214 F.3d 615 (5th Cir. 2000), 99-10145, Walker v Thompson

Docket Nº:99-10145
Citation:214 F.3d 615
Case Date:June 13, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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214 F.3d 615 (5th Cir. 2000)




No. 99-10145

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

June 13, 2000

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

Before JOLLY, EMILIO M. GARZA, and BENAVIDES, Circuit Judges.

BENAVIDES, Circuit Judge:

This appeal is from a district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of an employer in a race discrimination case. We conclude that the district court properly granted summary judgment with respect to the appellants' claims of failure to promote, retaliation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress and, thus, affirm in part. However, after a thorough review of the record, we are convinced that the appellants have raised a genuine issue of material fact regarding their claim of hostile work environment. We therefore vacate the district court's grant of summary judgment on that claim and remand for further proceedings.


Because this case is before us on appeal from a summary judgment, we set forth the evidence in the light most favorable to the appellants. Glasfloss Industries, Inc. (Glasfloss), a closely held Texas corporation with facilities in Dallas and Houston, manufactures and sells air filtration products. Scott Lange (Lange), who resides in Wisconsin,1 is president of Glasfloss. Don Kingston (Kingston) is vice-president and general manager, and Cheryl Thompson (Thompson) holds the position of office manager.

In January of 1994, Thompson hired Stephanie Walker (Walker), an African-American woman, as an accounts-receivable clerk. Thompson was Walker's immediate supervisor. The next month, during a conversation on the topic of babysitting, Thompson told Walker that her grandmother would rub a little black boy's head for good luck much like the slave masters did to slaves.2 Walker responded that "it wasn't funny" and that she "hadn't [ever] heard anything like that before."

Approximately a month later, Bill McKnight (McKnight), the operations manager at Glasfloss, asked Walker "where she was from [sic]." She replied Africa. McKnight laughed and retorted that Walker did not look like she swung from the trees. Thompson was present when McKnight made that remark. The next day, Thompson's husband was at the office and inquired of Walker "where did you say you were from, your people was [sic] from?" Walker again responded Africa, and Thompson's husband said "I thought you looked like one of my grandmother's slaves." Thompson and her husband laughed.

Late in 1994, Thompson hired Barbara Scoggins, a Caucasian woman, for a position in the payroll department. In March of 1995, Thompson mentioned to Walker that a customer service supervisor position was being created. Walker informed Thompson that she would be interested in such a position, and Thompson responded that "nothing is official right now. . . . [W]e'll let everybody know." Walker did not hear anything else about the position until it was announced that Thompson had promoted Scoggins to the position of customer service supervisor.

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In April or May of 1995, a data entry position became available. Walker again expressed interest to Thompson. According to Walker, a white woman named Karen was hired to fill the data entry position, a position Walker believed would be a functional promotion. Walker later complained to Bert Hibl, who was the sales manager, that she would never be promoted because of the prejudice in the office. Hibl responded "you're probably right."

In the context of discussing the collection of accounts for a customer, Mark Filewood, marketing and product development manager, told Walker he would send her back to Africa with her family if she was not careful. Filewood made this "threat" once during the summer of 1995, and again several months later.

On one occasion there were Brazilian nuts in the office, and Thompson asked Walker whether she knew what they were called. Thompson informed her that some people called them "nigger toes."

Scoggins hired Nyree Preston (Preston), an African-American woman, for the position of customer service representative in March of 1996. Subsequently, Scoggins hired Denise Porter (Porter), an African-American woman, for a position in the customer service department. Scoggins was the immediate supervisor for both Preston and Porter, and Scoggins reported to Thompson.

In the spring of 1996, Amy Langsford (Langsford), an employee at Glasfloss, was upset that her estranged husband would not return her young son's tennis shoes. In Walker's presence, a crying Langsford exclaimed that her husband wanted to hang the shoes from his rear view mirror "like those niggers." Upon hearing this, Scoggins burst into laughter, and Langsford apologized to Walker.3

During a conversation with Walker, Thompson indicated that any race was acceptable except African-Americans. Thompson stated that Matilda Faz (Faz), an Hispanic Glasfloss employee, was "still white as long as she wasn't black." At a subsequent time, McKnight observed that Juby, an Indian Glasfloss employee, was as dark complected as Walker. Thompson explained that Juby was acceptable because his hair was different from the hair of black people.

At various other times, the managers at Glasfloss made several offensive remarks regarding African-American hair. In Walker's presence, McKnight, for no apparent reason, began talking about a cat that had "nappy" hair like "black people." Walker asked McKnight if he was trying to make a point, and McKnight did not respond. At a different time, Scoggins was planning to hold some sort of beauty demonstration and asked Walker if she could "do" Walker's hair. Scoggins said "[a]fter all, I do [my dog's] hair." Walker refused. One other time, while in the break room, Walker overheard Thompson tell Faz to ask Walker about what she did with her hair when it got wet and "nappy." Faz complied with Thompson's request, but Walker did not respond.

As Walker was leaving a Glasfloss anniversary party held at a local establishment, McKnight "yelled out that [she] needed to hurry up and get to [her] car." When Walker asked him why, he blurted out "because somebody would think [she] was there to rob them." Everyone there, including Kingston, laughed.

For Thompson's 30th birthday in June of 1996, she received a birthday card from another employee with a photographic likeness of a monkey on the face of the card. The card itself, commercially produced by American Greetings, contained an innocuous birthday message.4 Thompson

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claims that she displayed it on her desk among other birthday cards. Contrary to Thompson's assertion, Walker and Preston contend that the card was not among the others on Thompson's desk but instead was the lone card taped to Thompson's window with the picture of the monkey facing the desks of the African-American employees. During the month that this card was on display, Thompson, Scoggins, and McKnight would view the card in relation to its position vis-a-vis the three African-Americans, laugh, and make jokes about the "little black monkey."

It was around this time that Scoggins decided to move Porter to a desk away from Preston's desk in order to keep them from talking. Scoggins separated the two African-American employees despite Preston's protest that she was supposed to be training Porter. Additionally, Scoggins stated to Preston that she had a personal problem with her conversing with Walker, and that although she could not control Walker because Walker was not in her department, she could control Preston and Porter, who worked under her.

At one point, Porter took one day of personal leave but needed to call the office regarding work. When she called and asked to speak to Preston, the receptionist "screamed out" that Preston had a "personal call." This upset Porter because the call was work-related and there had been recent instructions to limit personal calls. When Porter returned to Glasfloss the next day she addressed her complaint to the receptionist. Scoggins reproached her for doing so even though previously management had instructed the employees to attempt to resolve their problems with co-workers prior to resorting to making a complaint to management.5

As a result of her encounter with Scoggins, Porter became very upset. After attempting to regain her composure in the restroom, she returned to the office. Walker apparently noticed some lint from a facial tissue in Porter's braided hair and began removing it. While Walker was doing so, Kingston walked by and said "What are you doing [Walker], picking fleas?"

Sometime during the latter part of 1996, Sandra, an employee in the Glasfloss human resources department, told Walker and Preston that Thompson instructed the receptionist to listen to Walker's and Preston's phone conversations. Also, Diane Cantu, another human resources employee, stated that Thompson instructed her "to act a certain way towards" Walker, Preston, and Porter.

In December of 1996, Preston had a question regarding the computer system and Walker, who was on a break, walked up to assist her. Upon seeing the two women talking, Thompson inquired whether Walker had any work to do. Walker replied that she was on a break and helping Preston with a work-related question. Thompson countered that regardless of what they were discussing, they should not be talking. Walker expressly inquired of Thompson "[a]re you saying that the black ladies shouldn't be talking?"...

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