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Evans v. Coates Electrical & Instrumentation Inc.

United States District Court, D. Utah

June 12, 2017

JAMES ALLEN EVANS Plaintiff,
v.
COATES ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION INC., a domestic corporation, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          DALE A KIMBALL, United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the court on Defendant Coates Electrical & Instrumentation Inc.'s (“Coates”) Motion to Dismiss claims brought by Plaintiff James Allen Evans (“Evans”) pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the grounds that Evans failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         The court held a hearing on the motions on June 1, 2017. At the hearing, Evans was represented by Neil Skousen and Coates was represented by Ashley Leonard. The court took the motion under advisement. Having heard arguments and considered the motions, memoranda, facts, and relevant law, the court DENIES Defendant's Motion to Dismiss as to the discrimination and retaliation claims and GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss as to the hostile work environment claim.

         BACKGROUND

         Evans' staffing agency, TradeForce, assigned him to work as an Apprentice Electrician for Coates in April 2015. On April 8, 2015, Evans had an interaction with a Coates Project Manager named Brandon Hansen (“Hansen”), which resulted in this suit.

         Evans alleges his supervisor sent him to retrieve a tool from the toolshed. Hansen saw Evans in the toolshed and asked what Evans was doing. Evans told Hansen he was looking for a tool as directed by his supervisor. Hansen responded, “Boy, you work for me.” Evans requested Hansen not call him “boy.” When Hansen did not stop using the term, Evans told Hansen he was going to complain to Coates and TradeForce about race discrimination. In response, Hansen said, “Boy, take off that harness. You are out of here. You're fired.” Evans complained to Coates and TradeForce, but nothing was done to address his discrimination complaint. TradeForce refused to assign Evans to any more job openings for projects associated with Coates. Plaintiff complained to the EEOC and, after receiving his Notice of Right to Sue letter, filed his Complaint.

         Evans' Complaint includes three causes of action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Utah Anti-Discrimination Act (“UADA”): race discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation.

         DISCUSSION

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows the court to dismiss any part of a complaint that “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1190 (10th Cir. 2012). The court accepts all well-plead allegations of the complaint as true and views the complaint in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Berneike v. CitiMortgage, Inc., 708 F.3d 1141, 1144 (10th Cir. 2013). To survive dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), plaintiffs must “nudge[] their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the [pleaded] factual content . . . allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Berneike, 708 F.3d at 1144-45 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).

         I. Motion to Dismiss the Discrimination Claim

         Coates seeks to dismiss Evans' claim for failing to provide facts suggesting Hansen used the term “boy” in a racist manner. Coates explains that in Ash v. Tyson Foods, Inc., the court held that, even with contextual evidence of racism, a reasonable jury could find that use of the term “boy” was not enough evidence of discrimination. 664 F.3d 883, 897 (11th Cir. 2011). Thus, it argues, the facts Evans alleges surrounding his interaction with Hansen do not rise to the level needed to plead a discrimination claim. The court disagrees.

         The procedural history of Ash is complicated. After the very first trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs' discrimination claims, which involved their employer's use of the term “boy.” Ash v. Tyson Foods, Inc., Civ.A. 96-RRA-3257-M, 2004 WL 5138005 at *1 (N.D.Ala. 2004). However, the United States District Court, District of Alabama held that use of the term “boy” without any modifications, qualifications, or racial classifications was not enough evidence of discrimination and granted defendant's motion for judgement as a matter of law. Id. at *6, *10.

         The Circuit Court affirmed. After granting certiorari, the Supreme Court held that the term “boy, ” standing alone, is not always benign. Ash, 126 S.Ct. 1195, 1197 (2006). The Supreme Court stated that “[t]he speaker's meaning may depend on various factors including context, inflection, tone of voice, local custom, and historical usage.” Id. The court then vacated and remanded the case back to the Circuit Court, which held that there was no evidence to support the term was used in a racist context. Ash, 190 F.App'x 924, 927 (11th Cir. 2006). The Circuit Court reinstated its earlier decision and remanded to the District Court for a new trial to resolve disputes in damages claims.

         At the new trial, a jury again returned a verdict in favor of one of the plaintiffs' discrimination claims and awarded damages. The district court allowed the compensatory damages, but set aside the punitive damages. The parties again appealed, and the appellate court reversed and remanded, holding that no reasonable jury could have found that racial discrimination motivated the failure to promote plaintiffs in that case. Ash, 392 F.App'x 817, 833 (11th Cir. ...


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