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Peebles v. ADM Southern Cellulose

July 17, 2007

EDDIE STEVEN PEEBLES PLAINTIFF,
v.
ADM SOUTHERN CELLULOSE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Collier

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court are Defendant ADM Southern Cellulose's ("Defendant") motion to dismiss (Court File No. 14) pro se Plaintiff Eddie Peebles' ("Plaintiff") age-discrimination claim and motion for summary judgment (Court File No. 31) with a memorandum in support (Court File No. 32). Plaintiff filed a response (Court File No. 33) to Defendant's motion,*fn1 and Defendant, in turn, filed a reply (Court File No. 34) to Plaintiff's response*fn2 and an affidavit (Court File No. 35) in support of the response. For the following reasons, the Court will GRANT Defendant's motion to dismiss (Court File No. 14) and motion for summary judgment (Court File No. 31).

I. RELEVANT FACTS

From the pleadings filed in this case, the Court has determined the undisputed facts to be as follows. Plaintiff began working for Defendant as an entry-level laborer at Defendant's Chattanooga, Tennessee facility in late November 2005 (Court File No. 31, Ex. A, Declaration of Jeff Buchwald ("Buchwald Decl."), at ¶ 3; Ex. B, Deposition of Eddie Peebles ("Peebles Dep."), Pt. 1, at 43:3-5). Laborers are assigned various tasks throughout the plant, including cleaning functions (Buchwald Decl. at ¶ 3). Plaintiff was hired as a probationary employee, which means he was under a 90-day probationary period (Buchwald Decl. at ¶ 6; Peebles Dep., Pt. 1, at 44:20-45:5).

Plaintiff, like all probationary employees, was evaluated on safety, attendance, willingness to stay past the end of his shift or to come in early when needed, attitude, whether he did what he was instructed to do, the quality of his work, and whether he stayed busy (Buchwald Decl. at ¶ 8; Court File No. 31, Ex. C, Declaration of Danny Herrera ("Herrera Decl."), at ¶ 3). Danny Herrera ("Herrera") was Plaintiff's supervisor, and Herrera, in turn, reported to Jeff Buchwald ("Buchwald"), the plant superintendent (Herrera Decl. at ¶¶ 6-7).

During Plaintiff's probationary period, Herrera conducted weekly evaluations of Plaintiff's performance, beginning the week ending December 11, 2005 (Buchwald Decl. at ¶ 7; Peebles Dep., Pt. 1, at 59:3-60:8). During Plaintiff's first three weeks, Herrera gave Plaintiff an overall performance rating of "average." (Herrera Decl. at ¶ 10). By January 1, 2006, Plaintiff's overall performance was rated as "needs improvement," and he was given "poor" ratings in four of the seven categories (safety, attitude, does what he is told, and quality of work) and "needs improvement" in another category (stays busy) (id. at ¶ 11). By mid-January, Plaintiff's overall performance was rated between "poor" and "needs improvement," and he received a rating of "poor" in five of seven categories (stays late/comes in early, attitude, does what he is told, quality of work, and stays busy) (id. at ¶ 12). In light of these evaluations,*fn3 Herrera felt Defendant should not retain Plaintiff (id. at ¶ 13), so he reported Plaintiff's deficiencies to Buchwald (Buchwald Decl. at ¶ 9; Herrera Decl. at ¶ 15). After reviewing Plaintiff's performance with Herrera, Buchwald determined Plaintiff did not possess the skills to succeed at ADM (Buchwald Decl. at ¶ 10; Herrera at ¶ 5). As a result, Buchwald terminated Plaintiff's employment on January 17, 2006 (Buchwald Decl. at ¶ 11).

After he was terminated, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination on February 23, 2006, alleging race and age discrimination (Court File No. 1, Exs. to Peebles Compl.). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") issued a dismissal and notice of rights to Plaintiff on or about August 28, 2006 (id.). Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint in this Court on October 20, 2006, alleging he was "wrongfully terminated," "harassed by the supervisors," and "discriminated against because of [his] age and because [he] [i]s black." (See Court File No. 1, Compl., at p. 12). During his deposition, however, Plaintiff stated he was wrongfully terminated because he is unmarried and has no children (Peebles Dep., Pt. 3, at 119:16-123:16; 126:14-21; 159:22-160:8). He also stated he had claims for an "integrity violation" and hostile work environment (id. at 126:22-127:11). Defendant moves for summary judgment on all of these claims.*fn4

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. Motion to Dismiss

When reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept all the complaint's factual allegations as true. Bloch v. Ribar, 156 F.3d 673, 677 (6th Cir. 1998); Broyde v. Gotham Tower, Inc., 13 F.3d 994, 996 (6th Cir. 1994). The Court may not grant a motion to dismiss based upon a disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations. Miller v. Currie, 50 F.3d 373, 377 (6th Cir. 1995) (noting courts should neither weigh evidence nor evaluate the credibility of witnesses); Lawler v. Marshall, 898 F.2d 1196, 1199 (6th Cir. 1990). Rather, the Court must liberally construe the complaint in favor of the party opposing the motion and determine whether the plaintiff has pled "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007) (rejecting the traditional 12(b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the question is "not whether [the] plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511 (2002) (citations and quotation marks omitted). However, bare assertions of legal conclusions are insufficient. Scheid v. Fanny Farmer Candy Shops, Inc., 859 F.2d 434, 436 (6th Cir. 1988). The "complaint must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory." Id. (emphasis in original).

B. Motion for Summary Judgment

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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Initially, the burden is on the moving party to conclusively show no genuine issues of material fact exist, Leary v. Daeschner, 349 F.3d 888, 897 (6th Cir. 2003), and the Court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). However, the nonmoving party is not entitled to a trial merely on the basis of allegations but must come forward with some significant probative evidence to support its claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). 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. Id. at 323.

The Court determines whether sufficient evidence has been presented to make the issue of fact a proper jury question, but does not weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of the matter. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Weaver v. Shadoan, 340 F.3d 398, 405 (6th Cir. 2003). The standard for summary judgment mirrors the standard for directed verdict. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. The Court must decide "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52. There must be some probative evidence from which the jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Id. at 252. If the Court concludes a ...


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