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Gage v. Golden Corral Corporation

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

April 10, 2014

ALFRED G. GAGE, Plaintiff,
v.
GOLDEN CORRAL CORPORATION, Defendant.

ORDER

JAMES C. FOX, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the court on the Motion for Summary Judgment [DE-38] filed by Defendant Golden Corral Corporation. The matter has been fully briefed, and is ripe for ruling. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion for Summary Judgment [DE-38] is ALLOWED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, alleges he was employed as a general manager by Defendant Golden Corral Corporation from September 2004 until February 2012 at its Garner, North Carolina, restaurant. He alleges he was unlawfully discharged from his employment in retaliation for his reporting of sexual harassment of a coworker by another general manager, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and the North Carolina Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act ("REDA").

Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a complaint in the Superior Court of Wake County, North Carolina on January 29, 2013. Defendant removed the action to this court on February 25, 2013, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (invoking this court's federal question jurisdiction) and 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (invoking this court's supplemental jurisdiction). Defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment on October 31, 2013 [DE-38]. Plaintiff filed his response [DE-41] on November 20, 2013, and Defendant filed a reply [DE-45] on December 16, 2013.[1] Thereafter, the court allowed each side to file a single supplemental brief after a motion to compel was allowed in part on January 22, 2014 [DE-56]. Plaintiff filed his supplemental brief on March 3, 2014 [DE-60] and Defendant filed its reply on March 17, 2014 [DE-61].

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when no genuine issues of material fact exist and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden initially of coming forward and demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). When making the summary judgment determination, the facts and all reasonable inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255. Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party then must come forward and demonstrate that such a fact issue does indeed exist. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish any one of the essential elements of the party's claim on which he will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

III. FACTS

The following facts are accepted as true for the purposes of this motion. Defendant is a North Carolina corporation that operates buffet style family restaurants, including one that was located in Garner, North Carolina ("the Garner restaurant"). Defendant hired Plaintiff as the general manager of the Garner restaurant in 2004.

During Plaintiff's employment at Defendant, he was directly supervised by two district managers. Prior to January 2012, his district manager was Chad Fields. Beginning in January 2012, Carol Vajanyi became Plaintiff's supervising district manager. Both Fields and Vajanyi reported directly to David Webb, the East Regional Vice President. Webb's responsibilities included monitoring and supervising the operations and financial performance of company-owned Golden Corral restaurants in the East Region. Defendant contends that Plaintiff was unable to profitably operate the Garner restaurant, and after 2006, sales declined at that location under Plaintiff's management. Specifically, Defendant contends that the losses for the years 2006-2011 were as follows: ($191, 611) in 2006; ($126, 172) in 2007; ($117, 318) in 2008; ($196.788) in 2009; ($321, 562) in 2010; and ($276, 915) in 2011. Aff. of Webb [DE-39-2] ¶ 6.

A. Plaintiff's report of suspected harassment

In April 2011, an associate manager, Yvonne DeJesus (formerly known as Yvonne Murphy) who worked at the Garner restaurant was temporarily assigned to work at the Golden Corral on Capital Boulevard in Raleigh. While DeJesus was working at the Capital Boulevard restaurant, she told Plaintiff that the general manager at that location, Ted Cottrell, "made a comment of what he would do with her if he took her home." Pl.'s Dep. [DE-39-7] pp. 95, 228. DeJesus also told Plaintiff that Cottrell, after seeing a long line at the Capital Boulevard restaurant, commented that he "wouldn't stand in that long a line if they were giving away free pussy" and asked DeJesus if she would stand in such a long line if"they were giving away free dick?" Id. pp. 94, 229. DeJesus also reported that Cottrell told another kitchen manager to "get the fuck out of my kitchen" on several occasions, and in response to a directive from a district manager to tuck in his shirt, Cottrell said he "would tuck his fucking shirt in when he was good and ready." Id. pp. 94-95, 229. Plaintiff contends that DeJesus was distraught when she reported Cottrell's comments to him. Id. p. 97.

Plaintiff then called Scott Schaberg, Defendant's Director of Company Relations. One of Schaberg's primary responsibilities is respond to and investigate all complaints of discrimination and harassment made by Defendant's employees in all company-owned stores across the country. Aff. of Schaberg [DE-39-3] ¶ 15. Schaberg receives and investigates an average of 15 employee complaints and/or concerns each week. Id. ¶ 6. After receiving Plaintiff's report about Cottrell's alleged comments, Schaberg spoke to DeJesus who told him that another employee had told her about Cottrell's "free pussy" comment. Id. ¶ 8. DeJesus also told Schaberg that she did not hear Cottrell make the alleged remark and she was not offended by the comment. Id. Schaberg determined that there was insufficient evidence to warrant any corrective action against Cottrell and closed the investigation. Id . ¶ 9. Plaintiff contends that when DeJesus returned to the Gamer store a few weeks later, and learned that Plaintiff had made the report, she expressed dismay, and said she told Schaberg that she wasn't offended because she didn't want to damage her relations with the company. Pl.'s Dep. [DE-39-7] pp. 100, 233.

Sometime in the fall of 2011, Plaintiff commented to Fields, his then-district manager, that if any other general manager had said what Cottrell had said, they would be fired. Pl.'s Dep [DE-39-7] pp. 239, 244. Fields contends that he was already aware of Plaintiff's previous complaint about Cottrell because DeJesus had told him that Plaintiff wanted her to "turn in" Cottrell to Schaberg. Decl. of Fields [DE-39-5] ¶ 3. Fields contends that Plaintiff made the comment after he was told that he would not have the opportunity to manage the pavilion-style Golden Corral restaurant that was to open in Gamer. Id. ¶ 4.

On January 26, 2012, Plaintiff's new district manager, Vajanyi, issued him a written warning for leaving the Gamer restaurant unattended by a manager when he left to get chocolate ice cream for the restaurant. See Decl. of Vajanyi [DE-39-4] ¶ 7. In response, Plaintiff remarked to Vajanyi that he wondered if Cottrell got written up for what he said to DeJesus. Pl's Dep. [DE-39-7] p. 245. According to Plaintiff, the fact that Cottrell "was able to get away" with making those comments, "stuck in [Plaintiff's] craw a little bit." Id. p. 237. Plaintiff contends he also told Vajanyi that he wondered ...


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