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Roberts v. Yale Security, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

May 9, 2019

EDGAR ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
v.
YALE SECURITY, INC. D/B/A/ NORTON DOOR CONTROLS, Defendant.

          ORDER

          MAX O. COGBUM JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendant Yale Security, Inc. (Doc. No. 16). Plaintiff Edgar Roberts is represented by Geraldine Sumter of the law firm of Ferguson, Chambers & Sumter, P.A. Defendant Yale Security is represented by Kelly Hughes of the law firm of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff Edgar Roberts filed this action on February 5, 2018, bringing a race discrimination action against his former employer Defendant Yale Security, Inc., pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981.[1] Defendant filed the pending summary judgment motion on March 1, 2019. (Doc. No. 16). On March 14, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion for extension of time to file a response to the summary judgment motion. (Doc. No. 18). On March 20, 2019, this Court granted Plaintiff's motion, giving Plaintiff until April 12, 2019, to file the response. (Doc. No. 19). Plaintiff has not filed a response and the time to do so has passed.[2] Thus, this matter is ripe for disposition.

         B. Factual Background

         1. Plaintiff's Allegations in his Complaint

         Because Plaintiff has not responded to the summary judgment motion with his own summary judgment evidence, the Court has before it on summary judgment only the allegations made in his Complaint. Plaintiff alleges in the Complaint that Defendant hired him in September 2007 as a design/quality engineer. Plaintiff worked in a department in which he was the only African-American and one of only two African-American engineers in the company in Monroe, North Carolina.

         Plaintiff alleges that he performed his work in a satisfactory manner. He alleges that on February 10, 2014, he was advised that he was subject to a layoff. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant retained white employees in Plaintiff's department whose work performance was not equal to his and who had caused substantial expenditures of money by Defendant without producing a suitable project. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that no other person in Plaintiff's department was subject to a layoff, and that all other employees retained their positions. Plaintiff alleges that, in being laid off, he was subjected to race discrimination, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

         2.Defendant's Summary Judgment Materials

         Defendant Yale Security's summary judgment evidence shows that Defendant hired Plaintiff in September 2007. (Doc No. 16-2, Def. Ex. A: Pl. Dep. at 23:11 to 23:12). Plaintiff worked for a business unit of Yale Security, Norton Door Controls (“Norton”), at a facility in Monroe, North Carolina.[3] (Doc. No. 16-3, Def. Ex. B: Dietrich Decl. at ¶¶ 2-3; Pl. Dep. 30:21 to 30:23). Yale Security offered a broad portfolio of door hardware and locks for residential and commercial uses. (Doc. No. 16-4, Def. Ex. C: Sejourne Decl. at ¶ 3). Norton's business was (and is) specifically dedicated to the design, manufacture, and distribution of door closers. (Id.). Following a corporate reorganization in 2018 that split the lock businesses and accessories/door controls businesses into different entities and operational subgroups, Yale Security changed its corporate name to ASSA ABLOY Accessories and Door Controls Group, Inc. and retained the Norton business. (Id.).

         During his employment with Norton, Plaintiff was a Design/Quality Engineer. (Pl. Dep. 27:24 to 28:1). As a Design/Quality Engineer, Plaintiff initially performed design engineering work in the purchasing profit center, while also performing quality engineering work in the quality profit center. (Id. at 28:2 to 28:9). Joe Viola was Plaintiff's manager during this time, and Plaintiff got along “very well” with him. (Id. at 28:18 to 28:22, 36:4 to 36:10).

         In or around 2011, Brian Norman became Plaintiff's manager. (Pl. Dep. 36:11 to 36:20). At the time, according to Plaintiff in his deposition, all engineers were pulled from their individual profit centers and combined under one department reporting to Mr. Norman. (Id. at 37:3 to 37:8). Mr. Norman eventually left the company and, in June 2012, Kurt Dietrich became the Engineering Manager. (Id. at 41:1 to 41:8; Dietrich Decl. ¶¶ 2-3). In this role, Mr. Dietrich managed the Research and Development (“R&D”) team, composed solely of engineers (including Plaintiff), and the Technical Product Support (“TPS”) team. (Dietrich Decl. at ¶ 3). Mr. Dietrich was Plaintiff's manager until Plaintiff's separation in February 2014. (Id. at ¶ 2; Pl. Dep. 100:3 to 100:16). Plaintiff describes his relationship with Mr. Dietrich as “excellent.” (Pl. Dep. 42:7 to 42:9). When asked during his deposition to evaluate his own performance, Plaintiff testified that he “never” made any mistakes-either at Norton or at any other company for which he has ever worked. (Id. at 88:7 to 88:18).

         At the time of the February 2014 layoff, Yale Security (including its business unit Norton) fell beneath the Architectural Hardware Group (“AHG”), an operational subgroup of the ASSA ABLOY Group's Americas division. (Sejourne Decl. at ¶ 2). At the time, Eric Sejourne was AHG's Vice President of Operational Excellence and Doug Millikan was AHG's President. (Id. at ¶ 3). Mr. Millikan passed away in March 2015. (Id. at ¶ 4 n.1). By virtue of their roles and the organizational structure, both Mr. Sejourne and Mr. Millikan had responsibility for Norton. (Id. at ¶¶ 2-3).

         In or around January 2014, Mr. Sejourne became aware that ASSA ABLOY's global headquarters issued a directive to reduce costs at the Americas divisional level. (Id. at ¶ 5). This directive was issued in response to slowing demand and, in turn, declining income and weakening profit. (Id.). As a result, Mr. Millikan and the other subgroup Presidents within the Americas division were tasked with reducing costs through downsizing and other cost-saving measures. (Id.). In addition, around the time of this mandate, Norton discovered that it had made an accounting error, which resulted in the business having less money than expected and further contributed to the need to reduce costs. (Id.).

         In response to this directive, Mr. Millikan requested that Mr. Sejourne conduct what is called a “workout session” with respect to salaried employees, as well as factory indirect employees, of the Norton business unit. (Id. at ¶ 6). Plaintiff was a salaried employee of Norton. (Dietrich Decl. at ¶ 3). The workout session is designed to evaluate the organization holistically and to determine whether greater organizational efficiencies can be achieved, including through potential labor reduction. (Id. at ¶ 6).

         In advance of the workout session, Norton managers, including Mr. Dietrich, were directed to rate their team members based on their assessment of the employees' performance, as well as to identify projects on which they were working. (Id. at ¶ 7; Dietrich Decl. at ¶ 6). With respect to the assessment, the managers were directed to assign each team member an “A, ” “B, ” or “C” rating. (Id.). This rating was then affixed to a card containing each employee's name, title, picture, and a listing of their current assigned work/responsibilities. (Sejourne Decl. at ¶ 7). At the workout session, which was held off site in a hotel conference room, these cards were used to recreate a large organizational chart, which was affixed to the conference room wall. (Id.).

         Consistent with the directive, Mr. Dietrich identified the projects that each of his direct reports was working on at the time, including all members of the R&D team. (Dietrich Decl. at ¶ 7). In addition to identifying the projects of each employee, he assigned them an “A, ” “B, ” or “C” rating based on his assessment of each associate's performance. (Id. at ΒΆ 8). At the time, Mr. ...


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