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Evans v. Coates Electrical & Instrumentation

United States District Court, D. Utah

May 23, 2018



          DALE A. KIMBALL, United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the court on Defendant Coates Electrical & Instrumentation's (Coates Electrical) Motion for Summary Judgment. On May 17, 2018, the court held a hearing on the motion. At the hearing, the Plaintiff James Allen Evans (Evans) was represented by Neil D. Skousen and Coates Electrical was represented by Ryan P. Atkinson and Jessica J. Johnston. The court took the motion under advisement. Based on the briefing filed by the parties and the law and facts relevant to the pending motion, the court issues the following Memorandum Decision and Order.


         This case involves a claim for racial discrimination. Evans used the staffing agency TradeForce to find temporary employment. Tradeforce assigned Evans to work as an Apprentice Electrician for Coates Electrical in April 2015. On April 8, 2015, Evans had an interaction with Brandon Hansen, a project manager for the company. The altercation forms the basis of this suit.

         Evans, who is black, was sent by his supervisor 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 Electrical and TradeForce about race discrimination. In response, Evans alleges that Hansen said, “Boy, take off that harness. You are out of here. You're fired.”[1] See James Evans Depo. (Dkt. No. 32-1 at 27).

         Evans says that he complained to Coates Electrical 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 Electrical. Plaintiff complained to the EEOC and, after receiving his Notice of Right to Sue letter, filed his Complaint.

         Evans claims that: (1) Coates Electrical discriminated against him when Hansen called him “boy” and terminated him from the project; (2) Coates Electrical retaliated against him when Evans asked Hansen to not call him “boy” and then Hansen proceeded to call him “boy” again and fired him from the project; and (3) Coates Electrical is liable for punitive damages because it acted with malice or reckless indifference for Evans' federally protected rights.


         Summary judgment is appropriate “if 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). When considering a motion of summary judgment, the court views “all facts [and evidence] in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment.” S.E.C. v. Smart, 678 F.3d 850, 856 (10th Cir. 2012) (quoting Grynberg v. Total S.A., 538 F.3d 1336, 1346 (10th Cir. 2008)). The movant must prove that no genuine issue of material fact exists for trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Nahno-Lopez v. Houser, 625 F.3d 1279, 1283 (10th Cir. 2010). Accordingly, to survive summary judgment, “the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial.” Smart, 678 F.3d at 858 (quoting L & M Enters. v. BEI Sensors & Sys. Co., 231 F.3d 1284, 1287 (10th Cir. 2000)).


         Coates Electrical filed this motion for summary judgment arguing that there are no disputes as to any material facts and that Coates Electrical is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Specifically, Coates Electrical moves for summary judgment on Evans' claims for: (1) racial discrimination; (2) retaliation; and (3) punitive damages. For the reasons that follow, the court grants summary judgment on Evans' punitive damages claim and denies summary judgment on his racial discrimination and retaliation claims.

         1. There Are Disputes of Material Facts On Evans' Racial Discrimination Claim.

         Evans claims he was unlawfully discriminated against based on his race. To establish a claim for disparate treatment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Utah-Discrimination Act, a Plaintiff must establish that (1) he was a member of a protected group; (2) he was qualified for the job; (3) he was subjected to an adverse employment action; and (4) someone of a different class was or would have been treated differently under the same or substantially similar circumstances. McDonald Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 793 (1973).

         Coates Electrical concedes that Evans was a member of a protected class, was qualified for the job, and was eventually terminated from the project. Coates Electrical instead argues that there is no evidence to satisfy the fourth prong that the Plaintiff was treated less favorably than other employees or was ...

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