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Sampson v. Kane Is Able Inc.

United States District Court, D. Utah

June 14, 2019

AARON L. SAMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
KANE IS ABLE, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          David Nuffer United States District Judge.

         Defendant Kane Is Able Inc. (“Kane”) filed a motion (“Motion”)[1] for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) against Plaintiff Aaron L. Sampson. Because there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and Kane is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the Motion is GRANTED.

         UNDISPUTED MATERIAL FACTS

         Based on the record and evidence presented, there is no genuine dispute as to any of the following material facts.

         In June 2015, Sampson, who is black, began working as a lift truck operator (“LT O ”) at Kane's Salt Lake City warehouse through a staffing agency.[2] In September, Kane hired him to work fulltime as the “lead” LT O at this facility. As lead LTO, Sampson was responsible for, among other things, training and overseeing other LT O s, ensuring shipments were properly made and received, and communicating with customers regarding shipments.[3] In November and December, Sampson complained to Kane that he had been subjected to racist comments at work.[4]

         On March 23, 2016, Kane issued a written report citing Sampson for “[p]oor performance.”[5] The report states:

[Sampson] is failing to meet performance expectations as the LT O Lead. The LTO Lead position requires an understanding of basic warehouse operations, productivity, and coaching techniques. After extensive training during the past 9 months [Sampson] has yet to pick up on general warehouse processes, such as[:] productivity calculation with each of the MHE [material handling equipment] processes, knowing when to make assignment changes to staff, how to research and address location errors, and how to lead his team.
On March 22nd [Sampson] failed to put a pallet on a truck load going to Georgia. [Sampson's supervisor] counseled with [Sampson] how to ensure pallets are not missed when loading or prior to loading. The next day on March 23rd [Sampson] failed to put another pallet on a truck load going to Pennsylvania. His performance is unacceptable and needs to be corrected immediately.
This warning is being issued with the understanding that continuation of this conduct, and/or continue[d] unsatisfactory performance, and/or violation of company policies and procedures will result in further disciplinary action taken up to and including termination.[6]

         Although Sampson admits that pallets were missing from truckloads on March 22 and 23, [7] he considered the report to be “discriminant and unjustified.”[8] Accordingly, on April 14, he sent an e-mail to Anne Cooper, Kane's senior vice president of human resources, stating that “the reasons outlined in the report are a double standard, harassment, discriminate, and unjustified, ” and “requesting an immediate investigation by the H.R. Department into [his] concerns.”[9] After performing an investigation, Cooper found no evidence of harassment or discrimination with respect to the report.[10]

         On May 6, Sampson sent another e-mail to Cooper complaining of further “harassment, retaliation and intimidation” and “requesting an immediate investigation into [this] inappropriate behavior.”[11] Sampson also brought similar complaints to Cooper's attention on subsequent occasions.[12] Cooper and Alfonso Yslas, Kane's human resources manager, investigated these complaints as well.[13]

         On June 7, Sampson filed an intake form with the Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division (“UALD”) accusing Kane of “harassment, retaliation, intimidation, discrimination and a hostile work environment.”[14] The next day, Sampson informed Kane of this filing.[15] On June 11, he informed Kane again.[16]

         On June 15, Cooper and Yslas visited Kane's facility in Salt Lake City in connection with their investigation into Sampson's complaints[17]-which they later concluded “to be without merit[, ] wholly unsubstantiated and lacking any credible foundation or support.”[18] During this visit, it was reported to them that Sampson had searched through other employees' desks without authorization.[19] Specifically, it was reported that Sampson had searched through coworker Diane Chacon's desk in April despite her demand that he stop, [20] and that he had searched through the desk of Don Maxwell, his direct supervisor, while Maxwell was out on May 31.[21] As a result, Cooper and Yslas began investigating these allegations also.[22]

         On June 28, Kane issued a written report citing Sampson for “[p]oor performance” and “[p]oor work quality.[23] This report reads:

[Sampson] made a Receiving error on 6/23/2016 that was reported to us by e-mail from the customer.
[Sampson] failed to respond to the customer in a timely manner and delayed a response in receiving an [advanced shipping notice] after a customer request by e-mail on 6/24/2016. This failure to respond resulted in a direct phone call from the customer to leadership, in which they inquired about the delay.[24]

         Although Sampson admitted making these errors, [25] he considered this report to be a form of “retaliation, harassment and discriminatory treatment.”[26] Earlier that same day, he filed a formal charge of discrimination with the UALD and informed Kane of this filing.[27]

         In connection with Cooper and Yslas's investigation into the allegations of Sampson searching through Chacon's and Maxwell's desk, Kane suspended Sampson with pay for one week on June 30.[28] Because these allegations were ultimately substantiated, [29] Kane then suspended Sampson without pay for one week on July 20, eliminated his designation as “lead” LTO, and reduced his hourly wage from $14.86 to $13.86.[30]

         Although Kane had instructed Sampson to report to work on July 28, [31] Sampson did not do so.[32] On July 29, Kane advised Sampson that if he failed again to report for work as scheduled, he “will have terminated [his] employment with” Kane.[33] After again failing to report to work, Kane sent Sampson the following letter on August 1:

You once again failed to report for work as scheduled today; nor did you call in. In accordance with Company policy and practice - and despite . . . prior communications with you in order to avoid such a result, you have, by your own actions (really inactions) - voluntarily terminated your employment with [Kane].[34]

         According to Sampson, he “did not return to work for Kane” because he felt that “the conditions of [his] employment . . . had become so intolerable that a reasonable person could not and would not . . . continue working for Kane.”[35]

         On August 22, 2017, Sampson commenced this action against Kane, asserting claims for: (1) racially hostile work environment under Title VII, [36] (2) discriminatory termination based on race under Title VII, (3) retaliatory termination under Title VII, (4) discriminatory termination based on race under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and (5) retaliatory termination under § 1981.[37] His first, second, and fourth claims were recently dismissed at his request.[38] Only his claims for retaliatory termination now remain; these “claims . . . are limited to his termination.”[39]

         DISCUSSION

         Summary judgment is appropriate if “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[40] A dispute is “genuine” if “there is sufficient evidence on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve the issue either w a y. ”[41] A fact is “material” if “it is essential to the proper disposition of [a] claim.”[42] In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the evidence and all reasonable inferences are viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[43]

         Kane seeks summary judgment dismissing Sampson's retaliatory termination claims under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. To prove a violation of Title VII or § 1981-the standards are the same-a plaintiff must either present direct evidence of discrimination or adhere to the burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green.[44] Sampson concedes that “there is an absence of direct evidence” of discrimination, [45] “so his claims proceed under the McDonnell Douglas framework, which requires him to first establish a prima facie case of retaliation.”[46] “To do so he must prove: (1) he engaged in protected activity; (2) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) there is a causal connection between his protected activity and the adverse employment action.”[47]

         Sampson cannot establish a prima facie case of retaliation because he cannot prove that he suffered an adverse employment action. Sampson contends that he suffered an adverse employment action when he was constructively discharged as a result of the elimination of his “lead” LTO position, the one-dollar reduction in his hourly wage, and his one-week ...


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