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Richardson v. Day & Zimmerman Inc.

United States District Court, D. Arizona

October 27, 2017

Melvin D Richardson, Plaintiff,
Day & Zimmerman Incorporated, Defendant.


         Plaintiff Melvin Richardson, a black man, accuses his former employer, Defendant Day & Zimmerman Incorporated (“DZ”), of treating him differently and terminating him because of his race.[1] At issue is DZ's motion for summary judgment, which is fully briefed. (Docs. 41, 49, 51.) Neither party requested oral argument. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

         I. Background

         Richardson's claims arise under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Arizona's state law counterpart, the Arizona Civil Rights Act (“ACRA”), both of which prohibit racial discrimination in employment. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1); A.R.S. § 41-1463(B).[2] To properly evaluate these claims, it is important to understand the limits of the relevant statutes. Neither Title VII nor the ACRA “require the employer to have good cause for its decisions. The employer may [take action against] an employee for a good reason, a bad reason, or a reason based on erroneous facts, or for no reason at all, so long as its action is not for a discriminatory reason.” Nix v. WLCY Radio/Rahall Commc'n, 738 F.3d 1181, 1187 (11th Cir. 1984). The relevant question is not whether the employer's decision was prudent, but instead whether the employer terminated the employee because of his race “or for some other legitimate, non-discriminatory reason- no matter how ill-advised or unprincipled it may be.” Sheville v. Am. W. Airlines, Inc., No. CV05-02790-PHX-NVW, 2006 WL 3497787, at *5 (D. Ariz. Dec. 4, 2006).

         When viewed through this lens, the facts material to the disposition of this case are not genuinely disputed. Indeed, where Richardson purports to dispute DZ's separate statement of facts, he actually is challenging the wisdom or correctness of DZ's disciplinary decision. (See, e.g., Doc. 50 ¶¶ 51-59, 65.) Because “it is not the role of [the] court to sit as a ‘super-personnel department' to second-guess the wisdom of a business's personnel decisions, ” Evers v. Alliant Techsystems, Inc., 241 F.3d 948, 957 (8th Cir. 2001), these disputes are not material. With this understanding, the Court will provide an overview of the undisputed facts material to this decision.

         During the relevant time period, Richardson worked as a superintendent at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, responsible for overseeing a group of workers known as SK305, which was comprised mostly of electricians and charged with performing security upgrades. Richardson's unit had between thirty and forty workers, including three general foremen-Marcelo Vargas, Fred Lane, and Cesar Villa-who reported directly to Richardson. Below the general foremen were six or seven foremen who worked directly with the electricians in the unit.

         In 2015, SK305 was involved in a series of safety-related incidents. First, in June the unit was scheduled to perform work that required electrical power to be cut to a security door after certain tests on the door had been completed. While the workers were waiting to cut power to the door, they were informed via radio that the tests had not been completed. The workers misheard the message, however, and prematurely cut power to the door, which delayed the work that was scheduled to be performed that day. Next, in July SK305 was assigned to work on a project that involved enlarging a hole in a metal plate for wires to pass through. The employees involved in the project did not follow safety protocols and, as a result, one was injured. The following month, the unit was involved in another incident concerning the improper use of tools during a similar assignment.[3] Finally, in August SK305 employees did not follow proper protocols while performing work on a door used to contain radiation. Consequently, the door was inoperable for several days, requiring the facility to station a security guard at the door until the problem could be resolved.[4]

         Following these incidents, DZ opened an investigation into SK305. As part of that investigation, DZ interviewed twenty-four SK305 employees and generated an investigation report. The report stated that surveys and interviews conducted during the investigation “provide evidence that there are significant on-going [work culture] issues in SK305 and the problematic focal point is the two named General Foreman (Vargas & Lane) and the SK305 Superintendent (Richardson).” For example, 37.5% of those surveyed reported that they did not believe DZ leadership would positively support a stop in work for safety reasons, 42% reported witnessing or experiencing a lack of support when a safety concern was identified, and 62.5% reported witnessing inappropriate behavior by DZ leadership, including general foremen being condescending, or yelling or cursing at them, and Richardson “witness[ing] inappropriate behaviors and [doing] nothing about it.” After being presented with these results, DZ terminated Richardson and two general foremen, Lane and Vargas, neither of whom are black.

         Richardson later brought this action, alleging that DZ terminated him because of his race. DZ now moves for summary judgment on all claims.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, viewing those facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment may also be entered “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the non-movant to establish the existence of a genuine and material factual dispute. Id. at 324. The non-movant “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” and instead “come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (internal quotation and citation omitted).

         Substantive law determines which facts are material and “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “A fact issue is genuine ‘if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Villiarimo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054, 1061 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). Conclusory allegations, unsupported by factual material, are insufficient to defeat summary judgment. Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). If the nonmoving party's opposition fails to cite specifically to evidentiary materials, the court is not required to either search the entire record for evidence establishing a genuine issue of material fact or obtain the missing materials. See Carmen v. S.F. Unified Sch. Dist., 237 F.3d 1026, 1028-29 (9th Cir. 2001); Forsberg v. Pac. N.W. Bell Tel. Co., 840 F.2d 1409, 1417-18 (9th Cir. 1988).

         III. Analysis

         The Court evaluates racial discrimination in employment claims using the burden-shifting framework set out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973), under which a plaintiff first must establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that he: (1) is a member of a protected class, (2) is qualified for his job, (3) suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) was treated less favorably than other similarly situated employees outside his protected class. See also Hidgon v. Evergreen Int'l Airlines, Inc., 673 P.2d 907, 909 at n.3 (Ariz. 1983) (“The [ACRA] is modeled after and generally identical to the federal statute in the area . . . . Accordingly, we find federal Title VII case law persuasive in the interpretation of our Civil Rights Act.”). If a plaintiff makes this threshold showing, “[t]he burden of production, but not persuasion, then shifts to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the challenged action.” Chuang v. Univ. of Cal. Davis, Bd. of Trustees, 225 F.3d 1115, 1123-24 (9th Cir. 2000). If the employer does so, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to demonstrate that the employer's proffered reason is a pretext for discrimination, “either directly by persuading the court that a discriminatory reason more likely motivated the employer or indirectly by showing that the employer's proffered explanation is unworthy of credence.” Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 256 (1981). A plaintiff's evidence on this point “must be both specific and substantial to overcome the legitimate reasons put forth by, ” the employer. Aragon v. Republic Silver State Disposal Inc., 292 F.3d 654, 659 (9th Cir. 2002).

         Here, there is no dispute that Richardson is a member of a protected class and that his termination constitutes an adverse employment action. DZ argues, however, that Richardson cannot establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination because he cannot produce evidence that similarly situated employees outside his protected class were treated more favorably than him. DZ also argues that Richardson cannot produce specific and substantial evidence showing that he was terminated on account ...

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