Barnes v. Federal Express Corporation, Civil Action No. 1:95cv333-D-D (N.D. Miss. 4/__/2001)

Decision Date01 April 2001
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 1:95cv333-D-D.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Mississippi

Presently before the court is the motion of the defendants for the entry of summary judgment on their behalf as against all of the plaintiff's claims in this cause. Finding that the motion is only partially well taken, the court shall grant it in part and deny it in part.

Factual Background1

This case has quite an involved background, and this court shall not attempt to set forth an entire history of the relevant events today. To the extent that additional facts are required, the court shall relay them in the discussion of the plaitniff's claims. In order to "set the stage," however, the basic facts underlying the plaintiff's claims are as follows.

In January of 1987, the defendant Federal Express Corporation ("FedEx") hired plaintiff Steve Barnes as the Operations Manager of the FedEx station located in Tupelo, Mississippi. In August of 1992, FedEx placed defendant Judy L Parker in the position of Senior Manager of an area including the Tupelo station. As such, Ms. Parker became Barnes' immediate supervisor. After Parker became Senior Manager of the area including the Tupelo station, but sometime before May of 1994, two Operations Manager positions became vacant and had to be filled. Parker hire two white males to fill those positions. Because of Ms. Parker's failure to hire a minority2 to fill either position, her superior, defendant Brian J. Faughnan, became upset. Parker mentioned the fact to the plaintiff on one occasion:

A: . . . [W]e were discussing something about the managers — new managers, I believe, and [Judy Parker] told me that she caught hell from Brian for not hiring minority — minorities to replace those vacancies.

Q: Did she say why she caught hell from Brian?

A: Because he had told her to — specifically told her that she needed to hire minorities for those positions.

Unnumbered Exhibit to Plaintiff's Response, Deposition of Steve Barnes, p. 312.

Beginning in June of 1994, Parker began to receive regular criticism from Parker regarding his workplace performance and to impose new expectations of performance upon Barnes. Parker's complaints and continued problems with Barnes' work continued, and on September 26, 1994, Parker sent a letter to Barnes, which stated in part:

This letter is to confirm our discussion that took place on Friday, September 23. During this conversation we mutually agreed that it would best serve the Tupelo Station, the employees and the Company overall if you were to look for another position outside of Tupelo.

You will be given until November 1, 1994, to secure another position. . . .

Exhibit #10 to Deposition of Steve Barnes, Letter dated Sep. 26, 1994. The plaintiff, however, stated that the receipt of this letter took him "totally off guard." Exhibit Barnes' recollection of the events was that his agreement to leave was not as voluntary as the letter might sound:

Q: Okay, and isn't it true that you agreed that it was time for you to move on, to look to somewhere else, other than Tupelo, to work?

A: Yeah, I said that under the circumstances with the way she was handling me, I felt like, like I said earlier, that, you know, one of us — I didn't say this earlier, one of us had to go, but it wasn't going to be her

Q: She didn't tell you that, correct?

A: That's correct.

Q: She didn't tell you that you had 30 days and then you are out of there, did she?

A: Not in those specific words, but I got the message.

Q: But that was your interpretation of what she was saying, right, because we have already discussed, she told you or, excuse me, you both agreed that it would be best for you to look for another position outside of Tupelo, right?

A: That's — that's what she told me. Those are the words, but that's not the meaning, and thats —

. . .

Q: It's your testimony that that you did not agree that it was the best thing to to attempt to transfer out of the Tupelo station?

A: Yes, under the circumstances. I mean, with the phrase there, best thing, it was not — there was nothing good about it, and it wasn't by choice, it was by, you know, but what would happen to me if I didn't. The writing was on the wall as far as I was concerned, and if I didn't agree, if I fought her in any way, then she would find progressive discipline to give me to achieve her goal of getting rid of me.

Deposition of Steve Barnes, p. 185-86, 192 (emphasis added). The plaintiff sought and recieved additional time to obtain another position from defendant Faughnan. After seeking several other management positions within the company to no avail, Barnes eventually was demoted to "swing driver," a nonmanagement job.

After his demotion, the plaintiff filed an internal EEO greivance against Faughnan and Parker. FedEx appointed Faughnan to investigate the claims. Barnes informed Parker that he had filed the grievance, and on that same day Parker issued Barnes a bad performance review and another demotion. In seeking to obtain additional information in support of his internal EEO charge, Barnes began to survey FedEx employees. Subsequently, defendant Faughnan suspended Barnes for two days without pay and removed him from the Tupelo station for "disruptive conduct" and "malicious statements." Faughnan gave Barnes two options for transfer — either Memphis or Florida. Barnes chose Florida, but failed to show up for work as scheduled. FedEx terminated Barnes' employment on August 23, 1994. This action followed.

Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment carries the burden of demonstrating that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment is presented, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Brothers v. Klevenhagen, 28 F.3d 452, 455 (5th Cir. 1994). "Where the record, taken as a whole, could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Federal Sav. & Loan Ins. v. Krajl, 968 F.2d 500, 503 (5th Cir. 1992). The facts are reviewed drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing the motion. Matagorda County v. Russel Law, 19 F.3d 215, 217 (5th Cir. 1994).

Race Discrimination3
Individual Defendants

Only "employers" are liable for race discrimination under the terms of Title VII. Garcia v. Elf Atochem North America, 28 F.3d 446, 451 n.2 (5th Cir.1994); Grant v. Lone Star Co., 21 F.3d 649, 652-53 (5th Cir.1994). This court has recently afforded substantial discussion to the fact that fellow employees, while potentially capable of imposing Title VII liability upon the employer by their actions, cannot be held personally liable under that statute. Dandrige v. Chromcraft Corp., 914 F. Supp. 1396, 1404 (N.D. Miss. 1996) ("The Fifth Circuit law is clear — supervisors cannot be held personally liable under Title VII."). As such, the plaintiff cannot maintain actions arising under Title VII4 against defendants Faughnan and Parker for race discrimination in their individual capacities. The defendants motion for summary judgment shall be granted in this regard, and the plaintiff's Title VII claims against Faughnan and Parker individually shall be dismissed.

The Prima Facie Case

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 provides in relevant part:

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer —

(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race . . .

42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Title VII protects all employees from racial discrimination, regardless of race. McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transp. Co., 427 U.S. 273, 280, 96 S.Ct. 2574, 2578, 49 L.Ed.2d 493 (1976) ("The Act prohibits all racial discrimination in employment, without exception for any group of particular employees . . . . "). The ultimate question in an asserted case of racial discrimination under Title VII is whether the plaintiff's race was a factor in an adverse employment decision against him. Rhodes v. Guiberson Oil Tools, 39 F.3d 537, 544 (5th Cir. 1994) ("A claim under Title VII . . . cannot `succeed unless the employees' protected trait actually played a role in that process and had a determinative influence on the outcome.'").

However, given that many employment discrimination cases involve elusive factual questions, the Supreme Court has devised an evidentiary procedure that allocates the burden of production and establishes an orderly burden of proof when the plaintiff is unable to come forward with direct evidence of discrimination. In a claim of race discrimination brought under Title VII,5 the evidentiary procedure to be utilized was originally introduced in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973), and more recently reaffirmed in St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. ___, 113 S.Ct. 2742, 125 L.Ed.2d 407 (1993). Under McDonnell Douglas, the plaintiff has the initial burden of proving a...

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