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Franks v. Triple Canopy, Inc.

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

September 9, 2019

CHRIS E. FRANKS, Plaintiff,
v.
TRIPLE CANOPY, INC., ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CLAUDE M. HILTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.

         Plaintiff Chris Franks, an African American, was employed by Triple Canopy, Inc. ("Triple Canopy") as a Force Protection Officer ("FPO") at Camp Buehring in Kuwait. Defendants Captain Justin Good, FPO John Sheldon, and FPO John Williams were also employed by Triple Canopy. Defendant Constellis, LLC ("Constellis") is the parent company of Triple Canopy. Triple Canopy and Constellis are government contractors that provided security services at U.S. Army installations across Kuwait, including at Camp Arifjan and Camp Buehring. Plaintiff was hired by Triple Canopy as an FPO in March of 2017.

         Plaintiff's job was to provide security services at Camp Buehring, and his specific duties included conducting vehicle searches and checking the identification cards of individuals entering or leaving the camp. Plaintiff's day-shift supervisor was Lieutenant Justin Adams, and there were several sergeants and senior sergeants between Plaintiff's FPO level and Lieutenant Adams who could give direction to the FPOs, including Sergeant Donnell Hudson and Senior Sergeant Gregory Graham. According to Triple Canopy's chain of command, FPOs reported to Sgt. Hudson, who reported to Senior Sgt. Graham, who reported to Lt. Adams, who reported to Deputy Regional Manager Denzil Kearse. Hudson, Graham, Adams, and Kearse are all African American.

         All Triple Canopy employees working onsite in Kuwait received annual training on harassment, discrimination, and human rights issues. Franks also received a copy of Triple Canopy's Equal Employment Opportunity Policy ("EEO Policy"). The Triple Canopy EEO Policy prohibits discrimination and harassment of any kind and states that Triple Canopy will investigate and take appropriate action to address any prohibited conduct, which includes the distribution, display, or discussion of any written or graphic material that ridicules, degrades, insults, belittles, or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group because of race. The EEO Policy also required prompt reporting of all incidents alleging policy violations to an employee's supervisor, a manager in the HR Department, the Legal Department, or via the Company's Ethics Hotline.

         On July 15, 2017, Franks was assigned to a twelve hour shift to guard Post 20, a guard post situated at the entrance/exit to an airfield in the middle of Camp Buehring. Franks and FPO Kyle Carter arrived on July 15, 2017 at approximately 5:30 a.m. to relieve FPOs Sheldon and Williams from their 12-hour shift. During the day, Franks and Carter manned the gate at Post 20, allowing authorized personnel to drive onto the air field. Post 20 contained a guard shack with two rooms and a small opening for a doorway between them. The back room of the guard shack contained a refrigerator and wall lockers along part of one of the walls. At 10:30 a.m., approximately five hours into his shift, Franks went to the back room of the guard shack to retrieve a broom and saw a rope in the back corner of the room hanging from the ceiling in the shape of a noose. The rope could only be seen by walking into the room and looking into the corner.

         After seeing the noose, Franks notified Carter and radioed Hudson, the sergeant on duty. Sgt. Hudson immediately came to Post 20 and contacted Senior Sgt. Graham. Sgt. Hudson also asked Franks and Carter to prepare written statements. Hudson also completed an Incident Reporting Form, known as a "Spot Report," which was required by company procedure. Graham also notified Camp Buehring's Deputy Camp Manager Denzil Kearse.

         Throughout the remainder of Franks' shift, several Triple Canopy managers came to Post 20 to document the incident, including Graham, Adams, and Kearse. Triple Canopy senior management were also notified on July 15, 2017, including highest-ranking project manager, Christopher Rector, and the Deputy Project Manager Herbert Ward. On July 16, 2017, Ward traveled to Camp Buehring with Bonnie Wilson, the Human Resources representative. Ward and Wilson then began interviews of witnesses, including Franks.

         Franks told Ward and Wilson that he believed that Sheldon and Williams, who had worked the previous twelve hour shift, had hung the noose. Franks also stated that neither Sheldon nor Williams said anything that was unprofessional during their brief interaction when Franks and Carter arrived to relieve them of their shift. Franks also stated that he had never had any negative interactions with Sheldon or Williams before the incident.

         After concluding their interviews, Ward and Wilson could not determine who hung the rope. Ward did decide, however, to separate Franks from Williams and Sheldon. As a result, Williams and Sheldon were transferred to Camp Arifjan on July 15, 2017. Ward also sent an email to all Triple Canopy employees working in Kuwait that stated that a potentially derogatory racial symbol was discovered and further reiterated the Company's commitment to equal employment opportunity and its prohibition on harassment and discrimination. Ward's email also summarized the Company's reporting procedures and attached a copy of the EEO Policy.

         On July 19, 2017, Franks confronted Williams in the lobby of the building where they lived, outside of Camp Buehring and located near Kuwait City. Although by this time Williams had been transferred to another base, he still resided in the same building as Franks. Franks and Williams' conversation was initially heated, but Williams eventually apologized to Franks "if [he] did anything to hurt [or] offend [Franks]." During the interaction, Williams did not indicate why he was apologizing or admit to hanging the noose. On July 22, 2017, Williams resigned without notice and was placed on Triple Canopy's "no rehire" list. Sheldon was also separated from Triple Canopy shortly after the conclusion of the investigation and placed on the no rehire list.

         On July 20, 2017, Franks requested a housing change. Housing for Triple Canopy's operations in Kuwait is handled by the prime-contractor, Vectrus, and Triple Canopy has no involvement with where Triple Canopy personnel reside in Kuwait. All housing assignments and requests to change housing are also handled by Vectrus. Vectrus approved Franks' request for housing relocation and reassigned to the Sulabikhat housing complex. On July 23, 2017, Vectrus sent Franks an email informing him that he could pick up the keys to his new apartment and begin his move. Franks responded on July 25, 2017 and stated that he would not be able to move until Friday, July 28, 2017, when he had his next day off. Because Vectrus' housing office was closed on Fridays, Triple Canopy arranged for Franks to have a day off on Sunday, July 30, 2017, so that Franks could complete his move. The move to the Sulabikhat complex reduced Franks' commute to work by 30 minutes, and all Triple Canopy personnel that resided in the complex worked at Camp Buehring.

         Between July 23, 2017 and July 30, 2017, Triple Canopy offered to relocate Franks to other positions, including certain opportunities near Franks' hometown in Raleigh, North Carolina. On July 30, 2017, Franks moved into his new apartment in the Sulabikhat complex. On the same day, Franks resigned from Triple Canopy.

         Despite Franks' resignation, Triple Canopy and Constellis continued their investigation of the incident. On July 31, 2017, Todd Rouse, Constellis' Senior Director of Global Compliance, informed Franks that he would ...


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