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Roberson v. Barretts Business Services, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 4, 2019

TYRONE C. ROBERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
BARRETTS BUSINESS SERVICES, INC., et al., Defendants.

          Tyrone C. Roberson, Magnolia, Delaware; Pro Se Plaintiff.

          Barry M. Willoughby, Esquire, Young, Conaway, Stargatt & Taylor LLP, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANDREWS, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Tyrone C. Roberson, who proceeds pro se, filed this action alleging employment discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. (D.I. 2, 5). Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. (D.I. 23, 24). The motions have been fully briefed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, who is African-American, was employed by Defendant Barretts Business Services, Inc. ("BBSI") until his discharge from employment on November 30, 2015. (D.I. 21 at 28). Plaintiff alleges discrimination, based upon race and color, and retaliation, resulting in his wrongful termination. (D.I. 2 at 4).

         Plaintiff submitted an application for employment with BBSI on December 22, 2014. (D.I. 26 at 5-6). Defendant Larry Lewis interviewed Plaintiff and offered him a position as an on-site shift supervisor for the night shift at Playtex Energizer, BBSI's client. (D.I. 26 at 22, 44, 82). Lewis supervised Plaintiff. (Id. at 82). He also made the decision to terminate Plaintiffs employment on November 30, 2015. (Id.).

         As an on-site shift supervisor, Plaintiff was expected to supervise on-site staff, conduct customer service, manage the daily shift operations, and ensure that BBSI employees complied with client (i.e., Playtex) rules and regulations. (Id. at 82). Plaintiffs assigned work hours were 7:00 p.m. until at 3:00 a.m., making him responsible for supervising part of the second shift and part of the third shift. (Id. at 38, 45, 61, 62). According to Lewis, when Plaintiff began working for BBSI, his performance was generally acceptable for a new hire, although he did occasionally display a lack of judgment and, in general, below-average supervisory skills. (D.I. 26 at 82).

         In February 2015, Lewis began receiving complaints from Playtex regarding the workers on the third shift, the shift for which Plaintiff was partly responsible. (Id. at 83). too was supervised by Lewis.[1] (Id. at 80). Brown received complaints from Playtex management regarding Plaintiffs performance and relayed the information to Plaintiff so that Plaintiff could try to solve the problems management was noticing. (Id. at 81). Plaintiff testified that in February and March 2015, Brown relayed complaints that included Plaintiffs sleeping on the job, disciplining employees, failing to fill out certain training forms, and not properly handling employees who "were on their phones, they were lollygagging, not doing the job." (D.I. 26 at 48-54; see also D.I. 21 at 111-16 (emails in February 2015)). In a February 27, 2015 email, Brown apologized to Plaintiff "for the true lack of training that was given." (D.I. 21 at 6). At the time, Plaintiff did not attribute the complaints to racial animus. (Id. at 50).

         There was a complaint in June 2015 when Plaintiff met with two Playtex supervisors to discuss a BBSI employee who was accused of sleeping in a car and improperly using a co-worker's identification card to swipe in and out of the building. (Id. at 56-57). Plaintiff testified that Brown accused him of lying about the incident. (D.I. 26 at 58; see also D.I. 21 at 120-21 (emails in June 2015)). Plaintiff testified that thereafter, he and Brown had a disagreement following a miscommunication over whether employees were allowed to bring their cell phones into the building, and Brown called Plaintiff incompetent. (Id. at 58-60; see also D.I. 21 at 118 (email in June 2015)). Plaintiff testified that he found Brown's concerns and criticisms "deceitful," and that Brown tried to blame things on him. (D.I. 26 at 50-51).

         Plaintiff also testified that Brown was a liar, he had caught Brown in lies, and that Brown lied to cover himself. (Id. at 72). Plaintiff testified that he thought Brown was deceitful in his relationship with him. (Id.). Plaintiff decided to work things out with Brown and go forward. (Id. at 73). When Plaintiff spoke to Brown during a June 2015 telephone call, he did not tell Brown that he felt Brown had some kind of racial animus against him. (Id.).

         Plaintiffs hours were changed on August 3, 2015, to begin at 9:00 p.m. and end at 5:00 a.m., making him primarily responsible for supervising the third shift. (Id. at 67). After he made the shift change, there continued to be problems with cell phone use, constant turnover, and employees sleeping in their cars. (Id. at 68-70). On the morning of August 12, 2015, Brown sent an email to Lewis regarding problems with Plaintiff, suggesting that they need to "sit down and develop a strategy to what we need to do moving forward." (D.I. 21 at 123).

         Plaintiff shared a desk with Brown, but they worked different shifts so there was not a lot of face-to-face interaction. (D.I. 26 at 46, 80). Plaintiff left his phone charger in the desk drawer and told Brown that he could use the charger whenever he liked. (Id. at 46). Plaintiff testified that explicit racial bias occurred on August 12, 2015. He arrived at work for his 9 p.m. shift and found the cell phone charger cord in the desk drawer had been made into a noose. (Id. at 74-76). Plaintiff did not show the noose to anyone. (Id. at 47). He first called Vontray Alexander, the third shift manager for Playtex, but she did not answer her phone. (Id. at 47). The next morning, Plaintiff sent Lewis a text to talk to him about the "noose incident." (Id.). Plaintiff testified that Lewis called him, told Plaintiff that he would look into the situation, and would get back to Plaintiff. (Id.). Plaintiff testified that, instead, he received a call from Brown. (Id.). Brown understands that Plaintiff "contends" that Brown "left a phone charger cord in the shape of a hangman's noose in the desk [they] shared." (Id. at 81). Brown states, "I did no such thing. I never discriminated against [Plaintiff], or anyone else, because of their race." (Id.).

         Lewis states that he never witnessed any employees harassing Plaintiff. (Id. at 83). He states that BBSI has a strong EEO policy and a system in place for making complaints and that Plaintiff was aware of the policy when he signed his antidiscrimination policy. (Id.) Lewis states that Plaintiff never made a formal complaint of discrimination. (Id.)

         Plaintiff testified that other incidents took place between September and November where Brown criticized Plaintiff's performance. (D.I. 26 at 71; see also D.I. 21 at 125-28 (emails in September 2015)).

         Plaintiff testified that he was neither aware, nor told, of contacts from Playtex to Brown or Lewis complaining about his performance. (Id. at 70-71). Plaintiff also testified that he saw notes on the desk he shared with Brown that mentioned "Tyrone being replaced," and "Tyrone is not doing his job," as well as emails on Brown's BBSI email account that stated, "What are we doing with Tyrone? Tyrone seems to be the problem." (D.I. 26 at 71). Plaintiff testified that there was a "glitch" in the computer that he and Brown shared that allowed Plaintiff to see Brown's emails. (Id. at 55). In the later part of his employment, he saw emails from Brown stating that Plaintiffs performance was not satisfactory.[2] (Id. at 71-72).

         According to Lewis, he worked with Plaintiff by giving him regular feedback and coaching him to try to improve his performance. (Id. at 83). Lewis stated that after a certain point, he realized that coaching was not going to make a difference and that Plaintiff lacked the skill set and judgment required of the position. (Id.). According to Lewis, Plaintiff was failing in the most important areas he was responsible for, and it was causing "enormous strain on Playtex and the relationship between Playtex and BBSI." (Id. at 83). BBSI has no written documentation regarding Plaintiffs performance or counseling reports. (D.I. 21 at 18).

         Lewis made the decision to terminate Plaintiffs employment with BBSI due to unresolved performance issues. (D.I. 26 at 83). According to Lewis, at no time did race play any role in this decision. (Id.). When Plaintiff was terminated on November 30, 2015, he was "told it was the consensus of Playtex with Joe Brown that [his] services were no longer needed. It was not so much what [Plaintiff had] done, . . . just it didn't workout." (Id. at 71).

         On January 28, 2016, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Delaware Department of Labor which was simultaneously dual-filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (D.I. 26 at 7). A notice of suit rights issued and Plaintiff commenced this action.

         II. ...


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