Where it was demonstrated that the discipline levied upon the plaintiff was because of his violations of company policies, and not because of his race, color or prior complaints, there was no unlawful discrimination, retaliation or a hostile work environment.
Plaintiff is a biracial, part Caucasian, part African American light-skinned man. Plaintiff worked for Washington Gas Light Company from 2007 until his termination on July 24, 2018.
Plaintiff brought this lawsuit alleging five counts: (1) race discrimination under Title VII; (2) color discrimination under Title VII; (3) retaliation under Title VII; (4) race discrimination and hostile work environment under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and (5) retaliation under § 1981. Discovery in this case is now closed and defendants have moved for summary judgment.
Race and color discrimination claims
Plaintiff has provided evidence to support a prima facie case of discrimination, shifting the burden to defendants to produce a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for their actions. Defendants contend that each step of discipline that plaintiff received was a result of his violating a WGLC policy. Plaintiff has not met his burden to prove they are pretextual. Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on these claims.
Turning to the allegations of retaliation, plaintiff attempts to raise issues of material fact regarding when certain conversations allegedly occurred. These conversations would have included complaints by plaintiff of alleged harassment and discrimination, or in some cases informing a supervisor that plaintiff had filed an EEOC charge. The existence and timing of these conversations go to whether plaintiff has made a prima facie case of retaliation by showing temporal proximity of the conversation, i.e. protected activity, and the adverse employment action taken against him.
Assuming that the conversations occurred when plaintiff believes they did and included discussions which would constitute protected activity, plaintiff will have merely succeeded in setting forth a prima facie case of retaliation. At this point, again, plaintiff must do more to rebut the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons proffered by defendants for the actions taken. Plaintiff has not demonstrated that the reason for and timing of the discipline issued by WGLC was pretextual.
In a final attempt to raise issues of material fact, plaintiff contends that WGLC did not thoroughly investigate the claims plaintiff made to it. If true, this could be a basis for a harassment claim.The record shows, however, that WGLC repeatedly asked plaintiff to make statements in support of his complaints and he repeatedly ignored or denied those requests. In one instance, plaintiff even withdrew the complaint from the human resources department and stated that he had taken the matter up with a higher office. Even if plaintiff was correct that WGLC failed to adequately investigate his complaints, moreover, it would, again, be merely enough to raise an inference of discrimination, not rebut proffered legitimate reasons for employment actions WGLC took.
Hostile work environment claim
Lastly, plaintiff claims to have suffered from the creation of a hostile work environment. Upon review of the incidences which plaintiff claims demonstrate he was harassed, he is unable to show that race, color or retaliation were the “but for” cause of the treatment he endured.
Additionally, the totality of the circumstances does not evince the requisite severity or pervasiveness. The comments and harshness plaintiff complains of do not appear to have been racially tinged beyond two occasions from different supervisors over nearly five years, and mere occasional utterances will not suffice.
Also, while plaintiff may have been humiliated by having his inadequate work product photographed and shown to him, this does not rise to the level of humiliation the law is meant to curtail and is not based on his race, nor did it interfere with his work performance in an unreasonable manner. Plaintiff has failed to show that he was forced to endure a hostile work environment and these claims fail.
Defendants’ motion for summary judgment granted.
Dawson v. Washington Gas Light Company, Case No. 18-cv-971, Sept. 9, 2019. EDVA at Alexandria (Hilton). VLW 019-3-429. 29 pp.