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Williams v. Parker-Hannifin Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

April 10, 2017


          Barrett, J.


          Stephanie K. Bowman United States Magistrate Judge

         On March 24, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis to file a pro se complaint against a former employer, identified as Parker-Hannifin Corporation. Plaintiff's motion in this case was granted, as were similar motions in two more cases.[1] Defendant Parker-Hannifin has now moved for summary judgment. (Doc. 19). Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to Defendant's motion, to which Defendant filed a reply.[2] (Docs. 20, 22). Pursuant to local practice, this matter has been referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for a report and recommendation on the pending motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth herein, Defendant's motion should be GRANTED and this case should be dismissed.

         I. Background

         The entirety of Plaintiff's complaint alleges, in conclusory fashion: “I was discriminated against because of my race and age which is a violation of the Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” (Doc. 3). Despite the lack of factual support in the body of his complaint, this Court permitted Plaintiff's discrimination claims to go forward based upon allegations in an exhibit to Plaintiff's complaint. (Doc. 3-1). In the attached copy of his EEOC charge, [3] Plaintiff alleges that he was discriminated against based on both his race (African-American) and his age (42 years old). More specifically, Plaintiff alleges that on October 1, 2015 he was told that he “must change the way I calculated my mileage, resulting in less compensation, ” and that following his discharge by HR Manager Tom Reeves, he received a bonus check that was “for significantly less than what my offer letter stated.” (Id. at 1).

         Defendant fired Plaintiff based upon its articulated belief that Plaintiff had made false statements on his employment application regarding his criminal history. In his EEOC charge, Plaintiff asserts that he passed the initial background check, and “told Reeves that the record I was accused of having belonged to a different Charles Williams.” (Id.) Plaintiff concludes by alleging that “Caucasian employees were not forced to change the way they calculated mileage or subject to additional background checks.” (Id.)

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         In a motion for summary judgment, a court “must view the facts and any inferences that can be drawn from those facts ... in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Keweenaw Bay Indian Comm. v. Rising, 477 F.3d 881, 886 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Summary judgment is only appropriate ‘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.'” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c))(internal quotation marks omitted). “Weighing of the evidence or making credibility determinations are prohibited at summary judgment-rather, all facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Id.

         Drawing reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party does not mean that a Court must ignore contrary evidence, or the lack of evidence. When a moving party shows that the non-moving party lacks evidence on an essential element of his claim, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to set forth “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trail.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The non-moving party may not rely solely on his subjective beliefs or opinions. Arendale v. City of Memphis, 519 F.3d 587, 601 (6th Cir. 2008). He must do more than show that some hypothetical doubt exists as to the facts. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Copeland v. Machulis, 57 F.3d 476, 479 (6th Cir. 1995).

         As Defendant is quick to point out, Plaintiff has submitted no evidence to support his claims other than a single exhibit that Defendant challenges as not authenticated. Plaintiff's response in opposition to Defendant's motion consists almost entirely of unsworn, speculative, and conclusory statements. Applying the relevant legal standards, it is clear that Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         III. Findings of Fact

         The following facts are uncontested, and are supported by unrebutted evidence produced during discovery and attached by Defendant to its motion. Pursuant to the requisite standard, all reasonable inferences have been drawn in favor of the Plaintiff.

         On July 29, 2015, following submission of an employment application and interview by Division Human Resources Manager Tom Reeves, and Division Controller Gordon Johns, Defendant extended an offer of employment to Plaintiff, conditioned on successful completion of “our company's drug screen and background check.” (Doc. 19-3 at 7). Reeves and Johns are both Caucasian, and were 57 and 53 years of age, respectively, when they extended an offer to Plaintiff. (Doc. 19-1, Reeves Aff. at ¶5; Doc. 19-3, Johns Aff. at ¶ 5). The offer of employment clearly stated that Plaintiff's employment would be “‘at will' and … subject to all company policies and procedures.” (Doc. 19-3 at 7). Plaintiff accepted the Defendant's offer, and an initial background check revealed no criminal convictions. (Doc. 19-1, Reeves Aff. at ¶ 9, Exh. 1).

         The employment application completed by Plaintiff asked: “Have you ever been convicted of (or pled guilty or no contest to) a violation of law other than a minor traffic violation? Note: A yes answer will not necessarily disqualify you from employment.” (Doc. 18, Williams Deposition at 47:10-24, Exh. 10 at 1). Williams checked the box answering “no.” Plaintiff also initialed a statement on the application that affirmed: “I understand any omission or misrepresentation I make may result in refusal or separation from employment.” (Id., at 47:25-48:1 and Exh. 10 at 4).

         Plaintiff began his employment as Plant Accountant, based out of Defendant's Eaton facility, on August 17, 2015. Though based out of Eaton, Plaintiff's duties required him to support and periodically travel to the Brookville and Lewisburg, Ohio facilities. Additionally, Plaintiff was required to occasionally travel to Columbus, Ohio, where his direct supervisor was based.

         On his first day of employment, Plaintiff signed the Defendant's “Probationary Employee Policy, ” which states that employment “is effective only after the probationary employment period of 120 calendar days is satisfactorily completed, ” and that “an employee may either resign or be discharged during the probationary period with neither the employee nor the company required to give other prior notification nor show detailed cause.” (Doc. 19-6 at 2). The same form acknowledged Plaintiff's agreement “to abide by the policies and procedures of Parker Hannifin as stated and published in the Employee Handbook.” (Id.)

         Defendant's written Global Travel Policy on Travel and Related Business Expenses states that employees are paid a federal per diem mileage rate for travel between an employee's home base (here, the Eaton facility) and other facilities. (Doc. 18 at 87:3-89:12; Doc. 19-1 at ¶ 12, Doc. 19-3 at ¶ 11, Doc. 19-4, Policy at 2). When Plaintiff traveled from his residence to a non-Eaton facility, Defendant reimbursed him for the total distance traveled, minus the normal “commuting” distance between Plaintiff's residence and the Eaton facility. (Doc. 19-4, Policy at 5). Plaintiff does not dispute the application of the policy to his travel to/from the Easton, Brookville, or Lewisburg facilities, but does question his reimbursement for travel to Columbus, Ohio.

         Cy French was the Plant Manager at Defendant's Eaton, Ohio facility, the primary office where Plaintiff was assigned. French was not Plaintiff's supervisor, but states in an affidavit that he became “concerned that Plaintiff was pressed financially, ” which was “of particular concern…given Plaintiff was a member of the accounting department, ” after Plaintiff “repeatedly questioned his mileage reimbursements and safety awards”[4] (Doc. 19-5, French Aff. at ¶ 6). Approximately 7 weeks after Plaintiff began his employment, French conducted an internet search using Plaintiff's name.

         Plaintiff disputes French's stated motivation for the internet search, asserting that he did not complain to French about his mileage and safety awards. French's affidavit is silent as to the source of his knowledge of Plaintiff's complaints. Plaintiff implies that French's knowledge was derived from an alleged romantic relationship between French and an Eaton facility HR representative identified as Melissa Reimers. Plaintiff testified that his request for multiple safety awards was denied by Reimers, who informed Plaintiff that he was eligible for only one safety award from the Eaton facility.

         Regardless of French's motivation, the October 8, 2015 search revealed seven separate criminal case numbers in Fairfield Municipal Court records between the years 2004 and 2014 associated with the name: “Charles Davin Williams.” The records showed convictions for assault (2004), resisting arrest (2004), and theft by deception (2014). (Doc. 19-5 at ¶ 7). French contacted Reimers to confirm Plaintiff's date of birth, which matched the date listed on the Fairfield Municipal Court criminal case records. (Doc. 19-5 at ¶ 7). French emailed an image of the court records page containing the criminal case numbers, along with a link to the court's website, to Operations Manager Jay Struder. French forwarded the same email to Plaintiff's direct supervisor (Reeves) and to Division Controller Johns in Columbus, Ohio.

         Reeves advised that Human Resources would address the issue. On October 12, Reeves met with Johns, Area Human Resources Manager Mary Cunningham, and Parker's legal counsel, to review Plaintiff's employment application. Based upon the Fairfield court records, they determined that Plaintiff had falsified his employment application. (Doc. 19-1 at ¶ 16; Doc. 19-3 at ¶ 15).

         Later that same day, Reeves met with Plaintiff in person, showed him the docket entries at issue, and asked about the convictions. By affidavit, Reeves states that Plaintiff admitted some of the convictions were his but explained that the theft by deception conviction was due to him passing a bad check after his wife failed to tell him that she closed their checking account. (Doc. 19-1 at ¶¶ 17-18). During the meeting, Reeves terminated Plaintiff for falsifying his employment application. Plaintiff's EEOC charge states that he received his final bonus check on October 26, 2015, two months and nine days after his first day of employment.[5]

         The following day on October 13, Reeves attests that Plaintiff recanted his prior admission, [6] claiming that the convictions belonged to a different Charles Williams. (Doc. 19-1 at ¶ 19). Reeves asked Williams to submit documentation to support that contention. In response, Plaintiff faxed a report that showed January 2009 traffic violations, but that was limited to the January 2009 time frame. (Doc. 19-1 at ¶20 and Doc. 18, at Exh. 4). Because the faxed report did not include the time frame of the criminal convictions, Reeves did not believe that it refuted evidence that Plaintiff had falsified his employment application. He asked Plaintiff to provide additional information in the form of a letter from the Clerk of Court explaining why the convictions were erroneously associated with his full name and date of birth. Plaintiff provided no additional information. (Doc. 19-1 at ¶ 20).

         In his memorandum in opposition, Plaintiff disputes that the faxed record retained by Reeves was from an irrelevant time period. Plaintiff points to a different exhibit attached to his memorandum that purports to prove that he has only traffic convictions and “no” criminal record through October 13, 2015. (Doc. 20 at 7). Importantly, Plaintiff's exhibit is not authenticated. Plaintiff's exhibit bears no resemblance to the exhibit that Reeves attests was faxed to him. For the reasons discussed below, the undersigned agrees that Plaintiff's exhibit should not be considered.

         During the course of this litigation, Defendant obtained additional information that Plaintiff had misrepresented his employment history. Plaintiff's application states that he worked for National Dairy for over seven years, from January 2007 until the date of his application (July 2015). However, his background report reflects employment with National Dairy for only two years, from December 4, 2008 until December 31, 2010. (Doc. 19-1 at ¶ 18). Although the referenced after-acquired evidence is undisputed, Defendant does not rely upon it for purposes of the pending motion for summary judgment.

         IV. Analysis and Conclusions of Law

         In order to prove his employment discrimination claims, Plaintiff must either identify direct evidence of discrimination, or he must prove an indirect case of discrimination using the burden-shifting approach set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) and Texas Dept. of Comm. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981). Here, Plaintiff does not allege any direct evidence, but instead relies upon the traditional burden-shifting analysis.

         Defendant argues, and the undersigned agrees, that Plaintiff's age and race discrimination claims fail as a matter of law because Plaintiff has failed to establish his discrimination claims through indirect evidence. In order to prove either a claim of race discrimination or of age discrimination through indirect evidence, Plaintiff must prove: (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he suffered an adverse employment action, meaning a material change in a term or condition of employment; (3) he was qualified for his job; and (4) Defendant replaced him with someone outside the protected class or treated him differently than similarly-situated individuals. See White v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 533 F.3d 381, 391 (6th Cir. 2008). Additionally, under the ADEA, Plaintiff must show that his age was the “but for” cause of his termination.

         A. Failure to Show Replacement or Different Treatment

         Plaintiff has to show either that Defendant replaced him, or that Defendant treated him differently than similarly situated individuals.

         1. Plaintiff Not Replaced

         After Plaintiff's termination, Defendant left the Plant Accountant position open and unfilled for more than a year, during which time Plaintiff's former duties were assumed by others in the accounting department. As a matter of law, a “plaintiff is not replaced when another employee is assigned to perform the plaintiff's duties in addition to other duties, or when the work is redistributed among other existing employees already performing related work.” See Vandine v. Triniity Health Sys., 2015 WL 5216715, at *5 (S.D. Ohio Sept. 8, 2015) (citing Grossjean v. First Energy Corp., 349 F.3d 332, 336 (6th Cir. 2003). Plaintiff concedes he was not replaced. However it is worth noting that more than a year later, Lisa Ralston, the individual who held the position immediately before Plaintiff, transferred back to Eaton and resumed her former duties. Ms. Ralston is more than a decade older than Plaintiff. (Doc.1 at ¶11).

         Plaintiff argues that the failure to replace him should not doom his age discrimination claims. In a bizarre argument, he maintains that Defendant has chosen to leave the position unfilled for the express purposes of defeating Plaintiff's age discrimination claim in this lawsuit. He speculates that Defendant will replace him with a younger individual at some undetermined future time. Plaintiff's subjective belief is not only implausible on its face, but is legally insufficient to prove he was “replaced.” Because Plaintiff relies exclusively on a future “replacement” (by someone other than Ms. Ralston) to support his ADEA claim, the Defendant is entitled to summary judgment.

         2. No Evidence That Defendant Treated Similarly Situated ...

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