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Garland v. City of Danville

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Danville Division

February 5, 2016

ANDREW L. GARLAND, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF DANVILLE, VIRGINIA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JACKSON L. KISER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Andrew L. Garland filed this action against the defendant, the City of Danville, Virginia, on April 7, 2015. On November 14, 2015, the City moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff’s claims. [ECF No. 25.] The matter was fully briefed by the parties, and I heard oral argument on the Motion on January 14, 2016. The matter is now ripe for decision. For the reasons stated herein, I will grant the City’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Andrew Garland (“Plaintiff”), who is African-American, began working for the City of Danville (“the City”), Sanitation Division, around 2003. Plaintiff was employed as a Sanitation Operator II, and his job consisted of refuse and recyclable collection on City-owned trucks. In late 2003, Plaintiff was one of the City’s “most trained operators.” (Aff. of Wallace Wyatt ¶ 14, Nov. 12, 2015 [ECF No. 26-3].) The Sanitation Division consisted of six refuse drivers and two spare drivers for a total of eight drivers, seven of whom were African-American.

Plaintiff’s immediate supervisor was Wallace Wyatt, a General Supervisor in the Sanitation Division of the Department of Public Works. (Wyatt Aff. ¶¶ 1, 4.) During the relevant period, Wyatt’s supervisor was Christopher Goss, Division Director for Sanitation (Aff. of Christopher Goss ¶¶ 1 & 4, Nov. 13, 2015 [ECF No. 26-6]), and Goss’s supervisor was Richard Drazenovich, Director of the Department of Public Works (id. ¶ 4; Aff. of Richard Drazenovich ¶ 1, Nov. 13, 2015 [ECF No. 26-5]).

According to Wyatt, on March 30, 2012, Plaintiff caused damage to a property owner’s yard by “creating ruts in the yard.” (Wyatt Aff. ¶ 28.) Plaintiff was apparently attempting to turn around in the owner’s yard. (Drazenovich Aff. ¶ 35.) Drazenovich asserts that Plaintiff did not report this incident (id.), and Plaintiff has not denied that allegation.

On August 16, 2012, “Plaintiff failed to retract the dump arm [on his truck] and struck a private citizen’s vehicle, causing significant damage.” (Id. ¶ 36.) Plaintiff has not denied that allegation.

On August 19, 2013, “while collecting refuse, [] Plaintiff hit the wrong switch, opening the tailgate and dumping trash into the street.” (Id. ¶ 37.) Other personnel were called from their locations to assist in cleaning up the trash. (Id.) Plaintiff has not denied that allegation.

On May 7, 2013, Plaintiff “failed to maintain proper control of his vehicle as he attempted to make a turn and drove off the shoulder, damaging a property owner’s grass and nearly reach[ing] a steep embankment.” (Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff has not denied that allegation.

On December 9, 2013, Plaintiff was written up and drug tested “for dragging a leaf loader across the parking lot. [He] received this treatment even though [he] told Wyatt [he] had followed the proper procedure and made sure that the leaf loader was properly hitched, but before [he] was able to leave the parking lot[, ] an inmate unhitched the leaf loader without [Plaintiff’s] knowledge.” (Aff. of Andrew Garland ¶ 13, Dec. 9, 2015 [ECF No. 31-1].)

According to Goss, “[a]lthough [] Plaintiff claimed that an inmate driving with him sabotaged the equipment, it is the driver’s responsibility to be aware of an inmate’s actions at all times, and for ‘pre-tripping’ the vehicle prior to operation, which includes verifying that the hitch is properly connected.” (Goss Aff. ¶ 11.) Wyatt does not mention the inmate Plaintiff was supervising, but stated he “concluded that, as the driver, it was [] Plaintiff’s responsibility to check all equipment for proper attachment before he drives the truck.” (Wyatt Aff. ¶ 19.)

Plaintiff was initially suspended for five days without pay, but Drazenovich reduced Plaintiff’s suspension to two days without pay. (Drazenovich Aff. ¶ 21.) The Accident Review Committee[1] reviewed Plaintiff’s punishment and determined that the accident was preventable. (Id.) Plaintiff was advised, in writing, that this incident was his “last chance” and that future acts of carelessness would result in termination. (Wyatt Aff. ¶ 19.)

Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding his punishment on January 17, 2014. (Pl.’s Mem. in Opp. to Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J. (hereinafter “Pl.’s Mem.) Ex. D [ECF No. 31-4].) Plaintiff contended that Scott Hilton, a white employee, “had the same incident and was NOT Charged!! [sic]” (Id.) According to Plaintiff, Hilton had an incident in 2013:

[Hilton] was attempting to disconnect a vacuum and pulled forward. As a result, a pin on the ring wedged and the motor pool had to come out to the site to repair the equipment. Hilton was not written up or drug tested because Wyatt classified this incident as equipment malfunction.

(Garland Aff. ¶ 14.) According to Wyatt, “[t]his specific type of equipment malfunction is not unheard of.” (Wyatt Aff. ¶ 26.) Wyatt stated that there was “nothing Hilton could have done [that] would have prevented this incident.” (Id.) Hilton was not punished for the incident. Drazenovich stated, “This incident was not the result of Hilton failing to properly inspect the equipment or carelessness but rather due to the malfunction of the clamp.” (Drazenovich Aff. ¶ 30.)

Plaintiff also asserts that an incident involving another white driver, Sam Crumpton, highlights the differing treatment between black and white drivers. On January 29, 2014, Plaintiff was riding with Crumpton during emergency snow removal. Crumpton “was attempting to drive up a hill when the truck stopped pulling.” (Garland Aff. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff and another passenger advised Crumpton to put the truck in neutral, but Crumpton put the truck in reverse. (Id.) As a result, the truck “jackknifed and damaged the truck’s jack.” (Id.) Plaintiff asserts that the incident happened twice that day, but Crumpton never reported the incident. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) Nevertheless, Crumpton’s supervisor’s found out about the incident, but Crumpton was not drug-tested or punished. Additionally, Plaintiff claims Wyatt did not file an accident report (as required) until Plaintiff reported the incident to Human Resources. (Id. ¶ 20.)

Crumpton’s supervisors disagree with Plaintiff’s version of the facts.[2] They contend that Crumpton’s truck merely slid back while ascending a hill. (See Drazenovich Aff. ¶ 23.) They contend that Crumpton did report this incident to Wyatt (id. ¶ 25; Wyatt Aff. ¶ 23), but that Crumpton was not drug-tested because of extenuating circumstances (the weather ...


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