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Tennial v. United Parcel Service, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

October 24, 2016

William Tennial, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
United Parcel Service, Inc.; Jim Cochran; Michael Slabaugh, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: September 27, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Memphis. No. 2:13-cv-02277-John Thomas Fowlkes, Jr., District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Luther Oneal Sutter, SUTTER & GILLHAM, P.L.L.C., Little Rock, Arkansas, for Appellant.

          John E. B. Gerth, WALLER LANSDEN DORTCH & DAVIS, LLP, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Luther Oneal Sutter, SUTTER & GILLHAM, P.L.L.C., Little Rock, Arkansas, Andrew C. Clarke, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellant.

          John E. B. Gerth, Aron Z. Karabel, WALLER LANSDEN DORTCH & DAVIS, LLP, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellee.

          Before: GILMAN, GIBBONS, and STRANCH, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          RONALD LEE GILMAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         William Tennial is an African-American employee of United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS) who has served in various managerial roles over the course of more than 30 years with the company. After a number of service failures that occurred during his time as Hub Manager of the Memphis Hub's "Twilight Sort, " Tennial was placed on a Management Performance Improvement Plan (MPIP) and eventually demoted to a supervisor of the Oakhaven Hub, a position that he currently holds. Although he acknowledges these service failures, Tennial points to a number of Caucasian managers who were allegedly responsible for similar failures, yet did not suffer comparable adverse employment actions. He therefore maintains that his placement on the MPIP and his subsequent demotion were in fact motivated by race, age, and disability discrimination, as well as by retaliation for taking medical leave.

         Tennial brought suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee against UPS and his supervisors, Jim Cochran and Michael Slabaugh. UPS, Cochran, and Slabaugh subsequently moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted on all claims. For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Factual background

         In 2009, Tennial began working as the Business Manager of the Walnut Grove Packaging Center. His supervisors noted performance deficiencies and serious service failures at that facility over the next two years. Despite these service failures, Tennial contends that his performance was on par with other Caucasian managers.

         In May 2011, Tennial became the Hub Manager of the Twilight Sort, where he worked under Hub Division Manager Richard Williams. Tennial's performance and leadership deficiencies persisted, and the Twilight Sort failed to meet performance goals under his supervision. He claims, however, that the Twilight Sort was in disarray before he took over and had failed to meet its performance goals for many years prior to his appointment.

         In September 2011, the Twilight Sort suffered particularly severe service failures under Tennial's leadership, including an incident in which over 200 packages were not sorted in a timely manner. Tennial and Williams were summoned to Nashville to meet with UPS supervisors and Ken Harms, UPS District President, in order to discuss the 200 delayed packages and other service failures at the Twilight Sort. Although Williams had previously supervised managers who missed loads, he had never before been summoned to the District President's office to explain this type of service failure.

         Tennial alleges that Harms told him during the meeting that, unless he voluntarily stepped down as the Hub Manager, Harms would make it "extremely difficult for him to be successful." He refused to step down. Tennial now contends that Harms followed through on his promise and created an extremely hostile work environment. As a result, Tennial requested leave for stress, depression, and anxiety under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) shortly after this meeting. He was granted leave and thus missed UPS's peak holiday season, which is the company's busiest. Tennial returned to his position as the Hub Manager of the Twilight Sort in early 2012.

         After Williams's retirement later that same month, Cochran became the Hub Division Manager for Memphis and Tennial's direct supervisor. Cochran monitored and assessed Tennial's performance throughout March and April 2012. Numerous service failures were observed by Cochran, which Tennial claims were partly due to inexperienced supervisors, turnover, and a lack of capability at the Twilight Sort. In April 2012, Cochran and District Hub Operations Manager Slabaugh nonetheless decided to put Tennial on a MPIP. At a meeting discussing his MPIP, Tennial took responsibility for his service failures and committed to improving his performance. He also acknowledged that a failure to meet the goals stated in the MPIP could result in an adverse employment action, including a demotion.

         Tennial thereafter failed to meet the goals of his MPIP. He was demoted in July 2012 from the Hub Manager at the Twilight Sort to Full Time Hub Supervisor at the Oakhaven Hub. Cochran testified that this demotion was performance-based, but Tennial maintains that the MPIP goals were impossible to attain because of the inexperienced supervisors at the Twilight Sort, a lack of support, unpredictable volume, and the desire of upper management to see him fail. Tennial further asserts that previous and subsequent Caucasian Hub Managers of the Twilight Sort also failed to meet performance goals, yet were not demoted like he was.

          B. Procedural background

         In Tennial's complaint, he first alleged that the defendants discriminated against him based on his race, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA), Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-101 et seq. He next brought claims under both the THRA and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 623, for age discrimination, as well as claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § § 12101-12213, for disability discrimination. Finally, Tennial alleged that the defendants interfered with his medical leave and retaliated against him, in violation of the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. § 2615.

         UPS, Cochran, and Slabaugh moved for summary judgment on all counts in November 2014. Tennial opposed their motion and, in June 2015, filed a motion under Rule 56(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure asking the court to defer the consideration of summary judgment in order for him to supplement his response with additional discovery. According to the motion, Tennial wished to depose three managerial-level UPS employees regarding incidents that had happened after the filing of the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The defendants filed a response opposing Tennial's motion, claiming in part that the information that he sought to discover was irrelevant to his claims.

         In November 2015, the district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment and denied Tennial's Rule 56(d) Motion. Following this decision, the defendants filed a Bill of Costs with the Clerk of Court, seeking to recover permissible costs due the prevailing party under Rule 54 (d)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Tennial objected, arguing that the court should use its discretion and refuse to tax costs against him because the costs sought were unreasonable and unjustified. In February ...


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