United States District Court, D. Maryland
December 29, 2014
ABDUL SHADEED AL-SABIR
CEVA LOGISTICS U.S., INC.
CATHERINE C. BLAKE, District Judge.
Abdul Shadeed Al-Sabir sues his former employer, CEVA Logistics U.S., Inc. ("CEVA"), alleging that he was discharged on the basis of his race or color in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). CEVA now moves for summary judgment. That motion has been fully briefed and no hearing is necessary to its resolution. See Local Rule 105.5 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons described below, CEVA's motion will be granted.
CEVA is a logistics company that provides fueling services to transportation companies. ( See Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 2, Hershberger Aff. 1, ECF No. 19-3.) CEVA's Baltimore facility employed drivers responsible for fueling trains in Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. ( See Hershberger Aff. 1.) Those drivers were responsible for filling their trucks with fuel, transporting that fuel to locomotives, and filling the locomotives with it. ( See Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 1, Navikoff Aff., Ex. B, ECF No. 19-2; Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 3, Al-Sabir Dep. 114, ECF No. 19-4.) Historically, drivers at CEVA's Baltimore facility serviced only one client, CSX Transportation ("CSX"). ( See Hershberger Aff., 1.) Beginning in November 2011, however, CEVA took on a new contract to fuel certain locomotives of the Norfolk Southern Railroad ("NS"). ( See Hershberger Aff. 1).
Al-Sabir began working at CEVA in early November of that year. ( See Al-Sabir Dep. 109.) There, he was immediately assigned to be the sole driver responsible for servicing the firm's new contract with NS. ( See Hershberger Aff. 1; Al-Sabir Dep. 115, 122.) Gary Hershberger, an Operations Manager at CEVA, served as Al-Sabir's supervisor. ( See Hershberger Aff. 1.) Al-Sabir's interactions with Hershberger, however, were relatively limited. They spoke over the telephone three times and in person twice, although Al-Sabir saw Hershberger more often than that. ( See Al-Sabir Dep. 175-76.)
In an affidavit, Hershberger stated that Al-Sabir's performance on the job was unsatisfactory. According to Hershberger, Al-Sabir sometimes completed his fuel-delivery routes slowly and NS frequently complained to Hershberger about Al-Sabir's work. ( See Hershberger Aff. 2-4; Al-Sabir Dep. 153-54.) On December 17, 2011, Al-Sabir called Hershberger to inform him that he was unable to complete his route and brought his trucks back to the Baltimore facility without fueling several locomotives. ( See Hershberger Aff. 4; Al-Sabir Dep. 153-54.) Two days later, Hershberger terminated Al-Sabir's employment with CEVA, before the completion of his probationary period as a new employee. ( See Hershberger Aff. 5.)
I. Standard of Review
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment should 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) (emphases added). Whether a fact is material depends upon the substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Accordingly, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment." Id. at 247-48. "A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, ' but rather must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Bouchat v. Balt. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003) (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (citation omitted); see also Greater Balt. Ctr. for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor & City Council of Balt., 721 F.3d 264, 283 (4th Cir. 2013). At the same time, the court must not yield its obligation "to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial." Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 526 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
II. Employment Discrimination
"Generally speaking, a plaintiff may avert summary judgment and establish a claim for intentional... discrimination through two avenues of proof." Hill v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Mgmt., Inc., 354 F.3d 277, 284 (4th Cir. 2004) (en banc).
A plaintiff can... present direct or circumstantial evidence that raises a genuine issue of material fact as to whether an impermissible factor such as race motivated the employer's adverse employment action.... Alternatively, a plaintiff may "proceed under [the McDonnell Douglas ] pretext' framework, under which the employee, after establishing a prima facie case of discrimination, demonstrates that the employer's proffered permissible reason for taking an adverse employment action is actually a pretext for discrimination."
Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 318 (4th Cir. 2005) (alteration in original) (quoting Hill, 354 F.3d at 285). Al-Sabir maintains that both these "avenues" remain open to him. The record, however, forecloses his access to either route to relief.
A. Direct Evidence
Al-Sabir asserts that direct evidence that his supervisor, Hershberger, verbally harassed him is sufficient to sustain his discrimination claim against summary judgment. (Opp. Mot. Summ. J. 5-6.) "Direct evidence must be evidence of conduct or statements that both reflect directly the alleged discriminatory attitude and that bear directly on the contested employment decision.' Even if there is a statement that reflects a discriminatory attitude, it must have a nexus with the adverse employment action." Warch v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co., 435 F.3d 510, 520 (4th Cir. 2006) (internal citations omitted) (quoting Taylor v. Virginia Union Univ., 193 F.3d 219, 232 (4th Cir. 1999) (en banc)). To evaluate the significance of allegedly discriminatory verbal statements, "[c]ourts have considered the context of the statement, its temporal proximity to the adverse employment action, and the status of the person making the statement in determining whether such a nexus exists." E.E.O.C. v. CTI Global Solutions, Inc., 815 F.Supp.2d 897, 906 (D. Md. 2011).
Roughly one month before Al-Sabir's termination, he and Hershberger had a verbal altercation over the telephone. As Al-Sabir recounted in his deposition, Hershberger "cursed me and told me to get my black ass down the road. If I don't like what is going on, get my black ass out of here." (Al-Sabir Dep. 174.) Although that statement "reflects a discriminatory attitude, " it lacks a sufficiently close nexus to Al-Sabir's termination to serve as direct evidence. Al-Sabir does not explain the context surrounding Hershberger's alleged statement. It is an isolated comment that occurred nearly a month before Al-Sabir's termination. A jury could not sustain Al-Sabir's claim on the basis of that statement alone.
B. Prima Facie Case
Al-Sabir also asserts that he has established a prima facie case of discrimination, relying on the following elements: "(1) membership in a protected class; (2) satisfactory job performance; (3) adverse employment action; and (4) different treatment from similarly situated employees outside the protected class." Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing White v. BFI Waste Servs., LLC, 375 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir. 2004)). The plaintiff bears the burden of making out such a case. See, e.g., Hill, 354 F.3d at 285. Al-Sabir has not carried that burden as to the fourth element of his prima facie case.
Al-Sabir first argues that employees who were not fired without cause received more favorable treatment than he did. (Mem. Reply Oct. 16, 2014, Order 1, ECF No. 30.) Not so. Even assuming that Al-Sabir were terminated without cause-a conclusion the court does not endorse-he was a probationary employee, unlike most of those with whom he worked. See, e.g., Purchase v. Astrue, 539 F.Supp.2d 823, 830 (E.D. N.C. 2008) (holding the plaintiff not similarly situated to "a more senior, nonprobationary employee"). And Al-Sabir offers no evidence whatsoever as to CEVA's past treatment of such probationary employees who, like him, were new to the job.
Al-Sabir next asserts that CEVA refrained from terminating two white drivers-Phil and Dale Piper-for what he characterizes as "arguably terminable offenses." (Mem. Reply Oct. 16, 2014, Order 1.) Phil suffered no adverse action after he "disobey[ed] the directions of his supervisor, " who had ordered him to "stay in West Virginia and wait for another load." (Mem. Reply Oct. 16, 2014, Al-Sabir Aff 1, ECF No. 30.) And Piper escaped discipline after receiving "a traffic citation for failing to inspect his truck properly, " as required by the United States Department of Transportation. (Al-Sabir Aff. 1-2.)
Those incidents are not comparable to what occurred here. In the first place, nothing suggests that Phil and Piper were probationary employees, like Al-Sabir. They were thus not similarly situated to him. See, e.g., Purchase, 539 F.Supp.2d at 830. Even were it otherwise, Al-Sabir's relatively conclusory descriptions of Phil and Piper's disciplinary infractions offer none of the contextual detail necessary to compare the possible severity of those incidents with Al-Sabir's conduct. See, e.g., Coleman, 626 F.3d at 191; Cook v. CSX Transp. Corp., 988 F.2d 507, 511-12 (4th Cir. 1993). Ultimately, then, Al-Sabir has not carried his burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination.
For the reasons stated above, CEVA's motion for summary judgment will be granted.
A separate order follows.