United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
WAYNE V. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
FORTUNE PLASTICS OF TENNESSEE, Defendant.
WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR. DISTRICT JUDGE
V. Johnson filed this action against Fortune Plastics of
Tennessee (“Fortune Plastics”) challenging his
demotion under the Family Medical Leave Act
(“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and his
termination from employment under the FMLA, the Age
Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29
U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e et seq. (Doc. No. 28, First Amended
Complaint at ¶¶ 19, 20 and 21.) For the following
reasons, Fortune Plastics' Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. No. 36) is GRANTED.
is an African American man who was fifty-five years old when
Fortune Plastics moved him to a different job position and,
five months later, terminated his employment. (Doc. No. 28 at
2.) Fortune Plastics manufactures can liners, supermarket
items, bags, and other industrial products in Lebanon,
Tennessee. (Doc. No. 46 at 1.) It hired Johnson in 1978 and
he later became a Lead Operator. (Id. at 2-3.) Eric
Taylor was the Plant Manager. (Id.) Keith Anderson
was the General Manager until mid-December 2013, when Karl
Lehtola replaced him. (Id.; Doc. No. 36-4 at 6-7.)
Plaintiff concedes that he never heard Taylor, Anderson or
Lehtola make a discriminatory statement. (Doc. No. 46 at 3.)
received every FMLA leave request he made. (Doc. No. 6.) From
May 21, 2013 to May 30, 2013, and from June 7, 2013 to July
24, 2013, Johnson was approved for medical leave under the
FMLA. (Id. at 5-6.) During Johnson's June-July
FMLA leave, Taylor and Anderson moved Edward Young, a white
male, to the Lead Operator position and placed Johnson in a
Senior XO position when he returned from leave. (Id. at
8.) Their decision was made because Johnson was not trained
on the new software system and because of concerns about
Johnson's job performance and his attention to safety
precautions. (Id. at 8-9.) Johnson was informed of
his reassignment upon his return from FMLA leave on July 24,
2013. Fortune Plastics did not tell him that he was being
demoted. (Id. at 9.) Indeed, there was no change in
his pay, benefits, work shift or hours of work.
(Id.) As the Senior XO, Johnson would continue to be
involved in the supervision of employees, as he had done as
the Lead Operator. (Id. at 10.)
December 16, 2013, Johnson committed a safety violation that
caused his co-worker, Celeste Burch, to suffer an injury.
(Id. at 13-14.) Johnson turned off the folder
machine to investigate the cause of a jam, removed the safety
guard, but failed to disconnect the machine from its energy
source when he walked away from the machine. (Id. at
13.) He admits that he did not lock the machine when he
removed the safety guard as required by the company's
“lock-out, tag-out procedure.” He was unable to
lock out the machine because the lock was not in its proper
place and he was unable to locate it. (Doc. Nos. 46 at 13-15;
36-4 at 44-45.) After Johnson walked away to look for a lock,
Burch turned the machine on and began pulling bags from the
machine when her finger was injured. (Doc. No. 46 at 14.)
While Burch went to the restroom to wash off her injured
finger, Johnson also pulled bags off the folder machine,
which was still running. (Id. at 14-15.) About ten
to fifteen minutes after Burch's injury, she and Johnson
walked away from the folder machine to report her injury.
(Id.) Johnson again failed to turn off the machine
before walking away from it. (Id.) However, Johnson
believes that he instructed another employee to “shut
the whole line down.” (Doc. Nos. 46 at 14; 36-4 at 48.)
the December 16, 2013, incident, Fortune Plastics conducted
an investigation. Among other things, Johnson admitted that
he had been trained on the proper “lock-out, tag-out
procedure, ” that he did not follow the company's
safety precautions, and that Burch would not have been
injured if he had stayed by the machine after removing the
safety guard and sent someone else to find a lock.
(Id. at 16.) He also admits that he had previously
received a safety warning when he permitted a subordinate to
repair a machine without using the company's lockout,
tag-out procedure. (Id. at 19-20.) On December 20,
2013, after concluding the investigation, Johnson was
terminated for the December 16, 2013 safety violations.
(Id. at 17-18.) The company also terminated Burch, a
white female, for her involvement in that accident.
(Id. at 19.)
Plastics has disciplined and terminated other employees for
safety violations. (Id. at 20.) In 2014, the company
terminated two white males - Josh Bozarth and Josh Brewington
-under the age of forty for violating workplace safety rules.
(Id.) Also in 2014, three white employees, two over
40 years and the third who was 40 at the time, were
disciplined for failing to lock-out while making repairs.
(Doc. No. 46 at 20-21.) They were not terminated because
their safety violations were less egregious than
Johnson's violation. (Id. at 21.)
reviewing a motion for summary judgment, this Court will only
consider the narrow question of whether there are
“genuine issues as to any material fact and [whether]
the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The Court is required to view
"the facts and reasonable inferences in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party . . . ." Ferrari v.
Ford Motor Co., 826 F.3d 885, 891 (6th Cir. 2016)
(citing Cass v. City of Dayton, 770 F.3d 368, 373
(6th Cir. 2014)).
alleges that he was subjected to retaliation and
discrimination. He alleges that he was demoted and terminated
in retaliation for requesting FMLA leave and that his
termination was unlawful under the FMLA, ADEA, and Title
(Doc. No. 28.)
FMLA entitles eligible employees to twelve-weeks of leave and
reinstatement to their previous or an equivalent position.
Edgar v. JAC Prods., Inc., 443 F.3d 501, 506 (6th
Cir. 2006) (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 2614(a)(1)). Employers
are prohibited from “us[ing] the taking of FMLA leave
as a negative factor in employment actions.” Hunter
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