United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
EVANS BARKER, JUDGE.
cause is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment [Docket No. 31], filed on October 17,
2016. 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”). For the reasons detailed in this entry,
we GRANT Defendant's Motion for Summary
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.
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.
Probationary Period of Employment
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.
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.
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.
Initial Issues with His Trainer
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.
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
Complaints to Management
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.
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.
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
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.
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