United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division
Sharion Aycock UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Lenoir filed his Complaint  in this Court on April 13,
alleging that his former employer, SGS North America, Inc.,
racially discriminated against him in his employment and
violated his rights protected by the Family Medical Leave
Now before the Court is SGS's Motion for Summary Judgment
 on all of Lenoir's claims. The issues are fully
briefed and ripe for review. See [43, 45].
and Procedural Background
controversies are resolved in favor of the Plaintiff when
both parties submitted evidence of contradictory facts.
Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th
Cir. 1994) (en banc). Lenoir, an African American male,
started working for SGS as a switchman in July 2013. SGS is a
contractor for the Axiall chemical plant in Aberdeen,
Mississippi. SGS is primarily responsible for moving rail
cars in and out of the plant, and sorting and pulling out
select rail cars as needed. As a switchman, Lenoir worked on
a three-person team along with a locomotive engineer and a
lead man. SGS ran two of these three-person teams at the
Aberdeen Axiall plant. Soon after being hired, SGS also
trained Lenoir as a locomotive engineer. By all accounts,
Lenoir was a good employee with a clean work record at
John Jackson was the Site Supervisor who oversaw SGS
operations at the Axial plant on a day to day basis. Brice
Dorgan was the Operations Manager over several SGS sites, and
was on the Aberdeen site a few days each month.
fall of 2014, fellow SGS employee Landry Hill trained Lenoir
to take his place as a rail car inspector. Hill trained
Lenoir for a couple of weeks before he left SGS. As an
inspector, Lenoir was responsible for checking the brake
shoes, tie wheels, hoses, and many other parts of the rail
cars. Lenoir was also responsible for filling out and filing
the associated inspection forms and documents. In March of
2015, SGS moved Will Curry over to inspector along with
Lenoir. The idea was that Lenoir and Curry would work
together to perform all the inspections as a team, a second
inspector was needed due to the workload, and that Curry
would cover for Lenoir when he went out for a planned double
hernia surgery. Lenoir trained Curry, and got him up to speed
on the job by the time Lenoir went on leave for surgery in
April 9, 2015, Lenoir had surgery to repair the double
hernia. SGS approved Lenoir for leave under the Family
Medical Leave Act, and Lenoir filed all the necessary
paperwork with Human Resources. On May 19, 2015, Lenoir's
doctor gave him approval to return to work on light-duty with
a lifting restriction of 20 pounds. Lenoir wanted to return
to work, and believed he could perform his inspection duties
with the restriction, but Site Supervisor Jackson told Lenoir
that he could not return to work until he was cleared with
zero restrictions. While out on leave, Lenoir's
co-worker, Cummings, informed him that SGS was planning to
replace him with a former employee that wanted to come back,
J.J. Mooneyham, a white male.
doctor cleared him to return to work with no restrictions on
May 29, 2015. Lenoir returned to work the following Monday,
June 1, 2015. According to Lenoir, Jackson's attitude
towards him changed dramatically for the worse when he
returned to work after his surgery. Upon his return to work,
Jackson informed Lenoir that if he could not do the job, he
would be replaced by Mooneyham. Also on June 1, 2015, SGS
took on a new contract to make some repairs to the rail cars
such as changing brake shoes, replacing hoses, and various
clips, hangars, etc. The inspectors, Lenoir and Curry, were
responsible for making these repairs in addition to their
inspection duties. Although the extent and timing is not
clear, Lenoir had at least some experience and training,
possibly from Hill, on how to perform these repairs.
Monday June 8, 2015, Lenoir and Curry were in Jackson's
office sitting across the desk from him. Jackson had a length
of rope leftover from a safety training exercise. According
to Lenoir and Curry, Jackson tied the rope into a noose and
held it up in front of Curry and Lenoir. Jackson then leaned
back in his chair and made a “popping” noise with
his mouth. Lenoir was greatly distressed and told Jackson
“I don't play like that, you don't do that to a
black man” and left the office. Lenoir and Curry
discussed the incident. Lenoir was afraid to report the
incident because he was already afraid of losing his job to
Mooneyham. Although he was informed that SGS had an official
harassment policy when hired, Lenoir did not remember the
policy and did not report the incident to the human resources
department in Louisiana. In his deposition, Jackson admitted to
knowing the offensive symbolism of the noose, especially to
African Americans in the South, but denied tying the noose.
Lenoir did his best to avoid Jackson for the next few days.
Wednesday June 10, 2015, Operations Manager Dorgan arrived at
the Aberdeen Axial site for his monthly visit. While Lenoir
was taking a break in the scale house, Dorgan and Jackson
approached the scale house and observed Lenoir leaning back
in his chair with his sunglasses on. Dorgan and Jackson
accused Lenoir of sleeping when he was supposed to be
working. Dorgan and Jackson gave Lenoir a disciplinary write
up for the incident. According to Lenoir, he was not asleep,
he was only in the scale house for 15 or 20 minutes,
employees often took their breaks in the scale house, and it
was normal for inspectors to take lengthy breaks sometimes
depending on their workload.
Thursday June 11, 2015, Dorgan was again on site. Dorgan and
Jackson performed an audit on some of the cars Lenoir and
Curry inspected and repaired the previous week. According to
Dorgan and Jackson, four of the repairs Lenoir and Curry
claimed to have made were not performed or were not done
properly. Lenoir disputes their finding, but admits that he
missed a strap on one hose. Dorgan and Jackson fired Lenoir
the following day for falsifying documentation, specifically,
for reporting repairs as complete that were not. SGS hired
Mooneyham to replace Lenoir in the inspector position.
filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission and receiving a right-to-sue letter, Lenoir filed
this suit. In his Amended Complaint , Lenoir alleges that
SGS harassed, discriminated, and retaliated against him based
on his race, and retaliated against him for taking FMLA
leave. SGS now requests summary judgment in its favor on all
of Lenoir's claims.
Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs summary judgment. Summary
judgment is warranted when the evidence reveals no genuine
dispute regarding any material fact, and the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
The rule “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after
adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party
who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party's case,
and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at
trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).
moving party “bears the initial responsibility of
informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and
identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact.” Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The
nonmoving party must then “go beyond the
pleadings” and “designate ‘specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'”
Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (citation omitted). In
reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be
resolved in favor of the non-movant, “but only when . .
. both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory
facts.” Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. When such
contradictory facts exist, the Court may “not make
credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.”
Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S.
133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000).
asserts three race discrimination claims under Title VII and
42 U.S.C. § 1981, and one claim under the FMLA.
Lenoir's race claims are (1) that his termination was
racially discriminatory, (2) that he was terminated in
retaliation for engaging in an activity protected by Title
VII, and (3) that his work environment was racially hostile.
Lenoir's final claim is that he was terminated in
retaliation for taking FMLA leave.
Discrimination - Termination
succeed on a claim for racial discrimination under Title VII
or 42 U.S.C. § 1981, a plaintiff must first prove a
prima facie case either through direct evidence of
discriminatory motive, or circumstantial evidence under the
McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework.
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802,
93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973); Lee v. Conecuh Cty.
Bd. of Ed., 634 F.2d 959, 961-62 (5th Cir. 1981);
Mason v. United Air Lines, Inc., 274 F.3d 314, 318
(5th Cir. 2001).
evidence is evidence that, if believed, proves the fact of
discriminatory animus without inference or presumption.
Harry v. Dallas Hous. Auth., 662 F. App'x 263,
266 (5th Cir. 2016) (citing Sandstad v. CB Richard Ellis,
Inc., 309 F.3d 893, 897 (5th Cir. 2002). In the Title
VII context, direct evidence includes any statement or
document that shows on its face that an improper criterion
served as a basis for the adverse employment action.
establish a prima facie case of discrimination using
circumstantial evidence under the McDonnell Douglas
framework, a plaintiff must show that he (1) was a member of
a protected group; (2) was qualified for his position; (3)
suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) was replaced
by someone outside of his protected group. McDonnell
Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817; Giles v.
City of Dallas, 539 F. App'x 537, 543 (5th Cir.
2013); Wheeler v. BL Dev. Corp., 415 F.3d 399, 405
(5th Cir. 2005).
plaintiff establishes a presumption of discrimination by
establishing a prima facie case, the burden then
shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for its actions. Reeves,
530 U.S. at 142, 120 S.Ct. 2097; Tex. Dep't of Cmty.
Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254-56, 101 S.Ct.
1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981). The burden on the employer
“is one of production, not persuasion; it ‘can
involve no credibility assessment.'”