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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Triangle Catering, LLC

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

March 1, 2017

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff,
v.
TRIANGLE CATERING, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER

          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (DE 65, 67). Also before the court is plaintiff's motion to strike, made pursuant to Rules 12(f) and 56(c)(2). (DE 77). The motions have been fully briefed and, in this posture, the issues raised are ripe for ruling. For the following reasons, the court grants in part and denies in part plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, denies plaintiff's motion to strike, and grants in part and denies in part defendant's motion.

         BACKGROUND

         On January 13, 2015, plaintiff, the United States Equal Employment Commission (“EEOC”) commenced this action against defendant on behalf of Michael Reddick, Jr. (“Reddick”), alleging employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.§ 2000e et seq. Plaintiff asserts two claims against defendant. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that defendant failed to accommodate Reddick's religious belief of wearing a head covering (“crown”) and that defendant unlawfully discharged Reddick on the basis of his religion, Rastafarian.

         Prior to the commencement of this action, Reddick filed a Charge of Discrimination against defendant with plaintiff (“EEOC charge”). On December 19, 2013, plaintiff mailed to defendant a Notice of Charge of Discrimination (“Notice”). However, plaintiff incorrectly recorded defendant's address and defendant did not receive the Notice. Plaintiff resent the Notice to defendant on April 7, 2014, which defendant received on April 10, 2014. On April 20, 2014, defendant submitted a written response to allegations set forth in the EEOC charge, prepared by its General Manager, Latrisha Jenkins (“Jenkins”). After retaining legal counsel, defendant submitted an additional response on August 18, 2014.

         On September 30, 2014, plaintiff issued a Letter of Determination (“Letter”) informing defendant that plaintiff had reasonable cause to believe that on or around December 5, 2013, defendant violated Title VII by failing to accommodate Reddick's religious beliefs and discharging him on the basis of his religion. On November 3, 2014, the parties participated in a conciliation conference, [1] but were unable to reach a resolution. This action followed.

         Following a period of contentious discovery, on August 31, 2016, defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment, accompanied by a statement of material facts, appendix thereto, and memorandum of law (DE 67, 68, 69). Defendant relies upon the deposition of Reddick, as well as the depositions of several of defendant's employees, [2] the declaration of Debbie Carrara, business manager of defendant's insurance company, and the affidavit of defense counsel John D. Cole (“Cole”).

         That same date, plaintiff filed the instant partial motion for summary judgment on two affirmative defenses, accompanied by a statement of material facts, appendix thereto, and memorandum of law. (DE 65, 66, 70). In support of its motion, plaintiff also relies upon the depositions of Reddick, M. Aldred, and Jenkins, as well as declarations of EEOC Deputy Director, Thomas Colclough (“Colclough”), the Notice, defendant's position statement dated August 19, 2014, a document titled “Michael Reddick Notice of Termination, ” and Reddick's paycheck from defendant. Plaintiff also moved to strike certain evidence relied upon by defendant in support of its motion for summary judgment. Defendant responded in opposition on October 24, 2016. (DE 88).

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         The facts viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff may be summarized as follows.[3]Defendant is a full-service catering company that operates throughout the Research Triangle area. (DE 75 ¶ 1). In November 2013, Reddick responded to defendant's advertisement for a full-time delivery driver. (Id. ¶ 2). On his application, Reddick indicated that he had never been convicted of a crime, despite having an extensive criminal history. (Id. ¶¶ 3-5). After Reddick submitted his application, he interviewed for the position. (Id. ¶ 8). During his interview, Reddick did not wear religious headwear or discuss a need to wear religious headwear. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9). Following the interview, defendant hired Reddick as a delivery driver. (Id. ¶ 10). As a delivery driver, Reddick was responsible for traveling to and setting up events at various locations outside defendant's primary offices. (Id. ¶ 12).

         Reddick began working for defendant on December 4, 2013. (Id. at ¶ 13). That day, Reddick arrived to work at approximately 5:45 a.m. and spent most of the day shadowing another employee, Ramirez, at a catering event on the campus of North Carolina State University. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14). The next day, December 5, 2013, Reddick reported to work at approximately 6:00 a.m. (Id. ¶ 27). Shortly thereafter, Reddick encountered defendant's co-owner and executive director, M. Aldred, who told Reddick to remove his hat. (Id. ¶ 28). Reddick informed M. Aldred that he wore the hat for religious purposes. (Id. ¶ 29). In response, M. Aldred asked Reddick about his religion, and Reddick indicated that he was Rastafarian. (Id. ¶ 31). According to plaintiff, shortly thereafter, M. Aldred sent Reddick home from work early and told Reddick that she and Jenkins needed to discuss what to do. (Id. ¶ 114).

         On December 6, 2013, Reddick returned to work at approximately 6:00 a.m. (Id. ¶ 45). “At the time of Reddick's arrival, [the office] was in the midst of a busy breakfast delivery shift and [no one] was . . . able to speak to [Reddick].” (Id. ¶ 46). Accordingly, Jenkins instructed Reddick to return at 11:00 a.m. (Id. ¶ 47). At that time, Jenkins also decided to terminate Reddick. (Id. ¶ 48). After making this decision, Jenkins told M. Aldred she was terminating Reddick and created a document titled “Michael Reddick Notice of Termination.” (Id. at ¶ 52). Jenkins asked defendant's employee, Eric Whitfield (“Whitfield”), to carry out the termination. (Id. ¶ 53).

         Sometime after Reddick returned to work on December 6, 2013, Reddick met with Whitfield and Sales and Event Coordinator, Robin Gromberg. (DE 75 ¶ 125). At the meeting, Whitfield told Reddick he was being terminated and gave Reddick a copy of the Notice of Termination. (Id. at ¶¶ 128, 139-140). Whitfield also presented Reddick with a paycheck covering the time he worked on December 4 and December 5, 2013. (Id. ¶ 57). No taxes were taken out of Reddick's paycheck. (Id. ¶ 58). Reddick recorded the termination meeting on his cell phone. (DE 65-6 at 17-18). Following the meeting, Reddick drove to the EEOC's Raleigh office and filed a charge of discrimination alleging Title VII violations by defendant. (Id.).

         DISCUSSION

         A. Motion to Strike

         Plaintiff moves to strike certain exhibits attached to defendant's statement of material facts supporting its motion for summary judgment. Specifically, plaintiff seeks to exclude an attachment to the affidavit of defense counsel Cole, which contains interview notes prepared by Colclough during Reddick's interview with the EEOC. (DE 68-10). Plaintiff contends that the interview notes, and statements contained therein, are inadmissible hearsay because they are offered against plaintiff by defendant to prove that Reddick believed himself to be an independent contractor. Plaintiff further contends the interview notes cannot be authenticated properly. Defendant counters by arguing that the notes are part of the EEOC's investigatory record, thus exempting them from the rule against hearsay.

         Federal Rule of Evidence 801(c) defines hearsay as a declarant's out of court statement introduced for the truth of the matter asserted therein. Fed.R.Evid. 801(c). Under Rule 801, a statement is not hearsay if:

The statement is offered against an opposing party and: (A) was made by the party in an individual or representative capacity; (B) is one the party manifested that it adopted or believed to be true; (C) was made by a person whom the party authorized to make a statement on the subject; [or] (D) was made by the party's agent or employee on a matter within the scope of that relationship and while it existed[.]

Fed. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(A)-(D).

         Here, there are two levels of potential hearsay- the interview notes as transcribed by Colclough and the statements contained therein regarding assertions Reddick made during the interview. As to the first level of hearsay, plaintiff concedes that the transcribed interview notes are admissible as “a business record maintained in the normal course of EEOC's operation.” (DE 78 at 4); see Fed.R.Evid. 803(6). The interview notes are also excluded from the definition of hearsay as statements made by plaintiff's agent. Fed.R.Evid. 801(d)(2)(D).

         With regard to statements contained within the interview notes, the issue is whether a charging party on whose behalf the EEOC brings a civil enforcement action under Title VII is an “opposing party” for purposes of Rule 801(d)(2). While the Fourth Circuit has not addressed the issue, at least one court has found statements made by the charging party in an EEOC enforcement action to be admissible as statements of an opposing party under Rule 801(d)(2). See E.E.O.C. v. Placer ARC, No. 2:13-CV-0577-KLM-EFB, 2016 WL 74032, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 7, 2016). In E.E.O.C. v. Placer ARC, the court reasoned that although the charging party was not a party to the civil action, she was not an “ordinary witness but rather a ‘witness plus' on whose statements [the defendant] should be entitled to rely on . . . given the traditional justifications for the hearsay rules and its exclusions.” Id. Upon careful consideration, the court is inclined to subscribe to this analysis. For the reasons given, the interview notes are received into evidence, where they also are properly authenticated.

         A document may be authenticated by testimony of a witness establishing that the document is what it is claimed to be, through the use of distinctive characteristics, or through evidence about public records. Fed.R.Evid. 901(b)(1), (4) & (7). Here, defendant submitted an affidavit of defense counsel, which confirms that plaintiff provided the interview notes to defendant as part of the EEOC's investigatory file. (DE 68-10). Plaintiff has also confirmed that the contents of the file it produced to defendant constitute the“full and complete investigatory file [of all non-privileged documents] regarding Reddick's Charge of Discrimination.” (DE 88-2 at 3). Accordingly, the interview notes are properly authenticated under Rule 901(b)(1) and (7) as true and correct copies of the notes Colclough prepared during the EEOC's investigation of Reddick's claims.

         For the foregoing reasons, no hearsay problem exists here, where the interview notes, and statements contained therein, are admissible under Rule 801(d)(2). Additionally, since defendant provided an affidavit sufficiently authenticating the notes as a document received from the EEOC, the same has been properly authenticated under Rule 901(b). Having found the notes to be admissible on these bases, the court need not address the parties' alternative arguments. Consequently, plaintiff's motion to strike is denied.

         B. Motion for Summary Judgment

         1. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate where “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party then must affirmatively demonstrate with specific evidence that there exists a genuine issue of material fact requiring trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). Only disputes ...


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