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Johnson-Harris v. Amquip Cranes Rental, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 8, 2015





Plaintiff Joanna Johnson-Harris is an African American woman who is a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 542 ("IUOE Local 542"). Plaintiff's claims in this action arise out her work for Defendant AmQuip Cranes Rental, LLC ("AmQuip") from October 2010 to July 2011 at the PBF Energy Delaware City Refinery ("PBF Refinery" or the "Refinery") where she was supervised by Defendant Tom Janeka. She claims that she was subjected to a racially hostile work environment and was discriminated against because of her race. Her claims for intentional racial discrimination (Count I) and retaliation (Count II) are each brought under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1981. Before the Court is AmQuip and Janeka's (collectively, the "Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment which seeks to dismiss each of those claims. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.


A. Undisputed Facts

Beginning in 2001, Plaintiff was an apprentice in IUOE Local 542's apprenticeship program. See Mot. Ex. B. ("Pl.'s Dep.") at 44:11-19. Initially she was assigned to work as an oiler on a crane at the PBF Refinery. Id. at 43:18-44:6, 51:8-11. In 2005, upon completion of the apprenticeship program, she became a journeywoman-operating engineer and was assigned by IUOE Local 542 to work at the Refinery for a few weeks as a freight elevator operator. Id. at 51:14-52:19.

In 2010, Plaintiff was again assigned to work at the Refinery. Id. at 56:15-19. According to Plaintiff, the assignment was made at the request of Bob Heenan, IUOE Local 542's President, because of alleged reports of a "lack of diversity" on the maintenance crew that previously worked at the Refinery and alleged complaints by operating engineers of past discriminatory practices. Id. at 56:20-57:5, 59:23-60:8. Plaintiff further testified that the Civil Rights Committee of IOUE Local 542, of which she is a member, deemed it "necessary to begin to integrate the workforce at the refinery" in connection with the re-opening of the Refinery in 2010. Id. at 57:15-20, 63:7-9.

In June 2010, she was hired to work by a company in the name of Brand Scaffold to operate a forklift. Id. at 350:8-18. She performed that job until she was laid off in October 2010 but that same month was assigned by IUOE Local 542 to work for AmQuip[1] again at the Refinery, this time as an elevator/hoist operator on the night shift. Id. at 372:15-22, 137:14-138:5; see also Mot Exs. C & D. She held that position until July 2011. See Mot. Ex. D. It is events that took place during her time at this job-as an elevator/hoist operator for AmQuip- that form the basis of this lawsuit.

B. Operative Facts

1. November 2010 Incidents

Johnson-Harris testified that she had several offensive encounters with Charles Long, a boilermaker worker at the Refinery who was not an AmQuip employee, during early November 2010. See Mot. Ex. G. On one occasion, Long entered the hoist and asked Johnson-Harris, "Who let you back in?", to which she replied, "[D]oesn't matter. I'm here. Where you going?" Id. Long asked her if she had ever been stuck on the hoist, and Johnson-Harris answered that she had not been stuck on this particular one. Id. Long then continued, "I was with the day operator who got all scared and angry and it was the two of us. I wasn't scared about the hoist but I was scared because of the big black man on here being angry." Id. Johnson-Harris replied, "[D]on't get started with that stuff." Id.

Johnson-Harris stated that, later, while alone on the hoist, Long attempted to push a cart into her because she did not move out of his way quickly enough. Pl.'s Dep. at 146:23-148:14. The next day, after lunch, Johnson-Harris returned to the hoist to find her personal belongings that she had left inside the hoist (her coat, a book, etc. ) soaked with water. Id. at 207:8-208:21. Johnson-Harris notified Preston Penick, the night shift superintendent, of the incidents involving the cart and her belongings. Id. at 173:15-174:23.

As she was leaving the site that night after her shift, at around 3:50 a.m., Long and two others, later identified as Larry Sterling and Chris Barker, followed her into the parking lot. See id. at 175:25-19; Mot. Ex. H. Long asked, "Where did [you] go?" Mot. Ex. G. Johnson-Harris replied that the hoist stops at 3:30 a.m. Id. She testified that Long "said... something to the effect of, [Y]ou don't need to bring your black ass back down here anymore.[']" Pl.'s Dep. at 176:2-4. She states she then began running toward her car "because [she] feared for her life, " got in her car, and drove home. Id. at 176:5-13.

When she reported to work the next day, Janeka and her IUOE Local 542 Business Agent (Janeka's brother, Ted), approached her about a complaint made against her regarding her operation of the elevator the previous night. See id. at 186:14-187:6. Johnson-Harris responded by complaining about the events on the elevator involving Long and her clothes being soaked. Id. at 188:3-18. Janeka, the Business Agent, and Johnson-Harris's IUOE Local 542 Shop Steward immediately took her to AmQuip's trailer and had her complete a formal incident report regarding the events she alleged took place the previous night involving her clothes, Long, and the other boilermakers. See id. at 189:11-192:10; see also Mot. Ex. G. Notably, her handwritten report included the incident where Long followed her to the parking lot, but mentioned only him saying "Where did you go?", not "You don't need to bring your black ass down here anymore." See Pl.'s Dep. at 202:8-204:24. It also did not make mention of any of the other events that she complains here took place in the week before that incident. See id. at 208:24-210:18, 201:18-202:7.

After she completed her statement, Johnson-Harris was informed by Janeka, the Business Agent, the Shop Steward, and two unidentified employees of Nooter that an immediate investigation would be conducted into the matter. Id. at 211:18-22. Within a few days, the investigation was completed and Johnson-Harris was informed of the results in a meeting, as confirmed in a memorandum prepared by Nooter. Id. at 213:4-214:18; see also Mot. Ex. H. Johnson-Harris testified that she was told steps were being taken to remediate the situation, which included Long and the other boilermaker workers involved in the incident being coached on sensitivity and professional etiquette while on the job site. Pl.'s Dep. at 218:8-21. The conclusion reached by the investigation was that Long made poor word choices but that his words were not found to be threatening, racial, or malicious. Mot. Ex. H. Johnson-Harris admitted that she understood their perception of the events, but she stated she believed she was harassed. Id. She was asked, "What could we do to make you feel more comfortable on the jobsite?", to which she replied that she did not want special treatment, only to be treated fairly. Id. During Long's sensitivity coaching, he was told that retaliation against Johnson-Harris would not be tolerated. Id.

Johnson-Harris testified that AmQuip's Vice President of Operations, Michael Goode, and the shop steward separately asked her after that meeting if there was anything they could do to make her more comfortable working at the Refinery and offered her a position working on the day shift as a forklift operator, while still paying her the higher wage rate for the night shift. Pl.'s Dep. at 214:3-215:10, 218:22-219:8, 138:25-139:15. She states that Goode told her, "I want to put you on the day shift because I don't feel that you're safe here. I believe something has happened. I know that it's not always easy working down here in Delaware." Id. at 215:3-7. She testified she had no preference working the elevator or a forklift and accepted the offer to work the day shift; she did not view the transfer as any form of punishment and felt Goode was helping her out with a "win-win" resolution of the incident for both her and AmQuip. Id. at 220:3-17, 222:4-223:6, 378:3-11.

Johnson-Harris admitted that she did not make any complaint to anyone at AmQuip regarding any alleged racial discrimination, harassment, hostile work environment, workplace conduct, retaliation, or anything else at any time while she worked for AmQuip at the PBF Refinery after the resolution of this incident. Id. at 223:17-228:14, 228:15-25, 416:14-20.

2. Alleged Discriminatory Comments

After her transfer to the day shift, Johnson-Harris testified that someone called her "that black bitch" at least once a month, but she could not identify anyone who said it or any specific dates when it happened. Id. at 129:16-21, 135:13-24. She did not complain to anyone at AmQuip or Nooter about these incidents. Id. at 136:9-137:8. She also testified that she heard workers use the "n-word" at the Refinery, but she could not identify anyone who said it specifically. Id. at 423:15-426:21. Furthermore, she claims that, prior to the elevator incident, workers at the Refinery made unspecified comments which she felt were "offensive in overtone, offensive in respect" and that the "manner in which [workers] would assist me or not assist me was pretextual and hostile, " and that such comments and conduct was racially discriminatory "because I am a black female." Id. at 406:23-108:20.

The only specific instance that Johnson-Harris identifies in which a Refinery worker called her "that black bitch" when she worked for AmQuip was in April 2011 when she was in the changing room and overheard another worker say, "I don't know why she left this forklift here. I'll be glad when they get rid of this black bitch." Id. at 130:2-20. She did not know the identity of the worker who made the comment, but confronted him directly about his comments and had some "heated words with him." Id. at 130:20-131:16. That said, she did not complain about this incident to AmQuip or Nooter. Id. at 135:25-136:8.

3. 2010-11 Holiday Season Layoff

Johnson-Harris testified that she took a sick leave in December 2010 around the Christmas and New Year's holidays, during which the Refinery was closed on some days and only had a skeleton crew while no work was being performed. Id. at 397:11-400:5; see also Mot. Ex. D. She testified that Janeka called her while she was on sick leave and told her she was being laid off. Pl.'s Dep. at 395:21-396:3. However, she was shortly reassigned to her position working for AmQuip at the Refinery and resumed working on January 3, 2011, as soon as ...

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