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Sharp v. Verizon Delaware LLC

United States District Court, D. Delaware

January 31, 2014

HENRY SHARP, Plaintiff,
v.
VERIZON DELAWARE LLC, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

CHRISTOPHER J. BURKE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Henry Sharp ("Plaintiff') filed this employment discrimination action against defendant Verizon Delaware Inc. ("Verizon" or "Defendant"), [1] alleging employment discrimination based on race and gender and retaliatory termination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII") and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981"). Presently pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion"). (D.I. 39) For the reasons set forth below, the Court recommends that the Motion be GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

1. Plaintiff's Employment With Defendant

Plaintiff, an African-American male, is a former employee of Defendant, having worked for Defendant as a service technician from October 1996 through January 27, 2010. (D.I. 1 at ¶¶ 11-13, 25; D.l. 10 at ¶¶ 12-13; D.l. 41, ex. A at 214) As a service technician, Plaintiff was responsible for performing a variety of duties pertaining to the installation, repair and maintenance of cable television, modem and telephone service in residential and commercial customer properties. (D.I. 41, ex. B at ¶ 4) Plaintiff, when he was not working in the field, was based out of Defendant's location at 901 Plant Street in Wilmington, Delaware. (ld. at ¶ 3)

2. Plaintiff's Disciplinary History and Work Performance History

At all relevant times, Plaintiffs employment with Defendant was subject to compliance with a number of Verizon Work Rules and to Verizon's Code of Conduct. ( Id., ex. A at 229-31; id., ex. B at ¶¶ 5-6 & ex. 1) From 2000 through to his termination in January 2010, Plaintiff was the subject of 21 "Records of Employee Conduct"-instances in which he was cited for violations of Work Rules or portions of the Code of Conduct. ( Id., ex. A at 232-62 & exs. 10-17, 20-24, 26-28; id., ex. Cat ¶¶ 6-7 & exs. 1-2) These disciplinary actions (which included warnings and suspensions totaling 35 days) involved the following types of conduct: (1) instances of absenteeism or tardiness, or taking unpaid time off without approval; (2) various driving-related citations or accidents (often involving a Verizon vehicle); (3) violations of numerous Work Rules relating to customer contact and/or interactions; (4) warnings regarding lack of productivity; (5) insubordination; (6) improperly caring for company property; (7) leaving a temporary assignment without stating a reason and failure to notify a supervisor of certain work conduct; and (8) a violation of the Code of Conduct pertaining to discrimination, harassment and workplace violence. ( Id. , ) The last-referenced violation (that pertaining to discrimination, harassment and workplace violence) occurred in March 2008. In that incident, Plaintiff was alleged to have physically confronted a fellow service technician while raising his voice and using a homophobic slur towards the technician; Plaintiff also argued with his union representative during the altercation. ( ld. , ex. A at ex. 16; id. , ex. Cat ex 2 at VER000556-57; id., ex. D at 18) Plaintiff received a 15-day suspension for this conduct. ( Id. , ex. A at ex. 16)

Plaintiff also received negative performance evaluations for the last many years of his employment. In 2003 and 2004, his overall performance rating was "Does Not Meet Position Requirements" (the lowest of four options provided). ( Id., ex. A at exs. 34-35) In 2005 and 2006, he received a rating of"Improvement Needed to Meet Position Requirements" (the second-lowest of the four options). ( Id., ex. A at exs. 32-33) In 2007 and 2008, he again received a rating of"Does Not Meet Position Requirements." ( ld., ex. A at exs. 30-31) In 2009, his rating was again "Improvement Needed to Meet Position Requirements." ( Id., ex. A at ex. 29) On November 17, 2009, a Record of Employee Contacts indicates that Verizon discussed with Plaintiff that he had "been identified as having one of the 10 worst repeater rates for your job title in DE North." ( Id. , ex. A at ex. 10)

3. Events Leading to Termination of Plaintiff's Employment

On January 11, 2010, Plaintiff was working an 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. shift, and was dispatched at 12:30 p.m. to provide service to a customer on A Street in Wilmington, Delaware; the customer was having a problem with dial tone delivery. ( ld. , ex. A at 112 & ex. 1; id., ex. D at 32, 47) Plaintiff was not able to fix the problem during his visit and, pursuant to Verizon's Work Rules, was required to "immediately inform [his] supervisor" or "another management person" about this job "roadblock." ( Id. , ex. B at ex. 1 at 6; id., ex. D at 32) Instead, near the end of his shift, Plaintiff called Verizon's Dispatch Resource Center ("DRC") to "get clarification on what to do with this customer because the customer wanted his service on that evening." ( Id. , ex. D at 32) DRC personnel are not management employees, and though they have the ability to remove a service job from a technician's work list, they can do so only with management approval. ( Id. , ex. B at ¶¶ 7-11)

When Plaintiff called the DRC, he spoke with Angie Cersari, a maintenance administrator ("MA"). ( Id. , ex. A at ex. 1 at 1; id. , ex. D at 32) Ms. Cersari told Plaintiff that she could not remove the job from his work list without management approval; according to Plaintiff, her tone was "a little hostile" and at one point, she said to Plaintiff"you people don't understand anything[, ]" and asked "what are you[, ] stupid[?]" ( Id. , ex. A at 116-123 (internal quotation marks omitted)) Plaintiff next called an on-call supervisor, Eric Pulliam, who advised Plaintiff to close the job out and talk to Plaintiffs immediate supervisor in the morning regarding the customer's problem. ( Id. , ex. A at ex. 1 at 2; id., ex. D at 33) Plaintiff later asserted that due to problems he was having with his computer, he was unable to immediately close out the job electronically. ( Id. , ex. D at 33-34)

Next, Plaintiff personally visited the DRC and spoke directly with Ms. Cersari. ( Id. , ex. A at ex. 1 at 3) Before a supervisor could intervene, the conversation turned negative. According to Plaintiff, Ms. Cersari repeatedly cut him off and accused him of confronting her about her failure to remove the job from his work list. ( Id. , ex. A at 128-31 & ex. 1 at 3-4; id., ex. D at 34-35, 59-60) Ms. Cersari said that during the conversation, she was "short" with Plaintiff and again told him that only a supervisor could give approval to remove the job from Plaintiffs list. ( Id. , ex. D at 59-60)

After this confrontation at the DRC with Ms. Cersari, Ms. Cersari's supervisor, Christina Stango, informed Plaintiff that he should contact a supervisor if he disagreed with a DRC decision (Ms. Stango also told Plaintiff that it was "unprofessional and unreasonable" for him to have entered the DRC to further take up an issue with Ms. Cersari). ( Id. , ex. A at 132 & ex. 1 at 4; id. , ex. D at 27, 36) Plaintiff then went to Verizon's service garage and used a laptop computer there to close out the A Street job on his own. ( Id. , ex. A at 134 & ex. 1 at 5; id. , ex. D at 37)

Plaintiff had one final service job that evening on Lombard Street in Wilmington. ( Id. , ex. A at 191 & ex. 1 at 5) According to Verizon's Work Rules, Plaintiff was required to "call ahead on every job" and "visit the customer's location" even if he was "unable to reach the customer" when calling beforehand. ( Id. , ex. B at ex. 1 at 5) Plaintiff drove to the job location and was there for eight minutes (from 6:07 to 6:15p.m.), but did not call ahead to make contact with the customer at this job and never attempted to do so that evening. ( Id. , ex. A at 136-41) Instead, GPS records indicate that Plaintiff left the job site at 6:15p.m., drove to another address (where he stayed for 13 minutes) and then came back to a Verizon garage (where he stayed from 6:36p.m. to 7:32p.m.). ( Id. , ex. A at 140, 188-89, 191 & ex. 1 at 5-7 & ex. 5)

At 7:03 p.m., while still at the garage (and not at the Lombard Street job), Plaintiff made a call to Verizon's Global Compliance hotline; during the call, Plaintiff complained that Ms. Cersari had been recently behaving in a "hostile" and "unprofessional" manner towards him, which had created a "hostile work environment" and negatively affected his morale. (Id. , ex. A at 146-50, 182-85, 187 & ex. 2) In that same call, Plaintiff also made identical complaints about another MA, Montgomery Williams, who is African-American, and with whom Plaintiff had a verbal confrontation at the DRC in November 2009. ( Id. , ex. A at 83-84, 149-50, 182-85 & ex.2)

At the end of his shift, Plaintiff completed his time sheet. Plaintiff wrote that he was at the Lombard Street location from 6:00p.m. to 7:30p.m., and that the job was closed because of "No Access" to the address. ( ...


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