Daniels v. Tex. Dep't of Transp., CIVIL ACTION NO. 4:15-CV-00702-CAN

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 4:15-CV-00702-CAN
Decision Date10 December 2016




December 10, 2016


Pending before the Court are Defendants Texas Department of Transportation's ("TxDOT") and Executive Director James M. Bass's, in his official capacity, ("Bass") (collectively "Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion for Summary Judgment") [Dkt. 30] and Defendants' Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Affidavit as a "Sham Affidavit" ("Motion to Strike") [Dkt. 45]. After reviewing the Motion for Summary Judgment, the Motion to Strike, and all other relevant filings, the Court finds that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. 30] should be GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART and that Defendants' Motion to Strike [Dkt. 45] should be DENIED.


Plaintiff filed this suit on October 13, 2015, alleging TxDOT—itself and by and through Bass—had engaged in racial and disability discrimination and retaliation through its "disciplinary actions, harassment, work assignments, and work crew segregation" [Dkts. 1 at 2; 20-1 at 3]. Plaintiff claims that his status as an African American man and/or as a physically disabled person led TxDOT to terminate him from his position as a "Maintenance Tech" in

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Sherman, Texas, on July 31, 2014 [Dkt. 20-1 at 3]. Plaintiff also describes "several disciplinary actions that had been issued to [him] over a four-year period" prior to his termination and used as a basis for his termination as "either too old to have any relevance [to the termination], or false or contrived[] . . . [in] an effort to paper [Plaintiff's] file to make [him] look as bad as possible[.]" Id. at 5. Plaintiff advances three distinct theories of liability (under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act ("Section 504")) premised on his alleged physical disability and/or his status as an African American TxDOT employee.1

TxDOT hired Plaintiff in early September, 1996 [Dkt. 30-1 at 35]. During the time period relevant to this case, Plaintiff worked as an at-will "General Transportation Tech III"—a "Maintenance Worker . . . in a non-supervisory position"—in TxDOT's "Grayson County Maintenance Office, located in the Sherman Area Maintenance Office in Sherman[, Texas]." Id. at 2-3. From February 2, 2012 until Plaintiff's termination on July 31, 2014, Plaintiff's supervisor was John Grissom ("Grissom"), the Grayson County Maintenance Supervisor. Id. at 3. Plaintiff also worked with Assistant Maintenance Supervisor Clint Traylor ("Traylor") and Crew Leader Barry Nance ("Nance") during the relevant time period [Dkts. 20-1 at 9-10; 30-1 at 3]. Since May 11, 2013, Paul Montgomery ("Montgomery") has held the District Engineer position for the Paris District (which encompasses Grayson County), and, by virtue of his position, "[was] responsible for the hiring and job terminations within the [Paris] District" during that time [Dkt. 30-2 at 2-3]. Catherine Hostetler ("Hostetler") worked as a Human Resources

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Specialist for the Paris District during the relevant time period and conducted the investigation into Plaintiff's conduct and disciplinary history on which Montgomery relied in deciding to terminate Plaintiff [Dkts. 30-1 at 2-3; 30-2 at 2-3].

Doctors diagnosed Plaintiff in 2012 "with blocked and partially blocked arteries" after Plaintiff began to "notice that he would quickly tire, be unable to exert himself physically to bend, lift, and climb, . . . would have sudden dizziness, and . . . would need to sit and rest . . . until his dizziness would stop and his strength would return" [Dkt. 20-1 at 4, 8; see also Dkts. 31-2 at 7; 50 at 2 (Defendants admit Plaintiff was diagnosed with blocked and partially blocked arteries)]. Following his diagnosis, Plaintiff "received surgical treatment and medication to address his medical condition" [Dkt. 20-1 at 5]. Also in late 2013 into early 2014, he began to request accommodations for his condition at work, namely "time away . . . for medical appointments" and "periodic breaks for a few minutes to rest/recuperate during the workday." Id. at 5. Plaintiff's condition admittedly began to require "more frequent doctor visits . . . toward the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014." Id.

Plaintiff claims that, in or around this time and in response to these heightened demands, Grissom would harass Plaintiff "about his need for time off" and "about his need to rest" while at work. Id. Plaintiff also attributes Grissom's alleged harassment to racial discrimination: he asserts that, during his employ at TxDOT, supervisors and coworkers consistently subjected him (and other racial minorities) to racial slurs and name-calling [Dkt. 20-1 at 11-12].2 Plaintiff points to "disciplinary actions" and TxDOT's "negative comments against [him] in May, June,

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and July of 2014 based upon false or contrived allegations and assertions" as further evidence of Defendants' alleged disability and race discrimination. Id. at 9.3

Plaintiff alleges this discrimination and harassment culminated in a disagreement between Plaintiff, Grissom, and Traylor on July 23, 2014 (the "July 23, 2014 Incident"). Id. at 8-9. Plaintiff claims he notified "TxDOT management" on or before July 23, 2014 of a doctor's appointment he had scheduled to attend after work that day. See id. at 8.4 Grissom and Traylor each testified to the contrary that Plaintiff had informed neither of them about needing to leave work at a certain time [Dkts. 30-1 at 95; 30-4 at 14; 30-6 at 9], and Nance testified that he could not recall whether Plaintiff had informed anyone or not [Dkt. 30-8 at 49]. In any event, as the work day came to a close, Grissom (through Nance) notified Plaintiff's work crew that they would all need to remain in order to complete the job on which they were then working. Id. at 9. Plaintiff asserts he resisted over the radio, telling Grissom and Traylor that the crew did not need to stay later (and that he would not stay later). Plaintiff claims he spoke with Grissom and Traylor in person as well. Id. Grissom and Traylor each testified Plaintiff was disruptive, insubordinate, and rude, both over the radio, and in person [Dkts. 30-4 at 4-5, 12-13; 30-6 at 5-7].

Grissom reported the July 23, 2014 Incident to Hostetler on July 24, 2014 [Dkt. 30-1 at 2]. Hostetler then "conducted an independent investigation in which [Hostetler] collected . . . witness statements from Mr. Grissom and Mr. Traylor[,] . . . reviewed [Plaintiff's] disciplinary file[,] . . . [and] determined . . . that [Plaintiff] was continuing to act inappropriately and

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unprofessionally at his job." Id. at 3. Hostetler did not collect a statement from Nance. Relying on Hostetler's investigation and report, Montgomery "made the decision to terminate the employment of Plaintiff . . . on July 23, 2014" based upon his review of Plaintiff's alleged misconduct and Plaintiff's "record of prior disciplinary action" relating to "misconduct on the job." [Dkt. 30-2 at 3]. Specifically, Montgomery cited the July 23, 2014 Incident alongside four incidents from Plaintiff's disciplinary file, which are excerpted in relevant part below, in support of his decision to terminate Plaintiff's employment:

Case Number
Letter Date
[Plaintiff] received a written reprimand for behavior that negatively affects the
work productivity and shows lack of respect for others.
[Plaintiff] received 12 months [sic] probation for inappropriate behavior and
unprofessional conduct.
6/2014 Mid-cycle—rated "N" on "Team Work" and "Follows instructions" due to
poor attitude.
5/2014—Warning with regards to not working with team.

[Dkt. 30-2 at 7-8; see also Dkt. 30-1 at 55-56]. Hostetler's report as reflected in the record did not include positive reviews received by Plaintiff in 2012 and 2013. Montgomery determined that these incidents when considered together made "clear that [Plaintiff] had a history of acting inappropriately and unprofessionally at his job" [Dkt. 30-2 at 4]. Hostetler averred that such determination "complied with TxDOT's progressive disciplinary policy" whereby TxDOT generally employs "'a four step process that uses increasingly more severe actions to coach employees who are not meeting Department expectations'" [Dkt. 30-1 at 4 (quoting Dkt. 30-1 at 52 (hereinafter "2014 Policy"))]. Hostetler cited both the 2014 Policy and TxDOT's 2013 Human Resources Manual (hereinafter "2013 Policy") to support the proposition that

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"disciplinary actions do not expire and repeated offenses of a similar nature will progress an employee further down the disciplinary path." Id. at 4.5 Following his termination and within 300 days of the July 23, 2014 Incident, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and, on or after July 22, 2015, received his "right to sue" letter for his Title VII and ADA claims. As noted, Plaintiff commenced this suit on October 13, 2015.

On August 12, 2016, Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment, seeking judgment as a matter of law on each of Plaintiff's Title VII, ADA, and Section 504 claims [Dkt. 30]. Defendants argue therein that Plaintiff fails to establish (1) a prima facie race discrimination or retaliation case (under Title VII), (2) a prima facie disability discrimination case (under the ADA or Section 504), or (3) that Defendants' proffered reasons for terminating Plaintiff were pretext for discrimination (under Title VII, the ADA, or Section 504). Id. Plaintiff filed his Response and Brief in Opposition to Defendant's [sic] Motion for Summary Judgment ("Response") on August 27, 2016, arguing the Motion for Summary Judgment should be denied because Plaintiff raised a...

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