stringer by saying, “yo, yo, homie.” Id. 89. Mr. Stringer never told any of his supervisors about these comments, however. Id. at 87.

Defendant’s New Plant Manager

Around the same time that Mr. Stringer became the performance manager, Mike Quattlebaum replaced Mr. Goers as Plant Manager of the Indianapolis Fabshop and became Mr. Stringer’s new supervisor. Mr. Goers transferred into the position of Regional Account Representative. As a Regional Account Representative, Mr. Goers was not supervised by the Plant Manager but instead reported to the Business Services Division.

As the new Plant Manager, Mr. Quattlebaum oversaw the Indianapolis Fabshop’s day-to-day operations and made final decisions regarding employee discipline, hiring, and firing. At Cambria, Plan Managers are also responsible for establishing the pay rate for new fabshop employees, but may not unilaterally increase an employee’s pay rate. They may recommend a pay increase for a particular employee, but Mr. Scoggin is the ultimate decisionmaker.

Plaintiff’s Interactions with Employees

On December 5, 2012, shortly after he arrived in Indianapolis and took over as Plant Manager, Mr. Quattlebaum ordered a new computer and private printer for Mr. Stringer’s office so that Stringer could have privacy to conduct necessary performance management duties. That evening, Mr. Stringer reported to the Indianapolis Fabshop during second shift to observe employee behavior and observed an employee eating pizza in a manager’s office and looking at confidential files.[2] Mr. Stringer told the employee to leave the office and, after initially refusing, the employee left after a “small verbal confrontation” with Mr. Stringer. Stringer Dep. Exh. 12.

The next morning, Mr. Stringer attended an operations meeting with Mr. Goers, Mr. Nelson, Ricky Hughes, Ben Schoonover, Matt Ross, Joe Smith, Brandon Grose, and Lindsay Fellers.[3] The morning operations meetings occurred daily, the purposes of which were to ensure the schedule was in the right order, that jobs were being produced in the right order, and to address any issues from the previous day. During the meeting, Mr. Hughes, Production Manager, told Mr. Stringer to mind his own business, to refrain from talking to Hughes’s employees, and that he (Stringer) had no right to lock up the office. Mr. Hughes raised his voice, but did not make any racially derogatory or inappropriate remarks.

Mr. Stringer responded to Mr. Hughes, stating, “None of you people in here are willing to come in here at 9:30 and try to handle the situations. But when I do, you guys want to jump on my ass about it.” Stringer Dep. at 135-36. Mr. Nelson, Regional Account Representative, then stated, “Why don’t you fucking listen? Why don’t you stop acting like the fucking Cambria Police, Jeffrey [Stringer]? You are nobody here. You need to fucking listen and stop acting like you own everything.” Id. at 136. Mr. Stringer attempted to interrupt Mr. Nelson, but Nelson slammed his hand down on the table and said, “You need to shut up and listen sometimes. You’re nobody’s boss.” Id. Ms. Fellers testified that Mr. Nelson’s behavior made her very uncomfortable in that it seemed to be a lot of hostility directed at Mr. Stringer for no reason. Fellers Dep. at 26-27. Mr. Stringer then asked to be excused from the meeting. Mr. Goers denied Mr. Stringer’s request and told him to “sit there and take it” and to “let Rex [Nelson] vent.” Stringer Dep. at 136-37.

After the meeting concluded, Mr. Goers met separately with Mr. Stringer and Mr. Nelson, advising them of the need for everyone to work as a team. Mr. Nelson stated that he did not have a problem with Mr. Stringer, but that Stringer needed “to fucking listen and stop acting like you own everybody’s department.” Stringer Dep. at 137. Mr. Nelson apologized to Mr. Stringer for raising his voice and they shook hands to end the meeting.

That same day, Mr. Stringer prepared a document he titled “Cambria Disciplinary Form.” On the form, Mr. Stringer detailed the incident with Mr. Nelson, omitting Mr. Nelson’s alleged use of curse words, his apology, and the subsequent meeting during which Nelson and Stringer shook hands. Although Mr. Stringer had no authority to discipline employees, he recommended that Cambria issue Mr. Nelson a written warning. According to Mr. Stringer, he provided the document to Mr. Goers “maybe that Monday of the next week. I don’t know when I gave it to him.” Stringer Dep. at 197. Mr. Stringer testified that Mr. Goers responded, “We don’t air out our dirty laundry to corporate.” Id. at 142. Cambria, however, contends that it has no record of any of its employees receiving the form. Mr. Stringer testified that he did not provide a copy of the document to anyone at Cambria’s corporate office.

Plaintiff Receives Racially Offensive Note

In mid-December 2012, Mr. Stringer requested approval from Mr. Quattlebaum to place a note on employee vehicles instructing them to park in a certain fashion. Mr. Quattlebaum told him “do it if you want to.” Stringer Dep. at 116. Mr. Stringer prepared the parking lot note and Mr. Quattlebaum approved it. Over the next few days, on approximately five occasions, Mr. Stringer placed copies of the note on improperly parked employee vehicles.

At some point not long after he had place the parking lot note on employee vehicles, Mr. Stringer found a copy of the note on his vehicle one evening at 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. with the following handwritten message: “Fuck You Nigger!” Stringer Dep. Exh. 5. Mr. Stringer had no thoughts as to who might have left the note with the racial slur. Another Indianapolis Fabshop employee, Lori Jasper, told Mr. Stringer that other employees were calling him “uppity, ” “Uncle Tom, ” “black guy, ” and “the ‘N’ word.” Stringer Dep. at 119-120.

Mr. Stringer testified that he informed a manager, Brandon Grose, about the note. Id. at 119. According to Mr. Stringer, after the management meeting the following day, he also told Mr. Quattlebaum about the note he had received but did not show Quattlebaum a copy of the note because he did not trust him (Quattlebaum) and wanted to keep the note for himself. Mr. Stringer testified that he wanted Mr. Quattlebaum to come to his office and request to see the note. Mr. Quattlebaum told Mr. Stringer he would investigate, but Quattlebaum never told Mr. Scoggin, Mr. Spencer, or anyone in Cambria’s corporate performance management or legal department about the note with the racial slur. Mr. Stringer testified that he kept the physical copy of the note to himself because he “wanted Mike [Quattlebaum] to handle the situation because I didn’t know if he could do it or not. I just wanted to see.” Stringer Dep. at 140.

According to Mr. Quattlebaum, however, Mr. Stringer never told him about the note with the racial slur and he had no knowledge of its existence at any time while he was employed at the Indianapolis Fabshop. Mr. Quattlebaum did learn that someone had defaced the original parking lot note by writing “WTF” and “LOL” on a copy and posting it in the lunchroom. He addressed the issue at ...


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