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Brown v. Centerra Group

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

September 26, 2019

Cynthia Brown, Plaintiff,
Centerra Group, et al., Defendants.

          Mona K. Majzoub, U.S. Magistrate Judge



         Cynthia Brown, an African American woman, was employed as a protective service officer (“PSO”) at the Patrick V. McNamara federal building in Detroit until her employment was terminated on December 11, 2014. On December 3, 2014, Officer Brown was involved in an altercation with an immigration attorney who entered the building on business. Both the Federal Protective Services (“FPS”) and her employer - the contractor Centerra Group - investigated the incident. Following the investigation, Officer Brown was terminated. She then grieved her termination through a union-sponsored arbitration. The arbitrator found that she was terminated without just cause and ordered backpay and reinstatement. Because she has yet to complete required training and paperwork, Officer Brown has not been reinstated.

         She brought this suit alleging that she was fired in retaliation for filing an EEOC complaint and on account of her sex and race. Defendants have moved for summary judgment, arguing that Officer Brown was fired because of her conduct, not because of any protected characteristic. For the reasons discussed below, the Motion for Summary Judgment [46] will be granted.

         Factual Background

         Former PSO, Cynthia Brown, had worked for Defendant Centerra Group, LLC, since it - then branded G4S Government Solutions - took over the contract for security services from DECO, her previous employer, at the Patrick V. McNamara federal building in 2014. Plaintiff had previously filed an EEOC complaint against a number of her supervisors from DECO who continued to act as her supervisors in Centerra. One of the allegations in the EEOC complaint was that Defendant Michael Szymanski, her supervisor, made a racist statement when he reminisced about working in Hamtramck, where one could beat people with hoses. (Dkt. 57-2, Pl. Ex. 1, Deposition of Cynthia Brown at 270).

         On December 3, 2014, at around 11:00 a.m., Officer Brown left her position to drink some water. (Brown Dep. 172). Brown was assigned to the controller spot, while PSO Donovan Hollis was in the greeter’s spot. Due to a miscommunication, where Brown failed to relay to Hollis to “hold the line, ” no one was there to screen attorney Oana Marina when she came into the building. Marina took off her shoes to pass through the metal detector, placed them on the belt, and then by her own affidavit was waiting by the belt for the shoes to come through when Officer Brown accosted her. (Dkt. 46-6; Def. Ex. E).

         At this point the facts become disputed. Officer Brown maintains that Marina attempted to run her shoes through the x-ray machine herself, and then when Officer Brown confronted her and asked her to proceed to the end of the table, Marina became physically and verbally combative, causing Officer Brown to apply minimal amounts of force to shepherd her to the end of the table. Officer Brown testified that she overheard Marina confessing to FPS officers that she had had a few cocktails over lunch. (Brown Dep. 339). This detail did not make it into the FPS report.

         Marina recounted that she was pushed from behind by Officer Brown, away from the x-ray machine, and then exchanged words with Officer Brown over her rudeness, including a threat to report her to a superior. (Dkt. 46-6; Def. Ex. E). Then, after she walked away and assumed that she was free to proceed, Brown and a male PSO grabbed her from behind, pushed her against the wall, and handcuffed her, resulting in injury. Marina denied drinking alcohol that day. (Id.).

         Officers Donovan Hollis, Kenneth Davis, and Everette Wilson, all of whom were also PSOs on duty and participated in Marina’s arrest, submitted statements as part of the G4S investigation. They both described how Marina walked through the metal detector unbidden and then became verbally aggressive when Officer Brown asked her to move down to the end of the table, at which point she began screaming. (Dkt. 57-11, Pl. Ex. 8; Dkt. 57-14, Pl. Ex. 10(B); Dkt. 57-15; Pl. Ex. 11). By their accounts, Marina was asked to leave the building, refused, and was then handcuffed and turned over to the custody of FPS. (Id.).

         FPS thereafter prepared an incident report based on a review of the video footage of the incident and interviews with the officers and Marina. (Dkt. 46-14, Def. Ex. M, PageID 932-933). That report suggested that Officer Brown was “engaged in conversation” away from her post with PSOs Davis and Wilson when Marina went through the metal detector and set off the alarm. It notes, based on the video, that Officer Brown took Marina’s tub of personal items and slammed it down on the furthest table from Marina. It further alleges that Officer Brown then pointed to the end of the table, and, when Marina did not move, “shove[d]” the attorney with her right arm. Marina then took out a notepad and jotted down something, stopped to say something after gathering her belongings, and then began walking into the building. Brown and Wilson stopped screening to try to get Marina’s attention, and when they could not they followed her out of range of the camera. When FPS agents encountered Marina, she was crying, her face was cut, and her wrists were bruised from the handcuffs. (Id.).

         This Post-Inspection Form was emailed from Joe Lang, the Contracting Officers’ Representative of the FPS. The email noted that “two negative 2820s” were attached regarding PSOs Brown and Wilson. The email asked for a response by close-of-business December 11, 2014. (Dkt. 46-4, Def. Ex. C., PageID 698).

         On December 11, 2014, a letter from Mark Carruthers of the Washington Operations branch of G4S sent Officer Brown a letter that as a result of the incident, her employment was to be terminated on December 11, 2014. (Dkt. 46-7; Def. Ex. F). Officer Brown’s union contested the termination and filed a grievance on December 16, 2014, which went to arbitration pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement. An arbitration hearing was held on May 4, 2016, with both parties represented by counsel. Centerra Group argued to the arbitrator that Officer Brown had committed four serious infractions of work rules in the Discipline Matrix, including failing to take appropriate action for the safety of the client, violating security procedures, being inattentive to duty, and disorderly conduct. (Dkt. 57-5, Pl. Ex. 4, pg. 9). Because the arbitrator who conducted the hearing died, a new arbitrator was chosen by the parties to render a decision.

         On April 11, 2017, that arbitrator, Stanley Dobrey, decided that Centerra had failed to present adequate proof that Officer Brown even committed an infraction. (Id. at 29). He noted that Centerra had inexplicably lost or failed to record its conversations with Oana Marina, and that it had produced only hearsay to rebut Officer Brown’s version of the facts, that she applied minimal force to a recalcitrant visitor after returning from a permitted water break. (Dkt. 46-8; Def. Ex. G).

         During the pendency of the arbitration, Officer Brown obtained a few part-time jobs, including substitute teaching positions at several schools and a temporary position at TJ Maxx. (Brown Dep. pg. 57-58). She eventually settled on a part time position at Wayne County Community College as a security guard. (Id.). The position was subsequently expanded to full-time, though her salary seems to have remained lower than what it would have been at Centerra. (Id. at 41, 59).

         The Arbitrator ordered that the termination be set aside, and that Officer Brown be reinstated with backpay. Officer Brown deposited the check for backpay in the amount of $78, 043.25. She has not been reinstated, however, because she has not filled out required paperwork, nor completed required training. (Dkt. 46-10; Ex. I). Officer Brown, in her emails with her supervisors, expressed difficulty with getting away from her job at Wayne County Community College to attend trainings scheduled in July of 2017. (Dkt. 46-10, Def. Ex. I; Dkt. 57-17, Pl. Ex. 14).

         Procedural Background

          Plaintiff filed her Complaint on August 11, 2017. [Dkt. # 1]. She filed an Amended Complaint [6] on November 14, 2017. Discovery opened on March 28, 2018 and closed on September 7, 2018. On November 8, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [46]. That motion was fully briefed, and a hearing was held on September 5, 2019.

         Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Movant bears the burden of establishing that there are no genuine issues of material fact, which may be accomplished by demonstrating that the non-movant lacks evidence to support an essential element of his case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Non-movant cannot rest on the pleadings and must show more than “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd., 475 U.S. at 586-87. Non-movant must “go beyond the pleadings and by . . . affidavits, or by the ...

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