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Jordan v. Allgroup Wheaton

September 4, 2002

LARRY JORDAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ALLGROUP WHEATON, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irenas, District Judge

OPINION

Pro se Plaintiff, Larry Jordan, brought this employment discrimination action against Defendant AllGroup Wheaton, his former employer, alleging racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et. seq., and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD"), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et. seq. This Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's Title VII claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's LAD claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Presently before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment by both parties. *fn1 Because Plaintiff has failed to adduce sufficient evidence to rebut Defendant's proffered legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for his termination, the Court will deny Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and enter summary judgment in favor of Defendant AllGroup Wheaton.

I.

"[S]ummary judgment is proper `if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)).

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Pollock v. American Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). The role of the court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). However, "a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but... must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 248 (citation omitted).

II.

Defendant AllGroup Wheaton ("Wheaton") is engaged in the business of manufacturing glass containers for companies in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. Plaintiff Larry Jordan ("Jordan"), an African-American male, was employed at Defendant's Millville, New Jersey facility from April 19, 1976 until he was terminated on February 1, 2000. Over the course of his employment, Plaintiff occupied various jobs in the Mold Service Division of the manufacturing plant. In his complaint and his deposition testimony, Plaintiff recounts a series of incidents occurring between June 1999 and the date of his termination which he contends demonstrate that he was unfairly singled out and "harassed" by his supervisors at the facility and ultimately terminated because of his race. *fn2

On June 3, 1999, Jordan and the rest of the crew assigned to the midnight shift, all of whom, with one exception, were also African-American, were leaning against stools and polishing molds when Nancy Davis, the shift supervisor, approached Jordan and explained that, for safety reasons, he was not permitted to sit while polishing molds. (Jordan Dep. at 68-69; 82, attached as Ex. A to Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Sum. Judg. (hereinafter "Jordan Dep."); Affidavit of Nancy Davis at ¶¶ 5-6, attached as Ex. G to Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Sum. Judg. (hereinafter "Davis Aff."). Jordan protested and refused to follow her instructions, explaining that his back was hurting him. (Jordan Dep. at 70-71). An argument ensued between the two in which Jordan raised his voice and may have uttered an expletive. (Id. at 70). Davis called Joe Sharp, the Mold Service Department Manager, at his home and sought his advice about how to handle Jordan's insistence on remaining seated while working with the molds. (6/3/99 Davis Employee Contact Report, attached as Ex. H to Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Sum. Judg.; Davis Aff. at ¶ 14). Sharp recommended that Davis send Jordan home if he continued to complain about having problems with his back. When Davis spoke with Jordan again, he continued to complain about having back pain and suggested that he might require hospitalization. (Jordan Dep. at 70; Davis Aff. at ¶ 12). Jordan was released from work and arrangements were made to have one of the plant's security officers drive him to the hospital. According to a report filed by Davis, she overheard Jordan uttering profanities at her as he left the building. (6/3/99 Davis Employee Contact Report; Davis Aff. at ¶ 14). Consequently, when Jordan returned to work later that night, he was called into Sharp's office, reprimanded, and informed that he was being suspended for his insubordinate and disruptive behavior earlier that evening. (Jordan Dep. at 71). Jordan yelled at Sharp and walked out the door. (6/3/99 Sharp Employee Contact Report). Following closely behind him, Sharp warned Jordan that his shift was not over and that he did not, therefore, have permission to leave. In response, Jordan turned toward Sharp, yelled some profanities, accused him of being a "racist," and warned, "I'll be back and I'll bring something for you." (Id.; Jordan Dep. at 72-73).

On June 7, 1999, Jordan and union representatives Charlie Weiser and Bob Martin *fn3 met with Sharp and various company representatives to discuss the events of June 3, 1999. (Affidavit of John Andrew Chebra at ¶ 12, attached as Ex. C. to Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Sum. Judg. (hereinafter "Chebra Aff.")). At the meeting, Jordan did not deny yelling or cursing at both Davis and Sharp, nor did he deny refusing to stand while polishing. (Id.) Representatives from the union and management nevertheless agreed that, in lieu of a three-day suspension, Jordan would be referred to ACORN, the company's Employee Assistance Program, for anger-management counseling. (Jordan Dep. at 49, 83, 245; Chebra Aff. at ¶¶ 14,15). *fn4

An incident report dated June 25, 1999 recounts another confrontation between Jordan and one of his supervisors. According to the report, which was filed by Ed Lawrence, another shift supervisor in the Mold Service Department, the incident began when Lawrence approached Jordan to inquire whether he had properly counted his "take out inserts," devices used to pick up glass bottles and place them on conveyer belts which will transport them to the annealing oven. (Statement of E. Lawrence, attached as Ex. L to Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Sum. Judg.; Jordan Dep. at 112-114; Chebra Aff. at ¶ 20). Jordan, who believed that this was not part of his job responsibilities, told Lawrence that he had not and would not do so and accused Lawrence of "harassing" him. (Jordan Dep. at 112-114). After calming down, Jordan apologized to Lawrence and was not formally disciplined for his behavior. (Statement of E. Lawrence; Jordan Dep. at 115).

On August 5, 1999, Jordan was involved in another dispute with Lawrence regarding the manner in which he performed his job responsibilities. Lawrence approached Jordan while he was polishing molds and instructed him to place a guard on the molds so that he could tell where to stop polishing. (Jordan Dep. at 87-90; 8/5/99 Lawrence Employee Contact Report, attached as Ex. M. to Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Sum. Judg. (hereinafter "8/5/99 Lawrence Report")). Jordan again accused Lawrence of "harassing" him and refused to follow his instructions, insisting that he knew how to polish molds and did not need his shift supervisor telling him how to do his job. (Jordan Dep. at 89-90; 8/5/99 Lawrence Report). Jordan then went to see Sharp, Lawrence's supervisor, to complain about Lawrence telling him how to do his job. (Jordan Dep. at 87). When Sharp accompanied Jordan back to the service area to speak with Lawrence, Jordan exploded at Lawrence, telling him to "get the f**k out of [his] face." (8/5/99 J. Sharp Employee Contact Report, attached as Ex. N to Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Sum. Judg. (hereinafter "8/5/99 Sharp Report); Jordan Dep. at 93-94). Jordan does not directly dispute Lawrence's description of this incident but rather places responsibility for the confrontation on Sharp whom he accuses of deliberately placing him in a situation which he knew would get out of hand. (Jordan Dep. at 87-88; 92-94).

Later that day, Jordan was called into a disciplinary meeting with representatives of management and the union. (Jordan Dep. at 95-96; Chebra Aff. at ¶ 22). When asked if he understood the purpose of the meeting, Jordan replied, "It is good to have meetings like this to discuss problems. People get killed over things like this all the time. Look what happened in Atlanta." (Jordan Dep. at 98, 101; Chebra Aff. at ¶¶ 23-24; 8/10/99 Statement of Michael Burrows and R.A. Parisi, attached as Ex. O to Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Sum. Judg.). This statement was apparently a reference to an incident in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 29, 1999 in which a day trader had murdered his family and then went to work where he opened fire on his fellow employees, killing nine and wounding 13 others. (Kevin Sack, Shootings in Atlanta:The Overview; Killer Confessed in a Letter Spiked with Rage, N.Y. Times, July 31, 1999 and Jay Croft, The Day Atlanta Can't Forget, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, September 26, 1999, attached as Ex. P. to Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Sum. Judg.; Jordan Dep. at 98-101; Chebra Aff. ¶ 24). At the conclusion of this meeting, Jordan was suspended for three days without pay pending termination. (Jordan Dep. at 94; Chebra Aff. at ¶ 26).

At the end of the three day period, Jordan requested a 30-day trial period during which he would try to correct his behavior and continue receiving anger-management counseling. (Chebra Aff. at ¶ 27). Jordan agreed to be evaluated by Wheaton's doctor, who recommended that Jordan continue participating in counseling sessions with a licensed mental health professional. (Id. at ¶ 30). Wheaton ultimately agreed to allow Jordan to return to work. However, as a condition of returning to work, Jordan was asked to memorialize his promise to improve his behavior and continue with counseling in writing. (Jordan Dep. at 103-04; Chebra Aff. at ¶¶ 31-32). Jordan subsequently executed a written agreement, referred to by Defendant as a "Last Chance Agreement," which provided as follows:

I, Larry Jordan, an employee of Wheaton USA, Inc. (the "Company"), after having been counseled by the Company, in the presence of my union representative(s), that my actions and behavior with respect to my job duties are not in compliance with the Company's Work Rules, and in order to induce the Company to consider the continuation of my employment, hereby agree that I will avail ...


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