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Gooden v. Knoll, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

May 13, 2019

JOSEPH GOODEN, Plaintiff,
v.
KNOLL, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION

          ELLEN S. CARMODY United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 27). The parties have consented to proceed in this Court for all further proceedings, including trial and an order of final judgment. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). By Order of Reference, the Honorable Janet T. Neff referred this case to the undersigned. For the reasons discussed herein, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied without prejudice in part, and this matter terminated.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, an African-American, began working for Knoll, Inc. on August 31, 2007. (ECF No. 3). On December 27, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). (ECF No. 28-13 at PageID.214). Plaintiff alleged that he was alone required to do the same amount of work as an unidentified number of Caucasian workers were required to complete as a group. (Id.). Plaintiff also alleged that unlike his “co-workers, ” he was not provided a company email address. (Id.). Plaintiff asserted this conduct constituted racial discrimination. (Id.). Plaintiff alleged this conduct began on June 1, 2015 and constituted a “continuing action.” (Id.). On May 10, 2017, the EEOC terminated its investigation having discovered no evidence that Knoll violated Plaintiff's rights. (ECF No. 28-14 at PageID.216). Plaintiff was notified of his right to pursue legal action regarding this matter, but expressly warned that any such action had to be initiated within 90 days. (Id.). Plaintiff did not pursue the matter further.

         On May 26, 2017, Plaintiff filed another Charge of Discrimination with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the EEOC. (ECF No. 28-15 at PageID.218). Plaintiff alleged that his employment with Knoll was terminated on March 27, 2017, in retaliation for pursuing his previous EEOC complaint. (Id.). Plaintiff alleged that the discrimination which formed the basis of this complaint constituted “retaliation” only. (Id.). Plaintiff also alleged that this discrimination began and ended on March 27, 2017 and did not constitute a continuing action. (Id.). On November 3, 2017, the EEOC terminated its investigation having discovered no evidence that Knoll violated Plaintiff's rights. (ECF No. 28-16 at PageID.220). Plaintiff was notified of his right to pursue legal action regarding this matter, but expressly warned that any such action had to be initiated within 90 days. (Id.).

         Plaintiff initiated the present action on February 6, 2018, alleging: (1) racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; (2) racial discrimination in violation of Michigan law; (2) retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; (4) retaliation in violation of Michigan law; and (5) retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Defendant Knoll now moves for summary judgment.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment ''shall'' be granted ''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 party moving for summary judgment can satisfy its burden by demonstrating ''that the respondent, having had sufficient opportunity for discovery, has no evidence to support an essential element of his or her case.'' Minadeo v. ICI Paints, 398 F.3d 751, 761 (6th Cir. 2005). Once the moving party demonstrates that ''there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, '' the non-moving party ''must identify specific facts that can be established by admissible evidence, which demonstrate a genuine issue for trial.'' ''mini v. Oberlin College, 440 F.3d 350, 357 (6th Cir. 2006).

         While the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the party opposing the summary judgment motion ''must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.'' ''mini, 440 F.3d at 357. The existence of a mere ''scintilla of evidence'' in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient. Daniels v. Woodside, 396 F.3d 730, 734-35 (6th Cir. 2005). The non-moving party ''may not rest upon [his] mere allegations, @ but must instead present ''significant probative evidence'' establishing that ''there is a genuine issue for trial.'' Pack v. Damon Corp., 434 F.3d 810, 813-14 (6th Cir. 2006).

         Moreover, the non-moving party cannot defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment by ''simply arguing that it relies solely or in part upon credibility determinations.'' Fogerty v. MGM Group Holdings Corp., Inc., 379 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir. 2004). Rather, the non-moving party ''must be able to point to some facts which may or will entitle him to judgment, or refute the proof of the moving party in some material portion, and. . .may not merely recite the incantation, 'Credibility,' and have a trial on the hope that a jury may disbelieve factually uncontested proof.'' Id. at 353-54. In sum, summary judgment is appropriate ''against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.'' Daniels, 396 F.3d at 735.

         While a moving party without the burden of proof need only show that the opponent cannot sustain his burden at trial, a moving party with the burden of proof faces a ''substantially higher hurdle.'' Arnett v. Myers, 281 F.3d 552, 561 (6th Cir. 2002). Where the moving party has the burden, ''his showing must be sufficient for the court to hold that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party.'' Calderone v. United States, 799 F.2d 254, 259 (6th Cir. 1986). The Sixth Circuit has emphasized that the party with the burden of proof ''must show the record contains evidence satisfying the burden of persuasion and that the evidence is so powerful that no reasonable jury would be free to disbelieve it.'' Arnett, 281 F.3d at 561. Accordingly, summary judgment in favor of the party with the burden of persuasion ''is inappropriate when the evidence is susceptible of different interpretations or inferences by the trier of fact.'' Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 553 (1999).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Exhaustion - Title VII Racial Discrimination Claim

         Plaintiff cannot assert his Title VII claim in this Court unless he first pursued such before the EEOC. See Tisdale v. Federal Express Corp., 415 F.3d 516, 527 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting Haithcock v. Frank, 958 F.2d 671, 675 (6th Cir. 1992)). While a pro se plaintiff's complaint to the EEOC must be “liberally construed, ” any subsequent judicial action “must be limited to the scope of the EEOC investigation reasonably expected to grow out of the charge of discrimination.” Tisdale, 415 F.3d at 527; Duggins v. Steak ‘N Shake, 195 F.3d 828, 831-32 (6th Cir. 1999). Accordingly, “where facts related with respect to the ...


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