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Townsend v. Genuine Parts Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

May 31, 2017



          MARCIA MORALES HOWARD United States District Judge.

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Incorporated Memorandum of Law (Doc. 62; Motion), filed on September 13, 2016. In the Motion, Defendant Genuine Parts Company requests that the Court enter summary judgment in its favor pursuant to Rule 56, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Rule(s)). See Motion at 1. Townsend filed a response in opposition to this request on September 26, 2016. See Memorandum of Law Opposing Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment/Reply & Responses (Doc. 64; Response). Accordingly, this matter is ripe for review.

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff Rodney Kenneth Townsend (Townsend) initiated this action, pro se, against Defendant Genuine Parts Company (NAPA) on November 25, 2014. See Complaint (Doc. 1). Because Townsend sought to proceed in forma pauperis, the Magistrate Judge reviewed his Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). See Order (Doc. 4), entered December 11, 2014. Although the Magistrate Judge found that Townsend's initial Complaint was insufficient to satisfy the requirements of § 1915(e)(2)(B), he provided Townsend with the opportunity to amend the Complaint. See Order (Doc. 4). Townsend's first attempt at amendment was still deficient, but after additional amendments, the Magistrate Judge determined that Townsend's Third Amended Complaint (Doc. 13; Amended Complaint), filed on May 28, 2015, adequately stated a claim to warrant granting him leave to proceed in forma pauperis. See Order (Docs. 6, 12, 15). In the Amended Complaint, Townsend alleges that NAPA discriminated against him on the basis of his age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 623, and section 34-1-2 of the Georgia Code, as well as on the basis of his race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA), Fla. Stat. § 760.01 et seq. See Amended Complaint at 6.

         In the instant Motion, NAPA seeks the entry of summary judgment in its favor pursuant to Rule 56. As required by the Rule, NAPA supports its Motion with evidence in the form of deposition testimony, sworn declarations, and business records. See Motion, Exs. 1-4; see also Rule 56(c)(1)(A). In his Response, Townsend argues that many of the factual assertions set forth in NAPA's Motion are “controverted, ” however, he presents no evidence to support his arguments. See generally Response. This is significant because neither the arguments in Townsend's unsworn Response, nor the allegations in the Amended Complaint, are evidence for purposes of summary judgment. See Rule 56(c)(1). Therefore, in determining whether there are genuine disputes of fact for trial, the Court does not consider Townsend's unsupported statements or allegations.[1] See Holloman v. Jacksonville Housing Auth., No. 06-10108, 2007 WL 245555, at *2 (11th Cir. 2007) (“[U]nsworn statements, even from pro se parties, should not be ‘consider[ed] in determining the propriety of summary judgment.'” (second alteration in original) (quoting Gordon v. Watson, 622 F.2d 120, 123 (5th Cir. 1980))).[2]

         Notably, Townsend was aware of the evidentiary requirements for responding to a summary judgment motion prior to filing his Response. Indeed, when NAPA filed the Motion, the Court promptly entered a notice explaining to Townsend the import of a summary judgment motion and the proper procedures for responding to one. See Summary Judgment Notice (Doc. 63), filed September 14, 2016. Specifically, the Court advised Townsend, inter alia, that “all material facts asserted by the movant in the motion(s) will be considered to be admitted by you unless controverted by proper evidentiary materials (counter-affidavits, depositions, exhibits, etc.) filed by you, ” and “you may not rely solely on the allegations of the issue pleadings (e.g., complaint, answer, etc.) in opposing these motion(s).” See id. at 2 (emphasis added) (citing Griffith v. Wainwright, 772 F.2d 822, 825 (11th Cir. 1985)). The Court also cautioned Townsend that “if the Court grants the motion(s) for summary judgment, such would be a final decision of the Court . . . [and] [a]s a result of such final decision, there would be no trial or other proceedings in this case . . . .” Id. Despite these admonitions, rather than oppose the Motion with evidence, Townsend appears to contend that he is entitled to a trial in this case based on the Court's prior finding that the Amended Complaint was sufficient to permit Townsend to proceed in forma pauperis, the issuance of a summons, the designation of this case as a “Track Two” case under the Local Rules, and the entry of a Case Management Scheduling Order (Doc. 29). See Response at 1-3, 21-23. Townsend is mistaken. The Court's determination that Townsend had sufficiently alleged a cause of action such that he could proceed with this case and subsequent orders on case management procedures has no bearing on the question of whether there are genuine issues of material fact necessitating a trial. As Townsend received notice of the requirements of Rule 56, and has had the opportunity to present every factual and legal argument available to him, the Court finds it appropriate to take up the Motion at this time.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under Rule 56, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Rule 56(a). The record to be considered on a motion for summary judgment may include “depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Rule 56(c)(1)(A).[3] An issue is genuine when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmovant. See Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996) (quoting Hairston v. Gainesville Sun Publ'g Co., 9 F.3d 913, 919 (11th Cir. 1993)). “[A] mere scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Kesinger ex rel. Estate of Kesinger v. Herrington, 381 F.3d 1243, 1247 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986)).

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating to the court, by reference to the record, that there are no genuine issues of material fact to be determined at trial. See Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). “When a moving party has discharged its burden, the non-moving party must then go beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits, or by depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593-94 (11th Cir. 1995) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Substantive law determines the materiality of facts, and “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court “must view all evidence and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment.” Haves v. City of Miami, 52 F.3d 918, 921 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Dibrell Bros. Int'l, S.A. v. Banca Nazionale Del Lavoro, 38 F.3d 1571, 1578 (11th Cir. 1994)).

         III. Factual Background[4]

         In May of 2010, Townsend, a black male in his forties, began working for NAPA in Atlanta, Georgia as a delivery driver. See Wright Decl. ¶ 4, Ex. A. On September 16, 2011, NAPA laterally transferred Townsend from its “retail store on Pryor Road in Atlanta, Georgia, to [its] retail store on Fulton Industrial Boulevard in Atlanta, Georgia.” Id. ¶ 5. According to Townsend, Pryor Road is a “larger volume store” and the store to which he was transferred, Fulton Industrial, was a “small store.” See Motion, Ex. 3: Deposition of Rodney Kenneth Townsend (Doc. 62-3; Townsend Dep.) at 139. In addition, Townsend maintains that while working for NAPA in Atlanta, Georgia he was “left out of store meetings, ” id. at 137-38, asked to sign a sheet saying he did attend such meetings, and treated differently than younger employees, id. at 138, 140-41. On June 14, 2013, Townsend began a scheduled vacation in Florida. See Wright Decl. ¶ 7; see also Townsend Dep. at 107. Townsend did not return to work in Atlanta, Georgia.

         While in Florida, Townsend contacted Linda Wright, NAPA's Human Resources Manager for Jacksonville, Florida, to inquire about employment opportunities with NAPA in Jacksonville. See Townsend Dep. at 108; Wright Decl. ¶¶ 7, 9. Townsend told Wright that he had been a delivery driver for NAPA in Atlanta, Georgia and was interested in obtaining another full-time delivery driver position with NAPA in Jacksonville, Florida. See Wright Decl. ¶¶ 9, 10; Response at 7. Townsend explained that he was only interested in full-time positions because he wanted the medical benefits. See Wright Decl. ¶ 10; Response at 7. Wright informed Townsend, however, that “the only Delivery Driver positions available in the Jacksonville operation were part-time positions.” See Wright Decl. ¶ 11; Response at 7. Wright told Townsend that the only full-time position available in Jacksonville was a position at NAPA's Ocean Way store. See Wright Decl. ¶ 11. According to Wright, she advised Townsend that the Ocean Way position was that of a “Stocker/Delivery Driver, ” which would have some delivery driver responsibilities, but “the primary job responsibilities would be those of a Stocker.” See id. Although Townsend disputes this characterization of the position, he concedes that NAPA told him that it did not have delivery driver jobs available, and he would be doing stocker duties in the Ocean Way position. See Response at 7-8; Townsend Dep. at 111-13 (“Q. So when you accepted the job, what did you believe the job would entail? A. Well, I was told that I could be hired and keep my benefits as a delivery driver, full-time delivery driver and that they really didn't have delivery driver jobs available. Q: And so that meant you would have to do stocker duties as well; is that-- A. It's not ‘as well' in there. It's just I will be doing stocker duties.”).

         After an interview with Charles Davis, the Ocean Way store manager, Wright and Davis offered the position to Townsend, he accepted, and began work on June 23, 2013. See Wright Decl. ¶¶ 14-15. Townsend acknowledges that upon starting his employment with the Ocean Way store he was shown how to perform the duties of a stocker. See Townsend Dep. at 112. Notably, although the starting salary for the position at the Ocean Way store was $8.35 per hour, because Townsend was a former NAPA employee, “management agreed to compensate Mr. Townsend at $10.00 per hour, the same hourly rate he had earned working for NAPA in Atlanta, Georgia.” See Wright Decl. ¶ 16; Townsend Dep. at 113 (affirming that he was compensated at $10.00 per hour). NAPA viewed this change as a termination from his Georgia employment and a “new hire” in Florida. See Wright Decl. ¶¶ 18-19.[5] Townsend characterizes this move as a voluntary “transfer” between NAPA stores, and insists that his position in Florida was that of a full- time delivery driver. See Townsend Dep. at 108-09; Response at 7-10. Regardless, it is undisputed that it was Townsend's choice to move to Florida, see Townsend Dep. at 17, 109, and he accepted the Florida position knowing it required him to work as a stocker, id. at 113, 132-33.

         Soon after he began work at the Ocean Way store, Townsend “submitted paperwork to NAPA's Employee Service Center seeking reimbursement for the moving expenses associated with his personal decision to relocate from Georgia to Florida.” See Wright Decl. ¶ 20; Response at 11; see also Amended Complaint, Ex. B. NAPA denied this request. See Wright Decl. ¶¶ 22-25; Amended Complaint, Ex. B. Wright spoke to Townsend and informed him that “he was not eligible for relocation reimbursement because NAPA did not direct him to move from Georgia to Florida, and because relocation reimbursement is reserved for executive-level employees and not hourly employees.” See Wright Decl. ¶ 24. Wright asserts that she has “never seen an hourly employee receive reimbursement from the Company for moving expenses.” Id.

         While working at the Ocean Way store, Townsend alleges that he heard other employees making disparaging comments based on his race. See Amended Complaint ¶¶ 39-41. During his deposition, Townsend testified that a delivery driver named Keith told him when he first started at Ocean Way that there were opportunities with NAPA in Jacksonville. See Townsend Dep. at 121-22. According to Townsend, the allegedly inappropriate comments occurred later when Keith came back to Townsend while Townsend was putting up stock and said:

something to the degree, he [Keith] hoped that I didn't think I was going to move up the ladder because he said they weren't looking . . . that I needed to be looking for another place to work because there were no opportunities, which means he says something and then he took it back at a later time.

See Townsend Dep. at 121-22. In addition, Townsend testified that on a different occasion he overheard Keith state “I don't know why that ‘N word' is still at the store, ” but Townsend did not know to whom Keith was speaking. Id. at 124-25. Townsend never informed anyone of this incident. Id. According to Townsend's deposition testimony, on one other occasion, while Townsend was putting up stock, he heard “someone” from the front of the store say “where is that ‘N word, '” and believes the comment was in reference to him as he was the only black employee in the store. See id. at 125-26. Townsend did not tell anyone about this incident or otherwise report the matter to NAPA administration. Id. at 127.

         Townsend's employment with NAPA ended on August 2, 2013, when Davis and Wright made the decision to terminate Townsend for “insubordination and substandard job performance.” See Motion, Ex. 2: Declaration of Charles Davis (Doc. 62-2; Davis Decl.) ¶ 19; Wright Decl. ¶ 26. In his Declaration, Davis states that “Townsend would leave the Ocean Way store while on the clock during his scheduled shift without permission, and he would not tell anyone where he was going.” Id. ¶ 10. Davis also describes an incident where he found Townsend washing Townsend's personal car in the parking lot behind the store while on the clock. Id. ¶ 13. According to Davis, he counseled Townsend on multiple occasions that: he could not conduct personal matters while on the clock, he needed to let management know if he was going to leave the store during his shift for any reason, and a failure to improve his behavior could result in termination. Id. ...

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