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Broome v. Iron Tiger Logistics

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

December 10, 2019

CLAUDE V. BROOME, Plaintiff
v.
IRON TIGER LOGISTICS, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          MIEHAEL F. URBANSKI CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Claude V. "Mike" Broome ("Broome") filed this lawsuit on September 25, 2017, alleging that defendant Iron Tiger Logistics ("Iron Tiger") violated his rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). Iron Tiger filed a motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 36, to which Broome responded, ECF No. 43, and a hearing was held on August 30, 2019. For the reasons discussed below, the court GRANTS Iron Tiger's motion for summary judgment.

         Background

         Broome is an African American man who has worked for Iron Tiger since 2008. Iron Tiger delivers finished vehicles for large truck manufacturers around the nation, with locations in several states. Broome works at an Iron Tiger facility in Dublin, Virginia, as a lead man, or decker. He does not have supervisory duties, but advises other employees about their jobs. He has worked in this position for Iron Tiger since 2008.

         Broome and a Caucasian coworker, Glenn Ward ("Ward"), have worked together at Iron Tiger since 2008. Broome Depo. Tr., ECF No. 44 at 131. Prior to 2015, they had a cordial relationship and up until 2015, Broome had never believed or perceived that Ward was a racist or racially biased. Id.

         For reasons which are unclear, the relationship between Broome and Ward soured in 2015.[1] In January 2015, Ward approached Broome and according to Broome, the following interaction occurred:

I was standing there. So he walks up to me and looks at me like, You've got a problem with me? And I looked at him ... and I said, Man, what are you - I said, What are you talking about? You act like you've got a problem with me.
And I looked at him, I said, Man, you know, I ain't got no problem with you. You know, what are you talking about. So I went to break.

         Broome Depo. Tr., ECF No. 44 at 146. When Broome returned from break, Ward approached him and called him "racist n****r." Broome was highly offended, but he laughed and told Ward that he did not appreciate being called that. Id. at 147, 150. There were no witnesses to the exchange, but other employees told Broome that some people in the workplace were saying Broome was a racist. Id. Broome reported the racial slur to Terry Epperly, the assistant terminal manager at the Dublin facility. Id. at 156; Decl. of Terry Epperly, ECF No. 37-8 at ¶¶ 1, 6.

         During the following week or two, Ward called Broome a "n****r" three or four more times. Broome Depo. Tr., ECF No. 44 at 152. The second time Ward used the word, he also bumped Broome with a trash can while he was in his bay at work. Broome told him that he did not appreciate what had happened. There were no witnesses to the interaction and Broome did not report it to anyone. Id. at 152-154, 156-157; Epperly Decl, ECF No. 37-8 at ¶ 6.

         The third time Ward used the racial slur was when Broome was in a hallway heading toward the restroom and Ward went up to him and said, "I don't like you, n****r." Broome Depo. Tr., ECF No. 44 at 158. Broome said nothing in reply because he could not afford to lose his temper and also because he believed that Ward had management on his side. Broome did tell his coworker, James McMickle, what Ward had said to him. Id. at 160. In a statement attached to his Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") claim, Broome stated that on another occasion in the two-week time frame Ward walked up to him and said, "you need to grow up n****r!" ECF No. 37-3 at 2.

         On February 24, 2015, Broome contacted Mark Wade, a union representative who no longer works at Iron Tiger, and reported the slurs. IcL The next day, Wade contacted the director of die union, who contacted John Hummel, vice president of terminal operations for Iron Tiger. Decl. of John Hummel, ECF No. 37-5 at 2; ECF No. 37-3 at 2. At some point thereafter, Hummel traveled to Dublin and met with employees to tell them that harassment would not be tolerated. Hummel Decl., ECF No. 37-5 at 4. The company also conducted employee harassment training via a webinar and both Broome and Ward participated in the training. Decl. of Kristy DeMeyer, ECF No. 37-4 at pp 2-3. Ward did not use any racial slurs after Hummel met with the employees. Broome Depo. Tr., ECF No. 44 at 165.[2]

         Not only did Broome complain about Ward, but Ward complained about Broome. In an email dated March 30, 2015 from Ward to DeMeyer, the human resource manager at Iron Tiger, Ward complained about six incidents involving Broome. According to Ward, on January 23, 2015, Ward was in the restroom when Broom came in, grabbed his (Broome's) crotch and said, "You like big black d***s." On January 29, 2015, Broome was sitting on a tow motor when Ward walked behind it. Broome saw him and started backing up, which caused Ward to hurry and Broome to laugh. On February 3, 2015, Broome went out of his way to bump Ward as they were passing each other. On February 6, 2015, Ward was passing by Broome's work area and Broome shook a hammer at him. On February 11, 2015, Ward passed by Broome's work area and Broome called him a coward and laughed. On February 21, 2015, Ward was taking his trash can out to empty it and Broome stepped in front of him and kicked the trash can. ECF No. 37-4 at 11.

         DeMeyer forwarded the email to Hummel, who suggested she talk to Ward and see if he reported anything further. Hummel commented that if they talked to Broome, he would "claim racial discrimination right out of the box." DeMeyer called Ward who stated that nothing had happened since the February incident and that he just wanted DeMeyer to be aware of what was happening. ECF No. 37-4 at 10.

         Although Ward did not use racial slurs toward Broome again in 2015, other incidents occurred. On June 1, 2015, Broome was coming out of the main office when Ward approached him, brushed up against him, laughed, and said he was going to "get" Broome. ECF No. 37-3 at 3.

         Also in June 2015, Ward was carrying a four-foot-long aluminum light bar past Broome and almost hit Broome in the head with it. Broome had to duck to avoid being hit and Ward laughed. Id. at 169. Employee McMickle saw what happened and reported it to Epperly, who in turn called DeMeyer. DeMeyer called and spoke to Broome and Ward about the incident and received conflicting stories. McMickle said in a statement that Ward was carrying the light bar as he walked past Broome and that as he turned, the light bar almost hit Broome. McMickle reported the incident because he knew the two had problems and he did not want anyone to get fired. McMickle had no opinion about whether Ward intended to hit Broome with the light. ECF No. 37-8.

         In September 2015, DeMeyer interviewed nineteen people at the Dublin facility to try and get to the bottom of the animosity between Broome and Ward. No. one she spoke to could substantiate the complaints of either Broome or Ward. DeMeyer counseled both of them regarding their complaints and behavior. DeMeyer Decl., ECF No. 37-4 at 3. Broome claims that DeMeyer told him that he could be fired for stating that Ward called him a "n****r." She also told Broome that Ward said he would make no further negative comments about Broome. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 10.

         In February 2016 Broome was using a hand truck to carry three buckets filled with nuts and washers, which he estimated to weigh 200-300 pounds each. As he was walking with the hand truck, Ward came up and bumped Broome and then yelled that Broome had bumped him. Broome immediately went to the office to report what had happened. Ward reported the opposite-that Broome had bumped into him.[3] Broome Depo Tr., ECF No. 44 at 195-199; Decl. of Jack Tatum, ECF No. 37-6 at 3.

         Jack Tatum, the terminal manager at the Dublin facility, called a meeting with Broome and Ward in an effort to resolve the issues between them. Also present at the meeting were Alex O'Neal, a union representative, Mark Wade, and Jack Thatcher. Tatum Decl., ECF No. 37-6 at 3. According to Broome, Tatum made it seem like Broome was causing the problems. Ward said that Broome was lying about what happened. Broome Depo. Tr., ECF No. 44 at 201-202, 204. After a few minutes, O'Neal took Ward outside and then came back and started "drilling" Broome and saying that Ward was not what Broome was trying "to portray him to be." Broome responded that Ward had called him a "n****r" on various occasions. Id. at 202. Wade also stated that he had problems with Ward in the past. Id. at 205.

         O'Neal suggested that the two shake hands and agree to end dieir disagreements. Broome shook Ward's hand and left the office, while everyone else remained inside. Id. at 203-204.

         The next day, February 23, 2016, Wade told Broome that the other people at the meeting thought Broome had shaken Ward's hand too aggressively. Id. at 206-207. Broome denied shaking Ward's hand aggressively. Id. at 207. Based on reports from others at the meeting, Tatum gave written notice to Broome dated February 25, 2016 that he was being suspended without pay for three days because he aggressively shook Ward's hand and tried to intimidate him. ECF No. 37-6 at 5. He also was told that any future actions by him of the same nature would result in further disciplinary action being taken, up to and including discharge. Id. Broome served the suspension and returned to work at Iron Tiger. Broome Depo. Tr., ECF No. 44 at 211-212.

         On April 30, 2016, Broome filed a complaint with the EEOC. He complained that on February 22, 2016 he was called a "n****r" by another employee. He said he reported the incident to his union steward and the terminal manager. A meeting was held and after the meeting he shook his coworker's hand. On February 24, 2016 he was given a written warning and suspended from February 25-27, 2016. ECF No. 37-2 at 2.[4]

         The next workplace incident occurred more than a year later, in May 2017, when both men complained that they exchanged words in the restroom. Broome reported that when he went to the restroom Ward was already there. Ward approached him from behind and said, "You're stupid, you are a coward, you are a coward, you are a coward" and Broome did not respond. ECF No. 37-6. Ward reported that he was washing his hands when Broome entered the restroom, grabbed some paper towels and asked, "Do you want to suck my d**k?" as he was passing by. Ward told him he was nothing but a coward and left the restroom. Ward added that if Broome sees him in the workplace he stops what he is doing and stares. Ward has not reported it because there is never anyone around to witness the behavior. ECF No. 37-6 at 7.

         Both Broome and Ward received letters of reprimand on July 11, 2017, following the last bathroom encounter. Both were told that there had been similar complaints on multiple occasions in the past and both had received previous warning letters.[5] Both were told to consider the letters their last and final warning and that any further similar actions would subject them to further disciplinary action, up to and including discharge. ECF No. 37-6 at 8-9. In early 2018, Iron Tiger installed additional cameras at multiple locations around the facility. Hummel Decl., ECF No. 37-5 at 5; Decl. of David Tatum, ECF No. 37-6 at 4.

         Since that time, Broome and Ward have not spoken, but every time they are both in the restroom, Ward records audio on his phone. Broome Depo. Tr., ECF No. 37-1 at 57. Also, while at a grocery store in 2019, Broome saw Ward on an aisle and Ward was openly carrying a weapon, which made Broome uncomfortable. The two saw each other but did not speak. Id. at 104-106. Also in 2019, a coworker, Tim Woodyard, told Broome that other employees were making racist comments but would not repeat what he heard. Id. at 108. Broome also asserted in his deposition that he is ostracized at work and no one will eat lunch with him; that he is left out of conversations; that he is given trucks that are harder to work on than other deckers; his bay is left messy by other shifts; he was not consulted by a supervisor when there was a problem with the saddle on one of his trucks; that he was told he had to clock out when he wanted to leave a dinner provided by Iron Tiger but the people at the dinner did not have to clock out; and when he complained in 2015 about the leftover chicken being thrown out, his complaint was not taken seriously even though he believed that a camera that was in place would have revealed who took the chicken. Id. at 118, 119, 122, 124, 56, 59-60, 61-63.

         Other than the three-day unpaid suspension, Broome has not lost pay or benefits as the result of any complaints he made. Broome and Ward both continue to work at Iron Tiger.

         On March 15, 2017, the EEOC sent a pre-determination letter to Iron Tiger stating that investigation revealed that Ward repeatedly called Broome a racial epithet. The EEOC found that Broome reported the conduct and was disciplined the next day for an aggressive handshake that occurred during a meeting to resolve the dispute. The EEOC concluded that there was a basis on which to hold Iron Tiger liable for harassment under Title VII and also for finding that Iron Tiger retaliated against ...


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