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Lawrence v. Detyens Shipyards Inc.

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

September 17, 2018

Herman Lawrence, Plaintiff,
Detyens Shipyards Inc., Hitrak Staffing Inc., Defendants.


          Jacquelyn D. Austin United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment. [Doc. 28.] Plaintiff alleges race discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (“Title VII”). [Doc. 1-1 at 7-8.] Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1)(A) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g), D.S.C., all pretrial matters in employment discrimination cases are referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for consideration.

         Plaintiff filed this action in the Charleston County Court of Common Pleas. [Doc. 1-1.] Defendants removed the case to this Court on January 12, 2017. [Doc. 1.] On April 30, 2018, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. [Doc. 28.] Plaintiff filed a response in opposition on May 14, 2018 [Doc. 30], and Defendants filed a reply on May 21, 2018 [Doc. 32]. Accordingly, the motion for summary judgment is ripe for review.


         Plaintiff's Employment with Defendants

         Defendant Hitrak Staffing, Inc. (“Hitrak”), a staffing agency, hired Plaintiff to work at Defendant Detyens Shipyards, Inc. (“Detyens”) in January 2014. [Doc. 28-3 at 3 ¶¶ 9, 13.] Jim Youker (“Youker”), Human Resources Director at Detyens, recruited Plaintiff. [Doc. 28-4 at 20:20- 21:24; see Doc. 28-3 at 2 ¶ 2 (averring that Youker has been Human Resources Director since 2006).] He was hired as a temporary worker on a probationary term, which typically lasts thirty to ninety days, though Plaintiff's was to last only thirty days. [Docs. 28-4 at 26:5-14; 30-3 at 5:17-25; 30-4 at 27:19-28:4; 30-5.] Plaintiff worked as a leadman supervisor under Jack Smith (“Smith”) in the paint department. [Docs. 28-4 at 4:22-25; 30-5.]

         Although Plaintiff was told his probationary term would last thirty days, he did not become a Detyens employee until August 4, 2014. [See Doc. 28-3 at 13-14 (noting Plaintiff's rollover date as August 4, 2014).] Plaintiff first asked Smith about becoming a Detyens employee after working thirty days as a Hitrak employee. [Doc. 28-4 at 28:7-25, 29:19-25.] Plaintiff continued to complain to Smith about not becoming a Detyens employee at least weekly, but Smith always told Plaintiff he was busy and they would discuss it later. [Doc. 30-4 at 16:14-21.] Plaintiff believed Smith did not want Plaintiff to become a Detyens employee because Plaintiff is African American. [Doc. 30-4 at 28:20-30:10.] Plaintiff also complained to Larry Reynolds (“Reynolds”), Smith's boss, about not becoming a Detyens employee. [Docs. 28-4 at 29:1-6, 35:14-36:1; 30-4 at 15:16-22.] Plaintiff told Reynolds that the only difference between Plaintiff and Dale Phipps-another leadman supervisor who was hired directly by Detyens and did not go through the probationary period with Hitrak-was their skin tone. [Doc. 28-4 at 23:13-24:22, 53:1-9, 54:15-25.]

         April 23, 2015 Complaint

         On April 23, 2015, Marco Galvanez (“Galvanez”), a painter, complained to Youker about Plaintiff. [Doc. 28-3 at 16.] According to Galvanez, Plaintiff “became very angry with [Galvanez] and began yelling in [his] face, using bad language.” [Id.] Plaintiff then kicked a half-gallon of hardener, and the chemicals got all over Galvanez, forcing him to change clothes. [Id.] Galvanez also reported that Plaintiff always used bad language toward him. [Id.]

         According to Plaintiff, he kicked the bucket of hardener out of frustration because Galvanez was not doing what Plaintiff had asked him to do. [Doc. 30-4 at 9:2-10:16, 14:10-17.] When Plaintiff kicked the bucket, the lid came off, but he did not see anything on Galvanez. [Id. at 10:16-22.] An hour later, Galvanez informed Plaintiff that he needed to change clothes because, when Plaintiff kicked the bucket, the chemicals got on Galvanez. [Id. at 10:23-11:12.] Plaintiff did not believe anything had gotten on Galvanez when he kicked the bucket, but he told Galvanez to go ahead and change clothes. [Id. at 11:12-15.]

         Following the complaint, Youker met with Plaintiff and Smith. [Docs. 28-3 at 3 ¶ 15; 30-4 at 7:5-25.] Youker instructed Plaintiff to stop yelling and using profanity toward employees, to be more of a teacher and explain what he wanted subordinates to accomplish, and to behave and act like a supervisor. [Doc. 28-3 at 17.] Youker also reminded Plaintiff that he represented Detyens. [Id.]

         June 22, 2015 Complaint

         On June 22, 2015, Terry Jenkins (“Jenkins”), an employee who worked under Plaintiff, complained to Youker about Plaintiff. [Doc. 28-3 at 4 ¶ 16.] Jenkins' written statement indicates that Plaintiff “started cussing then told [Jenkins] nigger get out my dock and meet me in the parking lot at 5:30.” [Doc. 28-3 at 18.]

         After receiving the complaint, Youker interviewed two other employees-Leroy Graham (“Graham”) and Charles Wigfall (“Wigfall”)-who worked under Plaintiff. [Id. at 4 ¶ 16.] Graham reported that he heard Plaintiff yelling at Jenkins, but could not hear everything Plaintiff said. [Id. at 19.] Plaintiff told Graham “that 'Jenkins is going to make me F- him up.'” [Id.] Wigfall reported that Plaintiff yelled and cursed at him every day and that Wigfall got along with all other leadmen but would prefer not to work with Plaintiff. [Id.]

         Youker suspended Plaintiff for three days without pay. [Id. at 20.] On the Employee Conduct Form, Youker indicated that “[a]ny future violations may result in termination of employment.” [Id.] Plaintiff made the following remarks on the form:

Employee (Lawrence) has repeatedly ref[er]red subordinates to my sup. J. Smith for insubordination or failure to p[er]form assigned duties. On this and the other occasion (Lawrence) called J. Smith to inform him of Jenkins and Leroy Graham's inactivity. . . . to no avail. It is very upsetting to me that the root cause of these confrontations is never addressed. Marco was told “not to mix any paint” [illegible] Jenkins was hiding underneath the boat w/Leroy on the day prior to undocking. I called to report this to J. Smith. I aske[d] him to leave the [illegible]. The fact that he was idle and doing nothing has never been addressed. Nor was Marco['s] refusal to obey a specific instruction. I had to be judged by subordinates and would rather be judged by my contemp[o]raries.

[Id.] Plaintiff testified that there was “some verbal confrontation” and that he told Jenkins, “if you want me to, I'll meet you anywhere you want to, ” but denies using the “F-word” or the “N-word” in the context of his confrontation with Jenkins. [Doc. 28-4 at 6:5-6, 7:1-17.]

         October 22, 2015 Complaint

         On October 22, 2015, Plaintiff had an altercation with another employee, Joe Samaniego (“Samaniego”). [Doc. 28-3 at 4 ¶ 17.] After the altercation, Youker interviewed Samaniego, Plaintiff, and three witnesses. [Id.] Samaniego reported that he was with another employee, Richard Steel (“Steel”), to load three kits of paint on a shop truck. [Doc. 32-10 at 6.] As Steel was waiting, Plaintiff began talking to him. [Id.] Samaniego asked Steel to back up the truck so Samaniego could easily load the paint onto the back of the truck, and Plaintiff asked why Samaniego's “fat lazy ass couldn't walk the paint” another fifteen feet. [Id.] Samaniego responded by asking “why don't you ladies gossip later after I get this paint to the job.” [Id.] At that point, Plaintiff walked over and got in Samaniego's face, pointing his finger and saying Samaniego “better never call him a fucking bitch again.” [Id.] Samaniego then put his finger in front of Plaintiff's face, stating he had not called Plaintiff a bitch but instead said “you ladies.” [Id.] Plaintiff responded that calling him a lady was calling him a fucking bitch; leaned forward, cussing and swearing at Samaniego; touched the tip of his nose on Samaniego's finger; and pushed Samiego back at the wall “open handed on [Samaniego's] chest.” [Id.] Samaniego raised his hands to protect himself, and Plaintiff hit him in the right side of the face and knocked him backwards almost to the floor. [Id. at 7.]

         Steel stated that as he was backing his truck up for Samaniego to load the paint, he noticed an altercation between Samaniego and Plaintiff in the truck's rear view mirror. [Doc. 28-3 at 21.] Steel saw Plaintiff shove Samaniego in the chest and Samaniego reciprocate by pushing Plaintiff. [Id.]

         Jimmy Carter (“Carter”), another witness, was exiting a building when he heard an argument between Plaintiff and Samaniego. [Id. at 23.] Carter heard both men use profanity, including Plaintiff stating, “I'll whip your M.F. ass.” [Id.] As the verbal exchange escalated, Plaintiff approached Samaniego and put his finger in front of Samaniego's face. [Id.] Samaniego slapped Plaintiff's finger away, then Plaintiff shoved Samaniego against the wall. [Id.]

         Tony Shackelford (“Shackelford”), a carpenter leadman, was walking over to talk to Steel when Plaintiff started “bashing” Samaniego about being lazy for wanting Steel to back up the truck. [Id. at 24.] Plaintiff got very angry and called Samaniego a bitch. [Id.] Shackelford walked away but turned around as he got down the pier to see Samaniego point at Plaintiff and Plaintiff smack Samaniego's ...

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