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McDougald v. Quad/Graphics, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

December 11, 2017

QUAD/GRAPHICS, INC., et al., Defendants.



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         Plaintiff Larry McDougald, an African-American, was jointly employed by Defendants Quad/Graphics, Inc., Quad/Graphics Marketing, LLC, and QG Printing II, LLC (collectively "Quad/Graphics") from January 2013 until his termination on March 3, 2015. Plaintiff worked as an Imaging Pre-Press Technician at a printing plant located in Manassas, Virginia, originally owned and operated by Vertis Communications, Inc. ("Vertis"), and later acquired in January 2013 by Quad/Graphics, a printing services provider.

         Plaintiff's job duties entailed producing digital page files and creating physical "plates" which would then be used to print images to client specifications.

         Before working at the Manassas plant, Plaintiff had previously been employed by Vertis at a facility in Atlanta, Georgia. Plaintiff began working there in March 2008 and was ultimately laid off approximately one year later. After he was laid off from his position at the Georgia facility, Plaintiff received an e-mail from Mark Senavitis, who was employed by Vertis as the supervisor of the Pre-Press department at the Manassas Facility, inviting him to interview for a position at that facility. Plaintiff stated in his deposition that Mr. Senavitis was the individual who ultimately hired Plaintiff for the position in Virginia, and that they had a generally good working relationship before the Manassas facility was acquired by Quad/Graphics. Throughout the time Plaintiff was employed at the Manassas facility, he was directly supervised by Mr. Senavitis.

         Plaintiff alleges that he received disparate treatment due to his race. Specifically, he alleges that his performance was more closely scrutinized than his Caucasian coworkers and that he was unfairly singled out for criticism and discipline. Plaintiff's employment was ultimately terminated on March 3, 2015, which he alleges was in retaliation for his expressed belief that he was being discriminated against on the basis of his race.

         The record reflects that Plaintiff had a documented history of performance issues and discipline leading up to his termination. In the year preceding his termination, Plaintiff had been disciplined seven times. This included verbal warnings, written warnings, performance reviews, temporary disciplinary layoffs, and eventually a Last Chance Agreement signed by Plaintiff in November 2014. Plaintiff was placed on the Last Chance Agreement pursuant to Quad/Graphics' progressive discipline policy, after Plaintiff committed a production error that resulted in the erroneous production of 380, 000 books and required the recreation of 26 plates. The Last Chance Agreement explained that Plaintiff "could be terminated [on the date of the Agreement] for performance issues ..." but "[t]he Company has, however, agreed to give [Plaintiff] one last chance to successfully perform [his] job duties." It further stated that if Plaintiff continued to display substandard performance within 120 days of entering the Last Chance Agreement, he would be terminated immediately.

         During the time Plaintiff was subject to the Last Chance Agreement, on February 24, 2015, an error was committed while Plaintiff was on shift during the processing of a printing job for the client Kroger (the "Kroger Error"). This error required the recreation of 9 plates. As a result of this error, a meeting was scheduled for March 2, 2015, between Plaintiff, Mr. Senavitis, and a Ms. Linda Snider, the Human Resources Regional Manager. The intent of the meeting was to discuss the Kroger Error and to gather information for an investigation of the error. At the meeting, Plaintiff alleged that the Kroger Error had actually been caused by a coworker, Mr. Rothwell, who had worked the previous shift on the same job. Plaintiff alleged that, on his shift, he had merely continued processing the job which Mr. Rothwell had begun on the earlier shift.

         According to Plaintiff, he also stated at the March 2 meeting that he believed he was being treated unequally and discriminatorily in the disciplinary and investigatory process, due to the fact that the responsibility for the Kroger Error lay with one or mere of Plaintiff's Caucasian coworkers and yet none of them were called to account for it as he was. Plaintiff alleges that it was after he made this statement that Ms. Snider abruptly told Plaintiff he would be placed on suspension. Defendants do not contest the fact that Plaintiff was placed on suspension following the March 2 meeting, but they allege that the suspension was enacted pending review of Plaintiff's allegations regarding the Kroger Error.

         According to Defendants, after the March 2 meeting, Ms. Snider conducted an investigation of the Kroger Error and determined that Plaintiff was at fault, not Mr. Rothwell. At that point, Ms. Snider moved forward with the finalization of Plaintiff's termination pursuant to the Last Chance Agreement already in effect. Plaintiff's termination was effective March 3, 2015.

         Plaintiff originally filed this action on December 14, 2016, and filed an Amended Complaint on June 8, 2017. In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserted five counts: disparate treatment under Title VII, retaliation and retaliatory discharge under Title VII, disparate treatment and discharge under ADEA, disparate treatment pursuant to § 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and retaliation pursuant to § 1981. Plaintiff later voluntarily dismissed the ADEA claim (Count III}, leaving only the discrimination and retaliation claims brought under Title VII and § 1981. Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment on November 1, 2017.

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, a court should grant summary judgment if the pleadings and evidence show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made, the opposing party has the burden to show that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). The Court finds there is no genuine dispute of material fact and this case is ripe for summary judgment.

         Where a plaintiff does not have direct evidence to prove discrimination under Title VII, the Supreme Court has provided a burden-shifting framework to prove discrimination. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-05 (1973). The Fourth Circuit has held that this framework applies to § 1981 actions as well. Hawkins v. PepsiCo, Inc., 203 F.3d 274, 278 (4th Cir. 2000). Under that framework, the claimant bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of racial discrimination. McDonnell, 411 U.S. at 802. If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to demonstrate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Id. The burden then shifts back to the plaintiff to prove that the defendant's stated reason is pretextual. Id. at 804.

         To present a prima facie case of racial discrimination under Title VII, a plaintiff must prove: (1) membership in a protected class; (2) satisfactory job performance; (3) adverse employment action; and (4) similarly situated employees outside the protected class received more favorable treatment. Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010). The elements for a claim of discrimination under § 1981 are the same as the elements for a claim of discrimination under Title VII. Gairola v. Com, of Va. Dep't of Gen. Servs., 753 F.2d 1281, 1285 (4th Cir. 1985). A plaintiff's self-serving ...

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