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Betourney v. GKN Driveline Newton, LLC

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

July 1, 2019




         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant GKN Driveline Newton, LLC's (“GKN”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 33), which Plaintiff Dominic Betourney (“Betourney”) opposes. The Court has carefully reviewed the motion and considered the parties' briefs and exhibits. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will GRANT the motion and enter Summary Judgment in favor of GKN.


         Summary judgment must be granted “if 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 factual dispute is considered genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Vannoy v. Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, 827 F.3d 296, 300 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013)).

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact through citations to the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions or affidavits in the record. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003). “The burden on the moving party may be discharged by ‘showing' ... an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. Once this initial burden is met, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party. The nonmoving party “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, ” Id. at 322 n.3. The nonmoving party may not rely upon mere allegations or denials of allegations in his pleadings to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 324.

         When ruling on a summary judgment motion, a court must view the evidence and any inferences from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 657 (2014); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. “Summary judgment cannot be granted merely because the court believes that the movant will prevail if the action is tried on the merits.” Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568-69 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting 10A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller et al., Federal Practice & Procedure § 2728 (3d ed.1998)). “The court therefore cannot weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations.” Id. at 569 (citing Mercantile Peninsula Bank v. French (In re French), 499 F.3d 345, 352 (4th Cir. 2007)).

         However, “[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (internal citations omitted). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Also, the mere argued existence of a factual dispute does not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion. Id. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment is appropriate. Id. at 249-50.

         In the end, the question posed by a summary judgment motion is whether the evidence as applied to the governing legal rules “is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 252.


         GKN is a Newton, North Carolina based company that develops, builds, and supplies automotive driveline systems and solutions.[1] Mr. Betourney is currently employed as a machine operator in GKN's Lap/Test department and has been so employed since June 2016 (after a few months of working at GKN as an employee of a temporary placement agency).

         Plaintiff alleges that on June 21, 2016 a “tall muscular Caucasian male with a beard who worked for maintenance” followed him around while he was on his break. When he returned to his worksite, he allegedly saw two individuals, one of whom he knew as “Mr. Bob” or “John, ” “acting very suspicious” near the machine where he worked. Plaintiff then noticed a man he referred to as “Mr. Thomas” close the lid on his lunch bag. He alleges “Mr. Thomas” walked away when Plaintiff returned to his machine. Plaintiff confirmed nothing was stolen and then emptied his lunch bag in the trash. Plaintiff allegedly later saw “Mr. Thomas” and “Mr. Bob” or “John” talking together.

         The next day, Betourney gave a four-page, handwritten written report regarding this incident to Tina Lineberger in GKN's Human Resources (“HR”) department. In this report, he does not claim that the alleged conduct was the result of discrimination or harassment based on his race or religion or a disability, nor did Plaintiff tell Ms. Lineberger that he felt he was being discriminated against or harassed based upon his race or religion or a disability. GKN conducted an investigation into Plaintiff's allegations but was unable to clearly identify the alleged perpetrators or any witnesses to the incident. On August 4, 2016, Ms. Lineberger by email asked Betourney's supervisor Larry Johnson to inform Betourney that she had completed the investigation and found nothing to support his claim. While Betourney was (and remains) unsatisfied with both how the investigation was handled and its conclusion, he did not raise any issues of racial, religious, or disability-based discrimination or harassment during the Company's investigation or when he was told that GKN did not intend to take any further action.

         In April 2017, GKN terminated Betourney because he had allegedly accumulated too many “points” due to excessive absences. Betourney disputed the total allocation of points, claiming that he received points for days off that should have been counted as vacation time. GKN was unable to confirm that the termination based on the attendance record was justified so Defendant decided to rehire Betourney one week later. Betourney did not raise any concerns of unlawful discrimination, harassment, or retaliation at the time of this one-week termination.

         On September 7, 2017, more than a year after his June 2016 complaint to HR, Betourney filed a charge with the EEOC. In his charge, Betourney alleged that he complained to HR of an incident of “harassment and discrimination” in June 2016 and that HR stated that they investigated but found nothing to support the claim and took no further action. Betourney also alleged that “the harassment in my workplace continued after my complaint, ” but he did not describe the continuing harassment nor did he specify how long the harassment continued. Regarding his brief termination, he alleged that “I was discharged for about one week, based on incorrect disciplinary records that failed to take account of documentation of my disability that I had provided. After I explained the circumstances to HR, I was rehired.”[2] Finally, Betourney alleges generally that he was discriminated against on the basis of his race (African American), his religion (American Muslim) and his disability and that he has been retaliated against for “opposing ...

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