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Johnson v. Buddy's Bar-Bq, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

April 29, 2015

RICHARD JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
BUDDY'S BAR-B-Q, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

CURTIS L. COLLIER, District Judge.

Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Buddy's Bar-B-Q, Inc. ("Defendant") (Court File No. 27). Plaintiff Richard Johnson ("Plaintiff") responded (Court File No. 34) and Defendant replied (Court File No. 36). Defendant also filed a notice of objection to the Plaintiff's proposed exhibit of an unemployment appeals decision (Court File No. 37), to which Plaintiff responded (Court File No. 40). Plaintiff then responded to Defendant's reply and filed a supporting affidavit (Court File Nos. 41, 42). And finally, Defendant filed a motion to strike Plaintiff's response to its reply and the supporting affidavit for failure to comply with Local Rule 7.1 (Court File No. 43). For the following reasons, the Court will GRANT Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Court File No. 27).

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a sixty-five year old African American man. Defendant is a chain of Bar-B-Q restaurants in East Tennessee. Plaintiff began working for Defendant in 1999 and initially performed maintenance work at several of Defendant's locations. In 2003, he began working a regular day shift at Defendant's Athens restaurant. He normally worked from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. but periodically management would schedule Plaintiff to work in the evening from 3:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. to clean the pit.

On December 26, 2011, Defendant was scheduled to clean the pit. He began work at 3 p.m. and at 5 p.m. he took a break while the parts from the pit were drying. He took some ribs from the warmer and went into the dining room to eat. Both parties acknowledge eating ribs was against Defendant's policies, but Plaintiff contends this policy was not enforced. The parties dispute whether he ate in the part of the dining room where employees were allowed to eat or whether he ate in the part of the dining room where only customers were allowed to eat. According to Defendant, the night manager, Lisa Latham, asked Plaintiff whether he intended to get back to work and Plaintiff told her not to worry about it. Plaintiff states this never happened. Latham wrote Plaintiff up for this conduct after he left. After an investigation, Vice President of Operations Reed Lindsey terminated Plaintiff based on this write up and previous absenteeism and tardiness. Plaintiff alleges white employees were allowed to eat in the dining room without reprisal and after he was terminated he was replaced by a 25-year-old white male. Plaintiff timely filed a charge with the EEOC and then filed this action on August 9, 2013.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Leary v. Daeschner, 349 F.3d 888, 897 (6th Cir. 2003). The Court should view the evidence, including all reasonable inferences, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. 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).

To survive a motion for summary judgment, "the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and come forward with specific facts to demonstrate that there is a genuine issue for trial." Chao v. Hall Holding Co., Inc., 285 F.3d 415, 424 (6th Cir. 2002). Indeed, a "[plaintiff] is not entitled to a trial on the basis of mere allegations." Smith v. City of Chattanooga, No. 1:08-cv-63, 2009 WL 3762961, at *2-3 (E.D. Tenn. Nov. 4, 2009) (explaining the court must determine whether "the record contains sufficient facts and admissible evidence from which a rational jury could reasonably find in favor of [the] plaintiff"). In addition, should the non-moving party fail to provide evidence to support an essential element of its case, the movant can meet its burden of demonstrating no genuine issue of material fact exists by pointing out such failure to the court. Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479 (6th Cir. 1989).

At summary judgment, the Court's role is limited to determining whether the case contains sufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably find for the non-movant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). If the Court concludes a fair-minded jury could not return a verdict in favor of the non-movant based on the record, the Court should grant summary judgment. Id. at 251-52; Lansing Dairy, Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir. 1994).

III. ANALYSIS

Plaintiff claims he was subjected to age discrimination in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 623 of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), race discrimination and a hostile work environment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"); and violations of the Tennessee Human Rights Act ("THRA") and Tennessee common law. Defendant asserts the THRA claim is barred by the statute of limitations and the THRA preempts the common law retaliation claim. Defendant also argues Plaintiff has failed to exhaust administrative remedies with regard to the hostile work environment claims. Finally, Defendant contends it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's Title VII and ADEA claims because Plaintiff has failed to meet his burden of production on these claims.

A. THRA

The THRA provides that a "civil cause of action under this section shall be filed in chancery court or circuit court within one (1) year after the alleged discriminatory practice ceases." Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-311(d). "The THRA's one year limitations period for bringing a direct court action is not tolled while administrative charges are pending with the THRC or the EEOC." Martin v. Boeing-Oak Ridge Co., 244 F.Supp.2d 863, 871-72 (E.D. Tenn. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted). The parties agree Plaintiff was terminated on December 26, 2011. Thus the statute of limitations ran on this claim on December 26, 2012. Plaintiff ...


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