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Carpenter v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co.

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

November 13, 2013

JOHN E. CARPENTER, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTHWESTERN BELL TELEPHONE COMPANY and JOSEPH ARRI, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

CARLOS MURGUIA United States District Judge

Plaintiff John E. Carpenter brings this employment discrimination action claiming that his former employer, Southwestern Bell Telephone Company (“Southwestern Bell”), and his former supervisor, Joseph Arri, terminated his employment in violation of federal law. In particular, plaintiff claims that defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against him and retaliating against him for complaining of discrimination.[1] Plaintiff proceeds pro se. The case is before the court on Defendants Southwestern Bell Telephone Company and Joseph Arri’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 46). For the following reasons, the court grants the motion.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken largely from defendants’ proposed uncontroverted facts. Plaintiff attempted to controvert a number of the facts, but did so with unsupported, immaterial, and/or irrelevant statements. Plaintiff also added a narrative consisting of his own factual statement, supported primarily by his own declaration. The court does not identify every instance in which it disregards plaintiff’s proffered facts, but none of them properly controvert the facts (relayed below) that are material to this court’s decision.

A. Plaintiff’s Employment

Plaintiff, an African American, is a former employee of Southwestern Bell. He worked for the company from the early 1980s to November 2008. Plaintiff, like all employees, was expected to comply with Southwestern Bell’s Code of Business Conduct (“COBC”). The COBC requires that employees treat co-workers with respect. They must act courteously and professionally. The company does not permit threats, violence, or disruptive behavior.

In 2005, plaintiff became Manager of Outside Plant Planning and Engineering Design at Southwestern Bell’s Mission, Kansas facility. Mr. Arri was plaintiff’s supervisor for about three years. Arri reviewed plaintiff’s performance in 2005, 2006, and 2007, giving plaintiff satisfactory marks.

B. Plaintiff’s February 2008 Outburst and Verbal Warning

On February 29, 2008, one of plaintiff’s co-workers, Russ Claybaker, was whistling in the workplace. Plaintiff became upset. He shouted at Mr. Claybaker to “stop that whistling.” Plaintiff then left his work area and went home. When he left, he pushed the door too hard, damaging the drywall behind the door. Following the incident, three co-workers expressed concern with plaintiff’s behavior: Sheila Holmes, Kathy Wolfe, and Mildred Frazier.

On March 4, 2008, plaintiff and Mr. Arri discussed the incident. Plaintiff apologized. He said that he “felt sorry about what happened that day” and he “didn’t want [his co-workers] to feel threatened.” Mr. Arri recommended that plaintiff use noise cancellation headphones if necessary. Plaintiff disagrees that headphones were a reasonable option, as he could not hear fire alarms when he had them on.

C. Plaintiff’s August 2008 Outburst and Verbal Warning

On August 4, 2008, Mr. Claybaker was whistling again by plaintiff’s desk. In an angry, stern voice, plaintiff said, “Stop whistling. Stop the damn whistling, please.” Plaintiff told Mr. Arri that he was not going to take the noise anymore, and if it happened again, he was going to do something about it. Mr. Arri responded that plaintiff’s expectation—i.e., that there should be no noise in the office that did not support the work being done—was impractical. Plaintiff later assured Mr. Arri that he would never respond physically to the noise. Plaintiff does not recall the August 4 conversation with Mr. Arri, but he does recall telling Mr. Arri that he was aware that doing harm to a co-worker would cause him to go to jail, and that “you are just not worth it.” The next day, Mr. Arri distributed a memo requesting that the workgroup cooperate in controlling office noise, including whistling. Mr. Arri also discussed noise complaints with Carol Gardner, who supervised the other team on the floor. Ms. Gardner supervised Mr. Claybaker. She also asked her team to minimize office noise.

D. Plaintiff’s September 2008 Outburst and Written Warning

On September 4, 2008, plaintiff heard more whistling. When he looked up, plaintiff saw two co-workers duck down in a cubicle. Plaintiff loudly said, “So you think it’s funny. Well, I’m going to show you how funny it is. I’m going to file my complaint right now against all of you.” Plaintiff started to leave, but the co-worker who whistled said, “Grow up and act like a manager.” Plaintiff walked to the elevator, saying he was “sick of them. Before leaving, however, plaintiff walked back to the group, and said, “Who do you think you are telling me to grow up?” One of the co-workers told him, “John, go home. Just go home.” Mr. Arri was out of the office, but five employees contacted him to report the incident: Wes Thornton, Traycie Haney, Sheila Holmes, Dan Clevenger, and Kathy Wolfe. They indicated that they filed a report with the Company Security department. Mr. Arri instructed plaintiff to work from home pending an investigation.

During the company’s investigation, employees reported that plaintiff yelled the following comments:

• “You all are going to think this sh*t is funny when I file a formal complaint against you all”;
• “[You’re] not going to f*cking tell me what to do”;
• “Tell the boss I am leaving . . . I don’t have to put up with ...

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