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Garner v. SDH Services East, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

October 21, 2014

SDH SERVICES EAST, LLC., et al., Defendants,

Page 1017

For Charles Garner, Plaintiff: Alston Peek, Jason G. Denton, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Rochelle, McCulloch & Aulds, Lebanon, TN.

For SDH Services East, LLC, Defendant: Charlotte S. Wolfe, Jonathan O. Harris, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. (Nashville), Nashville, TN.

For Sodexo, Inc., Sodexo Construction, Inc., Sodexo Management, Inc., Sodexo Operations, LLC, Sodexo Vending Services, LLC, Defendants: Charlotte S. Wolfe, LEAD ATTORNEY, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. (Nashville), Nashville, TN.

Page 1018


ALETA A. TRAUGER, United States District Judge.

After the plaintiff filed this action in Tennessee state court, the defendants removed the case to this court, notwithstanding a lack of complete diversity. Defendant Mark Patton has filed a Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 5), to which the plaintiff has filed a Response in opposition (Docket No. 9), and Patton filed a Reply (Docket No. 16). The plaintiff has filed a Motion to Remand (Docket No. 11), to which the defendants have filed a Response

Page 1019

in opposition (Docket No. 17), the plaintiff filed a Reply (Docket No. 19), and the defendants filed a Sur-Reply (Docket No. 22). For the reasons stated herein, the Motion to Remand will be denied and the Motion to Dismiss will be granted.


I. Complaint Allegations

Cumberland University is a private university located in Lebanon, Tennessee. The plaintiff, Charles Garner, worked as a painter at the University from September 1, 1998 until his termination on May 24, 2013. He worked directly for the University for the first nine years of this time frame, at which point the University outsourced its painting services to a private company, Sodexo. Garner worked for Sodexo until his termination.[1] None of the Sodexo entities is a Tennessee resident.

Garner suffers from severe and debilitating mental impairments, learning disabilities, and illiteracy. Notwithstanding these disabilities, Garner performed the essential functions of his job as a painter, became a valuable employee, and never had disciplinary actions taken against him prior to the incidents at issue in this lawsuit. Garner alleges that he is substantially impaired in the major life activities of learning and cognitive thinking, including reading and writing.

Mark Patton, a resident of Lebanon, Tennessee, was Sodexo's General Manager at the University during the relevant time frame. During the time period in which Patton supervised Garner, Patton allegedly began to single out Garner for hostile and discriminatory treatment. Patton began assigning Garner tasks that were outside of his job as a painter, with the knowledge that Garner did not know how to perform these tasks and would not be able to learn how to perform them. Patton yelled at Garner because of his mental impairment, his inability to learn, and his illiteracy. In front of other people, Patton ridiculed Garner and informed people (in Garner's presence) that Garner could not read or write.

In approximately summer 2012, Garner reported Patton's actions to University officials and filed an internal disability discrimination complaint with Sodexo. Following these complaints, Patton allegedly increased his hostility towards Garner. Patton wrote up Garner for pretextual reasons and punished Garner using unreasonable measures. For example, Sodexo typically provided a company vehicle to employees to travel across campus. On a certain day following Garner's complaints about Patton, Patton removed Garner's vehicle from him based on an unspecified earlier write-up, forcing Garner to walk outside all day during the middle of the summer to perform his job.[2] Patton also

Page 1020

continued to ask Garner to perform non-painting tasks that Patton knew Garner could not perform. For example, Patton assigned Garner to perform electrical work, despite knowing that Garner would not be able to do it correctly. When Garner protested that he was only qualified to paint, Patton told him: " just don't blow anything up." Garner also continued to yell at Garner for various reasons.

On May 24, 2013, Patton fired Garner under allegedly false pretenses. At some point several weeks prior to that date, Patton asked Garner to clean out an area around a fence at the University, where trash and some type of scrap materials had been deposited. Specifically, Patton asked Garner to make the trash and scrap " disappear." Garner in fact cleaned out the area and found three metal fittings among the deposited materials. Initially, Garner left the metal fittings at the site. After several weeks, Garner picked up the metal pieces and placed them in his truck, as he claims he had done in the past without his employer indicating that it was a problem. In fact, Patton saw the fittings in Garner's truck but did not initially say anything to Garner about it. After several days, Patton asked Garner about the materials. Thereafter, Sodexo discharged Garner for violating a company policy that prohibits the " unauthorized removal of company or client property or materials, including those that have been or [were] agreed to be discarded." Garner alleges that, in the past, Sodexo had never told Garner that his conduct presented an issue, suggesting that Garner was singled out for special treatment with respect to the purported grounds for his termination.

Garner allegedly had an emotional breakdown because of treatment at Sodexo. On each workday before his termination, Garner was afraid of what would happen to him at the job that day. Initially, Garner was unable to sleep, cried at night, and had severe anxiety. He eventually had to see a doctor for his problems and now takes prescription medication to treat these issues. He alleges that his symptoms became even worse when Sodexo terminated him on May 24, 2013.

II. Procedural History

On May 23, 2014, the plaintiff filed a Complaint against the defendants in Tennessee state court. The Complaint asserts claims against all defendants (including Patton, an individual) for (1) discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation under the Tennessee Disability Act (" TDA" ), Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-50-103 (Counts 1, 2, and 3, respectively), (2) retaliatory discharge in violation of the Tennessee Public Protection Act (" TPPA" ), Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-304 (Count 4), (3) retaliatory discharge in violation of Tennessee common law (Count 5), and (4) intention infliction of emotional distress under Tennessee common law (" IIED" ) (Count 6). The ...

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