Castleberry v. STI Group, 071417 FED3, 16-3131

Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Attorney:Daniel A. Horowitz, Esquire, Richard S. Swartz (Argued), Swartz Swidler, Counsel for Appellant. Terri I. Patak, Esquire (Argued), Dickie McCamey & Chilcote, Daniel T. Brier, Esquire, Donna A. Walsh, Esquire (Argued), Myers Brier & Kelly, Counsel for Appellees.
Judge Panel:Before: AMBRO, VANASKIE, and RESTREPO, Circuit Judges
Opinion Judge:AMBRO, Circuit Judge
Party Name:ATRON CASTLEBERRY; JOHN BROWN, Appellants v. STI GROUP; CHESAPEAKE ENERGY CORPORATION
Case Date:July 14, 2017
Docket Nº:16-3131
 
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ATRON CASTLEBERRY; JOHN BROWN, Appellants

v.

STI GROUP; CHESAPEAKE ENERGY CORPORATION

No. 16-3131

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

July 14, 2017

          Argued March 28, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil Action No. 4-15-cv-00153) District Judge: Honorable Matthew W. Brann

          Daniel A. Horowitz, Esquire, Richard S. Swartz (Argued), Swartz Swidler, Counsel for Appellant.

          Terri I. Patak, Esquire (Argued), Dickie McCamey & Chilcote, Daniel T. Brier, Esquire, Donna A. Walsh, Esquire (Argued), Myers Brier & Kelly, Counsel for Appellees.

          Before: AMBRO, VANASKIE, and RESTREPO, Circuit Judges

          OPINION OF THE COURT

          AMBRO, Circuit Judge

         Atron Castleberry and John Brown are two African-American males who were fired by Defendant STI Group, a staffing-placement agency (and thus a subcontractor) for Defendant Chesapeake Energy Corporation, an oil and natural gas company. Castleberry and Brown brought suit asserting that their termination was racially motivated, citing to various examples of discrimination such as remarks made at the workplace and unfair work treatment. The District Court dismissed their complaint. Because Plaintiffs state plausible claims of employment discrimination, we reverse and remand.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Castleberry and Brown were hired by STI Group in March 2010 as general laborers and supervised by managers from both STI Group and Chesapeake. Shortly after being assigned to a particular worksite, the only other African-American male on the crew was fired.

         Plaintiffs allege that, when they arrived at work on several occasions, someone had anonymously written "don't be black on the right of way" on the sign-in sheets. They also assert that although they have significant experience working on pipelines (and more so than their non-African-American coworkers), they were only permitted to clean around the pipelines rather than work on them. They claim that, when working on a fence-removal project, a supervisor told Castleberry and his coworkers that if they had "nigger-rigged" the fence, they would be fired. Seven coworkers confirmed that occurred. Following this last incident, Plaintiffs reported the offensive language to a superior and were fired two weeks later without explanation. They were rehired shortly thereafter, but then terminated again for "lack of work."

         Plaintiffs brought suit in District Court against both STI and Chesapeake alleging harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. As to the harassment claim, the Court determined it could not survive a motion to dismiss because the facts pled did not support a finding that the alleged harassment was "pervasive and regular, " which it deemed a requisite element to state a claim under § 1981. The Court similarly found that there were not sufficient facts alleged demonstrating intent to fire Plaintiffs because of their race or that their termination was racially motivated. Finally, regarding Plaintiffs' retaliation claim, it determined Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that an objectively reasonable person would have believed that the comment made by their supervisor was unlawful-a necessary element to plead retaliation under § 1981.

         II. JURISDICTION AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

         28 U.S.C. § 1291 gives us appellate jurisdiction. We review anew a district court's dismissal of a complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Chavarriaga v. N.J. Dep't of Corr., 806 F.3d 210, 218 (3d Cir. 2015). When conducting our review, "we must accept the allegations in the complaint as true, [but] are not compelled to accept unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Morrow v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 165 (3d Cir. 2013) (en banc) (quotation omitted). The allegations must have "facial plausibility, " meaning that "the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (citation omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiffs challenge the District Court's dismissal of their claims under § 1981, which provides All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts . . . to the full and equal benefit of all laws . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens . . . .

         In employment discrimination cases, these claims are subject to the same analysis as discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Brown v. J. Kaz, Inc., 581 F.3d 175, 181-82 (3d Cir. 2009). Accordingly, a court reviews them under the burden-shifting framework outlined in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Brown, 581 F.3d at 182. Under that framework, a plaintiff first must establish the requisite elements of his claim (called the prima facie elements); if so, the "burden then must shift to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason" for the adverse employment action, and then the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the employer's stated reason for the adverse action was an excuse, or pretext, for why the action was actually taken. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802-04. Using this approach, each claim is reviewed in turn.

         A. Harassment

         Plaintiffs' harassment claim under § 1981 alleges a hostile work environment on the basis of race. To...

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