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Charles Frazier v. Henry H. Ottens Mfg. Co.

April 4, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Buckwalter, S. J.


Currently pending before the Court is the Partial Summary Judgment Motion of Defendants Henry H. Ottens Manufacturing Company d/b/a Ottens Flavors ("Ottens"), Chuck Jones ("Jones"), Robbin Nejad ("Nejad"), and Gino Fabioneri ("Fabioneri"), collectively referred to hereinafter as "Defendants." For the following reasons, the Motion is denied.


This matter involves a racial discrimination dispute between Plaintiff Charles Frazier ("Plaintiff" or "Frazier") and his former employer, Ottens. Ottens is a food-flavoring company headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶ 7; Answer ¶ 7.) Plaintiff, an African-American male, was hired by Ottens in May of 2007 as a "janitorial engineer." (Compl. ¶¶ 13, 16; Answer ¶¶ 13, 16.) In this position, Plaintiff performed general cleaning and maintenance work at the Sample Lab at Ottens. (Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n, Ex. A., 01/16/12 Deposition of Charles Frazier ("01/16/12 Frazier Dep.") 71:19--24, 72:1--6.) When he was hired, Frazier received Ottens's employee handbook and underwent training from the company's Human Resources Department, both of which addressed the company's harassment policy. (Id. at 114:2--23; Defs.' Mot. Summ.

J., Ex. 2, Ottens Flavors Employee Handbook ("Employee Handbook") 16.) Plaintiff was aware that the policy required him to report any incidents of discrimination or harassment to Ottens's Human Resources Department. (01/16/12 Frazier Dep. 116:8--9; Employee Handbook 16.) At all relevant times, Defendant Nejad was the Director of Human Resources at Ottens. (Compl. ¶ 9.)

While employed at Ottens, Plaintiff claims to have experienced various incidents of racial discrimination. In particular, Frazier claims that the management made several racial jokes and insensitive comments, often referring to maintenance personnel as "you people." (01/16/12 Frazier Dep. 32:2--12.) Frazier claims the comments made him uncomfortable, but he never reported them to anyone in Human Resources. (Id. at 38:21--24, 39:1--13.)

Frazier asserts that Defendant Fabioneri, his direct supervisor, was particularly discriminatory towards him. (Id. at 71:11--12.) At one point, Frazier allegedly heard Fabioneri say, "N------- be rebellious or reluctant to be grateful for the jobs that they have." (Id. at 45:21--22.) Frazier, however, was unsure whom the comment was about or addressed to, and therefore did not report the incident. (Id. at 38: 3--13, 45:12--17.) Fabioneri also allegedly made a joke in Frazier's presence about tropical birds needing to get a suntan in order to resemble Frazier's skin tone. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 5, 09/14/11 Deposition of Charles Frazier ("09/14/11 Frazier Dep.") 71:11--17.) At another point in time, after watching a television news report about the low employment but high crime rates of African-Americans, Fabioneri allegedly asked Frazier how he felt about people of his ethnic background committing such crimes. (01/16/12 Frazier Dep. 32:17--24, 33:1--10.) Plaintiff claims that he found the question discriminatory, (id. at 33:20), but again did not report it to Human Resources. (Id. at 39:1--4.)

Sometime thereafter, Frazier applied for a job in the Ottens shipping department that was under the management of Defendant Jones. (Id. at 38:4--8.) Plaintiff was denied the position, and believes that Fabioneri was responsible for this action. (Id. at 56:16--21.) Moreover, when discussing the pay rate for the position, Jones allegedly told Frazier, "you people have . . . good benefits, you have this, you have that, and you're asking for more money." (Id. at 51:4--6.) Plaintiff, however, was unsure whether the comment solely referred to African-Americans or to all lower-ranked employees with benefits, and therefore once again failed to report the incident. (Id. at 39: 3--13, 51:9--14.)

Frazier further asserts that he was denied overtime because Fabioneri was biased against him, and alleges that he possibly may have been disciplined for working overtime at some point. (Id. at 82:10--12, 85:7--16.) When Frazier asked Fabioneri why he was denied overtime, Fabioneri allegedly told him that the extra work made Frazier too tired and affected his job performance the next day. (Id. at 82:13--15, 21--24.) At her deposition, Nejad stated that Frazier had contacted her in her capacity as the Director of Human Resources because he was concerned about his ability to work overtime. (Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n, Ex. B, Deposition of Robbin Nejad ("Nejad Dep.") 59:10--11, 15--16.) Nejad testified that at the time of Frazier's overtime requests, there was a general, company-wide cutback on overtime at Ottens, and that Frazier's overtime hours in a different department would have conflicted with his shifts at the Sample Lab. (Id. at 59:15--24, 60:1--24.)

According to Frazier, another alleged incident of discrimination occurred when he found a printout of an e-mail in the Ottens locker room that crudely discussed African-Americans and the modern-day operations of the Ku Klux Klan ("KKK"). (01/16/12 Frazier Dep. 106:3--20; Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 4, 12/17/2007 E-Mail ("KKK e-mail").) Plaintiff, however, was unsure who printed the e-mail or left it in the locker room, and did not recognize any of its senders or recipients. (01/16/12 Frazier Dep. 105:8--20, 106:1--24, 107:1--19.) Frazier himself did not bring the e-mail to Nejad's attention, but believes that someone else did. (Id. at 107:20--24, 108:1--7, 109:8--11.)

At her deposition, Nejad testified that during his term of employment at Ottens, Frazier had also contacted her regarding an alleged "tension" between him and Fabioneri. (Nejad Dep. 62:5--17.) Specifically, Frazier told Nejad that felt as though Fabioneri was "micromanaging" and "needling" him. (Id. at 62:8.) However, according to Nejad, Frazier never informed her that he believed Fabioneri's actions were attributable to his race. (Id. at 61:2--8.)

On October 9, 2008, Frazier met with Nejad and Fabioneri in the Human Resources Department for the first time to discuss the alleged tension. (01/16/12 Frazier Dep. 62:1--24, 63:1--24; Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 5; Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n ¶ 18.) During this meeting, Frazier apparently confronted Fabioneri and asked him if he "had a problem" with Frazier's race, but did not recall Fabioneri's answer. (01/16/12 Frazier Dep. 61:18--19, 64:1--3.) Later that same day, Frazier's employment position at Ottens was terminated. (Id. at 65:1.) At this time, Nejad gave Frazier an official letter of termination, which stated that he was being terminated for failure to adhere to company rules and work satisfactorily with his boss. (Id. at 65:1--4; Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 6, 10/09/08 Charles Frazier Termination Letter ("Frazier Termination Letter").) The decision to terminate Frazier's employment was allegedly jointly made by Nejad, Fabioneri, and two other Ottens employees. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 7, Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s First Set of Interrogatories ("Resp. Interrog.") 4--5.) It is uncontested that Defendant Jones played no role in the decision to terminate Frazier. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 9, Deposition of Chuck Jones ("Jones Dep.") 14:20--23; Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n 14.)

Plaintiff initiated the instant action by filing a Complaint in this Court on June 17, 2011, asserting two counts against Defendants: (1) retaliation against Plaintiff for his alleged complaints of racial harassment, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count I), and (2) racial discrimination related to his termination and a racially hostile work environment, also in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count II). Defendants filed their Answer on August 16, 2011. Defendants subsequently filed the instant Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on February 3, 2012, in which they moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's hostile work environment claim and all individual liability claims asserted against Defendant Jones. Plaintiff filed his Response in Opposition on February 15, 2012, and Defendants replied on March 6, 2012. On February 24, 2012, the parties had stipulated to the fact that all liability claims ...

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