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Hairston v. Royal Building Products, Inc.

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

April 12, 2019


          Thomas E. Strelka, Strelka Law Office, PC, Roanoke, Virginia, for Plaintiff;

          Yvette V. Gatling, Littler Mendelson, P.C., McLean, Virginia, for Defendant.


          James P. Jones United States District Judge

         In this employment discrimination case, the plaintiff asserts claims of race-based discrimination, retaliation, and hostile environment harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The defendant has moved for summary judgment on all of the claims. I conclude that genuine issues of material fact preclude the entry of summary judgment, and I will therefore deny the defendant's motion.


         Summary judgment is warranted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is material if its existence or non-existence could result in a different jury verdict. JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001). When ruling on a summary judgment motion, the court should consider the parties' pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, and affidavits. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         “[C]ourts may not resolve genuine disputes of fact in favor of the party seeking summary judgment.” Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 656 (2014). “Summary judgment cannot be granted merely because the court believes that the movant will prevail if the action is tried on the merits.” Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting 10A Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice & Procedure § 2728 (3d ed. 1998)). The court may not assess credibility on a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 569.

         “Only evidence that would be admissible at trial may be considered for summary judgment purposes.” Hunter v. Prince George's Cty., 36 Fed.Appx. 103, 106 (4th Cir. 2002) (unpublished).[1] “[H]earsay evidence, which is inadmissible at trial, cannot be considered on a motion for summary judgment.” Md. Highways Contractors Ass'n v. Maryland, 933 F.2d 1246, 1251 (4th Cir. 1991). The burden is on the proponent of summary judgment material to show its admissibility. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B) advisory committee's note to 2010 amendment.

         Rule 56 requires a party to support its assertion of facts by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). To the extent that the plaintiff's brief contains unsupported assertions, I will not consider them in deciding the Motion for Summary Judgment. The recitation of the facts set forth below includes only those facts found in the record in evidence that would likely be admissible at trial.


         The following facts taken from the summary judgment record are either undisputed or, where disputed, are stated in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.

         The plaintiff, Mr. Hairston, is black. Beginning in February 2015, he worked for defendant Royal Building Products (RBP) as a Senior Human Resources Business Partner (Senior HRBP) at its Marion, Virginia, and Bristol, Tennessee, manufacturing facilities. At the time Hairston was hired, John Gargaro and Larry Peterson, both white, were Plant Managers. Although the decision to hire Hairston was ultimately made by RBP's corporate office, Gargaro advocated against hiring Hairston and Peterson lobbied in favor of hiring Hairston. Hairston's offer letter stated that he would be reporting to the Director of Human Resources “with a dotted line relationship to plant management of our plants in Marion, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee.” Def.'s Mem. Supp. Ex. 1 at 1, ECF No. 95-2.

         Shortly after beginning his new role as Senior HRBP, Hairston met with black employees who worked in manufacturing roles at the Marion plant. These employees expressed to Hairston that they had experienced or witnessed racism at the plant. The employees specifically indicated that Gargaro and Plant Engineer Greg Brown, who was white, held racist views. Not long after Hairston began his employment with RBP, he received harassing phone calls at the plant in which an unidentified individual stated, “Nigger, you need to leave here.” Pl.'s Br. Opp'n Ex. 1, Hairston Dep. 187-88, ECF No. 113-1. Hairston reported the calls to his supervisor.

         Hairston's initial supervisor was Director of Human Resources Stephen Ryan, who was based in Canada. For his new position, Hairston had to relocate from Martinsville, Virginia, to Abingdon, Virginia, which is situated between Bristol and Marion. Hairston's family remained several hours away in Martinsville. Hairston was initially allowed to use a company vehicle to travel from Abingdon to Martinsville during the relocation process, in accordance with company policy. Hairston became aware that Gargaro did not approve of Hairston using the company car to travel home to Martinsville, so Hairston only used the company car for that purpose a handful of times. Caucasian employees were permitted to use the company car for relocation purposes for a much longer period of time than Hairston.

         Gargaro prevented Hairston from using a company vehicle to travel between the Marion and Bristol plants. Gargaro allowed white employees to freely use company vehicles for that purpose. Hairston sought from Ryan permission to hire a subordinate employee. Ryan granted him permission to do so, and Hairston hired someone. This angered Gargaro, who then insisted that Hairston report his activities to Gargaro, despite the fact that Gargaro was not Hairston's direct supervisor. At some point, Gargaro told Hairston that he was causing problems.

         Hairston was the only black management-level employee at the Marion and Bristol plants. At some point, Brown became the plant manager of the Bristol facility. Brown and Gargaro held weekly managers meetings to which they did not invite Hairston. When Hairston eventually learned of the meetings, he insisted that he be included in them, and he ultimately was. During a training event at RBP's Columbus, Ohio, plant, Hairston was excluded from social activities by his white peers. John McKinnon, Gargaro's supervisor, invited Gargaro and Brown to have dinner with him but did not invite Hairston, who was standing near them at the time McKinnon extended the invitation. The Senior HRBP position description stated that Hairston was supposed to spend “30% of the time operating as a strategic partner to leaders, 40% of the time operating as an engagement partner, and the remaining 30% of the time handling employee relations.” Def.'s Mem. Supp. Ex. 3, ECF No. 95-4. Hairston felt that by excluding him, Gargaro, Brown, and McKinnon were refusing to partner with him and effectively preventing him from doing his job.

         Ryan gave Hairston permission to leave work in the early afternoon on Fridays so that he could travel back to Martinsville to spend the weekend with his family. Hairston would return to Abingdon on Sunday evenings and report to work promptly on Monday mornings. Hairston's white peers frequently complained to Ryan and his successor, Ted Marsh, that Hairston was absent. They falsely accused him of not being at work on Mondays and Fridays and complained that he was unavailable when he was in fact on site at the other plant. Ryan investigated these complaints and determined that they were unfounded. Gargaro, however, urged Ryan to terminate Hairston's employment. On several occasions in 2016, Brown told Hairston that Gargaro did not like black people and was trying to get Hairston terminated because he was black.

         While Ryan was investigating complaints regarding Hairston's attendance and availability, Ryan and Hairston went out to dinner together. Hairston related to Ryan that he felt he was being subjected to a hostile work environment by Gargaro and Brown. Company policy provided that an employee's direct supervisor was an appropriate person to whom to report racial discrimination, retaliation, and harassment. Hairston told Ryan that Gargaro had purposely excluded him from meetings and that he had heard from others that Gargaro had called him ...

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