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Tovihlon v. Allied Aviation, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 29, 2018

MAWULI M. TOVIHLON, Plaintiff,
v.
ALLIED AVIATION, INC., JAMES BUCHANAN, JIM SIVIA, and RICK WILLIAMS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Royce C. Lamberth United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is the motion of defendants Allied Aviation, Inc. ("Allied"), James Buchanan, Jim Sivia and Rick Williams ("defendants") for summary judgement.[1] ECF No. 75. Upon consideration of the pleadings, the relevant law, and entire record of the case, the Court GRANTS the defendants' motion and the case is hereby dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         A. 2010 Incidents

         Plaintiff, Mawuli M. Tovihlon, began working at Allied on January 5, 2009. Allied is an independently owned and operated company whose core business is providing fueling services for the commercial aviation industry. Allied provides services at airports across the United States, including Reagan Airport, where the plaintiff worked for the entirety of his employment with Allied. On May 11, 2009, after a four-month probationary period, the plaintiff was promoted to Lead Mechanic and assigned the overnight shift. The plaintiff was supervised, at least in part, by defendant Rick Williams. Plaintiffs responsibilities as a mechanic and lead mechanic involved fixing trucks, maintaining equipment, maintaining the fuel pits, and repairing buses for Fairfax County. While employed with Allied, Plaintiff was a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers ("IAMAW"), AFL-CIO, Air Transport District Lodge 142, Local Lodge No. 1747 (the "Union").

         The first confrontation described by the parties occurred in or about March 2010. The parties dispute certain aspects of the interaction, but at a minimum both provide that it related to a work-performance issue. Defendant Williams confronted the plaintiff regarding the method he employed for fixing a van. After this first incident, there was no write-up or disciplinary charges filed against the plaintiff. The plaintiff alleges that around this time he heard Mr. Williams state to Mr. Wyatt and Mr. Sivia-fellow supervisors at Allied-that "he cannot work with an African Negro every day and he cannot deal with Tovihlon" and that all three laughed in response to the comment. ECF No. 77 at 7. The defendants deny any such comments were made and the plaintiff provides no corroborating evidence beyond his own deposition.

         In or about April 2010, Mr. Williams again confronted the plaintiff regarding his work performance and provided him with a written warning. ECF No. 75-12 at 2. He noted that the plaintiff "was signing off on hydrant pits checks as being ok, when in fact pit lid seals were off the lids, flange bolts missing, and bad hinges." Id. The plaintiff lost no pay, benefits or status because of the written warning. The plaintiff does not deny that he failed to report hydrant pit issues, but rather notes that he did so at the direction of Mr. Sivia.

         Within three days of receiving the written warning, the plaintiff submitted a complaint to Allied management. ECF No. 75-13 at 2. In it, he alleged that Mr. Williams "harassed" him, "put[] pressure on [him]," and treated him poorly. In response to the allegations, Allied investigated and held a meeting on April 21, 2010. The meeting was attended by the plaintiff, Allied management, and union representatives. As outlined in Mr. Sivia's meeting notes- transcribed around the time of the meeting-the attendees discussed the plaintiffs work performance. They also discussed the allegation that Mr. Williams had harassed the plaintiff, with the plaintiff only citing the March 2010 incident. The plaintiff denies that he only provided one example at the meeting of Mr. Williams harassing him and cites numerous incidents of "mistreatment and harassing actions" in his brief. ECF No. 77 at 11. However, the plaintiff does not argue that he raised any of those incidents at the meeting on April 21. In any event, the meeting ended with Mr. Williams agreeing to "adapt his tone of voice" when addressing the plaintiff and the plaintiff was asked "to be less sensitive" to Mr. William's tone of voice.

         On August 27, 2010, Mr. Williams provided the plaintiff with a statement of charges of poor work performance for "failure to check water level in the buses on the bus checks." ECF No. 75-16. Soon after receiving the report, the plaintiff filed a complaint with his union representatives and alleged that Mr. Williams continued to harass him. Specifically, he noted that Mr. Williams

discriminate[s] the way he treats people at work. He always looking for something to accuse people of doing when he himself make a lot of mistake and damage thing at work, And no One say Anything about that; He uses He [sic] position to harass me At work put pressure on me and do not let me focus on the work I have to do....

ECF No. 75-17 at 2. The plaintiff makes no allegation in the written complaint to racial or national origin discrimination. Id. The plaintiff did not receive a response to his complaint from the union.

         B. 2011 Incidents

         In or around February 28, 2011, Allied discovered that the plaintiffs Employment Authorization Card expired on November 20, 2010, and no new documentation had been submitted demonstrating that he was authorized to work in the United States. The plaintiff was, therefore, advised that he was suspended until the appropriate documentation was provided. After consultation with an attorney, it became clear that because the plaintiff was applying for a green card, no new work permit would be issued, but he was authorized to work. He was reinstated the following day and was paid for the single day he did not work.

         In the Spring of 2011, the plaintiff was involved in two separate altercations with Allied employees. The parties dispute the nature of the altercations, but what is uncontested is that one Allied employee submitted a hand-written complaint to management stating that he was "threatened by the [plaintiff] saying he is going to put' me in the hospital." ECF No. 75-20. Mr. Williams attempted to convince the other employee to also file a written complaint against the plaintiff, but the employee refused. ECF No. 75-21 at 2.

         One week later, on June 6, 2011, the plaintiff submitted another complaint to management regarding Mr. Williams's continued harassment and discrimination against him. ECF No. 75-22. As with the previous complaints, the letter centers on Williams's attempts to "falsely accuse[]" the plaintiff of "poor work performance." Id. The plaintiff further alleged that Williams coerced Allied employees to file false reports against him. Id. The plaintiff made similar allegations in a grievance form filed with his union on June 13, 2011. ECF No. 75-23 at 2-3. Neither the letter nor the grievance form contain allegations of discrimination on the basis of race or national origin.

         Mike Baylor, an Allied operations manager, investigated the allegations and ultimately concluded "that the issues stemmed for personality conflicts and found that there was no discrimination or harassment"-a conclusion disputed by the plaintiff. ECF No. 75-1 at 16. At no point during a meeting held throughout the course of the investigation did the plaintiff allege that he was discriminated against based on race or national origin.

         The next month, on July 5, 2011, the plaintiff filed a charge with the NLRB, alleging that Allied supervisors "harassed" him "by soliciting false statements against him because of activities in behalf of the [union]." ECF No. 75-26 at 5. In the twenty-six-page written affidavit submitted to the NLRB, the plaintiff detailed all of his prior complaints with Mr. Williams and Allied management. However, he made no mention of any discrimination on the basis of race or national origin. Nor did he describe any discriminatory comments made about him. Following an investigation, the NLRB dismissed the charge finding that the "evidence failed to establish that the Employer solicited false statements from employees." ECF No. 75-6 at 2. The plaintiffs subsequent appeal was also denied.

         On December 11, 2011, the plaintiff submitted his first complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). He outlined "ongoing harassment" by his employer and alleged that Mr. Williams used a derogatory slur against him, referring to him as an "African Nigger." ECF No. 75-31 at 2-3. The EEOC investigated whether the plaintiff was "harassed, and subjected to disparate treatment because of [his] race (black), [his] national origin (African), and in retaliation for complaining of discriminatory treatment." ECF No. 75-8. On December 9, 2014, the EEOC found that the "evidence appears to show the employer had a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its job actions and fails to support your allegations of race and national origin discrimination." ECF No. 75-8 at 2. The EEOC further remarked that "[t]he evidence does not appear to show an adverse job action was taken against you. The evidence does appear to show the employer had a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for taking the job action it took and fails to support your allegation of retaliation." Id.

         C. Plaintiffs ...


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