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Haynes v. Waste Connections, Inc.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Spartanburg Division

October 13, 2017

Jimmy A. Haynes, Plaintiff,
v.
Waste Connections, Inc., and Waste Connections of South Carolina, Inc., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          HENRY M. HERLONG, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court with the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McDonald, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 of the District of South Carolina.[1] Jimmy A. Haynes (“Haynes”), proceeding pro se, alleges race discrimination and retaliation claims against his former employer, Waste Connections of South Carolina, Inc. (“Waste Connections”), and its parent entity, Waste Connections, Inc. (“WCI”), under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. 2000(e), et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Waste Connections and WCI filed a motion for summary judgment on March 15, 2017. (Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 59.) Magistrate Judge McDonald recommends granting the Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (R&R, ECF No. 109.) After review, the court adopts the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation and grants the Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Haynes, an African American male, was hired by James Fountain (“Fountain”), a white male, at Allied Waste in 2006. (Mot. Summ. J. Attach. 3 (Fountain Aff. ¶ 7), ECF No. 59-3.) Waste Connections acquired Allied Waste in 2009, and Haynes began his employment with Waste Connections on April 19, 2009. (Id. Attach. 3 (Fountain Aff. ¶ 7), ECF No. 59-3); (Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 1.) Haynes claims to be employed by both WCI and Waste Connections, while the Defendants argue that he was only an employee of Waste Connections. (R&R 2, ECF No. 109.) In support, Haynes submitted documentation, including an offer of employment by WCI, an Employee Handbook Receipt stating that Haynes' employment with WCI was at-will, and payroll forms for WCI. (Resp. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Attach. 2 (Ex. 25), ECF No. 89-2.)

         Haynes was a driver for the Defendants and was responsible for operating a large, multi-ton “front-end loader” trash truck in Duncan, South Carolina, and for picking up trash from customer locations for the Defendants. (Mot. Summ. J. Attach. 3 (Fountain Aff. ¶ 9), ECF No. 59-3.) According to Fountain, on June 22, 2015, Haynes was involved in an incident while refueling his truck. (Id. Attach. 3 (Fountain Aff. ¶ 14), ECF No. 59-3.) Fountain submits Haynes drove away from a fuel pump with the gas nozzle still in his truck and ripped away the hose. (Id. Attach. 3 (Fountain Aff. ¶ 14), ECF No. 59-3.) In addition, on August 11, 2015, Haynes was involved in a single vehicle accident in which he drove his truck off a highway and down a slope. (Id. Attach. 2 (Pl.'s Dep. 42-43), ECF No. 59-2.) Fountain and Mark Ceresa (“Ceresa”), the district manager, issued Haynes a written warning for “poor performance” as a result of these two incidents. (Id. Attach. 3 (Fountain Aff. ¶¶ 15-17; Ex. A (Employee Meeting Notice)), ECF No. 59-3.) Haynes alleges that he was not responsible for the gas hose incident and that inclement weather caused the accident. (Objs. 7-8, ECF No. 119.) Haynes refused to sign the written warning. (Mot. Summ. J. Attach. 3 (Fountain Aff. ¶¶ 16-17; Ex. A (Employee Meeting Notice)), ECF No. 59-3.)

         On August 25, 2015, the truck's camera recorded Haynes with one hand on the steering wheel and the other hand touching his cell phone. (Id. Attach. 2 (Pl.'s Dep. 53-54), ECF No. 59-2.) Haynes received a second written warning and received a one-day suspension for the cell phone incident. (Id. Attach. 7 (Employee Meeting Notice), ECF No. 59-7.) Fountain alleges the cell phone incident violated the Wireless Communication Device Usage Policy. (Id. Attach. 3 (Fountain Aff. ¶ 19), ECF No. 59-3.) Haynes argues he was checking the time at a red light and that he was told that he could use his phone when the truck was stopped. (Id. Attach. 2 (Pl.'s Dep. 56-58), ECF No. 59-2.) On September 25, 2015, Haynes testified that he discussed his annual performance review with Fountain and Fountain told him that “everything looks good” and there was “nothing to worry about.” (Resp. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Attach. 1 (Ex. 1 (Haynes Aff. ¶¶ 3E-F)), ECF No. 89-1.)

         On October 7, 2015, Haynes reported to work two hours early because he wanted to leave early to have lunch with his wife and play basketball. (Mot. Summ. J. Attach. 2 (Pl.'s Dep. 76-77), ECF No. 59-2.) Haynes' wife testified that Haynes was ill with a stomach virus on October 6-7, 2015. (Resp. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Attach. 1 (Ex. 2 (K. Haynes Aff. ¶¶ 5-8)), ECF No. 89-1.) In addition, Haynes' wife testified that the illness kept Haynes from having lunch with her and playing basketball. (Id. Attach. 1 (Ex. 2 (K. Haynes Aff. ¶¶ 9-10)), ECF No. 89-1.) When Haynes arrived at work, he was informed that his regular truck was being repaired and that a replacement truck would be ready in five minutes. (Mot. Summ. J. Attach. 2 (Pl.'s Dep. 70-71, 73), ECF No. 59-2.) Haynes responded, “I'm going home; I'm leaving.” (Id. Attach. 2 (Pl.'s Dep. 73), ECF No. 59-2.) Haynes sent a text message to Fountain stating that he was ill and would not be working that day. (Id. Attach. 3 (Ex. E (Picture Copy of Text Message)), ECF No. 59-3.) As a result of Haynes' absence, Fountain had to quickly find someone to cover Haynes' shift and approximately one-fourth of the customers on Haynes' assigned route did not receive trash service that day. (Id. Attach. 3 (Fountain Aff. ¶ 24), ECF No. 59-3.)

         The next morning, Fountain spoke with the company mechanics about the October 7 incident. (Mot. Summ. J. Attach. 3 (Fountain Aff. ¶ 27), ECF No. 59-3.) The mechanics stated that Haynes appeared frustrated that his regular truck was being repaired and said “forget this” or “f*** this” and left. (Id. Attach. 3 (Fountain Aff. ¶ 27), ECF No. 59-3.) Further, Fountain and Ceresa contacted John Morgan (“Morgan”), the human resources manager, to discuss the October 7 incident. (Id. Attach. 3 (Fountain Aff. ¶ 28), ECF No. 59-3.) According to Fountain, Fountain, Ceresa, and Morgan discussed the October 7 incident, along with Haynes' other recent incidents, and decided to terminate Haynes' employment. (Id. Attach. 3 (Fountain Aff. ¶ 29), ECF No. 59-3.) On October 8, 2015, Fountain and Ceresa met with Haynes and informed him that his employment was terminated for job abandonment. (Id. Attach. 3 (Fountain Aff. ¶ 30), ECF No. 59-3.)

         In support of Haynes' race discrimination claim, he alleges that his relationship with Fountain was sometimes “contentious.” (Compl. ¶ 17, ECF No. 1.) During his deposition, Haynes testified that Fountain denied his request for a day off when Haynes' wife had a miscarriage around 2009. (Mot. Summ. J. Attach. 2 (Pl.'s Dep. 92), ECF No. 59-2.) In addition, Haynes testified that Fountain had made racially derogatory or offensive statements when he told Haynes that he was not one of his “chosen” or “favorites” between 20, 000 and 50, 000 times. (Id. Attach. 2 (Pl.'s Dep. 10-11), ECF No. 59-2.)

         II. Report and Recommendation

         First, Magistrate Judge McDonald recommends granting the Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the Title VII and § 1981 disparate treatment claim, because Haynes failed to establish the essential elements of a prima facie case of disparate treatment that similarly situated employees outside the protected class received more favorable treatment than him or his termination from employment occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. (R&R 9-15, ECF No. 109.) Additionally, the magistrate judge recommends granting summary judgment finding that even if Haynes could show a prima facie case of disparate treatment based on race, the Defendants have set forth a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for his termination. (Id. at 15, ECF No. 109.) Second, Magistrate Judge McDonald recommends granting the Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the Title VII retaliation claim, because Haynes failed to provide sufficient evidence to establish that he engaged in a protected activity or any causal connection between the protected activity and Defendants' actions, both of which are required elements for a Title VII retaliation claim. (Id. at 19-20, ECF No. 109.)

         III. Discussion of the Law

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In deciding whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the evidence of the non-moving party is to be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in his favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the ...


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