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Coker v. Parker Hannifin Corporation

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division

August 21, 2014

MUCTARU COKER, Plaintiff,
v.
PARKER HANNIFIN CORPORATION, Defendant.

ORDER

LINDA R. READE, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

The matter before the court is Defendant Parker Hannifin Corporation's ("Parker") Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion") (docket no. 13).

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On December 27, 2012, Plaintiff Muctaru Coker filed a two-count Petition ("Complaint") (docket no. 4) in the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Case No. LACV77420. In the Complaint, Coker alleges that Parker wrongfully terminated him because of his race and national origin in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, codified in pertinent part at Iowa Code section 216.11, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified in pertinent part at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. On January 29, 2013, Parker removed the action to this court on the basis of federal question and diversity jurisdiction. Notice of Removal (docket no. 2). On May 29, 2014, Parker filed the Motion. On June 23, 2014, Coker filed a Resistance (docket no. 14). On June 30, 2014, Parker filed a Reply (docket no. 15). Neither party has requested oral argument and the court finds that oral argument is unnecessary. The Motion is fully submitted and ready for decision.

III. SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION

The court has federal question jurisdiction over Coker's claim that Parker violated 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). Since the court has federal question jurisdiction over Coker's claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, the court has supplemental jurisdiction over Coker's claim arising under Iowa Code section 216.11, because the claim "form[s] part of the same case or controversy" as Coker's federal claim. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) ("[I]n any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution.").

The court also has diversity jurisdiction over Coker's claims against Parker pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Coker is a citizen of Iowa. Complaint ¶ 2. Parker is an Ohio corporation with its principal place of business in Cleveland, Ohio, and therefore, an Ohio citizen. Notice of Removal ¶ 9. The Complaint does not allege an amount in controversy, but based on statements in the Notice of Removal and the fact that Coker has not resisted the removal of this case to federal court, the court is satisfied that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. See Notice of Removal ¶¶ 11-15. Accordingly, there is complete diversity of the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Therefore, the court finds that it has diversity jurisdiction over both of Coker's claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between... citizens of different States.").

IV. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate "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 dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party; a fact is material if its resolution affects the outcome of the case." Amini v. City of Minneapolis, 643 F.3d 1068, 1074 (8th Cir. 2011) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 252 (1986)). "[U]nsupported, self-serving allegations and denials are insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact." Anuforo v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue, 614 F.3d 799, 807 (8th Cir. 2010). "To survive a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must substantiate [its] allegations with sufficient probative evidence [that] would permit a finding in [its] favor based on more than mere speculation, conjecture, or fantasy." Barber v. C1 Truck Driver Training, LLC, 656 F.3d 782, 801 (8th Cir. 2011) (second alteration in original) (quoting Putman v. Unity Health Sys., 348 F.3d 732, 733-34 (8th Cir. 2003)) (internal quotation marks omitted). If there is a genuine dispute about a material fact, the court must view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and afford it all reasonable inferences. See Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009). However, "[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial." Id. at 586 (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

"The [Supreme] Court has reiterated that district courts should not treat discrimination differently from other ultimate questions of fact.'" Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1043 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 148 (2000)). "There is no discrimination case exception' to the application of summary judgment, which is a useful pretrial tool to determine whether any case, including one alleging discrimination, merits a trial." Id.

V. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Coker and affording him all reasonable inferences, the facts are these:

A. Parties

Coker was born in Gambia, Africa, and considers his ethnicity African and national origin Gambian. Coker's native language is not English. In late 2004, Coker was assigned by Kelly Services, a temporary staffing agency, to work at Parker's Hiawatha, Iowa plant. While a temporary worker, Coker submitted an application for a full-time position to Steve Point, Parker's warehouse supervisor in Hiawatha. Brian Odean, Parker's plant manager, hired Coker to a full-time position as an assembly worker and material handler. Point was Coker's supervisor throughout Coker's employment at Parker.

Parker is responsible for the design, manufacture and marketing of a variety of applications that control the flow of fluids in various markets, such as aerospace, agriculture, construction and industrial areas. Parker's plant in Hiawatha produces hoses and fittings for hydraulics. Assembly workers at the Hiawatha plant work in one of six cell work stations and often rotate through the cells. Material handlers move inventory with a forklift or their hands from the dock area to trucks for shipping or from trucks to the dock area to be used by the plant. Material handlers also verify the inventory received matches the same materials listed on the packing slip.

B. Coker's Employment at Parker Prior to the Dispute at Issue

1. Reviews

Point reviewed Coker's work numerous times from 2005 until the end of Coker's employment at Parker. Coker generally received high ratings in most of the categories and he received a wage increase in most years. However, Coker also received several negative reviews. On May 16, 2011, Point conducted a quarterly one-on-one evaluation with Coker. Point noted that Coker needed to manage his time better and to avoid distractions, nonproductive conversations and cell phone use. On July 19, 2011, Coker received an annual performance review. The review listed mostly positive attributes about Coker's work but also stated that Coker needed to improve his dependability and avoid nonproductive conversations. On December 12, 2011, Point indicated to Coker in a quarterly one-on-one evaluation that Coker needed to manage his time better on the production floor, focus on his work and avoid distractions and nonproductive conversations. Coker acknowledged that he understood the comments made during the one-on-one evaluations.

2. Errors

Parker disciplined Coker for various errors committed at Parker. On April 25, 2005, Parker issued Coker a counseling because he committed three quality-related errors from January 28, 2005 to April 13, 2005. On February 8, 2006, Parker issued Coker a second counseling for committing seven quality-related errors in a twelve-month period. On April 10, 2006, Parker issued Coker a verbal warning for committing three quality-related errors from April 13, 2005 to March 20, 2006, for a total of ten errors in a rolling twelve-month period. Finally, on August 30, 2011, Parker issued Coker a counseling for committing three quality-related errors in a rolling twelve-month period.

3. Attendance

On December 21, 2010, Parker issued Coker a written attendance warning for six attendance points for taking an extra six days off of work to visit Africa.[1]

4. Wasting time

On June 16, 2011, Parker issued Coker a counseling for wasting time and leaving the work area during work hours to have nonproductive social conversations with co-workers. On August 30, 2011, Parker issued Coker a verbal warning for unnecessary wandering, wasting time, having nonproductive conversations and for not maintaining a consistent productivity level. Notice of Unacceptable Performance, Parker App'x at 200.

5. Unsafe work practices

On October 6, 2005, Parker issued Coker a counseling for unsafe work practices after he struck a water fountain while operating a forklift.

6. Other misconduct

On September 13, 2006, Parker issued Coker a counseling for workplace violence after he raised his voice toward another employee in a nonprofessional manner.

On May 22, 2007, Coker was involved in a verbal altercation with his lead person, D.P., a white male, after D.P. told Coker to remain productive. Coker became angry with D.P. and said, "I'm tired of your shit and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Verbal Reminder, Parker App'x at 196. Coker was notified that his behavior was considered insubordination and unacceptable under Parker's Workplace Violence Policy. Coker acknowledged that he must follow the directives of the lead person, must communicate in a professional way and that outbursts would not be tolerated at Parker.

7. Sexual harassment complaint

On March 20, 2008, Parker issued Coker a warning and a one day/partial day off with pay for inappropriate sexual conduct in the workplace toward S.J., a female co-worker. The warning detailed Coker's inappropriate sexual conduct toward S.J.:

With this notification, you are now in a very serious and critical position relative to your continued employment at Parker.
The performance/behavior standards at issue are:
On Dec. 13, [2007, ] you were telling co-workers that you had slept with a female co-worker and kept pushing the issue. On Dec. 14[, 2007, ] you asked [the] same co-worker why she was feeling her tits (which her shirt was dirty) then asked twice if her tits were real. Then you said that they were nice. Then you tried to have [a] co-worker join in your inappropriate discussion of [the] female co-worker[']s anatomy.[2]
....
... Violation of Sexual Harassment Policy going forward will result in Termination.

Decision-Making Time Off Notification, Parker App'x at 180. Coker admitted he made repeated comments to S.J. about her "tits, " including asking her why she was "feeling her tits, " asking her if her "tits were real" and telling her that her "tits" were "nice." Coker Deposition, Parker App'x at 63-64, 98. Point described the incident as a couple guys "razzing" and "giving a hard time" to S.J. Point Deposition, Coker Appendix ("Coker App'x") (docket nos. 14-4 through 14-5) at 67. Yet, Coker understood that Parker was treating the incident as a serious issue and that he could lose his job because of the incident. Coker was neither terminated for this incident nor ordered to undergo treatment. Coker received several positive performance reviews after this incident.

C. Coker's Relationship with R.Y.

Coker first met and worked with R.Y., a white female, at Parker in 2004. Coker, R.Y. and their spouses went out as couples. At some point, a sexual relationship developed between Coker and R.Y. while both were ...


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