United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
BERNARD L. WESTBROOK, Plaintiff,
NORTH CAROLINA A& T STATE UNIVERSITY, LINDA MCABEE, and CINDY POOLE, Defendants
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
BERNARD L. WESTBROOK, Plaintiff, Pro se, GREENSBORO, NC.
For NORTH CAROLINA A& T STATE UNIVERSITY, LINDA MCABEE, CINDY POOLE, Defendants: KATHERINE A. MURPHY, LEAD ATTORNEY, N.C. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, RALEIGH, NC.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
James A. Beaty Jr., United States District Judge.
This matter is currently before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. #30] filed by Defendant North Carolina A& T State University (" Defendant" ). In his complaint, Bernard L. Westbrook (" Plaintiff" ) asserts claims of religious discrimination pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment seeks summary judgment on the entirety of Plaintiff's claims and is fully briefed and is now before the Court for review. Based on the discussion below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.
II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Defendant hired Plaintiff in May 1994 as a temporary employee and such employment became permanent in 1996. Plaintiff
worked for the Defendant as a Vehicle Operator until 1999 when Defendant reclassified his position as a Program Assistant IV and relocated his duties to Human Resources. In 2006, Defendant reassigned Plaintiff to the Department of Police and Public Safety (" Police Department), where he was assigned to work as a parking services officer.
Plaintiff is a Jehovah's Witness and due to his religious beliefs he does not celebrate Christmas, birthdays, and does not carry weapons. At the time of his reassignment to the Police Department, Plaintiff told the Director of Human Resources that his religion would prevent him from carrying a weapon. While the Police Department's General Orders contained an order that required parking service officers to be trained in and carry defensive weapons, this order was not initially enforced at the time Defendant reassigned Plaintiff to the department.
In April 2008, Cindy Poole (" Ms. Poole" ) became the Interim Police Chief of the Police Department and she thereafter, made the decision to enforce the general order requiring weapons training and the carrying of weapons. Plaintiff asserts that such decision was motivated by Ms. Poole's hostility towards his religion. This hostility allegedly began when Plaintiff, due to his religious beliefs, declined Ms. Poole's request that Plaintiff oversee a Christmas party due to Plaintiff's religious beliefs. After Plaintiff declined the request to oversee the Christmas party, the Plaintiff requested vacation leave to attend a Bible conference. Plaintiff alleged that Ms. Poole required Plaintiff to advise his co-workers of the reason for his requested vacation leave and to obtain their written consent for him to take his vacation prior to granting him the leave, which was later granted.
In August 2008, Glen Newell (" Chief Newell" ) took over the Police Chief position for the department. Chief Newell retained Ms. Poole's decision to implement the general order requiring weapons training and the carrying of weapons. Accordingly, Plaintiff was notified that he was to attend weapon training. Plaintiff notified his superiors of his objection to attending and participating in the training. Eventually, Chief Newell informed Plaintiff that if he failed to attend and complete training it would lead to disciplinary action, including termination. Plaintiff met with Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Linda McAbee (" Ms. McAbee" ) regarding the situation on at least two different occasions. Plaintiff alleges that initially, Ms. McAbee dismissed his religious beliefs and informed Plaintiff that she could not help him locate a different position. During the second meeting with Ms. McAbee, Plaintiff asserts that she did agree to help him locate a different position, but thereafter she did not follow through with her promise. Plaintiff's situation, was ultimately not resolved, and as a result of his refusal to attend the weapons training, Defendant terminated Plaintiff's employment on October 6, 2008.
On March 19, 2009, Plaintiff filed his religious discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ). Three years later, on March 2, 2012, the EEOC issued a Right-to-Sue Letter, and on May 30, 2012, Plaintiff filed his complaint in this action. Defendants then filed a Motion to Dismiss [Doc. # 10]. The Court granted the Motion to Dismiss as to Defendants Linda
McAbee and Cindy Poole, but denied the motion as to Defendant North Carolina A& T State University.
Defendant now brings a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. # 30] requesting that this Court enter summary judgment in its favor as to Plaintiff's religious discrimination claims. Specifically, Defendant argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on both the Plaintiff's claim for disparate treatment and his reasonable accommodation claim. Defendant asserts that Plaintiff does not have the necessary evidentiary support to establish a claim for disparate treatment. Furthermore, as to Plaintiff's reasonable accommodation claim, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff made it impossible to find a reasonable accommodation for him and that any accommodation would have caused Defendant undue hardship. Plaintiff responded in opposition to Defendant's motion, seeming to argue that Ms. Poole's actions regarding his vacation leave amounted to disparate treatment and is evidence of a hostile work environment. Additionally, Plaintiff contends that Defendant could have easily accommodated his request to be placed in a position that complied with his religious beliefs, but despite his cooperation, Defendant refused to provide such an accommodation. Defendant replied to Plaintiff's arguments asserting that the alleged actions, in conjunction with Plaintiff's request for vacation leave, do not provide a sufficient basis to establish a claim for disparate treatment or a hostile work environment claim. As to Plaintiff's reasonable accommodation claim, Defendant asserts that it did attempt to assist Plaintiff in finding a suitable position but it was not obligated to change another employee's position to accommodate Plaintiff's religious beliefs. Further, Defendant argues that certain evidence that Plaintiff attempts to use in support of his arguments cannot be considered in opposition to summary judgment. The Court will consider in turn the basis for Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court shall grant summary judgment when there exists no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Zahodnick v. Int'l Bus. Machs. Corp., 135 F.3d 911, 913 (4th Cir. 1997). The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of initially coming forward and demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must then affirmatively demonstrate that there is a genuine issue of material fact which requires trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1349, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). When making a summary judgment determination, the court must view the evidence and all justifiable inferences from the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Zahodnick, 135 F.3d at 913. However, the party opposing summary judgment may not rest on mere allegations or denials, and the Court need not consider " unsupported assertions" or " self-serving opinions without objective corroboration." Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 962 (4th Cir. 1996); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
Based on Plaintiff's response to the Motion for Summary Judgment, it appears that Plaintiff is making the following three ...