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Alston v. Prairie Farms Dairy, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

April 16, 2018




         Before the Court are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment, Docs. #41, #43; and a number of related motions filed by Jason Alston, Docs. #52, #53, #56, #61, #73, #83.


         Standard of Review

         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[s]ummary judgment is proper only when the record demonstrates that no genuine issue of material fact exists and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Luv N' Care Ltd. v. Groupo Rimar, 844 F.3d 442, 447 (5th Cir. 2016). “A factual issue is genuine if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party and material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.” Burton v. Freescale Semiconductor, Inc., 798 F.3d 222, 226 (5th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted). “When parties file cross-motions for summary judgment, [courts] review each party's motion independently, viewing the evidence and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Duval v. N. Assurance Co. of Am., 722 F.3d 300, 303 (5th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In seeking summary judgment, “[t]he 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.” Nola Spice Designs, L.L.C. v. Haydel Enters., Inc., 783 F.3d 527, 536 (5th Cir. 2015) (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted). If the moving party satisfies this burden, “the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). “Where the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party satisfies this initial burden by demonstrating an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celtic Marine Corp. v. James C. Justice Cos., Inc., 760 F.3d 477, 481 (5th Cir. 2014).


         Factual Background

         Jason Alston worked at the Mississippi Department of Transportation (“MDOT”) from September 1, 2012, until October 26, 2015. Doc. #43-6; see Doc. #42 at 4. Alston's supervisor at MDOT was Martin Price. Doc. #42 at 4; Doc. #43-2 at 145. While employed by MDOT, Alston filed at least one charge of discrimination with the EEOC.[1] Doc. #41-4.

         On October 5, 2015, Alston applied in-person to work at Prairie Farms. Doc. #44 at 2; Doc. #48-1 at ¶ 5. He was interviewed by Brad Hutchison and Rodney Smith. Doc. #43-2 at 59; Doc. #48-1 at ¶ 5. After interviewing Alston, Hutchison and Smith made the decision to hire Alston. Doc. #43-2 at 60; Doc. #43-3 at ¶ 7. In accordance with Prairie Farms' standard hiring procedure, Hutchison contacted Price for an employment reference. Doc. #48-1 at ¶ 7. Price gave Alston a “favorable reference indicating that he came to work on time and did not have a history of excessive absences.” Doc. #43-4 at ¶ 10.

         On October 26, 2015, Alston began working as a general laborer or “trailer man” in Prairie Farms' cooler where he loaded delivery trucks. Doc. #43-2 at 79; Doc. #48-1 at ¶ 4. Pursuant to Prairie Farms' collective bargaining agreement, Alston was “initially hired on a trial basis for the first ninety (90) days of employment, ” during which time “employees may be terminated in [Prairie Farms'] sole discretion.” Doc. #43-1 at ¶ 8.

         At Prairie Farms, Alston was trained and supervised by Donny Riley. Doc. #43-2 at 61, 80; Doc. #43-5 at ¶ 8. “Almost immediately” after Alston began working, Riley noticed that Alston had trouble keeping up with his assignments and voiced this concern to Smith and Hutchison. Doc. #43-5 at ¶ 9. Alston's subpar work performance continued for nearly two weeks, requiring Riley to help Alston load trucks to ensure on-time deliveries. Id. at ¶ 10. Riley, Smith, and Hutchison all agreed that Alston was “not a good fit for the position” and, based on Riley's concerns and recommendations, Smith and Hutchison terminated Alston's employment on November 5, 2015. Id. at ¶ 12.

         Subsequently, Alston filed a charge of discrimination against Prairie Farms with the EEOC alleging that Price “insisted” that he quit working at MDOT and work for Price's friend, Hutchison, at Prairie Farms. Doc. #1-1 at 1.[2] On September 30, 2016, Alston received a right to sue letter. Doc. #1-2.


         Procedural History

         On December 13, 2016, Alston filed a complaint against Prairie Farms in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, alleging violations of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Doc. #1. Prairie Farms answered the complaint on January 13, 2017. Doc. #5. On November 3, 2017, Alston's then counsel of record filed a motion to withdraw as his attorney, which the Court granted on November 7, 2017. Doc. #38; Doc. #39. Since then, Alston has proceeded pro se.

         After a period of discovery, Alston moved for summary judgment on November 7, 2017. Doc. #41. One week later, Prairie Farms moved for summary judgment. Doc. #43. On November 20, 2017, Alston responded to Prairie Farms' motion for summary judgment, Doc. #45, and also filed “Objections to Evidences and Declarations Submitted in Support of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, ” Doc. #47. Prairie Farms responded to Alston's motion for summary judgment on November 21, 2017. Doc. #48. On November 27, 2017, Alston filed a “Reply in Further Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment”[3] Doc. #49, and Prairie Farms replied in support of its summary judgment motion, Doc. #51.

         Also on November 27, 2017, Alston moved to strike certain declarations and deposition excerpts in Prairie Farms' motion for summary judgment. Doc. #52. Prairie Farms responded to the motion to strike on December 11, 2017. Doc. #58.

         Thereafter, Alston filed a number of motions: on December 1, 2017, a motion to correct two dates in his November 27 reply, Doc. # 53, and a motion for the Court to take judicial notice of various documents, Doc. #56; on December 15, 2017, a motion for judgment as a matter of law, Doc. #61; on March 19, 2018, a motion to continue trial, Doc. #73, and a motion for sanctions, Doc. #74; and finally, on April 5, 2018, a motion to strike all of Prairie Farms' responsive pleadings and for entry of default judgment, Doc. #83.[4] To date, with the exception of the motion for sanctions, Prairie Farms has not responded to any of these motions.[5] Alston's motion for sanctions was denied by separate order on April 13, 2018. Doc. #88.



         Alston alleges his employment at Prairie Farms was terminated in retaliation for his filing charges of race discrimination with the EEOC while employed at MDOT. Doc. #1 at 2.

         A. Retaliation under Title ...

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