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White v. Caterpillar Logistics, Inc.

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

December 16, 2014

ANTHONY E. WHITE, Plaintiff
v.
CATERPILLAR LOGISTICS, INC., Defendant

Page 714

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 715

Anthony E. White, Plaintiff, Pro se, Suwanee, GA.

For Caterpillar Logistics, Inc., Defendant: Christina F. Meddin, John T. Murray, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Seyfarth Shaw LLP, Atlanta, GA; John I. Mabe, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, Nexsen Pruet, PLLC, Raleigh, NC.

Page 716

ORDER

JAMES C. FOX, Senior United States District Judge.

This matter is before the court on the Motion for Summary Judgment [DE-57] filed by Defendant Caterpillar Logistics, Inc. (" CLI" ). Pro se Plaintiff Anthony E. White has responded, and CLI has replied. For the reasons stated below, the motion for summary judgment is ALLOWED.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

White initiated this action by filing motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis [DE-1] which was allowed on October 7, 2013 [DE-3]. In the Complaint [DE-4], White alleges the unlawful termination of his employment, the failure to promote him, retaliation, and harassment, all based on his race and in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The court later allowed White to amend his complaint [DE-13], although the substance of his claims did not change markedly.

After a series of pretrial motions filed by both parties, CLI filed its Motion for Summary Judgment [DE-57] on September 2, 2014. After receiving an extension of time [DE-62], White filed his response [DE-63; DE-64] on October 9, 2014. CLI filed its Reply [DE-65] on October 23, 2014.

II. FACTS

The facts, stated in the light most favorable to White, are as follows.

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A. The parties

Caterpillar, Inc. (" Caterpillar" ) is a Delaware corporation and a manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, and industrial gas turbines. Decl. of Terrill Merritt [DE-58-2] ¶ 3. CLI is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Capterillar, and has a facility located inside Caterpillar's Clayton, North Carolina assembly plant. Id. ¶ 4. The Clayton CLI facility is responsible for the receipt, storage, and distribution of Caterpillar parts to Caterpillar's Clayton assembly plant and several other manufacturing facilities nearby. Id. ¶ 6.

White was hired by CLI on August 27, 2012, as a full-time Warehouse Associate Team Lead, and more specifically, a Grief Analyst, at the Clayton facility. Id. ¶ 13; Dep. of White [DE-58-1] at 19.[1] In this position, White was primarily responsible for dealing with and solving discrepancies in CLI's parts inventory, including tracing missing or misrouted parts and identifying the causes of parts overages or shortages. Dec. of Terrill Merritt [DE-58-2] ¶ 14; Dep. of White [DE-58-1] at 19-20.

White worked on the second shift during his employment at CLI. Dep. of White [DE-58-1] at 25-26. When he began working at the Clayton CLI facility, the second shift had one Supervisor, one Team Lead, and a Grief Analyst. Id. at 26. White reported to the Supervisor, Chris Richardson. Id. The Team Lead when White began his employment was Kirk Gardinier, who also reported to Richardson. Id.

In or around January 2013, Bryan Keen replaced Chris Richardson in the Supervisor position, and Brett Ryan became a second Team Lead on the shift. Id. at 27. The Team Leads directed the work of hourly warehouse workers, but did not directly oversee White. Id. at 28. After Keen became the second shift Supervisor, White reported directly to Keen and indirectly to Keen's superior and CLI's Clayton Facility Manager, Mansur Kadavanthode. Id. at 28; Decl. of Terrill Merritt [DE-58-2] ¶ 15.

B. White's employment at CLI

CLI asserts that after about seven months of employment, White was still failing to follow standard operating procedures and to perform adequate investigations into inventory discrepancies. Decl. of Terrill Merritt [DE-58-2] ¶ 17. According to CLI, the effect of these errors was that parts were reported as having already been sent to the line or as having gone missing when they were still on the receiving dock or simply in the wrong location in the warehouse. Id. ¶ 18. This, in turn, caused the logistics operation to hold up Caterpillar's assembly process or to needlessly expedite replacement parts from other facilities at great cost. Id. ¶ 19.

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CLI asserts that it has a policy that when an employee fails to meet performance expectations, he may be placed on an Employment Improvement Plan, or EIP, which outlines the specific performance failure and identifies the behavior that is expected to result in acceptable performance. Id. ¶ 20. According to CLI, it is a coaching tool, and CLI does not consider it to be a disciplinary or other adverse action to the employee, but rather, a training mechanism to assist the employee with improving performance. Id. ¶ 21.

In accordance with this policy, White was placed on an EIP on April 11, 2012. Id. ¶ 22; Dep. of White [DE-58-1], Ex. 9. White had a meeting with his Supervisor, Keen, to discuss the issues outlined in the EIP and means for improvement. Decl. of Terrill Merrit [DE-58-2] ¶ 23; Dep. of White [DE-58-1] at 109. The EIP states that White's performance is unsatisfactory, and lists the following areas where Keen wanted White to improve:

1. [White] constantly makes incorrect system moves which ends up having to be corrected by other people later. [White's] BAP (gate in) access has been taken away because of his constant improper use of the function.
2. [White] has extreme lack of know[ledge] of the system considering how long he's been in the position and dispite [sic] constant training, retraining and coaching. He has to be constantly coached and retrained by his Team Leads and others on proper system moves.
3. [White] displays a lack of focus on the job. His mind is on things other than his job. Some examples of this are: spending a lot of time texting on his phone and performing job searches during production hours.
4. [White] doesn't to [sic] retain knowledge of the training and coaching that he receives. He forgets things that he's been shown multiple times.
5. [White] does not spend enough time or effort investigating grief issues. . . . .
6. [White] rarely seeks assiatance [sic] from his counterpart or the audit team when he can't locate parts . . . .

Dep. of White [DE-58-1], Ex. 9. The EIP also lists specific actions to be taken by White, over the 90-day period of the improvement plan, which included sending out a daily grief report to all section managers, not using his phone on the floor and during production hours, and using his own time to conduct job searches. Id. The EIP specifically states: " Sustained improvements ...


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