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Turner v. Nice-Pak Products, Inc.

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

January 12, 2017

PAUL TURNER, Plaintiff,



         This cause is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 31], filed on October 17, 2016.[1] Plaintiff Paul Turner has brought this action against his former employer, Defendant Nice-Pak Products, Inc. (“Nice-Pak”), alleging that Nice-Pak discriminated against him in the workplace and ultimately terminated him because of his race (African-American) and then retaliated against him, all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”).[2] For the reasons detailed in this entry, we GRANT Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         Factual Background

         General Background

         Nice-Pak is a global manufacturer of wet-wipe products. Nice-Pak has two production facilities in Indiana, one located in Mooresville and the other in Plainfield. Mr. Turner began his employment with Nice-Pak on November 11, 2013, when he was hired on at Nice-Pak's Mooresville facility as an Operator in Training. Mr. Trainer was assigned to “D shift, ” which works alternating 12-hour shifts from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. According to Nice-Pak, Mr. Turner's immediate supervisor was Production Supervisor Sharon Rodebaugh. Mr. Turner, however, maintains that when he was hired he initially reported to a man named Barry Ferguson and that after Mr. Ferguson left Nice-Pak approximately two weeks later, Mr. Turner was never assigned a new supervisor, although he acknowledges that Ms. Rodebaugh “seemed to be filling in for [Mr. Ferguson] in some respects….” Turner Decl. ¶ 7. In any event, it is undisputed that Ms. Rodebaugh signed Mr. Turner's performance evaluation and written discipline. Rodebaugh Decl. ¶¶ 4, 18.

         As an Operator in Training, Mr. Turner was trained to become a Machine Operator, which involved his learning to operate the Integra machine on production line 44, which manufactures the packaging products for the wet wipes. Each Operator in Training is assigned a certified Machine Operator who oversees the new employee's training. Mendy Plaskett, who was certified on the Integra machine, was assigned to train Mr. Turner. Prior to being assigned as Mr. Turner's trainer, between March and May 2013, Ms. Plaskett trained another Nice-Pak employee, Brittany Hoosier, who is white, on the Ilapak machine.

         The Probationary Period of Employment

         Pursuant to the Employment Practices section of Nice-Pak's Employee Handbook (“the Handbook”), all new hires undergo a three-month introductory or probationary period of employment. This introductory or probationary period is intended to provide new hires with an opportunity to learn about the Company and their job responsibilities. It also allows the employer's supervisor to evaluate the employee's skills, work habits, and performance to determine if the employee should continue to be employed by Nice-Pak beyond the probationary period. The “New Hire Orientation” section of the Handbook outlines specific expectations for its employees during the introductory period, which include as follows:

During the first three (3) months of employment, Associates should have no safety infractions, disciplinary issues, and less than three (3) attendance points. If an employee has any performance issues during the introductory employment period, the probationary period will be extended to 120 days. Repeated performance issues, during the probationary period, will result in termination.

Exh. 3 to Fox Decl.

         According to Mr. Turner, although the introductory period is intended to allow the new hires to learn about the Company and their job responsibilities, Ms. Plaskett did not properly train him in these respects. Specifically, Mr. Turner alleges that, although the trainers are supposed to be with their trainees at all times, Ms. Plaskett was often absent and that Ms. Plaskett failed to train him on the most difficult aspect of the Machine Operator position, which is called the “changeover.” Turner Dep. At 34-36, 63. According to Mr. Turner, Ms. Plaskett would simply perform the changeover herself, so he never learned how to properly perform this duty.

         Mr. Turner testified that he went through orientation with five or six other individuals, two of whom were African-American. One of the African-American trainees was assigned an African-American supervisor. Although Mr. Turner does not have personal knowledge regarding what training the other trainees received or who each of their trainers were, he believes, based on conversations he had with other employees, that he was the only new hire assigned to an “inexperienced” trainer. Turner Dep. at 42-43.

         Plaintiff's Initial Issues with His Trainer

         Not long after Mr. Turner's introductory period of employment began with Nice-Pak, issues arose between him and Ms. Plaskett. On December 13, 2013, Mr. Ferguson, his supervisor at the time, emailed his supervisor Marc Hull, Human Resources (“HR”) Generalist Stacy Stelter, and Richard Kruger from the HR Department, outlining various incidents that reportedly had occurred between Mr. Turner and Ms. Plaskett. In this email, Mr. Ferguson recounted that on Mr. Turner's third day of work, November 20, 2013, there was a “conflict” between Mr. Turner and Ms. Plaskett that extended into the weekend on November 23, 2013, when the two “had words between each other.” Dkt. 33-5. Mr. Ferguson further reported that the next day, on November 24, 2013, Mr. Turner and Ms. Plaskett were arguing with each other about who was responsible for taking out the trash. Id. From December 6 through December 8, 2013, “it was a constant struggle between [Mr. Ferguson] and [Ms. Plaskett].” Id.

         Mr. Ferguson held individual conferences with Mr. Turner and Ms. Plaskett in which he addressed these issues with each. He spoke with Ms. Plaskett about the expectations of her as a trainer and informed her that she had completed a training checkoff document incorrectly by signing off on it all at once. In his notes, Mr. Ferguson wrote that Ms. Plaskett “needs to be more prepared to train.” Id. Mr. Ferguson also noted that Mr. Turner “needs to stop and listen more. To not argue, and to accept that he is the person being trained and not the trainer.” Id. In his December 13, 2013 email, Mr. Ferguson noted that on December 11, 2013, following his conferences with Ms. Plaskett and Mr. Turner, “the bickering and argumentative nature continued between the two.” Id. On December 12, 2013, Mr. Ferguson completed a 30-day audit on Mr. Turner, noting that Mr. Turner “has a couple items in which to work on [sic].” Id.

         Plaintiff's Complaints to Management

         On December 9, 2013, Mr. Turner complained to Mr. Kruger in Nice-Pak's Human Resources Department that he was not being properly trained by Ms. Plaskett. Mr. Turner requested a different trainer because his work environment was “chaotic, ” “hostile, ” and “bullying.” Turner Dep. at 29-30. Mr. Turner has testified that he discussed these issues with Mr. Kruger on more than one occasion and also spoke with other unnamed individuals in the HR Department, reporting that Ms. Plaskett was not as experienced as other trainers and that he wanted a new trainer. Mr. Turner stated that other trainees, including “Brandy, ” who is white, were receiving proper training from Chiann Bloom. Mr. Turner explained that his situation was akin to “a kid preparing for a driver's license test [training] under someone who just got their license.” Pl.'s Resp. at 2.

         Mr. Turner testified that Ms. Plaskett tried to “embarrass” him on various occasions, and would point out things he did wrong in a “bold” and “big” manner. Turner Dep. at 31-32. Mr. Turner further testified that Thomas Taylor, Value Stream Coordinator, would blame him for things that went wrong and on one occasion “pinpointed” his bathroom breaks. Id. at 53. According to Mr. Turner, Mr. Taylor would approach him in a “hostile nature” to complain about things, such as issues with paperwork, when he was supposed to address such issues with Ms. Plaskett. Mr. Taylor's hostile behavior towards Mr. Turner included being “irritated” and “angry” and raising his voice. Id. at 54-55.

         Plaintiff's Performance Issues

         On December 21, 2013, Ms. Rodebaugh sent an email to Ms. Stelter with Nice-Pak's HR Department, addressing several issues Rodebaugh was having with Mr. Turner's work performance. In that email, Ms. Rodebaugh detailed an argument Mr. Turner had with a co-worker, Chiann Bloom, regarding whether he should be required to try to fix one of the machines. Mr. Turner did not believe he should attempt to do so because he was not certified, but Ms. Bloom told him that because he was in training and needed to learn, he should attempt to fix the machine and she would be there if he had questions. According to Ms. Bloom, even after Ms. Plaskett returned to the line and fixed the machine, Mr. Turner continued to argue with her (Ms. Bloom) and followed her into the break room after she told him to leave her alone. Ms. Bloom wrote a statement following the incident and indicated that she wanted to file a complaint against Mr. Turner. Mr. Turner denies that he harassed Ms. Bloom and followed her out of the area or to the break room.

         Ms. Rodebaugh recounted in her email to Ms. Stelter that when she brought Mr. Turner into her office to discuss the situation, Mr. Turner began to complain about Ms. Plaskett and his belief that he was not being adequately trained. At that meeting, Ms. Rodebaugh informed Mr. Turner that he would receive more training and would start to do the changeovers with Ms. Plaskett. Exh. 1 to Rodebaugh Decl.

         Ms. Rodebaugh also recounted in her email to Ms. Stelter that Mr. Turner did not seem to be absorbing the training he was receiving. For example, she explained, when she and Ms. Plaskett tried to train Mr. Turner on the changeover process, he had to be told three times to use the estop button, which is a safety feature of the machine. Ms. Rodebaugh also reported that Mr. Turner requested to leave for lunch four times while they were attempting to perform the changeover, even after Ms. Rodebaugh had told him that he needed to stay and learn the procedure. Ms. Rodebaugh observed that Mr. Turner refused to complete the changeover paperwork unless Ms. Plaskett told him exactly what needed to be written down. That same night, Ms. Rodebaugh asked Mr. Turner to complete test paperwork, explaining to him the importance of the paperwork and the proper way to complete it. Despite these ...

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