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Walker v. TA Operating LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

April 13, 2016

JOHN C. WALKER PLAINTIFF
v.
TA OPERATING LLC d/b/a PETRO STOPPING CENTERS DEFENDANT

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SUSAN O. HICKEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Before the Court is Defendant TA Operating LLC’s Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 40). Plaintiff John C. Walker has filed a response. (ECF No. 47). Defendant has filed a reply. (ECF No. 54). The Court finds this matter ripe for consideration.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on April 7, 2014 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981, alleging that Defendant-his former employer-engaged in unlawful discriminatory employment practices. Plaintiff, an African American, maintains that Defendant subjected him to a hostile work environment based on his race and that Defendant’s actions resulted in Plaintiff’s constructive termination from his employment.

On March 16, 2011, Plaintiff was hired by Defendant to work as a Customer Service Attendant - Technician I in Prescott, Arkansas. As a Technician, Plaintiff worked on tractor trailers in the mechanic shop at Defendant’s facility in Prescott. Plaintiff’s job duties included repairing and servicing tractor-trailer vehicles, as well as cleaning the shop and parking lot and maintaining files of work procedures. Approximately fifteen other Technicians worked in the shop. According to Plaintiff’s Complaint, Defendant employed two other African Americans Technicians during his tenure.

Plaintiff makes several allegations regarding racially motivated incidents that occurred during his eleven-month tenure with Defendant. In May 2011, Plaintiff alleges that a Caucasian co-worker observed Plaintiff sweeping the floor and remarked, “this is just like America, a nigger sweeping the floor and a white man walking around.” (ECF No. 39, Exh. 2, p. 74-76). Plaintiff testified in his deposition that he believes the co-worker was drunk at the time the statement was made. Id. Roughly seven months later, on December 13, 2011, Plaintiff was involved in an altercation with a Caucasian customer who stated that he did not like Muslims and referred to them multiple times as “sand niggers.” Id. at p. 30-34. After Plaintiff expressed his displeasure with the customer’s statements and general use of the term “nigger, ” the customer allegedly hit Plaintiff on the shoulder with wiper blades. Id. Plaintiff responded by kicking the customer. Id. The customer never returned to the shop while Plaintiff was employed there. Id.

On December 17, 2011, Plaintiff discovered what he describes as a noose sitting on a barrel in the stock room of the shop. The stock room was an area in the back of the shop with cabinets and shelves containing parts and other items that the Technicians might need to complete their repairs. Id. at p. 39-43. The stock room was used by multiple Technicians on a daily basis, and no part of the stock room was assigned to any individual Technician. Id.

On December 25, 2011, Gerald Salazaar-a co-worker of Portuguese descent-included Plaintiff in a group text message to a number of co-workers. The text message depicted two monkeys and purportedly said, “[l]ook, its me and u. Send 2 all ur best buds! Hope I get one back! I’m the cute one on the right. You are the dorky one on the left! haha.” Id. at p. 101. Plaintiff stated in his deposition that he interpreted this text message as “downright racist crap.” Id. at p. 52.

On December 27, 2011, Plaintiff alleges that he found a second noose, this time in his toolbox. This noose was fashioned out of a piece of jewelry that was akin to a toy from a cracker jack box. Id. at p. 64. Plaintiff testified that he “considered it a threat, a continuation of trying to make my stay there a living hell.” Id. at p. 65.

On January 28, 2012, a co-worker jumped on Plaintiff’s back and began making “monkey sounds.” Id. at p. 69. Plaintiff considered this to be a racist insinuation that Plaintiff was a monkey. That same day, the same co-worker made a reference to Plaintiff’s veganism and stated that “[Plaintiff] is a vegan, he will eat some animal crackers.” Id. at 70-71. Plaintiff considered this comment to be racist. Around this same time period, Plaintiff alleges that the daughter of one of his co-workers referred to him as a “John, John, monkey, monkey.” Id. at 82-83. Plaintiff testified in his deposition that he is only “pretty sure” that this is what was said. Id.

The final incident involved a one-inch bolt being thrown at Plaintiff while working in the shop. Plaintiff does not know who threw the bolt. When he turned around after being hit, he states that his co-workers were “ducking and doing their thing.” Id. at p. 79-80. Plaintiff claims that the impact of the bolt caused him some physical pain.

Plaintiff did not report the bolt incident to any of his superiors. However, he claims that he complained to various superiors about all of the other incidents. Plaintiff alleges that, because management was “doing nothing” to remedy his work environment, he took a few days off to consider whether to continue working for Defendant. Id. at p. 84-85. After some consideration, Plaintiff made the decision to resign on February 6, 2012.

Plaintiff alleges that these incidents are enough to sustain a claim for hostile work environment and constructive discharge under 42 U.S.C. § 1981.[1] Defendant maintains that summary judgment is appropriate because, even taking Plaintiff’s allegations as true, these incidents fail to prove a claim for hostile work environment based ...


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