United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
TERENCE KERN, United States District Judge
the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 21) of
Defendant Southwest Aviation Specialties, LLC
(“Defendant” or “Southwest”).
is a Tulsa-based limited liability company that provides
aviation services at the Richard Lloyd Jones, Jr. Airport in
Jenks, Oklahoma. In July 2014, Plaintiff Whalen King
(“Plaintiff” or “King”) was hired as
an avionics technician and installer for Southwest. Plaintiff
was well-liked, and Southwest considered him to be a
knowledgeable and valued employee.
March 2015, as Plaintiff and others were gathering in a
Southwest airplane hangar for a weekly meeting, some
employees began discussing a widely publicized video
recording of an incident involving the Sigma Alpha Epsilon
(“SAE”) fraternity at the University of Oklahoma
(“SAE Incident”). The SAE Incident involved
several individuals reciting a racist chant that included the
word “nigger” and referred to lynching. Plaintiff
was the only African-American present during this discussion
of the SAE Incident. Plaintiff testified that during the
discussion, another employee repeatedly asked Plaintiff if
Southwest should paint the University of Oklahoma's
helicopter. Bill Copple (“Copple”),
Plaintiff's supervisor and a manager at Southwest, then
made a comment regarding the SAE Incident. The content and
circumstances surrounding Copple's remark are disputed.
Plaintiff testified that Copple turned to him and said,
“pardon me, but a lot of my friends are niggers and
some of them are not niggers.” (King Dep. 64:6-8.)
Plaintiff testified that Copple delivered his remark in a
“hateful” and “derogatory” way.
(Id. 64:16-19; 68:15-16.) Plaintiff felt Copple was
“trying to get a rise out of me.” (King Aff.
¶ 6.) Southwest disputes that Copple made this remark.
According to Copple, he said instead, “I was raised on
the north side of Tulsa and some of my best friends were
black and I can tell you from experience that the word nigger
has nothing to do with a person's skin color.”
(Copple Dep. 49:11-16.) Copple testified that he made the
remark to a group and not specifically to Plaintiff.
claims that he complained about Copple's remark to
multiple employees at Southwest. Sometime after Copple's
remark about the SAE Incident, on a Wednesday or Thursday,
Plaintiff went to the office of Branwen Erven
(“Erven”), the Office Manager for Southwest.
Plaintiff told Erven about Copple's remarks and expressed
that he was offended and disappointed in Copple's
comments and actions. According to Erven, Plaintiff initially
told her that he was thinking about quitting but, by the end
of their conversation, he resigned and gave his two
weeks' notice. Erven testified that she was
“shocked [King] was going to quit over one
statement.” (Erven Dep. 16:10-12.) Plaintiff admits he
told Erven he was thinking about quitting but denies giving
his two weeks' notice of resignation.
to Plaintiff, when he complained to Erven, two other
Southwest employees were also present, including Roy Ledesma
(“Ledesma”), Parts Manager for Southwest.
Southwest denies that Erven is in management and argues that
Plaintiff's conversation with Erven about Copple's
remark did not constitute a complaint to Southwest
management. Plaintiff admits he did not complain to Copple
about Copple's remark about the SAE Incident. Copple
testified that no one mentioned the discussion of the SAE
Incident to him.
day Plaintiff spoke to Erven, David Guzman
(“Guzman”), the owner of Southwest, was out of
town. After Plaintiff's conversation with Erven, Erven
contacted Guzman by email or text and advised him that
Plaintiff had given his two weeks' notice. Guzman
testified that the next day, he returned to the office.
Guzman contacted Copple and instructed him to confirm whether
Plaintiff had given his notice and was quitting, and if so,
to escort Plaintiff off the premises. Guzman testified that
for aviation-related safety reasons, Southwest has a policy
that once an employee who performs any type of work on
aircraft resigns or expresses his or her intent to resign, he
or she is not allowed to perform any additional work on any
aircraft and must leave the premises as soon as practical.
(First Guzman Aff. ¶ 6 (Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 1).)
continued to report to work after his conversation with Erven
until Friday of that week, March 20, 2015. According to
Plaintiff, on that day, Copple called Plaintiff into his
office; told Plaintiff that he was “disrupting the
company with complaining”; stated that Plaintiff had
resigned and given his two weeks' notice; and instructed
Plaintiff to turn in his tool box and leave immediately.
(King Dep. 81:1-8.) Plaintiff admits that he did not try to
correct Copple or dispute that he had given his notice.
Plaintiff “let [Copple] assume that [he] was going to
quit” because it was clear that Copple was firing him.
(Id. 81:9-25; King Aff. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff
testified that Copple was not listening to him, and Plaintiff
did not see any point in arguing with him. (King Aff. ¶
25, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint in Tulsa County
District Court against Southwest, alleging violations of the
Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act (“OADA”), O.S.
25 §§ 1101 et seq., and Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e et seq. The complaint alleges Southwest
discriminated against Plaintiff by harassing him on the basis
of race and retaliated against Plaintiff by terminating his
employment based on his opposition to unlawful
discrimination. On June 27, 2016, Southwest removed the
action to this Court. On January 13, 2017, Southwest filed
its Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 21).
Summary Judgment Standard
judgment is proper only if “there is no genuine issue
as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The
moving party bears the burden of showing that no genuine
issue of material fact exists. See Zamora v. Elite
Logistics, Inc., 449 F.3d 1106, 1112 (10th Cir. 2006).
The Court resolves all factual disputes and draws all
reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party.
Id. However, the party seeking to overcome a motion
for summary judgment may not “rest on mere
allegations” in its complaint but must “set forth
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The party seeking to
overcome a motion for summary judgment must also make a
showing sufficient to establish the existence of those
elements essential to that party's case. See Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-33 (1986).
Objections to Material
preliminary matter, the Court will address objections to
certain material submitted with and/or discussed in the
briefing on the motion for summary judgment. The following
determinations are for the purpose of summary judgment only
and do not constitute a ruling on any pending or future
motions regarding the admissibility of any material at a
later stage of the proceeding.
objects to two exhibits (Doc. 24-1 and Doc. 24-2) submitted
with Plaintiff's response to Southwest's motion for
summary judgment. The Court has not considered the two
exhibits Southwest objects to for the purpose of its summary