Wright v. Murray Guard, Inc.

Decision Date26 July 2006
Docket NumberNo. 05-5301.,05-5301.
Citation455 F.3d 702
PartiesCornelius WRIGHT, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MURRAY GUARD, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Gerald S. Green, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellant. Angie C. Davis, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Gerald S. Green, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellant. Angie C. Davis, Robert M. Williams, Jr., Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellee.

Before: MOORE and McKEAGUE, Circuit Judges; POLSTER, District Judge.*

MOORE, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which McKEAGUE, J. and POLSTER, D. J., joined, with MOORE, J. (pp. 716-21), also delivering a separate concurring opinion.

OPINION

KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge.

This case involves the appeal of the district court's dismissal pursuant to a motion for summary judgment of claims of race and sex discrimination on single- and mixed-motive theories brought by Cornelius Wright ("Wright"), Plaintiff-Appellant, against his employer, Murray Guard, Inc. ("Murray Guard"), Defendant-Appellee, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the Tennessee Human Rights Act. In addition, Wright claims that the district court erred in granting Murray Guard's request for leave to file a reply brief on its motion for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, we AFFIRM the district court's judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Wright began his work for Murray Guard as a lieutenant security guard at the Nike facility in Memphis, Tennessee on December 2, 2002. Wright received a company sexual-harassment policy when he started working for Murray Guard. Murray Guard's policies, of which Wright was aware, prohibit harassment on the basis of race and sex and "sleeping with employees at Murray Guard." Joint Appendix ("J.A.") at 188 (Wright Dep. at 179).

On June 11, 2003, someone allowed an unauthorized person to enter the Nike facility. Three people were working at the time, including Annette Bradley, an African-American female guard whom Wright supervised. Alan Muntz, Wright's regional manager at Murray Guard, requested that Wright investigate to determine who permitted the individual to enter the facility. Wright reported that Bradley was responsible for this breach of security. Bradley denied this, but Muntz proceeded to transfer her and told her not to have contact with anyone at Nike. On June 16, 2003, Murray Guard offered Wright a promotion to the position of captain, which Wright declined because he did not intend to stay at Murray Guard.

The Murray Guard corporate office received an anonymous letter on June 27, 2003, accusing Wright of sexually harassing and having sex with several women guards who worked at the Nike facility, including at least one Murray Guard employee. On July 3, 2003, Murray Guard told Wright about the letter. Dan Underwood, Murray Guard Vice President of Human Resources, investigated these allegations but could not confirm them. In July 2003, Wright demonstrated a number of performance problems, including failing to follow an order to staff a post with a second security officer and failing to sound the take-cover alarm according to Nike's protocol. Nike filed a complaint about the latter incident.

Sometime in July 2003, Wright accused Bradley of spreading rumors about him. Muntz investigated and concluded that these allegations were true. Bradley's behavior constituted a violation of Muntz's order barring her from contacting anyone at Nike. Muntz originally intended to terminate Bradley on this ground. Muntz met with Bradley to discuss these events. Bradley told him that she was not responsible for the security breach and that Wright had harassed her and other women employees, including Jennifer Bennett, a white female guard whom Wright also supervised. Bradley's allegations led Muntz to doubt Wright's conclusion that Bradley was responsible for the security breach and Muntz's decision to transfer Bradley. On this basis, Muntz changed his mind regarding terminating Bradley and instead decided to retain her and issue her a warning. Bradley then submitted incident reports detailing her allegations of sexual harassment against Wright, including incidents when Bradley had seen Wright with other female employees in situations suggesting that he had been engaging in sexual acts with them.

Based on this information, Muntz conducted a second investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against Wright, and on July 22, 2003, Muntz spoke with Bennett, who confirmed that Wright had sexually harassed her. The next day, John Reeves, a Human Resources Specialist from Murray Guard corporate headquarters, conducted an interview of Bennett. Bennett detailed Wright's harassment of her, including pressuring her to perform oral sex on him, and explained that she feared she would lose her job if she refused to have sex with him. Bennett also named five other women employees whom Wright had sexually harassed.

On or about July 23, 2003, Wright had a meeting with Muntz and Tom Beach, Vice President of the Southern Division of Murray Guard. During this meeting, Muntz and Beach told Wright that Nike was dissatisfied with his performance and that he had been investigated for sexual harassment a second time. They then terminated Wright, explaining that this decision was based on (1) the sexual harassment allegations made against him, (2) his job performance issues, and (3) his failure to follow procedures.

Wright filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") claiming discrimination by Murray Guard on the basis of race and sex. On August 5, 2003, the EEOC issued Wright a right-to-sue letter. Wright filed a complaint on these grounds with the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on October 22, 2003. The district court granted Murray Guard's motion for summary judgment on each of Wright's claims, and Wright timely filed this appeal.

II. TITLE VII CLAIMS
A. Standard of Review

We review de novo a district court's order granting summary judgment. DiCarlo v. Potter, 358 F.3d 408, 414 (6th Cir.2004). We will affirm a grant of summary judgment "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). Summary judgment is inappropriate when the evidence raises a genuine issue about a material fact, "that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating that there are no genuine issues of material fact, which "may be discharged by `showing' — that is, pointing out to the district court — that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). To defeat summary judgment, the nonmoving party must then put forth "significant[ ] probative" evidence in support of its position. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505. In reviewing the district court's decision to grant summary judgment, we must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).

B. Single-Motive Claims

Title VII single-motive claims proceeding on circumstantial evidence are analyzed under the burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973), and later modified by Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-53, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981). This framework first requires that the plaintiff establish a prima facie case. DiCarlo, 358 F.3d at 414. Once a prima facie case has been shown, the plaintiff is entitled to a presumption that the defendant discriminated against him or her in violation of Title VII. Id. at 414 (citing Burdine, 450 U.S. at 254, 101 S.Ct. 1089). The defendant then bears the burden of production to put forth a "legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason" for the complained of adverse treatment. Id. (citing Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253, 101 S.Ct. 1089). "The explanation provided must be legally sufficient to justify a judgment for the defendant." Burdine, 450 U.S. at 255, 101 S.Ct. 1089. If the defendant meets this burden, the presumption of discrimination created by the prima facie case falls away, id. at 255, 101 S.Ct. 1089 & n. 10, and the plaintiff then needs to show that the defendant's "`legitimate nondiscriminatory reason'" was a "`pretext for discrimination.'" DiCarlo, 358 F.3d at 414-15 (quoting Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253, 101 S.Ct. 1089). Throughout this burden-shifting approach, the plaintiff continues to bear the ultimate burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, the intent to discriminate. St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 511, 113 S.Ct. 2742, 125 L.Ed.2d 207 (1993).

1. Race-Discrimination Claim
a. Prima Facie Case

To demonstrate a prima facie case, the plaintiff must show that "(1) he or she was a member of a protected class; (2) he or she suffered an adverse employment action; (3) he or she was qualified for the position; and (4) he or she was replaced by someone outside the protected class or was treated differently than similarly-situated, non-protected employees." DiCarlo, 358 F.3d at 415. It is undisputed that Wright meets the first three elements of the prima facie case: he is African-American; he was terminated; and he was qualified for the position h...

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