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Howard v. Federal Express Corp.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 25, 2018

ALFRED WENDELL HOWARD, JR. and HIKIEM SHARODD CAIN, Plaintiffs,
v.
FEDERAL EXPRESS CORPORATION and JOHN O'REILLY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMIT P. MEHTA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Alfred Howard Jr. and Hikiem Cain are African-American males who were employed as full-time couriers by Federal Express Corporation (“FedEx”) prior to their terminations in December 2015 and June 2016, respectively. According to Defendants FedEx and John O'Reilly, their former supervisor, Plaintiffs were terminated for failing to follow internal policies regarding loss of packages while in transit. In December 2016, Plaintiffs filed a complaint against FedEx alleging, among other things, employment discrimination on the basis of race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and defamation. Plaintiffs subsequently amended their complaint to name O'Reilly as a defendant. Following the court's ruling on Defendants' motions to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint, Plaintiffs' remaining claims are employment discrimination under § 1981 as to both Defendants and defamation as to FedEx only.[1]

         Before the court are Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment as to these claims. For the reasons stated below, the court grants Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         1.Howard's Employment and Termination

         Alfred Howard was employed by FedEx as a courier from October 27, 1997, to December 23, 2015. Pls.' Errata, ECF No. 23, Ex. 1, ECF No. 23-1 [hereinafter Am. Compl.], ¶ 5. In September 2015, Howard was issued a warning letter by one of his managers, admonishing him for losing packages while on his route, failing to report a defective door on his truck, and improperly scanning packages. Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. as to All Claims Filed by Howard, ECF No. 34 [hereinafter Defs.' Mot. as to Howard] Ex. B, ECF No. 34-4 [hereinafter Howard Depo.], at 51, 164-65.[2] The letter cited a violation of section 2-5 of the FedEx Employee Handbook, specifically the Acceptable Conduct Policy, which outlines various company policies regarding how employees are expected to conduct themselves at FedEx. Id. at 131-32, 164-65. The Acceptable Conduct Policy enumerates behavioral violations that may result in disciplinary action or termination for an employee, including “[c]ustodial loss of Company or customer property.” Id. at 132. The warning letter further stated that “[a] repeat of this or any other behavioral problem may result in more severe disciplinary action up to and including termination.” Id. at 164. Howard did not appeal or contest the warning letter when he received it. Id. at 53.

         Less than three months later, on December 2, 2015, more packages went missing on Howard's route. Id. at 166-67. On this occasion, the packages contained three HP laptops totaling $1800. Id. at 166. Following an investigation, FedEx determined that Howard had violated section 2-5 of the Acceptable Conduct Policy, and sent Howard a letter of termination. Id. at 166-67. The management rationale for Howard's termination stated that Howard was fired for “loss of custodial control of the three HP laptops valued at a total of $1800.” Id. at 174. Howard appealed his termination through FedEx's internal appeals process-the Guaranteed Fair Treatment Procedure (“GFTP”)-and his termination was upheld at all three steps of the GFTP process. Id. at 94. No. one at FedEx ever explicitly accused Howard of stealing the packages. Id. at 58-59. Following Howard's termination, Hikiem Cain took over Howard's old route. Id. at 78-79.

         2. Cain's Employment and Termination

         Hikiem Cain was employed by FedEx as a courier from November 20, 2008, to June 24, 2016. Am. Compl. ¶ 6. During his employment, Cain was reprimanded for forgetting to scan packages after delivering them on four separate occasions: on December 15 and 22, 2015; March 8, 2016; and April 29, 2016. See Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. as to All Claims Filed by Cain, ECF No. 35 [hereinafter Defs.' Mot. as to Cain], Ex. B, ECF No. 35-4 [hereinafter Cain Depo.], at 43- 45, 49-53.[3] Cain was also reprimanded on January 11, 2016, for delivering five priority packages late and failing to report it to management. Id. at 46-48. Cain also had numerous infractions on his company record for failing to clock in or out and for break violations. See Id. 176-93. At no point did Cain receive any warning letters or suspensions for these infractions. Id. at 46, 48, 50- 51, 53. Cain was commended, however, on May 4, 2016, for completing 100% of his route goal in April. Id. at 166. On the next day, May 5, 2016, eight packages went missing while out for delivery on Cain's route, totaling $2490 in lost items. Id. at 216. Following an investigation, Cain was terminated on June 24, 2016. Id. at 216-217. Cain's termination letter cited the packages lost while in transit as a violation of section 2-5 of the Acceptable Conduct Policy. Id. Cain appealed his termination through the GFTP process and his termination was upheld at each step. Id. at 69. The management rationale for Cain's termination stated that he was fired for “loss of custodial control” of “several high value customer shipments” of an estimated value of $2, 490. Id. at 218.

         3. John O'Reilly's Behavior

         John O'Reilly was Plaintiffs' immediate supervisor at the times of their terminations. Am. Compl. ¶ 9. O'Reilly ultimately made the decision to fire both Plaintiffs. Howard Depo. at 59; Cain Depo. at 216-17. FedEx promoted O'Reilly to his current supervisory position on November 15, 2015, just one month before Howard's termination. Defs.' Mot. as to Howard, Ex. D, ECF No. 34-6 [hereinafter O'Reilly Depo.], at 5-6.[4]

         Both Plaintiffs claim that O'Reilly did not like them because of their race and that O'Reilly was motivated by racial animus when he made the decision to fire them. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9, 20; Howard Depo. at 79, 83; Cain Depo. at 82-83. Howard's contention that O'Reilly did not like him is not based on any specific instance but instead because O'Reilly was “short” with Howard and “didn't believe what [Howard] would say.” Howard Depo. at 79. Howard also recounts that O'Reilly once bragged to Howard that a song reminded O'Reilly of beating up Jewish boys as a child, saying “yea man[, ] we used to beat those little Jewish boys back home and pull them by their burns.” Id. at 25; see Am. Compl. ¶ 17.

         Cain provided additional examples of O'Reilly's attitude towards Plaintiffs. On one occasion, Cain was at a conveyor belt loading packages onto his truck when he stopped the conveyor belt to offload the packages, which seemed to upset O'Reilly. Cain Depo. at 79. O'Reilly told Cain “[s]top fucking-don't fucking do that shit again.” Id. Cain asked O'Reilly not to speak to him that way again and to treat him with respect. Id. at 79. On another occasion, O'Reilly was upset about receiving bad reviews from his couriers and told them, in a meeting, “[y]'all not going to fuck me in my ass like that. I'm not going to have that.” Id ...


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