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Jones v. Waste Management, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 19, 2015

MARCUS JONES, Plaintiff,

Marcus Jones, Middletown, Delaware, Pro Se Plaintiff.

Laurence V. Cronin, Esquire, Smith, Katzenstein & Jenkins, Wilmington, Delaware and Barbara Rittinger Rigo and Holly Rich, Esquires, Littler Mendelson, P.C., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Counsel for Defendant.


LEONARD P. STARK, District Judge.


Plaintiff Marcus Jones ("Jones" or "Plaintiff") filed this action on October 28, 2013, against Defendant Waste Management, Inc. of Delaware ("Waste Management" or "Defendant") pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights act of 1964, as amended, alleging employment discrimination by reason of race and retaliation.[1] (D.I. 1, 4) Initially, Jones was represented by counsel, but he now proceeds pro se. Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (D.I. 33) Jones did not file an opposition to the motion. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the motion.


Jones began his employment with Waste Management[2] at its Wilmington, Delaware facility as a residential driver in May 2007. (D.I. 36 Ex. L at APP119-121, 126) A few months later, he became a swing driver and held that position until his employment was terminated effective March 1, 2012. ( Id. at APP122) Swing drivers serve as backup drivers for routes that need coverage; either commercial, residential, or roll-off.[3] ( Id. at APP121, 129) Jones mostly covered residential and rolloff routes. ( Id. at APP163) Jones' supervisors included residential managers Tim Richards ("Richards") and Andrew Short ("Short") and roll-off manager Douglas Sorantino ("Sorantino"). ( Id. at APP124-26, 207) Richards is African American and Short and Sorantino are Caucasian. ( Id. at Exs. H; L at APP227, 262; M at APP276)

During the Spring of 2010, Waste Management found it was unable to compete for major contracts because of its driver pay rates. ( Id. at Ex. S at ¶ 3) Waste Management conducted a comparative analysis of its drivers' pay against that of its competitors, including the region where Jones worked - in Wilmington, Delaware - and discovered that it paid its drivers substantially more than its competitors. ( Id. at ¶ 4) The pay differential detrimentally affected its business in many districts, including Wilmington. ( Id. at ¶ 25) As a result of its analysis, Waste Management implemented a new hourly rate banding system that took into account a driver's years of experience, current rate, and market rate for the region. ( Id. at ¶ 6) According to Liz Bieler ("Bieler"), a human resources generalist for Waste Management, an employee's race was not taken into account when making the pay rate determination. ( Id. at ¶ 7)

All drivers were given advance notice of the new system and the new pay rates became effective in August 2010. ( Id. at Exs. L at APP140-42, 147; S at ¶ 9) Jones testified that he worked with two other swing drivers, Wayne Gilley ("Gilley") and John Shields ("Shields"), both of whom he believes are Caucasian. ( Id. at Ex. L at APP127-28) Jones, Gilley, and Shields were affected by the new system and all had their pay reduced by varying degrees, depending upon their years of service. ( Id. at Ex. S at ¶¶ 10-12)

Waste Management has a confidential, toll-free, integrity helpline ("helpline") available to employees year-round, twenty-four hours per day, seven days a week. ( Id. at Ex. L at APP165-66) Jones called the helpline on March 10, 2011 to complain that Richards, his supervisor, was looking for ways to terminate him after Richards discussed the attendance policy with Jones following Jones' violations of the attendance policy. ( Id. at Exs. E; R at ¶ 4) Jones found it suspicious that Richards approached him about attendance issues only after Jones complained that he was not paid as much as his co-workers following the August 2010 wage adjustments. ( Id. at Ex. E)

During the relevant time, Waste Management had a policy regarding preventable accidents that was published in the company's employee handbook. ( Id. at Exs. B; L at APP134-37, 219-20) The policy provided that drivers were progressively disciplined for accidents deemed preventable as follows: (1) a first offense in any twelve-month period resulted in a written warning; (2) a second offense in any twelve-month period resulted in a three-day suspension and a final warning; and (3) third offense in any twelve-month period resulted in termination. ( Id. at Exs. B at 115; L at APP136-38; T at ¶ 4)

Jones was involved in three safety-related accidents during a twelve-month period: on April 20, 2011, October 24, 2011, and February 24, 2012. Each accident was investigated and it was determined by Waste Management that each accident was preventable. ( Id. at Exs. F, G, I) Jones received a written warning for the first accident. ( Id. at Exs. C, F, L at APP177-79) Jones signed the written warning indicating that he understood the discipline. ( Id. at Ex. F)

Following the second accident, Jones was issued and served a three-day suspension. ( Id. at Exs. G, L at APP196-97, 199-200) Jones called the helpline and complained that the suspension was unfair, but he does not recall if he complained of race discrimination or retaliation. ( Id. at Ex. L at APP200, 201-03, 243) At this point, Jones suspected retaliation for complaining about his decrease in pay and requested a copy of his personnel file from various Waste Management personnel. ( Id. at APP271) Human resources looked for Jones' file, but could only find Jones' application of employment. ( Id. ) During his deposition, Jones was shown various documents from his personnel file, all of which contained his signature. ( Id. at APP271-72)

After the third accident on February 24, 2012, Jones was notified by Sorantino and Short on February 27, 2012 that he would be suspended pending investigation and that he might be terminated. ( Id. at Exs. B, I, L at APP208-11, 216-17) On the same day he was suspended, Jones called the helpline after he had spoken to Sorantino and complained that Sorantino and/or Short[4] had discriminated against him based upon his race, they did not treat everyone equally, and Caucasian employees who had similar accidents were not terminated. ( Id. at Exs. H, U) Jones testified that he had never before complained about Sorantino, but felt that Sorantino was a bigot because he ...

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