Plaintiff Willie Martin claims defendant Duncan Bit Services, Inc. ("DBS") terminated him because of his race and age in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Oklahoma public policy.*fn1 Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment on all claims. The court concludes the motion should be granted in part and denied in part.
Plaintiff is an African American male who was employed by defendant as a general shop laborer from July 11, 2007 until his employment with defendant ended on December 11, 2009, at which time plaintiff was sixty years old. Defendant supplies new, rerun, and rebuilt bits to the mining, water well, and oil and gas industries. Joseph Davis, Jr., ("Davis") became the defendant's owner and principal decision-maker in July 2008. Plaintiff claims Davis terminated his employment because of his race and age following an altercation on December 11, 2009. Defendant denies this allegation and maintains that plaintiff voluntarily quit on that date. Alternatively, defendant contends that if it is found to have terminated the plaintiff, it did so because of plaintiff's poor job performance and not because of his race or age.
Before Davis became defendant's principal decision-maker, plaintiff worked mostly inside the shop as a helper. At least one of his job duties involved operating a cutting torch. Additionally, plaintiff went on "road trips" to pick up drill bits. After Davis took over, plaintiff was given additional job duties. Those additional job duties were to wash large drill bits outdoors, "pop buttons" off of those drill bits, and to operate an automatic hammer. Additionally, plaintiff was no longer allowed to go on road trips. Plaintiff testified in his deposition that his new job duties were more physically demanding than what he was required to do before Davis's tenure.
During a conversation in February or March 2009 about plaintiff potentially switching to a part-time position, Davis allegedly told the plaintiff that he was "a high risk to the company" because of his race and age.*fn3 Additionally, according to plaintiff, Davis and another of defendant's employees used racial slurs when talking about black persons in the plaintiff's presence, though the comments were not directed at the plaintiff personally.*fn4
Plaintiff has also presented evidence that younger, white employees were allowed to take breaks and use their cell phones but that Davis yelled and cursed at plaintiff for doing the same.*fn5 Further, plaintiff testified in his deposition that Davis made statements to him on a couple of occasions to the effect that plaintiff could not "do what the others do" because plaintiff was about 60 years old. And, plaintiff was allegedly told by another DBS employee that he should start looking for another job because Davis does not like black people.*fn6
DBS maintains that if plaintiff was fired, it was because of his poor job performance. According to defendant, plaintiff repeatedly failed to replace acetylene bottles on the cutting torch when their pressure fell below 50 pounds per square inch and he repeatedly failed to maintain adequate fluid levels in the hydraulic hammer. Additionally, defendant contends that plaintiff's productivity was unacceptably low and that he took excessive breaks and talked on his cell phone during work hours in violation of company policy. It is undisputed that plaintiff was verbally reprimanded multiple times for these performance issues but was never formally disciplined.
On December 11, 2009, Davis and the plaintiff engaged in a heated discussion concerning plaintiff's job performance. At the conclusion of this altercation, plaintiff contends that Davis told him to leave and that he was fired. Defendant maintains that Davis did not terminate plaintiff and that plaintiff instead walked off the job and resigned. At the time, plaintiff was the only African American employed by DBS and was one of defendant's two oldest employees. After plaintiff's separation from defendant, a younger white male was hired to fill ...