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Johnson v. Mississippi Power Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

November 12, 2014

GRALYN D. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
MISSISSIPPI POWER COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.

For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [56]. The Court will enter a separate final judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

This is a Title VII racial discrimination case. Plaintiff is an African-American man. Defendant employed him as a lineman apprentice and lineman for approximately seven and a half years. Over the course of Plaintiff's employment, he committed five violations of safety procedures. After the fifth violation - in December 2011 - Defendant terminated him. The Court need only discuss two of the five incidents.[1]

On April 27, 2010, Plaintiff was a member of a five-man crew when two hundred feet of wire rubbed against an energized line, creating a flash. Defendant concluded that the entire crew was responsible, and every crew member was given a written reprimand. Although Plaintiff was in the truck, Defendant concluded that he should have ensured that a job safety briefing was performed and stopped the work until appropriate protective measures were taken. Plaintiff acknowledged that he did not fulfill these responsibilities.

The final incident, which directly led to Plaintiff's termination, occurred on December 14, 2011. Plaintiff attempted to connect a ground line without obtaining clearance to do so, and he failed to test for voltage. Both are steps required by Defendant's safety procedures. Plaintiff's actions caused a flash and loss of area power. He admitted that the incident was his fault.

Defendant concluded that Plaintiff's history of safety violations - five over seven years - required his termination. Plaintiff's union appealed the termination, but it was upheld. Plaintiff later filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, claiming that Defendant subjected him to several adverse employment actions because of his race, including termination. He eventually filed this lawsuit, and the Court now addresses Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [56].

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 56 provides that "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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); see also Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010). "An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action." Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. "An issue is genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Cuadra, 626 F.3d at 812.

The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009). When deciding whether a genuine fact issue exists, "the court must view the facts and the inference to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. However, "[c]onclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002).

III. DISCUSSION

Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to "discharge any individual... because of such individual's race...." 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-2(a)(1). This Court applies a modified version of the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework in Title VII discrimination cases. Vaughn v. Woodforest Bank, 665 F.3d 632, 636 (5th Cir. 2011). "To survive summary judgment under McDonnell Douglas, the plaintiff must first present evidence of a prima facie case of discrimination." Davis v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, 383 F.3d 309, 317 (5th Cir. 2004). To establish a prima facie case of discrimination, a plaintiff must present evidence that "(1) he is a member of a protected class, (2) he was qualified for the position at issue, (3) he was the subject of an adverse employment action, and (4) he was treated less favorably because of his membership in that protected class than were other similarly situated employees who were not members of the protected class, under nearly identical circumstances." Wesley v. Gen. Drivers, Warehousemen & Local 745, 660 F.3d 211, 213 (5th Cir. 2011).

"If the plaintiff presents a prima facie case, discrimination is presumed, and the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the underlying employment action." Davis, 383 F.3d at 317. "The employer's burden is one of production, not persuasion, and does not involve a credibility assessment." Black v. Pan Am Labs., LLC, 646 F.3d 254, 259 (5th Cir. 2011).

If the defendant can articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the underlying employment action, the presumption of discrimination disappears, and the plaintiff "must then offer sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fct either (1) that [the defendant's] reason is not true, but is instead a pretext for discrimination (pretext alternative); or (2) that [the defendant's] reason, while true, is only one of the reasons for its conduct, and another motivating factor is [the plaintiff's] protected characteristic (mixed-motives alternative)." Vaughn, 665 F.3d at 636. The plaintiff "bears the ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact by a ...


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