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Carter v. Envirotech

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

September 7, 2016

ENVIROTECH, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 by Defendant Envirotech Extrusion, Inc. (“Envirotech”) (Filing No. 16). After being terminated from his position as an assistant operator and grinder for Envirotech, pro se Plaintiff Kenneth Carter (“Carter”) initiated this lawsuit alleging discrimination based on race. Envirotech moved for summary judgment on the bases that Carter cannot establish a prima facie case for his claim of discrimination and that it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating him. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Envirotech's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following material facts are not necessarily objectively true; but, as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, both the undisputed and disputed facts are presented in the light most favorable to Carter as the non-moving party. See Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         Envirotech is an Indiana corporation located in Richmond, Indiana, and is in the business of manufacturing recycled rubber products. Carter was hired as an assistant operator and grinder on November 14, 2012, and continued working there until he was terminated on August 29, 2014. Assistant operators and grinders perform duties that include ensuring that there are no problems with materials as they are processed down a conveyor belt and running scrap rubber through a grinder. An assistant operator is also referred to as a “stacker” since the position requires the employee to stack the finished rubber after a shear cuts the rubber into pieces of a desired size. On occasion, Carter would sometimes operate a tow motor.

         Carter is an African-American male and during his time at Envirotech, he was the only African-American employee. His immediate supervisor was Joe Thompson, the second shift foreman. (Filing No. 1-1 at 4.) Envirotech's revised handbook provides that lay-offs are determined by “length of employment with the company, ”-and that seniority brings with it, “certain privileges and benefits including bumping opportunities”. (Filing No. 1-3 at 2.) During the course of his employment at Envirotech, Carter was laid off, along with other employees, on two separate occasions. Carter was first laid off on August 12, 2013 and brought back to work just two weeks later. (Filing No. 1-1 at 4.) The second time he was laid off was on April 9, 2014 and he was brought back again to work on June 30, 2014. Id. While he was still laid off, other people were hired. Id. After being laid off the second time, Carter filed a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Once he made his filing with the EEOC, his employer called him back to work. Id.

         At his three month employment evaluation, Envirotech noted that Carter was doing well, and they were pleased with his ability to pay attention, remain efficient and calm, help others, and learn quickly. (Filing No. 18-2 at p. 1-4.) Sometime after this evaluation, Carter began to get negative marks on his employment record. On October 21, 2013, Carter was advised, by a Personnel Action Notice, that missing additional work days could result in termination because he had exceeded the maximum amount of personal leave. (Filing No. 18-5.) On his one year review in November of 2013, Carter received a mixed review, and was rated an “average employee.” (Filing No. 18-18.) The evaluator acknowledged that Carter learns fairly quickly, remains calm and had improved at checking quality when stacking sheets; but also indicated that Carter texted too much, needed to help others and stop leaning on the table, stop going so fast on the forklift, and needed to watch his attendance. Id.

         Also in November 2013, Carter complained to his supervisor that he had been subjected to racist comments by two of his co-workers. Specifically, co-workers Tyler Farley (“Farley”) and Luke Rudicil (“Rudicil”) called him the “N” word and kept talking about “nigger this, nigger that”. (Filing No. 18-17 at p. 8.) Supervisor Tony Martin (“Martin”) talked to the men and both admitted they had made the racist comments. Martin and the assistant supervisor, Bob Parrish told Carter that they would not put up with the discrimination. (Filing No. 18-17 at 10.) Martin gave Carter the opportunity to agree to a punishment for the men, which included termination. Carter declined to participate in the reprimand. Farley and Rudicil were issued a written warning which stated “… this sort of harassment will not be tolerated. The next complaint will result in immediate termination. Final Warning.” (Filing No. 18-19) (emphasis in original). At his deposition, Carter testified that he was satisfied with the way the situation was handled. After this incident, Carter never brought any other incidents of racial comments to the attention of Martin or any other supervisors. (Filing No. 18-1 at p.4 ¶18.)

         On January 6, 2014, Carter received another Personnel Action Notice because he had again exceeded the allotted days of personal leave for the six month period. (Filing No. 18-7.) On July 7, 2014, Carter put his tow motor in reverse and crashed into and damaged some of Envirotech's product. He was given a verbal warning after this incident. (Filing No. 18-10.) On July 28, 2014, Carter drove his tow motor into a pole which caused damage to the pole and guard. (Filing No. 18-11.) Three days later, Carter mishandled the forklift and the forks went through a blower, damaging the motor of the blower. (Filing No. 12.) Finally, on August 29, 2014, Carter was operating Pressure Sensitive Adhesive. He was supposed to be making a scrap roll from the material, instead he chopped them into smaller pieces. (Filing No. 18-13.) After he put the materials in the trash, he was told to retrieve it all. Carter refused to do so unless someone helped him. Id. He refused the order three or four times before he was finally told to leave Envirotech. Id. Carter was told that he was being terminated for insubordination, destruction of company property and attendance issues. (Filing No. 18-17 at p. 45.)

         Carter testified that he filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC in June 2014 during the period of time when he was laid off for the second time[2]. (Filing No. 18-17 at p.6). He was terminated on August 29, 2014. Martin filed an amended answer to the EEOC charge on March 20, 2015. (Filing No. 18-16). On March 31, 2015, Carter received a right to sue letter. On June 18, 2015, Carter filed his Complaint in this Court, alleging that Envirotech had violated his rights as protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”). He asserted a claim of racial discrimination and retaliation under Title VII. (Filing No. 1-1). He argues that he was never written up or had any problems until after he filed his EEOC claim. He asserts that he suffered discrimination at Envirotech when he was harassed by his co-workers and contends that he was laid off twice because he was African-American, since Caucasian employees with less seniority were allowed to keep their jobs. A co-worker that worked there for many years informed Carter that Envirotech would never make an African-American an operator and he believes the company discriminated against him due to his race by not advancing his career. (Filing No. 1-1 at 3.) Carter admits to missing the amount of days alleged by Envirotech, except for one day. (Filing No. 18-17 at p. 18.) He also admits to damaging the products and property. (Filing No. 20.)

         Envirotech filed its Answer and Defenses on August 18, 2015 (Filing No. 12). On January 19, 2016 Envirotech filed its Motion for Summary Judgment and as required by the local rules, complied with the notice requirement for Pro Se Cases (See Filing No. 19).


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment is appropriate if “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Hemsworth v., Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 489-90 (7th Cir. 2007). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court reviews “the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Zerante, 555 F.3d at 584 (citation omitted). “However, inferences that are supported by only speculation or conjecture will not defeat a summary judgment motion.” Dorsey v. Morgan Stanley, 507 F.3d 624, 627 (7th Cir. 2007) (citation and quotation marks omitted). Additionally, “[a] party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires trial.” Hemsworth, 476 F.3d at 490 (citation omitted). “The opposing party cannot meet this burden with conclusory statements or speculation but only with appropriate citations to relevant admissible evidence.” Sink v. Knox County Hosp., 900 F.Supp. 1065, 1072 (S.D. Ind. 1995) (citations omitted).

         Additionally, “[a] document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson ...

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