United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, El Dorado Division
SUSAN O. HICKEY, District Judge.
Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Georgia-Pacific, LLC ("GP"). ECF No. 16. Plaintiff has filed a response (ECF No. 21), and GP has filed a reply. ECF No. 25. The Court finds this matter ripe for consideration.
After having worked for GP's plywood operations plant in Fordyce for over twenty-five years, Plaintiff was hired on December 12, 2011, as a Utility Entry Level (or "Sixth Hand") at the paper operations plant in Crossett. As a Sixth Hand, Plaintiff operated an overhead crane, assisted with the operation of a paper machine called "the winder, " and assisted with whatever else needed to be done at the Board Mill.
Plaintiff began his employment under a probationary period of 150 days, and Plaintiff was to be evaluated by Optimizer Wayne Kelley on a weekly basis during the probationary period. Plaintiff received four weeks of on the job training, which was the standard amount of training provided to a Sixth Hand. Plaintiff, however, told Kelley that the training was inadequate for two of those weeks, and Kelley arranged for Plaintiff to receive an additional two weeks of training.
A. Job Evaluations
Kelley evaluated Plaintiff, along with other Sixth Hands, from January through April 2012. Kelley evaluated Plaintiff's performance across six general topics, which were subdivided into twenty-four subtopics, by rating his performance as either unacceptable, needs improvement, meets expectations, exceeds expectations, or not applicable. The weekly evaluations also provided detailed comments regarding Plaintiff's job performance related to each topic. For these evaluations, Kelley solicited weekly feedback from Plaintiff's co-workers and shift coordinators and also personally observed Plaintiff's performances. Kelley discussed these evaluations with Plaintiff each week and offered him an opportunity to develop a plan to address any areas in which he needed improvement.
Plaintiff received a rating of needs improvement in at least one category in 12 of the 15 evaluations completed for him during the probationary period. Many times, Plaintiff received needs improvement ratings in multiple categories on a single evaluation. In fact, Plaintiff received a total of 33 needs improvement ratings in twelve different subtopics. Plaintiff's evaluations showed that he consistently needed improvement in contributing to his job without direction and in understanding his job duties without help. Specifically, Plaintiff received a needs improvement rating in one of these two areas in 11 out of 15 subtopics.
B. Human Resources' Investigation
Plaintiff disagreed with the needs improvement ratings that he received, and Plaintiff either signed his weekly evaluations with disagreement or refused to sign them. Brenda Coffey, Senior Human Resources Manager, became aware of this fact and initiated a meeting with Plaintiff on February 20, 2014. Plaintiff indicated to Coffey that he believed his evaluations were based on inaccurate feedback and unfair criticism from his co-workers and that he was being discriminated against based on his race. Plaintiff did not complain to Coffey that he believed that he was being discriminated against or otherwise mistreated based on his age.
After the meeting, Coffey investigated Plaintiff's allegations. She contacted Plaintiff's manager, Aaron Mowry, and he gave her names of co-workers that she should interview in connection with Plaintiff's allegations. Coffey interviewed several of Plaintiff's co-workers and had two more conversations with Plaintiff regarding his allegations. Coffey then determined that Plaintiff's allegations could not be substantiated and that feedback regarding Plaintiff's performance was reasonable. She informed Mowry of her determinations.
C. Mowry's Investigation
Mowry noticed on the weekly evaluations that there was consistent feedback that Plaintiff was unable to perform his job duties as a Sixth Hand without the help and the direction of co-workers. Thus, Mowry spoke with Plaintiff's co-workers and shift coordinators to obtain information about Plaintiff's performance. Mowry spoke with co-workers across different shifts and found that the ...