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Callender v. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc.

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

June 26, 2017




         Pending before the Court is Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc.'s (“Tysdon”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 51), to which James R. Callender Jr. has responded in opposition (Doc. No. 58) and Tyson has replied (Doc. Nos. 65, 71). For the reason that follow, the Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Factual Background[1]

         After working for three years as a Processing Supervisor at Tyson's Carthage, Texas plant, Callender applied for an open position at Tyson's Goodlettsville, Tennessee plant. (SOF ¶¶ 1-3). He was interviewed, and his transfer was approved by Gary Denton, the Goodlettsville's Complex Human Resources Manager, and by Doug Griffin, the Operations Manager of that facility. (Id. ¶ 4).

         Callender started working at the Goodlettsville plant on December 13, 2009 as a Production Supervisor on the B-Shift in the Beef Department. In November 2012, he transferred to an open Production Supervisor position in the Beef Department on A-Shift and started reporting to A-Shift General Supervisor Ken Jenkins. Jenkins, in turn, reported to Griffin. (Id. ¶ 21, 23).

         In June 2013, Griffin supervised the A-Shift Beef Department while Jenkins was on vacation. On June 20, 2013, Griffin issued Callender a written warning after he allegedly failed to follow his directions for three consecutive days. (Id. ¶ 25).[2] Griffin met with Callender on June 20, 2013 to discuss the written warning, which stated: “[Callender] is receiving a written warning for failure to follow directions. Reed will also be placed on an action plan.” When Jenkins returned from vacation, Griffin told him about the written warning and instructed Jenkins to prepare a Performance Improvement Plan or PIP. (Id. ¶¶ 27, 28).

         The PIP from Jenkins covered three performance deficiencies: (1) Management and Communication Skills, (2) Efficiencies, and (3) Yields. With respect to “Management and Communication Skills, ” Tyson expected Callender to follow management's instructions, improve his communication with subordinates, and ensure that his team was implementing the processes required to achieve production goals. As for “Efficiencies, ” Tyson expected Callender to run a minimum of 104% efficient on all primals[3] on his production line. Finally, with regard to “Yields, ” Callender was expected to monitor his yields and identify which yield category he was not achieving. (Id. ¶¶ 31-34).

         Callender does not dispute the existence of the PIP, or that he signed it on July 8, 2013. (Id. ¶ 35). Nor does he dispute knowing that his failure to improve and achieve the goals outlined in the PIP would result in discipline, up to and including termination. (Id. ¶¶35, 36). He claims, however, that the “[i]ntent of the Action Plan was to harass plaintiff and retaliate against him for complaining about Ken Jenkins.” (Id. ¶ 34). In this regard, Callender asserts that, after meeting with Jenkins on July 1, 2013 to discuss the PIP, he refused to sign it and then took it to Denton and complained that Jenkins was holding him to a higher standard than other Production Supervisors because of his race and age. Callender also claims that, after meeting with Denton, he was called to a meeting with Griffin, Jenkins and Denton and was essentially told he “needed to get on board with the Action Plan or be fired.” (Doc. No. 60, Callender Aff. ¶ 16). It was then that Callender signed the PIP, and Jenkins changed the date from July 1 to July 8. Callender also claims that once Jenkins learned he had complained, [4] Jenkins scoring of his performance was “way out of line.” (Id. ¶¶ 38, 39).

         Callender and Jenkins met twice to discuss Callender's progress, and on August 8, 2013, they met a third time to review the final results. Jenkins determined that Callender had achieved only 32.5 percent of the goals listed in his PIP, and Jenkins had documented 10 occurrences of Callender's alleged failure to follow or give instructions.

         Callender was terminated from employment on August 9, 2013. He filed suit in this Court on April 10, 2015, alleging race discrimination in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”), Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-101 et seq.; age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. and the THRA; and retaliation in violation of Title VII and the THRA. Tyson moves for summary judgment on all claims.

         II. Standard of Review

         The standards governing summary judgment have been restated on countless occasions and are well known. It suffices to note: (1) summary judgment is only appropriate where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); (2) the facts and inferences must be construed in favor of the nonmoving party Van Gorder v. Grand Trunk W. R.R., Inc., 509 F.3d 265, 268 (6th Cir. 2007); (3) the Court does not weigh the evidence, or judge the credibility of witnesses when ruling on the motion, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); and (4) the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's position is insufficient to survive summary judgment, Rodgers v. Banks, 344 F.3d 587, 595 (6th Cir. 2003).

         III. Legal Analysis

         A. Race and Age Discrimination

         In response to Tyson's Motion for Summary Judgment, Callender asserts that, while his “Complaint also contained a cause of action for discrimination . . . at this stage of the proceedings, [he] has elected not to respond to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment in this regard.” (Doc. No. 59 at 2 n.2). Callender, therefore, has abandoned his claims for age and race discrimination and summary judgment will be granted on those claims. See Clark v. City of Dublin, 178 Fed. App'x 522, 524-25 (6th Cir. 2006) (finding district court did not err when granting summary judgment on claims that were not properly responded to); Conner v. Hardee's Food Sys., Inc., 65 Fed. App'x 19 (6th Cir. 2003) (finding plaintiffs had abandoned their claim “[b]ecause [they] failed to brief the issue before the district court”).

         B. Retaliation

         Section 704(a) of Title VII makes it “an unlawful employment practice of an employer to discriminate against any of his employees or applicants for employment . . . because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding or hearing under this subchapter.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Similarly, the THRA makes it “a discriminatory practice” for an employer to “[r]etaliate or discriminate in any manner against a person because such person has opposed a practice declared discriminatory by [the THRA] or because such person has made a charge, filed a complaint, testified, assisted or participated in any manner in any investigation, proceeding or hearing under [the THRA].” Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-301(a)(1). “Retaliation claims under the THRA follow federal law, ” Wade v. Automation Pers. Servs., Inc., 612 F. App'x 291, 300 (6th Cir. 2015), and, therefore, “a retaliation claim under both statutes follows the same analysis, ” Arendale v. City of Memphis, 519 F.3d 587, 606 (6th Cir. 2008); see Phillips v. Interstate Hotels Corp., 974 S.W.2d 680, 683 (Tenn. 1998) (Tennessee Supreme Court observing that, “[a]lthough the language differs slightly, it is clear that the legislature intended the THRA to be coextensive with federal law.”).

         Where, as here, a plaintiff presents no direct evidence of discrimination or retaliation, his claims are analyzed under the familiar McDonnell Douglas/Burdine[5] burden-shifting framework. “To establish a prima facie case of retaliation, [a plaintiff] must show ‘(1) that [he] engaged in a protected activity; (2) that the defendant had knowledge of [his] protected conduct; (3) that the defendant took an adverse employment action towards [him]; and (4) that there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.'” Mickey v. Zeidler Tool & Die Co., 516 F.3d 516, 523 (6th Cir. 2008) (brackets in original) (quoting Weigel v. Baptist Hosp. of E. Tenn., 302 F.3d 367, 381 (6th Cir. 2002)). “If the plaintiff satisfies [his] prima facie showing, the burden shifts to the defendant to offer evidence of a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the adverse employment action.” Id. ...

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