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Brooks v. TI Automotive Ligonier Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

October 2, 2019

JAMAINE BROOKS, Plaintiff,
v.
TI AUTOMOTIVE LIGONIER CORPORATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM C. LEE, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant TI Automotive on April 8, 2019 (ECF 8). Plaintiff Jamaine Brooks filed a response in opposition on July 16, 2019 (ECF 26), and TI Automotive filed a reply on August 13, 2019 (ECF 31). The Court concludes the Defendant's motion is properly addressed as one for summary judgment and, for the reasons discussed below, the motion is GRANTED. The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment in favor of Defendant and against Plaintiff.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jamaine Brooks states that he “worked for Defendant TI Automotive Ligonier Corporation from about November 7, 2017 to about February 6, 2018.” Complaint (ECF 1), p. 1. Brooks alleges in his Complaint “that he was discriminated against, harassed, and experienced a hostile work environment because of and on account of his sex (male), and he contends that he was retaliated against and discharged because he reported the sexual harassment/hostile work environment[.]” Id., p. 2. Brooks alleges that his supervisor during his time at TI Automotive, Jennifer Craine, sexually harassed him, creating a hostile work environment. Brooks filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on March 19, 2018, in which he alleged that he “worked as an employee” for TI Automotive, that he experienced harassment and a hostile work environment, and that he was fired just hours after having complained about the harassment “to Craine's boss, ‘Matt.'” Charge of Discrimination (ECF 26-1), p. 1. However, Brooks also acknowledges in his EEOC Charge that “[h]e was employed [at TI Automotive] by way of a staffing agency.” Id. He even states that he “went to the staffing agency and . . . submitted a written complaint of discrimination and sexual harassment against Craine.” Id., p. 2. The EEOC issued Brooks a Notice of Right to Sue letter on November 1, 2018 (ECF 1-2). He filed this lawsuit on January 29, 2019, naming TI Automotive as the only defendant.

         While Brooks states in his Complaint that he “worked for Defendant TI Automotive, ” and states in his EEOC Charge that he was an “employee of the Respondent at all time material to this Charge[, ]” TI Automotive claims that is not true. The Company contends that Brooks was placed by a staffing agency called Surge Staffing into a position with another company called ThyssenKrupp, which in turn had a contract with TI Automotive “for post manufacturing quality inspection at TI Automotive's Ligonier facility.” Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment (ECF 8), p. 10. The issue about who employed Brooks is the sole issue presented in TI Automotive's motion. The Company asserts that “Plaintiff Jamaine Brooks was never an employee of [TI Automotive] and Plaintiff has not sufficiently pled that he was. Therefore, Plaintiff's Title VII claims against the Company fail to state a claim.” Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment, p. 1. TI Automotive states that it “informed Plaintiff of the subject matter of this Motion, namely that Plaintiff was not its employee either directly or under a joint employer theory, but Plaintiff has refused to voluntarily dismiss [his] claims against Defendant.” Id., p. 2.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         As stated above, TI Automotive seeks dismissal of Brooks' Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) because he fails to state a viable claim against the Company, which was not his employer, did not terminate him, and therefore is not the proper defendant in this lawsuit. TI Automotive also submitted affidavits and other documents as evidence to support its argument that it was not Brooks' employer, which is why the Company captioned its motion as one under Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 56. In his response in opposition to the motion, Brooks submitted his own affidavit as well as many other documents, some of which are relevant to the present (and dispositive) issue and some of which are not.[1] Plaintiff's Response (ECF 26-1 through 26-6).

         “‘A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) can be based on the complaint itself, documents attached to the complaint, documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial notice.'” St. John's Hosptial of Hosp. Sisters of Third Order of St. Francis v. Nat'l Guardian Risk Retention Grp., Inc., 2019 WL 1431224, at *2 (C.D. Ill. Mar. 29, 2019) (quoting Geinosky v. Cocuity of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 745 n.1 (7th Cir. 2012)). “If additional materials are relied upon, the motion must be converted to one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Id. As this Court has explained:

“If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Thus, pursuant to Rule 12(d), the court “may (1) ‘convert the 12[(b)] motion into a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 and proceed in accordance with the latter rule,' or (2) ‘exclude the documents attached to the motion [for judgment on the pleadings] and continue under Rule 12.'” Tradewinds Glob. Logistics, LLC v. Garrett's Transp., LLC, 2015 WL 8362401, at *2 (S.D. Ind. Dec. 8, 2015) (alterations in original) (quoting Levenstein v. Salafsky, 164 F.3d 345, 347 (7th Cir. 1998)). The court has discretion in determining which option to choose. Id. (citing Levenstein, 164 F.3d at 347; Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 583 (7th Cir. 2009)).

Bissonnette v. Podlaski, 2017 WL 3593820, at *4 (N.D. Ind. Aug. 21, 2017).

         In the present case, the Court will assess TI Automotive's motion under the Rule 56 standard. Summary judgment is warranted when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Disputes concerning material facts are genuine where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In deciding whether genuine issues of material fact exist, the court construes all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Id. at 255. However, if it is clear that a plaintiff will be unable to satisfy the legal requirements necessary to establish his or her case, summary judgment is not only appropriate, but mandated. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Ziliak v. AstraZeneca LP, 324 F.3d 518, 520 (7th Cir. 2003). “[S]peculation and conjecture” also cannot defeat a motion for summary judgment. Cooney v. Casady, 735 F.3d 514, 519 (7th Cir. 2013). In addition, not all factual disputes will preclude the entry of summary judgment, only those that “could affect the outcome of the suit under governing law.” Outlaw v. Newkirk, 259 F.3d 833, 837 (7th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         To reiterate, TI Automotive argues that Brooks states no claim against the Company and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because it was neither Brooks' employer nor his joint employer. TI Automotive presents evidence to support its position. Rather than present contrary evidence that raises a material fact issue, Brooks attempts to survive TI Automotive's motion merely by muddying the waters. Rather than present evidence that TI Automotive was his employer and therefore a proper defendant, Brooks offers only conclusory statements “that TI Automotive . . . was the place where Plaintiff worked, was the entity for whom Plaintiff engaged in work, and at a minimum, was a ‘joint employer' of the Plaintiff[.]” Plaintiff's Response (ECF 26), p. 2. Brooks also argues that “[t]he final DNR [do not rehire] communication regarding Plaintiff's placement with Surge Staffing was made by TI Automotive [personnel] . . . not [personnel] from any other employer as indicated by the Defendant[.]” Id., pp. 2-3. But TI Automotive presents conclusive evidence that this assertion is not correct and that the decision to terminate Brooks' employment and to not rehire him came from Surge Staffing and/or ThyssenKrupp, not from anyone at TI Automotive. The Company elaborates on its position as follows: “Neither Plaintiff's Complaint nor any of its exhibits includes any additional information regarding which staffing agency employed him, the relationship between the staffing agency and TI Automotive, whether TI Automotive had any control over his employment, or any other facts supporting an employment relationship.” Brief in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF 8), p. 8.

         In support of its argument, TI Automotive presents affidavits from Norma Sanchez, the Human Resources Manager of the Company's Ligonier ...


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