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Bluford v. Swift Transportation

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 15, 2014

STEVE C. BLUFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
SWIFT TRANSPORTATION, a Delaware Corporation, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

VIRGINIA M. KENDALL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Steve C. Bluford filed a Complaint against his former employer, Defendant Swift Transportation, alleging a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Specifically, Bluford alleges that Swift (1) provided him with less desirable work assignments; (2) mistreated him through verbal abuse and disparagement; and (3) terminated his employment because of his race. Swift now moves for summary judgment, arguing that Bluford is unable to establish race discrimination via either the direct or indirect methods of proof. While Swift concedes that Bluford is a member of a protected class and that his termination constituted an adverse employment action, it contends that Bluford's remaining claims are not materially adverse, Bluford was not meeting legitimate expectations, and Bluford is unable to point to similarly situated employees outside of his class who were treated more favorably. Swift additionally claims that Bluford was terminated because he failed to abide by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ("FMCSA") regulations. Swift argues that this reason was legitimate and non-discriminatory. For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants Swift's motion.

FACTS[1]

The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

A. Bluford's Employment

In October 2009, Swift, a provider of various transportation services, hired Bluford, an African-American, as an Intermodal Driver for its Chicago Ridge location. (Def. 56.1 St ¶¶ 2, 3, 5). As an Intermodal Driver, Bluford transported containers from rail yards. ( Id. at ¶ 6). Bluford worked as a day cab driver, meaning that he could transport multiple loads each day but that he did not perform overnight or multiple-day transports. ( Id. ). Bluford initially reported to Justin Cantrell. (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 3). That changed in October 2010, when Anthony Young, an African-American, became Bluford's Driver Manager and supervisor. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 8). Young reported to Fleet Manager Donovan Rood, a Caucasian, who was located in Phoenix, Arizona. ( Id. ).

When Bluford arrived at work, he would be assigned a truck and a transport assignment, normally determined by Young. ( Id. at ¶¶ 9-10). Young assigned loads by matching available loads with a driver's projected availability time and a customer's appointment time. ( Id. at ¶ 10). Sometimes, Bluford would have a pre-trip, which would give him his first job assignment for the day. ( Id. ). Typically, after completing his first delivery, Bluford would use Qualcomm, an internal communication system, or call his driver manager for another assignment. ( Id. at ¶ 11). Bluford would speak with Rood once or twice a week to either obtain additional assignments or to inform him of any difficulties with a load assigned to him. ( Id. at ¶ 12). Bluford alleges that Rood would always have a "nasty attitude" with him during their conversations and sometimes would not respond to Bluford via Qualcomm for over an hour, but Bluford does not know if this had anything to do with his race. ( Id. at ¶¶ 13-14).

B. Alleged Racial Discrimination

On May 16, 2012, this Court entered a Memorandum Opinion and Order (Dkt. 28) permitting Bluford to proceed with his Complaint on allegations related to receiving less desirable assignments, mistreatment through verbal abuse and disparagement, and termination of his employment. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 22).

1. Less Desirable Work Assignments

Bluford was paid a flat rate of 40 dollars per trip plus 41 cents per mile driven. ( Id. at ¶ 23). Accordingly, Bluford alleges that having many short assignments as opposed to one long distance assignment created greater earning potential, but Young testified that longer mileage routes amounted to more pay. ( Id. at ¶ 28). Bluford believes that he was assigned long distance trips because of his race and because he made more money than everyone else. ( Id. at ¶¶ 24, 27-28). He is not aware of any Swift driver who made more money than he did and he described himself as "the number one man on the list as far as loads, miles, and deliveries." ( Id. at ¶ 31). On one occasion, Young reassigned one of Bluford's pre-trips and sent him to Napoleon, Ohio instead, but Bluford cannot recall any other specific incidents where a pre-trip was reassigned. ( Id. at ¶¶ 25-26). Bluford alleges that he would have had a more profitable day had he been able to keep his pre-trip. ( Id. at ¶ 25). Bluford thought the pre-trip was reassigned to a Caucasian driver. ( Id. ). Although Bluford cannot recall another specific example of a pre-trip being reassigned, he testified that Young would reassign his pre-trips to drivers working at the Manteno, Illinois and Gary, Indiana facilities to keep them busy. ( Id. at ¶ 26). While Bluford believes that drivers at the Manteno and Gary facilities received his pre-trips and better routes than he did, he is unaware of how often this occurred or the identity or race of any driver who received better assignments. ( Id. at ¶¶ 26, 29). Bluford never complained to Young, Rood, or any Swift manager about his concerns regarding reassignment of pre-trips because he thought he would "stir up trouble." ( Id. at ¶ 30).

Bluford maintains that Swift would send better trucks to Gary and Manteno while sending broken trucks to his location because the intermodal drivers at Chicago Ridge were primarily African-American. ( Id. at ¶¶ 33-34). However, the Manteno facility had no Intermodal Drivers assigned during the pertinent timeframe and both the Gary and Chicago Ridge facilities' Intermodal Driver populations were majority African-American. ( Id. at ¶ 34). During Bluford's employment, Young assigned trucks to drivers. ( Id. at ¶ 35). Bluford alleges that he would receive the least favorable trucks two to three times per week, but he does not believe he was assigned those trucks because of his race. ( Id. at ¶ 36). He contends that trucks in better working condition were assigned to drivers of noncolor, but concedes that Caucasian drivers were also assigned trucks that would break. ( Id. at ¶ 32). Being assigned a truck with a mechanical problem could cause drivers to lose money because they were paid by the mile, but drivers received breakdown pay if a truck broke down during transportation and the pay was approved by a Driver Manager. ( Id. at ¶ 37). Bluford never complained to Young about the trucks. ( Id. at ¶ 38).

2. Verbal Abuse

In general, Bluford believes Rood harassed him at least partially due to his race because of Rood's "attitude" toward him. ( Id. at ¶ 51; Pl. Resp. 56.1 St. ¶ 52). Bluford felt Rood demeaned him by yelling at him as if he was one of Rood's children; however, he does not know if Rood spoke in the same manner to others. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 51).

Prior to Young becoming the Driver Manager at the Chicago Ridge facility in October 2010, Rood temporarily held the role. ( Id. at ¶ 39). One day, Bluford alleges he overheard Rood talking on the phone and say, "Man, I'm getting sick of coming up here babysitting these monkeys." ( Id. ). Rood denies making the comment, but it is undisputed that he never saw Bluford, no one else was present, and Bluford did not report the comment. ( Id. at ¶¶39-40). Bluford ...


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