United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
L. MILLER, JR., United States District Court Judge
Harden sues his former employer, OmniSource, for
discriminating against him on the basis of his race or color,
in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
OmniSource moved for summary judgment and the court grants
Harden, an African-American, worked for OmniSource as a
“grader.” He was transferred to work indoors in
the company's nonferrous division, where he assisted
customers in loading and unloading materials.
in that position for about a year, Justin Young, another
OmniSource employee, showed Mr. Harden a post on the fantasy
football website in which OmniSource employees participated.
The post was from John Lauer, Mr. Harden's supervisor,
who referred to Mr. Harden as “the nigger” who
makes the carrot cake. Mr. Harden brought this post to the
attention of Scott Saunders, an even higher supervisor.
Saunders had Mr. Harden transferred to an outdoors position
in the ferrous division, where Mr. Harden continued to assist
customers in loading and unloading their vehicles. According
to Mr. Harden, Mr. Saunders transferred him because he
“didn't get along with guys inside.” In his
earlier position, Mr. Harden had also received disciplinary
warnings involving altercations with coworkers. About six
months after the transfer, OmniSource terminated Mr.
Harden's employment; Mr. Harden alleges it did so because
of his race or color, or in retaliation for raising the
derogatory comment with his supervisor, Mr. Saunders.
the last three months of Mr. Harden's job at OmniSource,
he received four different written warnings from his
supervisor, Mr. Saunders. On January 12, 2015, Mr. Saunders
warned Mr. Harden in writing for not having a customer sign a
hold harmless agreement before unloading materials from the
customer's vehicle. According to the warning, Mr. Harden
had been reminded of this requirement “countless times
before.” Mr. Harden said he had been told previously
about the requirement to have the customer sign a hold
harmless agreement. When Mr. Harden was unloading materials
from the customer's trailer, a piece of metal broke the
parties dispute how employees are expected to know of the
requirement to obtain a hold harmless agreement. OmniSource
says that this requirement was included in employee training
and that Mr. Saunders explained the requirement to Mr.
Harden. Mr. Harden doesn't seem to dispute the latter,
but claims that the requirement wasn't in writing.
Regardless, both parties acknowledge that Mr. Harden knew of
February 16, 2015, Mr. Saunders warned Mr. Harden for not
completing daily inspection reports and for not maintaining
enough distance from crane operators while the crane was in
use. Employees aren't supposed to be within 25 feet of a
crane while it's in magnetized mode. Mr. Saunders gave
Mr. Harden a written warning that listed “Grader
Expectations, ” including “[f]ill[ing] out twice
daily inspection reports.” The warning says that the
graders were trained in these procedures during the previous
week. Mr. Harden says he was still in training during the
Harden also says he was expected to stay with the customer
during unloading, but that if he stayed with the customer, he
would have to be within the 25-foot safety zone. OmniSource
says that it's not a problem for an employee to be within
25 feet of the crane while with a customer, because the
operator would know of the employee's location and not be
in the operator's blind spot. Mr. Harden applies the same
reasoning to the ‘warming hut' in which graders
sometimes stand. He says that the warming hut is within 25
feet of the crane, so standing in the hut would always
violate the rule. OmniSource responds that the hut is about
50 feet from the crane, and even if it weren't, the hut
would be visible to the crane operator.
February 26, 2015, Mr. Saunders warned Mr. Harden in writing
and suspended him for three days for violating a cardinal
safety rule. The warning said he “intentionally entered
into the blind spot of a running material handler.” It
also explained that this requirement is in Mr. Harden's
safety handbook, which he signed, and that Mr. Saunders and
Mr. Harden have had numerous discussions about work
performance and safety. Mr. Harden agrees that he was within
25 feet of the crane without having made eye contact with the
crane operator to ensure that he could move safely through
the area. Mr. Harden says he was leaving the facility at the
time and the crane moved into his vicinity.
on April 28, 2015, Mr. Saunders gave Mr. Harden a written
warning saying that Mr. Harden didn't stay with a
customer while unloading, as required. The customer asked if
he could unload a filing cabinet using the crane. Mr. Harden
and the crane operator didn't have the customer sign a
hold harmless agreement. While unloading, the file cabinet
fell off the crane and damaged the customer's taillight.
Mr. Saunders said that during the previous week, he
specifically discussed the hold harmless policy with Mr.
Harden, and that he wouldn't tolerate Mr. Harden
continuing to violate that policy. Mr. Saunders then
terminated Mr. Harden's employment.
Harden alleges that he was scrutinized more closely than his
coworkers because of his race or color. Jason Jensen, a white
crane operator and grader, broke the rear window of a
customer's vehicle without having the customer sign a
hold harmless agreement. According to OmniSource, Mr. Jensen
received a written warning, but Mr. Harden says Mr. Jensen
wasn't disciplined.Johnell Hogue, the African-American
crane operator during the April 2015 incident, also
didn't have the customer sign a hold harmless agreement.
Mr. Harden claims Mr. Hogue wasn't disciplined for
this. OmniSource says he received a written
warning. About a month before Mr. Harden's termination,
Jonathan Hostetler, a white grader,  was also terminated for
safety violations. Mr. Harden also maintains that he filled
out daily inspection reports as required, but that graders
who didn't, such as Mr. Hogue and Allen Underwood, also
an African American, received no discipline. Mr. Harden
maintains that Mr. Underwood also damaged the taillight of a
truck and wasn't disciplined.
Harden filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. He
then brought his Title VII action in state ...