Gray v. Koch Foods, Inc.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
Citation580 F.Supp.3d 1087
Docket NumberCase No. 2:17-cv-595-RAH
Parties Ka'Toria GRAY, Plaintiff, v. KOCH FOODS, INC., et al., Defendants.
Decision Date14 January 2022

580 F.Supp.3d 1087

Ka'Toria GRAY, Plaintiff,
KOCH FOODS, INC., et al., Defendants.

Case No. 2:17-cv-595-RAH

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division.

Signed January 14, 2022

580 F.Supp.3d 1101

Alicia Kay Haynes, Charles Edward Guerrier, Haynes & Haynes, PC, Cynthia Forman Wilkinson, Wilkinson Law Firm PC, Heather Newsom Leonard, Heather Leonard, PC, Birmingham, AL, for Plaintiff.

Rachel V. Barlotta, Sharonda Childs Fancher, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C., Birmingham, AL, for Defendants Koch Foods, Inc., Koch Foods of Alabama, LLC.

Marion Francis Walker, Fisher Phillips LLP, Birmingham, AL, for Defendants David Birchfield, Melissa McDickinson.



This employment discrimination lawsuit was filed by Ka'Toria Gray against her former employer, Koch Foods of Alabama, LLC (Ala-Koch), Ala-Koch's parent company, Koch Foods, Inc. (Koch Foods), and former Ala-Koch employees, Melissa McDickinson and David Birchfield, both of whom were human resource (HR) managers for Ala-Koch. This matter comes before the Court on the following motions: Ala-Koch's Motion for Summary Judgment and Renewed Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 251), Koch Foods's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 248), McDickinson's and Birchfield's Motions for Summary Judgment (Docs. 249, 250), and Gray's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 253). These motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for decision. For the following reasons, the pending motions are due to be granted in part and denied in part.


When it comes to the facts of this case, the parties are not in the same book, let alone on the same page. Nearly every fact, whether material or immaterial, is disputed to the point where it seems that if one party says the sky is blue the other mechanically says it is red. To illustrate this duality, one need look no further than the evening on which much of Gray's case is based—November 14, 2015. That night, Gray alleges she was sexually assaulted by McDickinson and Birchfield at McDickinson's house. Birchfield, in response, claims that not only was he never at the house that night, he was not even in the same city. Of course, both parties have witnesses saying Birchfield either was or was not present that night. Someone is incorrect. But it is not the Court's role at this procedural stage to determine who that is.

The following facts are either undisputed or written in the light most favorable to the nonmovant.1

580 F.Supp.3d 1102

A. Koch Foods, Ala-Koch, and HR

Ala-Koch is a limited liability company that owns and operates several chicken processing facilities in Alabama, including a de-bone facility in Montgomery, Alabama. Koch Foods is the sole member of Ala-Koch and several other chicken processing entities. (Doc. 276 at 2.)

At all relevant times, Koch Foods maintained an anti-harassment and nonretaliation policy that its subsidiaries, such as Ala-Koch, were required to follow. (Doc. 247-1 at 168–174.) That policy outlined the procedure for reporting harassment. Employees were to report, "either orally or in writing," any harassment to their respective shift manager, plant manager, complex manager, or complex HR manager, which then would trigger an investigation. But if an employee felt uncomfortable contacting any of the listed persons, or believed an investigation following a complaint was inadequate, the employee could instead contact the corporate director of human resources. The policy also contained an anti-retaliation provision that listed the "HR Manager, Complex HR Manager or Complex Manager" as individuals to whom to report retaliation. (Doc. 242-1 at 178–79.)

Additionally, Ala-Koch provided annual harassment and discrimination training to its management. In this training, Ala-Koch instructed its managers that "[s]hould an employee" learn about harassment or discrimination, "the employee must report it immediately." (Doc. 242-1 at 252.)

B. Gray is Hired at Ala-Koch

Gray began working at Ala-Koch in 2011 as a nurse in the safety department at the Montgomery de-bone facility. Gray's day-to-day work primarily consisted of providing medical treatment to Ala-Koch employees. In the early days of her employment, Gray did not report to any one particular supervisor, but she was eventually placed under the supervision of Frank Sheley, the de-bone facility complex safety manager.

Despite being new to the company, Gray maintains that she never received a description of her job duties, never underwent orientation, never received copies of the company's policies, including the anti-harassment policy, and never had the policies reviewed with or explained to her. (Doc. 276 at 22.) The record reveals, however, that Gray signed the anti-harassment policy itself. (Doc 247-1 at 168–170.)

C. Prior Complaints About McDickinson and Birchfield

This case arises from incidents of alleged harassment committed by McDickinson and Birchfield against Gray that began in mid-November 2015, but concerns about McDickinson and Birchfield's behavior began months earlier.

In 2014, Birchfield, Ala-Koch's complex HR manager, hired McDickinson as an HR supervisor and later promoted her to HR manager of the Montgomery de-bone plant, one of three departments Birchfield supervised. Birchfield reported to Bobby Elrod, a Koch Foods employee and the corporate director of human resources for all Koch Foods entities,2 while McDickinson reported to and was supervised by Birchfield. (Doc. 272-11 at 16–17.)

In early 2015, rumors spread throughout the Montgomery facility that McDickinson was having sex with numerous Ala-Koch employees in exchange for time off. The rumors garnered enough traction that on

580 F.Supp.3d 1103

August 5, 2015, a union steward reported the rumors to Birchfield. (Doc. 242-1 at 312.) Several days later, on August 10, 2015, Randy Davenport, the plant manager, notified Birchfield that he had heard that McDickinson had sexually harassed Harvey Fuller, another Ala-Koch employee, and that McDickinson had ongoing sexual relationships with several other workers. (Id. at 314–18.) Davenport was "very concerned" and felt that there should be "further investigations." (Id. at 318.)

Acting on that concern, Davenport notified Wally Lewis, Koch Foods's regional vice president, of the rumors about McDickinson. (Doc. 242-8 at 271.) Lewis then instructed Birchfield to investigate. Birchfield claims to have performed a thorough investigation that included interviews with everyone implicated and that they all denied any improper sexual activity. (Doc. 283 at 35.)

At this point, Birchfield had not been implicated in any sexual activity with McDickinson or any other employee at Ala-Koch. But that changed over the next few weeks. On October 9, 2015, Harvey Fuller filed an EEOC charge alleging that McDickinson had sexually harassed him. (Doc. 242-1 at 3.) The record is unclear as to when Ala-Koch first learned of Fuller's EEOC charge.

D. The Incident in McDickinson's Garage

Gray entered the picture in mid-November 2015. On the night of Saturday, November 14, 2015, McDickinson invited Gray to her house. According to Gray, during a phone call, McDickinson told Gray that she and Birchfield wanted to talk with her about "some stuff from work" and "that there was some other people there from work." (Doc. 242-4 at 30.) When Gray asked McDickinson about the work "stuff," McDickinson replied that she would tell Gray when she arrived. (Id. ) Believing that she would be attending a work-related matter, that other co-workers would be present, and that McDickinson could fire her, Gray decided to attend. (Id. at 31–33.)

When Gray arrived at McDickinson's house, she was greeted by Steven Jackson, another Ala-Koch employee, who told Gray to enter through the garage. (Id. at 34.) When Gray entered the garage, she was surprised to find that only McDickinson and Birchfield were present.3 (Id. at 35–36.) McDickinson and Birchfield offered Gray alcohol but she declined. (Id. at 36.)

Small talk ensued, and at some point, Birchfield took a picture of Gray and McDickinson sitting next to each other.4 (Doc. 247-5 at 31.)

Conversation in the garage eventually turned to work-related topics, but not in the way that Gray expected. At one point, McDickinson told Gray that she knew Gray had applied for a promotion to a new position, that Birchfield was going to give her that position, and that she would work with Gray to "get rid of" Betty Stabler, another employee at Ala-Koch. (Doc. 242-4 at 40.)

McDickinson and Birchfield also repeatedly asked Gray if they could trust her, and McDickinson even asked Gray to help her with some of McDickinson's school-related assignments, a request that Gray considered to be cheating. (Id. at 40–44.)

580 F.Supp.3d 1104

After the conversation regarding McDickinson's school work, the atmosphere in the garage shifted and became overtly sexual. According to Gray, while...

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    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
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    ...tort of outrage, some sort of physical touching occurred in conjunction with sexually charged language. See Gray v. Koch Foods, Inc., 580 F.Supp.3d 1087, 1129-30 (M.D. Ala. 2022) (allegations of sexual assault, “followed by an indecent exposure and exhibitionist sex act” sufficient for outr......
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