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Thomas v. Gray Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division

December 12, 2018




         Plaintiff Yoshida Loretta Thomas, an African-American woman, brought suit against her former employer, Gray Transportation, Inc. (Gray Transportation), alleging race and sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Doc. 2. Currently before the court is Defendant Gray Transportation's motion for summary judgment. Doc. 15. Thomas filed a resistance (Docs. 16, 19), and Gray Transportation filed a reply (Doc. 21). After a hearing on the motion (Doc. 23), the parties filed supplemental briefing (Docs. 24, 25). I find that Gray Transportation is entitled to summary judgment on all of Thomas's claims and thus grant the motion (Doc. 15).

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are recited in the light most favorable to Thomas, the nonmoving party. Gray Transportation is a trucking company that employs (among others) truck drivers, dispatchers who communicate with the drivers, and brokers that arrange for customers' loads to be transported by truck. LeRoy Gray is the chief executive officer of Gray Transportation, and his son, Darrin Gray, is the president (to avoid confusion, I refer to the Grays by their first names). Pl. SOF ¶¶ 1-2; Def. Resp. SOF ¶¶ 1-2.[1]

         LeRoy hired Thomas to work as a dispatcher after an in-person interview on October 19, 2015, and Thomas met Darrin that same day. Def. SOF ¶¶ 2-4; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶¶ 2-4. LeRoy offered to pay Thomas $600 per week ($31, 200 annually), which Thomas accepted without requesting additional pay (this salary represented a 50ḉ per hour increase as compared to what Thomas had been earning). Def. SOF ¶ 5; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 5;[2] Pl. SOF ¶¶ 4, 17; Def. Resp. SOF ¶¶ 4, 17; Pl. App. 29, 31; Def. App. 17. Thomas began working for Gray Transportation two weeks later, on November 2, 2015. Def. SOF ¶ 4; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶¶ 4. She primarily worked as a dispatcher, but she also performed brokerage work from January to June 2016. Pl. SOF ¶¶ 22-25, 35-37, 40; Def. Resp. SOF ¶¶ 22-25, 35-37, 40. She stopped working as a broker after Sel Saric, the other dispatcher who also worked as a broker, received a $408 bonus, while she did not. Pl. SOF ¶¶ 25- 40; Def. Resp. SOF ¶¶ 25-40; Pl. App. 62-63. Saric is a white man of Bosnian descent.

         Gray Transportation's unwritten brokerage bonus policy was that when the brokerage profit was more than $10, 000 for a month, brokers were paid a bonus based on the amount of profit that was over $10, 000-with one broker, the bonus was 5% of the amount of profit greater than $10, 000; and with two brokers, the bonus was 2.5% each of the amount of profit greater than $10, 000. Pl. SOF ¶¶ 32-33; Def. Resp. SOF ¶¶ 32-33. Rather than determining the bonus based on how much work each broker did, the 5% bonus was split evenly between brokers because of the time and effort to determine loads and revenues for each broker. Pl. SOF ¶ 34; Def. Resp. SOF ¶ 34. After the main person who performed brokerage work for Gray Transportation left in January 2016, Gray Transportation no longer had a “primary broker.” Pl. SOF ¶¶ 24-25; Def. Resp SOF ¶¶ 24-25. LeRoy told Saric and Thomas “that [they] were going to take over the brokerage side of the business, ” in addition to performing their dispatching duties. Pl. App. 45. Saric had previously been trained to perform brokerage work as a substitute when the main person was on vacation or otherwise out of the office; he had begun brokering in February 2015 and received his first brokerage bonus in June 2015. Pl. App. 22-23. Thomas had experience as a broker from her previous employment. Pl. App. 42. When Thomas learned that Saric had received a bonus in June 2016[3] and she had not, Thomas asked LeRoy about it. Pl. App. 47. LeRoy said that “it was his company and he can do what he wants and if [Thomas didn't] like it, [she] could quit.” Pl. App. 47. Thomas stopped performing brokerage work after that. Gray Transportation contends that Thomas did not receive a bonus because “she did not generate enough revenue to offset a bonus package” and that although Thomas brokered a few loads or otherwise helped Saric, “the majority of [the brokerage work] was . . . Saric.” Pl. App. 18, 21-22.

         On Friday, December 23, 2016, Thomas was twenty to thirty minutes late to work (she had previously received a written warning after being late in July 2016 “that further tardiness can and will result in her termination”). Def. SOF ¶¶ 8-10; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶¶ 8-10. Darrin believed that Thomas was hungover or otherwise disheveled and not “in a frame of mind to . . . work, ” so he sent her home for the day, making no mention of her tardiness. Pl. SOF ¶ 45; Def. Resp. SOF ¶ 45; Pl. App. 33; Def. Supp. App. 78-79. Feeling wrongly accused, Thomas went to a clinic to obtain a blood test, and she returned to work a few hours later to show Darrin the results indicating that there was no alcohol in her bloodstream. Pl. App. 35; Def. Supp. App. 80. At that point, Darrin conveyed to Thomas that her employment with Gray Transportation was terminated, and he instructed her to leave and to come back at a later date for her things. Pl. App. 35-36. Thomas applied for unemployment benefits that day. Pl. SOF ¶ 51; Def. Resp. SOF ¶ 51; Pl. App. 26, 66. On Monday, December 26, 2016, she applied for a few jobs. Def. SOF ¶ 11; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 11.

         Due to the holiday, even if Thomas had not been fired, she would not have returned to work until Tuesday, December 27, 2016. Def. Supp. App. 80. At some point during the holiday weekend, Thomas received a text message from someone at Gray Transportation stating that “if [Thomas] want[ed] to come in Tuesday morning and discuss [her] employment, [she could].” Def. App. 21. Thomas went to the meeting on the 27th and returned to work the next day, on Wednesday, December 28, 2016. Def. SOF ¶ 12; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 12; Def. App. 22.

         Thomas's employment with Gray Transportation did not last much longer. On January 17, 2017, a flurry of emails were exchanged between Thomas, Darrin, and LeRoy after Thomas notified them that she had begun applying for other employment after being fired. Def. SOF ¶¶ 13-20; Pl. Resp. ¶¶ 13-20; Def. App. 47-53. Darrin asked when Thomas planned on leaving, because she was supposed to begin a week-long training session on a new software system the following Monday, January 23. Def. App. 48. Thomas responded that she was “putting in applications now” and had not “interviewed for anything yet.” Def. App. 49. Darrin indicated that since Thomas was looking for other employment, he would obtain a replacement to attend the training on Monday, concluding his email by saying he “accept[ed] [Thomas's] resignation.” Def. App. 51. Thomas replied that she had not resigned. Def. App. 49. Darrin ignored this representation, emailing Thomas that they needed to train someone who expected to continue their employment with Gray Transportation and that he appreciated the notification of “her intentions and again, [he] accept[ed] [her] resignation.” Def. App. 50. LeRoy added that it was “not right to spend the time and money to train” Thomas on the new system and indicated that they had already arranged for a dispatcher candidate to come in for an interview. Def. App. 51. Thomas asked whether they wanted her to come in for work on Monday, since they had no intentions of training her on the new system. Def. App. 54. Darrin emailed that he never said she was terminated, and LeRoy clarified that they would “have other work for [Thomas], ” and “[i]f [she didn't] like or accept it [she] can make the decision to stay or leave.” Def. App. 53.

         Thomas went to talk to LeRoy in person and covertly recorded the conversation. Def. SOF ¶¶ 21-22; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶¶ 21-22; Def. Ex. K (audio recording). The recording captures LeRoy twice telling Thomas rather angrily that he was “not going to invest ten cents in [her]” for training given that she was looking for new employment. Id. LeRoy continued that if Thomas were “working for [him], ” she would be doing “something else within this company, ” not dispatching. Id. Thomas asked whether she would receive a decrease in pay with a new position, and LeRoy said, “Well, could be, depends on what I'm going to have you do.” Id. Thomas asked whether she would have a choice in the matter, and LeRoy retorted, “you'll have a choice of quitting.” Id. Thomas said she liked dispatching, but LeRoy said she would no longer be doing that. Id. Thomas asked if he had any idea what her new job would be, and he said no. Id. The next day, Thomas emailed LeRoy and Darrin “respectfully declin[ing]” the new position, indicating that she could not take a position with lesser pay. Def. App. 59. Thomas's last day was Friday, January 20, 2017. Pl. App. 59.

         During the time that Thomas worked as a dispatcher for Gray Transportation, she made less money than the other dispatchers, none of whom were African-American. Pl. App. 62-63. The dispatchers working for Gray Transportation at the time Thomas was hired made between $43, 200 and $48, 400 a year. Pl. App. 62-63; Pl. SOF ¶¶ 4-16; Def. Resp. SOF ¶¶ 4-16. The dispatchers hired after Thomas also made more than her. Yasmina Halkic, a white Bosnian woman who was hired after Thomas, made $39, 000 a year. Id. And Edin Obic, a white Bosnian male who began working as a dispatcher after Thomas but who had previously worked for Gray Transportation as a driver manager, maintained his salary of $63, 000 after his change in positions. Id.


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), “[t]he court shall grant [a motion for] summary judgment 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.” For the plaintiff to avoid summary judgment, sufficient evidence must exist “on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Olmsted v. Saint Paul Pub. Sch., 830 F.3d 824, 828 (8th Cir. 2016) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986)). The court “view[s] the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Soo Line R.R. Co. v. Werner Enters., 825 F.3d 413, 418 (8th Cir. 2016) (quoting Bishop v. Glazier, 723 F.3d 957, 960-61 (8th Cir. 2013)).

         Gray Transportation moves for summary judgment on Thomas's claims of race and sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits an employer from “discharg[ing] an individual[] or otherwise . . . discriminat[ing] against any individual with respect to [her] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race . . . [or] sex.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). As I read the complaint and the summary-judgment briefing, Thomas alleges Title VII claims based on her failure to receive a brokerage bonus in June 2016, the termination of her employment in January 2017, and unequal salary (although the pleadings could be clearer). See Docs. 2, 19. Gray Transportation's original briefing in support of its motion addresses only the discriminatory-discharge claim (indeed, Gray Transportation does not respond to Thomas's argument that the “adverse employment actions” against her included her failure to receive a bonus and her unequal pay).[4]See Doc. 15; Doc. 19 at 9-10; Doc. 21. At the hearing on the summary-judgment ...

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