United States District Court, D. Maryland
Lipton Hollander United States District Judge
Johnson, the self-represented plaintiff, filed suit against
"Merchants Terminal Corp.", alleging that he
suffered discrimination based on race, in the form of
harassment and wrongful termination, in violation of Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42
U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. ("Title
VII"). ECF l. In his Complaint, Johnson claims that he
was "terminated unjustly" (id. at 2) and
that defendant "fabricated acts of gross misconduct to
terminate" him. Id. at 3. He seeks, inter
alia, punitive damages; injunctive relief; back pay;
reinstatement to his former position; and costs. He also
seeks attorneys' fees, although he is unrepresented.
Id. at 3-4, 11.
pending is the motion for summary judgment (ECF 16) filed by
MTC Logistics, Inc. ("MTC"), which defendant
asserts is its correct corporate name. Id. at 1. The
motion is supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 16-1)
(collectively, "Motion") and several exhibits. ECF
16-2 through ECF 16-10. Johnson responded in opposition. ECF
18 ("Opposition"). He has also appended exhibits
with his Opposition. ECF 18-1 through ECF 18-8. MTC has
replied (ECF 22, "Reply"), with exhibits. ECF 22-1
through ECF 22-3. The Court received a letter from Mr.
Johnson on December 21, 2016, which appears to constitute a
second response in opposition to the Motion. ECF 24. I shall
construe ECF 24 as a supplement to the Opposition
Motion is fully briefed and no hearing is necessary to
resolve it. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons
that follow, I shall grant the Motion.
Factual and Procedural Background
operates a cold storage warehouse in Jessup, Maryland, used
primarily to store refrigerated and frozen food. ECF 16-2
(Johnson Deposition) at 2. In general, suppliers bring frozen
and refrigerated food products to MTC for storage, from which
the food products are picked up and transported to points of
distribution. Id. at 3. Jeffrey Carden has been the
plant manager of MTC since at least 2007. Id. at 5;
see ECF 16-3 (Carden Affidavit).
worked for MTC Logistics, Inc. or its predecessor,
Merchant's Terminal Corporation, during three periods.
Johnson was first hired by Merchant's Terminal
Corporation in April 2007. ECF 16-2 at 5. He was terminated
in October 2007 for leaving work without authorization.
Id. at 5-6. Johnson testified at his deposition that
on the day that he was terminated in 2007, he had been
scheduled for overtime, but informed Carden and his
supervisor that he was sick and could not work late.
Id. at 5. Johnson testified that Carden told him
"if you leave, you are fired", after which he was
terminated. Id. at 5-6.
January or February of 2010, Johnson called Carden
"about five times" about getting rehired.
Id. at 6. He was rehired on April 20, 2010.
Id. Johnson was then terminated for a second time on
September 15, 2010, for "alleged theft."
Id. Following the intervention of Johnson's
union, Teamsters Local 570, Johnson was allowed to return to
work after about 30 days. Id. at 6-7.
received several written warnings in 2013 and early 2014 from
MTC's management. On January 20, 2013, Carden and Garry
Kvech, MTC's Assistant Plant Manager (ECF 16-7, Kvech
Affidavit), sent Johnson a letter confirming that Johnson was
"given a verbal warning for [his] poor
attendance/lateness record." ECF 16-8 at 1. Carden and
Kvech wrote a letter to Johnson on February 19, 2013,
stating: "During the past 30 work days, your attendance
record has been unacceptable." Id. at 2. The
letter warned: "Further attendance problems will
necessitate more severe disciplinary action."
wrote to Johnson on October 8, 2013, confirming that Johnson
"was given a verbal warning for [his] poor
attendance/lateness record." Id. at 3. And, on
November 4, 2013, Carden wrote again to Johnson, indicating:
"During the past 30 work days, your attendance record
has been unacceptable." Id. at 4. That letter
concluded: "Further attendance problems will necessitate
more severe disciplinary action." Id.
and Kvech also wrote to Johnson on January 7, 2014, warning
him that he would be suspended if his attendance and
timeliness issues continued. Id. at 5. The letter of
January 7, 2014 provided: "You have received both verbal
and written warnings regarding your attendance. Your frequent
absences, tardiness, and or our [sic] failure to give your
supervisor advance notice thereof creates a burden for you
[sic] Company and your co-workers." Id. It also
be advised that you will be suspended for three (3) days if:
1. You are absent or late more once [sic] in the next sixty
work days, unless you are hospitalized or absent for another
reason acceptable to the Company or,
2. You do not notify your supervisor as soon as possible
after learning that you will be absent or late.
by letter of February 26, 2014, Carden suspended Johnson for
three days. Id. at 6 ("Suspension
Letter"). The Suspension Letter provided, id.:
You have received verbal and written warnings regarding your
attendance. Subsequently, you have had 2 occurrences since
your 2n written warning was given to you on
1/7/2014. Be advised that you will be suspended for (3) three
days for your poor attendance. Your suspension dates will be
Tuesday 3/4/2014 thru [sic] Thursday 3/6/2014. Your return
date is Friday 3/7/2014 at your regularly scheduled time.
Moreover, the Suspension Letter warned, id.:
Based on you [sic] record, it appears that you do not care
about your job. Accordingly, please be advised that you will
be discharged if:
1. You are absent or late more then [sic] once in the next
sixty (60) work days, unless you are hospitalized or absent
for another reason acceptable to the Company or,
2. You do not notify your supervisor as soon as possible
after learning that you will be absent or late.
served his suspension from March 4, 2014 through March 6,
2014. ECF 16-2 at 26. But, Johnson testified that he had to
come to work on March 5, 2014. Id. Ultimately,
Johnson was terminated on March 12, 2014. Id. at 4;
see ECF 16-3, ¶ 9. The events that culminated
in his termination are recounted below.
March 2014, Johnson was working as a forklift operator at
MTC's "loading dock four." Id. at 3,
14. His duties were "to pick orders or retrieve product
from racks or put product in racks . . . ." Id.
at 3. Picking orders consists of retrieving wood or rubber
pallets with a forklift from the racks that are about fifteen
or twenty feet tall, and bringing the pallets to the loading
dock area. Id. Johnson testified that pallets weigh
between seventy and two hundred pounds and that the forklifts
are big enough to lift the pallets some fifteen to twenty
facility has a room called the "truckers'
lounge." It has tables, vending machines, and a bathroom
for truckers to use while they wait for their trucks to be
loaded or unloaded. Id. at 15-16. There are two
doors to the truckers' lounge. One is to the
"breezeway", an area where forklifts and pallet
jacks move goods between the facility's storage rooms.
ECF 16-3, ¶ 3. The other is to a receiving area, where
truckers usually enter the building and submit documents. ECF
16-2 at 15. The door to the truckers' lounge from the
breezeway can only be opened from the breezeway
(i.e., persons inside the truckers' lounge
cannot gain access to the breezeway unless someone opens the
door from the other side). Id. at 15-16.
testified that he was aware that MTC had a policy barring
employees from using the truckers' lounge. Id.
at 17. At his deposition, Johnson claimed: "All
employees use the trucker's [sic] lounge."
Id. Yet, he also said: "Everybody knows not to
use the truckers' lounge." Id. Rather, MTC
employees were to use the employee locker room or the sitting
room, which are located in a different part of the building.
Id. at 12.
11:00 a.m. on March 11, 2014, Johnson and other workers went
on a ten minute break. Id. at 11. Johnson left his
work area and entered the truckers' lounge. Id.
at 18. Once in the truckers' lounge, Johnson put his head
down on a table, where he stayed for approximately thirty
minutes, i.e., twenty minutes beyond the end of his
break. Id. at 19. When Johnson was ready to return
to work, he had to knock on the window of the door to the
breezeway and wait for someone to open it. Id.
Johnson was in the truckers' lounge, Kvech observed him
through the window of the breezeway door. ECF 16-7. In his
affidavit, Kvech stated, id. ¶ 3: "I saw
Maurice Johnson sitting on a chair next to a table that was
between the vending machines and the bathroom in the
trucker's [sic] lounge. Mr. Johnson was not moving and
appeared to be sleeping." Kvech then reported his
observation to Carden. Id. ¶ 4; see
ECF 16-3, ¶ 5. Carden reviewed video footage of the
truckers' lounge around the time Kvech said he saw
Johnson in the lounge. ECF 16-3, ¶ 6. Based on his
review, Carden "assumed [Johnson] was sleeping because
he did not move from his position during the approximately 30
minutes he was in the lounge." Id.
Johnson left the truckers' lounge, another employee,
Kevin Harrington, informed Johnson that Carden wanted to see
him. ECF 16-2 at 21. Johnson went to Carden's office,
where Carden questioned him about why he was sleeping in the
truckers' lounge. Id. at 21-22. Johnson
testified that he told Carden that he "had a cold in
[his] chest and back, [his] clothes were wet, [and he] felt.
. . queasy." Id. Johnson also told Carden that
he had taken oxycodone the night before. Id. at 22.
letter of March 12, 2014, Carden terminated Johnson. ECF
16-9. The letter stated (brackets in original):
On March 11, 2014, you were away from your work area for more
than 20 minutes before you returned to work. I believe that
you went into the truckers' lounge (where our employees
are not permitted to be) in order to hide and sleep. When you
were confronted about this, you said you were not asleep, you
were "incoherent". When I asked you what you meant
by "incoherent", you said you had taken Oxycontin
for being cold. You said you forgot your mask and regular
gloves and you knew you were going to be cold, so you took a
couple of Oxycontin because you knew that once you got cold
and wet you would have pain.
Your conduct shows a gross disregard for your job [and the
safety of your coworkers]. Accordingly, you are discharged.
deposition, Johnson testified that he had decided to enter
the truckers' lounge because he wanted "to get warm
fast." ECF 16-2 at 20. When asked why he stayed past the
end of his ten minute break, Johnson testified that employees
have "a little leniency with the breaks" and that
he "decided to sit there a few more minutes, to get
[his] head together, because . . . [his] head was still
spinning and [his] stomach felt bad." Id.
Johnson speculated that his symptoms may have been side
effects of oxycodone, which he had taken the night before.
Id. at 11, 20.
was prescribed thirty oxycodone pills by his doctor on
December 12, 2013. Id. at 22; see ECF 16-6
(prescription for oxycodone). The instruction from
Johnson's doctor was to "take 1 tablet by mouth 3
times a day as needed." ECF 16-2 at 22; see ECF
16-6. Johnson took only two or three tablets in December, and
"did have some left" in March 2014. ECF 16-2 at 22.
testified that he did not "really look at the
bottle" when he received the oxycodone. Id.
Notably, he testified that he knew that oxycodone is
"strong medication." Id. at 23. Johnson
also testified that he was aware of the side effects of
oxycodone. The following exchange at Johnson's deposition
is relevant, id.:
Q. Were you aware that Oxycodone can cause dizziness and
A. My doctor informed me of that.
Q. When did your doctor inform you of ...