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Melton v. Plastipak Packaging

April 10, 2006

BRUCE MELTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PLASTIPAK PACKAGING, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY Chief U.S. District Judge

OPINION

On February 18, 2005, Plaintiff Bruce Melton, proceeding pro se, filed a Complaint (#3) alleging he was terminated from his employment with Defendant Plastipak Packaging as a result of his race, African-American, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. On February 17, 2006, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (#32), and the matter is now fully briefed. For the reasons that follow, the Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

FACTS

Plastipak manufactures plastic packaging containers for consumer products companies and operates a facility in Champaign, Illinois. In May 2002, Melton was placed in the Champaign facility by a temporary employment agency as a material handler. In this position, Melton worked in a warehouse receiving materials, putting them in rows, keeping inventory, and maintaining the warehouse. On August 30, 2002, Melton completed an employment application for Plastipak. On his application, Melton indicated he was employed by a temporary agency from June 1985 to the present. However, Melton had been incarcerated during a portion of that time period. On October 22, 2002, Plastipak hired Melton as a material handler. The employee handbook, which Melton received, states that an employee is subject to discharge for any dishonest statement made on any report required by the company, including an employment application.

During his employment, Melton's immediate supervisor was Dan Luhrsen. Luhrsen reported to Robert Walker, who, in turn, reported to Jan Wenning. Melton received at least three pay raises during the course of his employment, but also received three written warnings. Melton received his first warning on April 4, 2003, for disrupting work on the front lines and arguing with a supervisor, Art Jones. Melton testified in his deposition that the supervisor was cursing at him. A note on the bottom of the write up by the human resources director indicates: "Spoke with Art Jones: he admitted that he might have approached Bruce somewhat 'strong' or came off 'too strongly.'" On August 6, 2003, Melton received a written warning for poor attendance because he was absent more than three days in three months. On January 2, 2004, Melton received his third written warning for fork truck safety after he hit a door frame with a forklift.

During the week of December 18, 2003, Human Resources Generalist Sara Starrick received an anonymous phone call. The caller informed Starrick that Melton was taking Plastipak's pallets of gaylords*fn1 and selling them to a man named Larry Meyers. The caller informed Starrick that this occurred two to three times per week between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. at a specific warehouse. The caller further told Starrick that Melton helped Meyers load the pallets onto Meyers' truck, and Meyers took the pallets to Georgetown, Illinois to be recycled. Starrick informed Wenning of the phone call.

On January 13, 2004, Steve Atwood, a warehouse trainer at Plastipak, contacted Walker and informed him that he saw someone loading pallets of gaylords onto a pickup truck outside of the preform warehouse. Walker contacted Wenning and informed him of what he had learned from Atwood. Wenning and Walker later met at the preform warehouse. As they were approaching the dock area where the pallets were being loaded, Melton drove down the aisle on a forklift carrying eight wooden pallets. Melton stated he was using the pallets to straighten up some gaylords. Walker checked the surrounding area, but he did not see any gaylords out of place. Walker told Melton to take the pallets to the back then meet him and Wenning outside the dock area. Walker, Wenning, Atwood, and Travis Day, a team leader, spoke to the man driving the truck, Larry Meyers. Meyers was asked what he was doing, and he responded that he was in the recycling business. Meyers stated a Plastipak employee helped him take scrap pallets of gaylords. When asked to identify the employee who was helping him, Meyers stated he did not know the individual's name but thought it was "a white guy with gray hair and glasses." Walker asked the preform lead driver to bring all of the drivers over to the dock area so Meyers could identify the employee. Melton later walked onto the dock area. Wenning and Walker asked Melton if he knew Meyers, and Melton indicated he did not. Wenning and Walker then told Melton to unload the pallets from Meyers' truck.

Day went outside to talk to Meyers, and asked him who helped him with the scrap pallets. According to Day, Meyers identified Melton. In his deposition, Meyers testified as follows:

Travis asked me who brought them [the scrap pallets] out. I told them a white guy. And he says, Well, you know you're going to go to jail -- or something about jail. I said, Travis, I don't need to go to jail. I'm not out here stealing nothing. He said come on, walk with me. So I walked. We walked up this ramp by the building there and he says, Well, I want to know who brought the boxes out. And I said a white guy. And he says, Well, I'll call everyone that's working down here. He says, Are you sure it wasn't the black guy? And I says, Well, all you have to do is tell me it was him, or whoever, and I'm going to let you go. I wanted out of there. I didn't need the trouble. So the first person that came by I said, yeah, that was them. Because I wasn't out to try to get the white guy in trouble, you know.

Day then went inside and told Walker that Meyers had identified Melton.

Shortly thereafter, Michael Gnaden, a lead driver, informed Wenning that on January 7, 2003, Meyers approached him in the warehouse and asked if "Bruce [Melton] was around." Gnaden told Wenning he later saw Melton talking to Meyers. After she was informed of this, Wenning found Melton and told him to clock out and that further investigation would be conducted. The following day, Wenning met with Walker, and they agreed that Melton had been dishonest about his relationship with Meyers and should be terminated. Someone from the human resource department called Melton and asked him to come pick up his last paycheck and personal belongings. Melton received a termination notice later that day, but he refused to sign it.

On April 26, 2004, Melton filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. Melton alleged he was discriminated against because of his race and was the victim of racial harassment. On February 11, 2005, Melton received a notice of right to sue. Melton filed his complaint in the instant case on February 18, 2005.

ANALYSIS

Summary judgment is granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial. Waldridge v. American Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). In reaching this decision, the court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970). The burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material ...


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