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Curtis Y. Pompey v. Leggett & Platt

January 24, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: L. Patrick Auld United States Magistrate Judge


This case comes before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for a recommended ruling on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket Entry 20). (See Docket Entry dated Dec. 2, 2010; Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(1).) For reasons that follow, said Motion should be granted.


Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court alleging that Defendant, his former employer,*fn1 "is liable to [him]":

1) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981") for "subjecting him to race discrimination, hostile work environment and disparate treatment due to race in the terms and conditions of his employment" (Docket Entry 1 at 6);

2) under Title VII, Section 1981, and N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-422.2 for "wrongful[ly] terminati[ng] [his employment] due to race discrimination" (id.); and

3) under North Carolina state law "for the Negligent Supervision and Retention of [Robert Sawyer, a former employee of Defendant, with whom Plaintiff had an altercation at work]" (id.).

In his deposition, Plaintiff clarified that he claimed race discrimination due to the existence of a hostile work environment and in connection with his firing, but that he did not allege "[a]ny other incident that . . . was negative for [him] that was based upon [his] race in this lawsuit[.]" (Docket Entry 21, Ex. A at 72-73.) After the completion of discovery, Defendant moved for summary judgment. (Docket Entry 20.) In support of said Motion, Defendant filed a brief (Docket Entry 21), to which it attached:

A) a transcript of Plaintiff's deposition from April 27, 2010 (id., Ex. A);

B) an affidavit from Joseph Navarro, a regional Vice President of Operations for Defendant, who worked at the same facility as did Plaintiff (id., Ex. B);

C) an affidavit from Kenneth Campbell, Defendant's Plant Manager for said facility (id., Ex. C); and

D) an affidavit from Belinda Clark, Defendant's Human Resources Manager for said facility (id., Ex. D).

Plaintiff responded in opposition (Docket Entry 22) and contemporaneously filed therewith:

A) an affidavit from Plaintiff dated November 4, 2010 (Docket Entry 26) and print-outs from regarding Sawyer (Docket Entries 26-1, 26-2);

B) a copy of an "Employee Disciplinary Report Form" from 2007 which documented Plaintiff's provision of an "Oral Warning" to Sawyer for "Absenteeism" (Docket Entry 23);

C) a copy of an "Employment Separation Form" dated March 28, 2008, documenting Defendant's placement of Plaintiff on "one week disciplinary leave with pay" on March 24, 2008 (Docket Entry 24);

D) unsworn written statements from Edward Smith and Sheneda Love about their observations of the altercation between Sawyer and Plaintiff (Docket Entry 25); and

E) Defendant's responses to Plaintiff's Interrogatories, Requests for Admissions, and Requests for Production of Documents (Docket Entry 27).

Defendant filed a reply (Docket Entry 31), along with a supplemental affidavit of Vice President Navarro (Docket Entry 32).


Plaintiff -- who, in his deposition, described himself as "black" (Docket Entry 21, Ex. A at 36) -- began working for Defendant in 1981. (Id., Ex. A. at 23-25, Ex. B at 3.)*fn3 From 1997 until his firing in March 2008, Plaintiff served as a Production Supervisor overseeing the assembling, painting, and packing of bed frames and rails at Defendant's facility in Lexington, North Carolina. (Id., Ex. A at 26, 28-30.) He reported to Plant Manager Campbell, who reported to Vice President Navarro. (Id., Ex. A at 31.)*fn4 While working as a Production Supervisor, Plaintiff received positive annual evaluations and, as a result, annual raises. (Id., Ex. A at 96.) At the time of Plaintiff's discharge, Defendant had an Employee Handbook of which Plaintiff had knowledge (including as to its portions prohibiting and providing for the reporting of race-based, work-place harassment and authorizing discipline -- up to dismissal -- of employees who fought on company property). (Id., Ex. A at 44-46 and Dep. Exs. 3, 4.)

Racially Hostile Work Environment

In August 2007, Plaintiff had an argument with another Production Supervisor, Kay Swing, over access to some equipment. (Id., Ex. A at 30, 73-76.) During the dispute, Plaintiff "was a little loud, so [Swing] went to [Plant Manager Campbell]." (Id. at 74.) As a result, Campbell, Swing, and Plaintiff had a joint meeting. (Id., Ex. A at 75.) Swing "claimed that [Plaintiff] cursed her"; Plaintiff had not cursed at Swing and told Campbell so. (Id., Ex. A at 76.) In addition, Plaintiff stated that he was "tired of [Swing] calling [him] boy." (Id.)*fn5 Prior to that report, Campbell "was not aware of" Swing's use of that term and "was shocked at the time." (Id.)*fn6 Swing denied Plaintiff's accusation, but apologized nonetheless. (Id., Ex. A at 77.) Plaintiff did not "hear that [term] from [Swing] anymore after the meeting"; nor "did she refer to [Plaintiff] in any way that [he] found offensive after that meeting took place[.]" (Id.)

During Plaintiff's deposition, Defendant's counsel asked Plaintiff to identify "any other basis for [his] claim of harassment" and Plaintiff answered: "Well, I was constantly subject to black jokes." (Id., Ex. A at 80.) Plaintiff then cited an occasion, during a "supervisors' trip" away from the plant in March or April 2007, when (while Plaintiff and his co-workers were "drinking") two of Plaintiff's co-workers, John Gillespie and Charles Reid, used the term "black bees and stuff like that in a joking manner, but to [Plaintiff] it wasn't a joke." (Id., Ex. A at 80-81, 87-88.) When questioned about the meaning of the term "black bees," Plaintiff stated: "If you want me to say it, I'll say it. They're calling me a black bastard." (Id., Ex. A at 81.)*fn7 Plaintiff did not report that incident to anyone because he had known "these guys for years, and [he] really wasn't trying to hurt [them]." (Id., Ex. A at 81-82.)

Plaintiff further asserted that, during supervisory-level meetings at the facility, "sometimes [there were] black jokes told in there." (Id., Ex. A at 83.) He could provide no examples. (Id., Ex. A at 86.) These jokes occurred "about at least every other month," either during a "six-month period" beginning around March or April 2007 or throughout all of 2007. (Id., Ex. A at 86-88.)*fn8 As to "[w]ho told the black jokes," Plaintiff initially stated: "Well, usually, one of my fellow supervisors would tell a joke, a black joke." (Id., Ex. A at 83.) He then said: "Well, Charlie, Mike, all of them would make jokes like that." (Id.)*fn9 Again, Plaintiff did not "complain to anybody about it," ...

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