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Parker v. Tyson Foods, Inc.

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

January 3, 2020




         Defendants seek summary judgment in this failure-to-promote race-discrimination case. They also ask the Court to strike a portion of a witness's affidavit. For the following reasons, their Motion for Summary Judgment [38] is denied and their Motion to Strike [43] is now moot.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         Parker, an African-American male, began his employment at the Central Industries animal by-product rendering plant in Forest, Mississippi, in 2006.[1] He initially worked as a feather dumper, but by October 2006, he had moved to the position of maintenance technician. The plant operates 24 hours a day, and four teams of maintenance technicians work in separate shifts, with two teams each covering half of the day shifts in a week and two teams covering the night shifts. Each shift has its own maintenance supervisor, who oversees the team and processes necessary paperwork. Tyson Foods employs a proficiency-level classification system for its maintenance technicians, with levels ranging from class 3 (the lowest level) to class 8 (the highest level). To achieve a higher level-and earn a corresponding pay raise-a technician must take an online test.

         In January 2007, Parker was promoted to lead maintenance technician for his shift. In 2017, Parker tested up to a class 7 maintenance technician. He tried to take the class 8 test, but due to technical difficulties, he was unable to access the test without having to re-test at all the levels he had already achieved, which he chose not to attempt.

         In November 2017, a night-shift maintenance supervisor position became vacant for the first time in several years. Parker expressed an interest, and while he was initially given bad information about how to apply from both the maintenance manager and the human-resources manager, he timely submitted an application. Three other candidates applied: Toronto Parker (“Toronto”), an African-American lead maintenance technician for the plant's other night shift; Brandon Arinder, a Caucasian supervisor at a processing plant; and Raymond Merrell, a Caucasian lead maintenance technician on one of the day shifts. Rumors around the plant circulated that Merrell-the only candidate who had achieved class 8 status-was favored to get the job.

         Human Resources Manager Wanda Stevenson and Maintenance Manager Darrel Anderson interviewed the four candidates on November 20, 2017. Parker first learned that his interview would take place at 8 a.m. that day upon coming off a 12-hour shift at 7 a.m. Following the interviews, Stevenson selected Merrell for the position. Believing his non-selection was based on his race, Parker filed an EEOC charge in January 2018, and, after receiving a right-to-sue letter, filed this race-discrimination case.

         II. Standard

         Summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) when evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 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 (1986).

         The party moving for summary judgment “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. 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 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmovant, “but only when . . . both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). 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 (2000). Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments have never constituted an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075; SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1993).

         III. Analysis

         Motions for summary judgment in Title VII cases are addressed under the familiar McDonnell-Douglas burden-shifting framework. Under that test,

a plaintiff challenging a failure to promote must first establish a prima facie case, demonstrating that (1) he was not promoted, (2) he was qualified for the position he sought, (3) he fell within a protected class at the time of the failure to promote, and (4) that the defendant either gave the promotion to someone outside of that protected class or otherwise failed to promote the plaintiff because of his race.

Autry v. Fort Bend Indep. Sch. Dist., 704 F.3d 344, 346-47 (5th Cir. 2013); see McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 41 ...

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