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Stafford v. Sanford

July 3, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Mattice


Plaintiff Carla Stafford brings this action against Defendant Sanford, L.P., alleging reverse race discrimination and gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Tennessee Human Rights Act ("THRA"), Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-101 et seq. Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Court Doc. No. 23]. For the reasons explained below, such motion is GRANTED.


Summary judgment is proper where "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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts contained in the record and all inferences that can be drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Nat'l Satellite Sports, Inc. v. Eliadis Inc., 253 F.3d 900, 907 (6th Cir. 2001). The Court cannot weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of any matter in dispute. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue of material facts exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). To refute such a showing, the nonmoving party must present some significant, probative evidence indicating the necessity of a trial for resolving a material factual dispute. Id. at 322. A mere scintilla of evidence is not enough. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; McLean v. Ontario, Ltd., 224 F.3d 797, 800 (6th Cir. 2000). The Court's role is limited to determining whether the case contains sufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49; Nat'l Satellite Sports, 253 F.3d at 907. If the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the Court concludes that a fair-minded jury could not return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party based on the evidence presented, it may enter a summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52; Lansing Dairy, Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir. 1994).


A. Propriety of Affidavits Submitted by Plaintiff

In support of her opposition to Defendant's motion, Plaintiff submitted affidavits by four affiants: Alvin Parker, Deborah D. Walchshauser, Tammy Patrick, and herself. Defendant asserts that portions of the affidavits of Parker, Walchshauser, and Stafford should be ignored because they contradict prior sworn testimony given by those affiants.

It is settled law that the nonmoving party may not properly defend against a motion for summary judgment by submitting an affidavit that directly contradicts the affiant's prior deposition testimony. Aerel S.R.L. v. PCC Airfoils, L.L.C., 448 F.3d 899, 907 (6th Cir. 2006) (affidavit and prior testimony by a party); Peck v. Bridgeport Machs., Inc., 237 F.3d 614, 619 (6th Cir. 2001) (affidavit and prior testimony by a non-party). To determine whether an affidavit may be disregarded or stricken pursuant to this rule, the Court must first determine whether the affidavit directly contradicts the prior sworn testimony of the affiant. Aerel, 448 F.3d at 908.

In this instance, Defendant first objects to the affidavit of Plaintiff Stafford on the basis that her affidavit directly contradicts her prior deposition testimony as to the issue of her personal knowledge regarding similarly-situated individuals who were treated differently. In her deposition, Plaintiff was asked the following question: "Do you have personal knowledge of any other person at Sanford who engaged in the same behavior that you did with multiple safety issues within a close period of time that wasn't treated the same way you were, any examples at all?" (Court Doc. No. 23-2, Stafford Dep. 313-14.) Plaintiff responded, "No." (Id. at 314.) Then, in the affidavit she submitted in opposition to Defendant's summary judgment motion, Plaintiff states that she "witnessed other employees, male and female, black and white, who have committed three or more safety violations within an 18-day period," including James Crosslin, Andy Rogers, Earl Teish, William Lovelace, and Karen Collins. (Court Doc. No. 35, Stafford Aff. ¶ 19.) She also states in her affidavit that she "witnessed both Earl Teisch (white male) and Tammy Patrick (black female) violate safety rules while on final warning and neither of them [were] disciplined according to Sanford's progressive discipline policy" (id. ¶ 20) and that she "witnessed Brenda Allen take action to discipline me, a white female, and witnessed Brenda Allen not take any action to discipline males and a black female, and [has] even witnessed Brenda Allen making excuses for a black female, in same or similar situations as my own" (id. ¶ 22).

The Court concludes that the statements Plaintiff makes in her affidavit regarding different treatment of others in similar situations directly contradict Plaintiff's prior deposition testimony that she had no personal knowledge of other similarly-situated persons who were treated differently. Accordingly, the directly contradictory portions of Plaintiff's affidavit, as outlined above, will be ignored by the Court.

Defendant next objects to the affidavit of Alvin Parker on the basis that his affidavit directly contradicts his prior deposition testimony as to the issue of his personal knowledge regarding any discipline received by other individuals. In his deposition, Parker was asked the following question: "And you also don't have any knowledge, personal knowledge of what discipline was given to these people because you weren't involved in the investigations or the decisions on whether discipline was appropriate or not, correct?" (Court Doc. No. 38-2, Parker Dep. 24.) Parker responded, "Yes, sir. That's not my job." (Id.) Then, in his affidavit, Parker states that Brenda VanZant and Kelly Patch were not disciplined when they made certain mistakes (Court Doc. No. 33, Parker Aff. ¶ 15), that Brenda VanZant was never disciplined for her actions (id. ¶ 19), and that Earl Teisch, Tammy Patrick, and Brad Majors were all on final warnings when they committed certain safety violations (id. ¶ 8).

The Court concludes that the statements Parker makes in his affidavit regarding the discipline or lack thereof received by various employees directly contradict his prior deposition testimony that he had no personal knowledge of the discipline received any anyone. Accordingly, the directly contradictory portions of Parker's affidavit, as outlined above, will be ignored by the Court.

Defendant also purports to object to the affidavit of Deborah D. Walchshauser, but Defendant fails to cite to any specific portions of Walchshauser's affidavit or deposition which it contends are contradictory. Accordingly, Defendant's objection is not well-taken as to Walchshauser's affidavit, and the Court will consider it in full.

B. Relevant Facts in the Record

The relevant facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, are as follows.*fn1

Plaintiff Carla Stafford began her employment with Defendant Sanford, L.P. ("Sanford") on or about March 9, 2004, as an Order Processor. (Court Doc. No. 11-2, First Am. Compl. ΒΆ 5; Stafford Dep. 161-62.) The job of an Order Processor is to "pick" products from Sanford's warehouse to be shipped. (Stafford Dep. 162.) When Stafford was hired, she participated in an orientation process during which various company policies and procedures were reviewed with her, including Sanford's safety and health mission statement and progressive discipline policy. (Id. at 128-131.) Stafford also received and reviewed Sanford's employee handbook, which is formally titled the "Hourly Associate Guidebook" ("Guidebook"). (Id. at 129-130 & Exs. 3, 4.) Based on this orientation, Stafford understood that safety was important at Sanford. (Id. at 132.) The Guidebook provides as follows: "Sanford will provide all associates with the safest possible working conditions and equipment. We ask that you follow all safety instructions and always be aware of your own safety and the safety of your fellow associates. If at any time you discover an unsafe working condition, you ...

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