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Wright v. Waste Management of Maryland, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 12, 2015

LAWRENCE WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
WASTE MANAGEMENT OF MARYLAND, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

REGGIE B. WALTON, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Lawrence Wright, brings this action against his former employer, Waste Management of Maryland, Inc., pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 (2012), alleging discrimination based on his race. Complaint for Discrimination ("Compl.") ¶¶ 1, 14-17. Specifically, the plaintiff challenges the defendant's decision to terminate his employment as a dump-truck driver. Id . Currently before the Court is the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Mot."). After carefully considering the parties' submissions, [1] the Court concludes that it must grant the defendant's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiff, who is African-American, Compl. ¶ 4, began his employment with the defendant in 2007 as a dump-truck driver at its facility in Temple Hills, Maryland, id. ¶ 6; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 21. In February 2009, the defendant closed the Temple Hills facility and transferred the plaintiff, along with "about thirty-four other employees, " to a facility in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Pl.'s Facts ¶ 22.[2] According to the plaintiff, "[a]ll but nine of the employees transferred from Temple Hills to the Gaithersburg facility were African-American, " id. ¶ 23, and "[a]s a result of the transfer, the number of African-Americans significantly increased at the Gaithersburg facility, " id. ¶ 24.

Troy Mills, an African-American, Def.'s Facts ¶ 4; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 26, was one of four route supervisors at the Gaithersburg facility and acted as the plaintiff's manager, Def.'s Facts ¶ 4; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 25, but did not have the authority to fire the plaintiff, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 25; Def.'s Reply at 2. Rather, it was Mr. Mills's supervisor, Daryl Smith, who "had the authority to hire, fire[, ] or impose suspensions on personnel." Pl.'s Facts ¶ 25. Mr. Smith is Caucasian. Def.'s Facts ¶ 5; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 5.

When the plaintiff began working at the Gaithersburg facility, the defendant had in effect the Attendance and Punctuality Policy of Waste Management of Maryland, Inc. ("Policy"), which was applicable to the plaintiff until June 1, 2009. Def.'s Facts ¶ 8; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 8. The defendant revised the Policy in 2009, and implemented the Amended Attendance and Punctuality Policy of Waste Management of Maryland, Inc. ("Amended Policy"), which was applicable to the plaintiff from June 1, 2009, to the date of his termination. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 8-9; Pl.'s Facts ¶¶ 8-9. Both policies utilized a point system that assessed one "occurrence" for each absence from work on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday; two occurrences for each absence on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, or holiday; one occurrence for being tardy for a shift by one hour or more; and one half of an occurrence for being tardy for a shift by less than one hour. Def.'s Mot., Exhibit ("Ex.") 1 (Declaration of Liz Bieler ("Bieler Decl.")), Ex. 4 (Policy) at 24;[3] id., Ex. 5 (Amended Policy) at 25. The Policy called for an employee's termination upon accumulating seven occurrences, id., Ex. 4 (Policy) at 25, while the Amended Policy called for termination upon accumulating eight occurrences, id., Ex. 5 (Amended Policy) at 25. Both the Policy and the Amended Policy generally "are no fault policies... [and] employees are given occurrences whether the missed date was excusable or not, " but do allow for certain excused absences, including leave protected under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Def.'s Facts ¶ 10; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 10; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Bieler Decl.), Ex. 4 (Policy) at 25; id., Ex. 5 (Amended Policy) at 25.

On February 16, 2009, the plaintiff called Mr. Mills and informed him that he would be absent from work on that day. Def.'s Facts ¶ 11; Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. A (Declaration of Lawrence Wright) ¶ 4. The plaintiff was also absent from work on March 7, 2009, and March 9, 2009. Def.'s Facts ¶ 12; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 31. On March 10, 2009, the plaintiff was issued two occurrences for each of these three absences, for a total of six accumulated occurrences. Def.'s Facts ¶ 12; Pl.'s Facts ¶¶ 32-33. On May 2, 2009, the plaintiff was again absent from work. Def.'s Facts ¶ 13; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 35. On May 5, 2009, the plaintiff provided the defendant with documentation showing that his grandson was in the hospital during his March 2009 absences. Def.'s Facts ¶ 12; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 38. After receiving the documentation, Mr. Smith consulted with Marshelle Hightower, an African-American and the Human Resources Manager for the defendant, Def.'s Reply at 2, who advised Mr. Smith to "tak[e] the occurrences related to the absence on [March 7, 2009] off, " Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Bieler Decl.), Ex. 10 (May 4, 2009-May 8, 2009 E-mail Correspondence). On May 9, 2009, the defendant issued the plaintiff two occurrences for the plaintiff's absence on May 2, 2009, and formally rescinded the two occurrences that the plaintiff received for his absence on March 7, 2009. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 13-14; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 40; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Bieler Decl.), Ex. 9 (Employee Disciplinary Report for May 2, 2009 Incident).

On June 6, 2009, the plaintiff was eleven minutes late for work, for which he received half of an occurrence. Def.'s Facts ¶ 15; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Bieler Decl.), Ex. 11 (June 1, 2009-June 20, 2009 Time Detail). On June 15, 2009, he was over two hours late for work, for which he received one occurrence. Def.'s Facts ¶ 15; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Bieler Decl.), Ex. 11 (June 1, 2009-June 20, 2009 Time Detail). The plaintiff was not formally notified of these occurrence assessments, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 47, but as noted by the defendant, the Amended Policy "provides that warnings be issued to employees only for the second, fourth, sixth, and eighth occurrences, " Def.'s Reply at 5; Def.'s Mot, Ex. 1 (Bieler Decl.), Ex. 5 (Amended Policy) at 25.

On July 18, 2009, the plaintiff was scheduled to work a shift that he "knew would take about 5.5 hours." Pl.'s Facts ¶ 43. According to the plaintiff, United States Department of Transportation regulations do not permit commercial drivers to operate vehicles for more than 57.5 hours per week, and the plaintiff had already worked 52.5 hours that week. Pl.'s Facts ¶ 41. The plaintiff further asserts that he had previously "protested that he had over [fifty-two] hours under [the Department of Transportation] regulations and should not be scheduled to work... [but] Mr. Mills did not change the schedule." Id . ¶ 43. Fifteen minutes after his start time on July 18, 2009, the plaintiff called the defendant's office and spoke to Brenda Garcia, the defendant's route manager on duty, and informed her that he had a flat tire. Id . ¶ 44. The plaintiff claims that Ms. Garcia "instructed him not to come in for the shift, but to come in at 9:00 a.m. the next Monday." Id . The plaintiff received one occurrence for this absence. Def.'s Facts ¶ 16.

On or about July 21, 2009, Mr. Smith terminated the plaintiff's employment. Def.'s Facts ¶ 1; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 46. Ms. Hightower and Mr. Mills also joined in the decision to terminate the plaintiff's employment. Def.'s Mot, Ex. 1 (Bieler Decl.) ¶ 10; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 2 (Declaration of Troy Mills ("Mills Decl.")) ¶ 10; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 3 (Declaration of Daryl Smith ("Smith Decl.")) ¶ 10; Def.'s Reply at 2; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 5 (Deposition of Troy Mills ("Mills Depo.")) at 164:15-165:13. The plaintiff subsequently commenced this suit, alleging discrimination based on his race, Compl. ¶¶ 1, 15, 17, and the defendant has now moved for summary judgment, Def.'s Mot. at 1.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Before granting a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, a court must find 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). "A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and a dispute about a material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Steele v. Schafer, 535 F.3d 689, 692 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted).

When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (citation omitted). "Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge... ruling on a motion for summary judgment...." Id . The movant has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and that the non-moving party "fail[ed] 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).

In responding to a summary judgment motion, the non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Accordingly, the non-moving party must not rely on "mere allegations or denials... but... must set forth specific facts showing that there [are] genuine issue[s] for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (second omission in original) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position [is] insufficient" ...


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