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Briscoe v. W.A. Chester, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

June 5, 2019

MICHAEL WAYNE BRISCOE, Plaintiff,
v.
W.A. CHESTER, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Michael Wayne Brisco alleges that his employer, the electric utility company Defendant W.A. Chester, LLC, unlawfully demoted him because of his race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. ECF No. 1. Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 38. No. hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Defendant hired Plaintiff, who is African-American, as a Journeyman Lineman on March 6, 2005. ECF No. 38-3 ¶ 5; ECF No. 38-4 at 29:8-9. A Journeyman Lineman's job includes connecting electricity to new homes and existing homes that storm or heavy rain have damaged or cut of their power supply. ECF No. 1 ¶ 9.[2] A Journeyman Lineman is supervised by a Foreman. ECF No. 38-4 at 6:3-7:1.

         Defendant promoted Plaintiff to a Foreman position on March 8, 2007. ECF No. 38-3 ¶ 6. Plaintiff served as a Foreman from 2007 until Defendant demoted him back to a Journeyman Lineman position in February 2015. Id. ¶ 6. A Foreman is “responsible for the men” working under him. ECF No. 38-4 at 6:3-7:1.[3] Among a foreman's responsibilities are assessing the jobs, ensuring the safety of the crew, supervising the men on the crew, and communicating with upper management. Id. at 8:16-9:8.

         Throughout his tenure as a Foreman, Plaintiff was disciplined several times. ECF No. 38-3 ¶¶ 7-13. Although Plaintiff could only recall two specific instances of discipline, he does not dispute that he received warnings on other occasions. ECF No. 38-4:11-18; ECF No. 40-1 at 7. Among raising other issues, these warnings addressed times that Plaintiff had failed to communicate with his supervisors and directed Plaintiff to take corrective action to keep his supervisors informed about his crew's status. ECF No. 38-3 ¶¶ 10-12.

         After receiving several warnings, Plaintiff received another final written warning regarding his performance as a Foreman on July 28, 2014. ECF No. 38-3 ¶ 13; ECF No. 38-3 at 17-18. That final written warning stated that Plaintiff was “not maintaining a line of communication with his General Foreman” and that “[t]oo often the General Foreman [was] hearing about issues after the fact.” Id. at 18. The warning also said:

As a Foreman, Mike Briscoe is considered a manager. In his role he is expected to direct his work force to achieve the goals of W.A. Chester. You are expected to make job assignments, not job requests. When you request an employee to perform a task it is a point of politeness and respect. They “decline” or “refuse” it then becomes an order. Failure to follow that request/order is deemed to be gross insubordination. The penalty for which is termination. This applies to orders from you to your subordinates or orders given from Emory Kelly to you.

Id.

         The warning directed Plaintiff to take corrective actions like contacting his supervisor twice a day with updates on Plaintiff's crew. Id. Finally, the warning explained that if Plaintiff failed to address the issues discussed, Defendant would have to re-evaluate his supervisory position. Id.

         Plaintiff's colleague Brian Goldberg, who is Caucasian, was temporarily upgraded from Journeyman Lineman to Foreman in October 2013 and was formally promoted to the position of Foreman in January 2014. ECF No. 38-3 ¶ 14. He had previously reported to Plaintiff. ECF No. 38-4:13-21. When Mr. Goldberg was formally promoted, he and Mr. Briscoe both worked as Foremen at the Rockville yard. ECF No. 38-3 ¶ 14. Thus, the men working at Rockville yard at times reported to Plaintiff and at times reported to Mr. Goldberg. ECF No. 40-7 at 3:6-8. The supervision assignments varied day to day, depending on Defendant's needs. Id.

         On at least three occasions between November 2014 and January 2015, Brandon Wakefield, the Union Steward, reported to Plaintiff and Mr. Goldberg various workplace issues, including twice reporting issues related to an employee named Lawrence Verrett. ECF No. 38-3 ¶ 18; id. at 19-22. These issues concerned safety on jobsites and Mr. Verrett's behavior. Id. For example, in or around December 2014, Mr. Wakefield discussed with Plaintiff and Mr. Goldberg an incident in which Mr. Verrett threatened other members of the crew. ECF No. 38-3 at 20. Although Plaintiff claims that, at the time Mr. Wakefield brought these issues to his attention, both Mr. Wakefield and Mr. Verrett were working under Mr. Goldberg's supervision, ECF No. 40-4 ¶ 18, he acknowledges that men in his crew were uncomfortable working with Mr. Verrett, that Mr. Wakefield made him aware of his concerns, and that he received at least one written note about the issues. ECF No. 38-4 at 14:22-18:14; 18:10-19:20; 19:12-21:4; 22:9-17. On each occasion when Mr. Wakefield raised an issue with Plaintiff and Mr. Goldberg, Plaintiff responded that he would look into or take care of the issue. ECF No. 38-5 at 10:16-11:22; ECF No. 38-3 ¶ 17.

         Neither Plaintiff nor Mr. Goldberg reported any of Mr. Wakefield's concerns up the chain to Ed Lavelle, Defendant's Human Resources Manager; Emory Kelley, the General Foreman; or anyone else. ECF No. 38-3 ¶ 16; id. at 23-24; ECF No. 38-4 at 21:15-17; ECF No. 38-4 at 13:14-14:5.

         Plaintiff talked to Mr. Kelley three to four times a week in the evenings; Mr. Goldberg did not. ECF No. 38-4 24:12-25:17. Because Plaintiff took responsibility for “looking into” the issues with Mr. Verrett, Mr. Goldberg did not report any of Mr. ...


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