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Haynes v. Waste Connections, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

April 23, 2019

JIMMY A. HAYNES, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
WASTE CONNECTIONS, INC.; WASTE CONNECTIONS OF SOUTH CAROLINA, INC., Defendants - Appellees, and DOES 1 THROUGH 25, Defendants.

          Argued: January 31, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, at Spartanburg. Henry M. Herlong, Jr., Senior District Judge. (7:16-cv-01922-HMH)

         ARGUED:

          Alicia Penn, Marie Hanewinckel, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA SCHOOL OF LAW, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellant.

          Kurt N. Peterson, LITTLER MENDELSON PC, Atlanta, Georgia, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Stephen L. Braga, Thomas Howard, Third Year Law Student, Appellate Litigation Clinic, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA SCHOOL OF LAW, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellant.

          Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, THACKER, and HARRIS, Circuit Judges.

          GREGORY, CHIEF JUDGE:

         This appeal arises from Appellant Jimmy Haynes's action for employment discrimination. Haynes, who is black, claims that his former employer, Appellee Waste Connections of South Carolina, Inc., a subsidiary of Waste Connections, Inc. ("WCI"), unlawfully terminated his employment because of his race and retaliated against him in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of WCI on all of Haynes's claims after finding that Haynes had failed to establish an appropriate comparator and to produce evidence of pretext. Because both of these determinations were in error, we reverse the district court's grant of summary judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

         I.

         James Fountain, a white man, hired Haynes to work for WCI in 2006 and supervised Haynes for the duration of his employment. During his employment, Haynes drove a large, multi-ton "front-end loader" truck in Duncan, South Carolina, to pick up trash from WCI's customers.

         The following events led to the termination of Haynes's employment. On October 6, 2015, Haynes arrived at work around midnight, which was two hours before his normal start time. Haynes represented in an affidavit that he went in at that time because he wanted to finish his work early to have lunch with his wife and play basketball. When Haynes arrived at work, company mechanics informed him that his regular truck was down for repairs but that they could have a replacement truck ready in five minutes. According to WCI, mechanics heard Haynes respond, "I'm going home; I'm leaving." In his affidavit, Haynes explained that he was sick with a stomach virus and that he told another driver that he was sick and unable to work. Haynes's wife also testified that Haynes was ill with a stomach virus on October 6 and 7. As he was leaving, approximately 45 minutes before the normal start of his shift, Haynes sent the following text to Fountain: "Good morning, Jim. I came down with a stomach virus and I will not be working today. If u have any question let me know." J.A. 300. Fountain did not see this text until 3:30 a.m. on October 7 and had to scramble to find someone to cover Haynes's route. Around a quarter of the customers along the route did not get their waste needs serviced as a result. Haynes called Fountain at 3:00 p.m. on October 7 and reported that he was feeling much better and would return to work the next day.

         Before receiving Haynes's call, Fountain spoke with the company mechanics. According to WCI, the mechanics said that Haynes seemed frustrated with the delay to repair his normal truck and said, "Forget this" or "F*** this." After speaking with the mechanics, Fountain met with the district manager and human resources manager and decided that Haynes's employment should be terminated. On October 8, 2015, Fountain ...


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