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Jones v. City of Sheboygan

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

August 13, 2019

TYLER JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SHEBOYGAN, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          William E. Duffin U.S. Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Tyler Jones was a maintenance worker for defendant City of Sheboygan. While driving a City of Sheboygan garbage truck, he collided with another City of Sheboygan garbage truck. As a result, he was fired. In this lawsuit, Jones alleges that he was the victim of race discrimination. The City of Sheboygan has moved for summary judgment. Briefing on the motion is complete and the matter is ready for resolution. All parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge.

         BACKGROUND

         Jones began his employment with the City of Sheboygan on March 20, 2017. His title was Maintenance Worker I. His job duties included collecting garbage and operating garbage collection equipment. As an employee of the City of Sheboygan, Jones was given an Employee Handbook, which provided in relevant part that the “[f]ailure to follow safety requirements is a serious offense, subject to corrective action and/or further discipline, including termination of employment, for even the first offense (depending on the degree of the violation).” Jones was also given an Orientation Checklist for Sanitation Operators, which stated that, “[w]hen backing, go slow and use a spotter.”

         In the weeks that followed his first day of employment, Jones was trained as part of a sanitation crew. The City generally uses two-man sanitation crews. One sanitation crew member drives the garbage truck for thirty minutes while the other member loads garbage and recycling onto the garbage truck. At the end of thirty minutes, the crew members switch places. This is repeated until the daily route has been completed. When the truck is full and when the daily route is complete, the crew members take the garbage truck to the Waste Management Transfer Station in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin (the “Transfer Station”) to empty it.

         Part of the training Jones received was how to operate a garbage truck at the City's Transfer Station. When the garbage truck arrives at the Transfer Station, it is driven forward onto a scale, a card specific to the garbage truck is swiped in a card reader, and the truck's initial weight is taken. The driver of the garbage truck then pulls forward from the scale, positions the truck so it is in front of a building at the Transfer Station where garbage and recycling are dumped or “tipped, ” and then backs up so that the garbage side of the truck can be dumped into the Tipping Building. Once the garbage has been emptied, the driver drives the truck back to the scale, swipes another card in the card reader, and the truck is again weighed so that the weight of the garbage can be determined. After the garbage weight has been determined, the garbage truck pulls forward from the scale and then backs up so that the recycling side of the truck can be emptied into the Tipping Building. Once the recycling has been emptied, the members drive forward and continue on the daily route or return to the City's Municipal Services Building.

         So as to be able to operate the City's garbage trucks, Jones received training on operating commercial vehicles and received his Commercial Driver's License in May 2017. Shortly thereafter, on June 8, 2017, Jones was assigned to work as one half of a two-man sanitation crew. When the garbage truck became full, Jones drove it to the Transfer Station to be weighed and emptied. After emptying the garbage side of the garbage truck into the Tipping Building, Jones pulled forward and attempted to back up onto the scale to determine the garbage weight. In doing so, he drove backward without a spotter, in one continuous motion at three to five miles per hour. The space directly behind the garbage truck is a blind spot in the truck's mirrors. However, the truck is equipped with a backup camera. When backing his garbage truck onto the scale, Jones's garbage truck collided with another City garbage truck, driven by James Gilliam, another City of Sheboygan employee. Gilliam's garbage truck was pulling onto the scale when Jones's garbage truck was backing onto the scale. Gilliam's truck had come to a complete stop on the scale before Jones backed into it.

         The rear step of Jones's garbage truck punctured the radiator of Gilliam's garbage truck, causing more than $13, 000 in damage to Gilliams' truck. The collision rendered Gilliam's garbage truck inoperable, and it needed to be towed. Bruce Matzdorf, the City's Department of Public Works' Streets and Sanitation Leadman, upon learning of the collision, went to the Transfer Station. Matzdorf took Jones, who is white, for a post-accident drug test. He did not take Gilliam, who is African-American, for a post-accident drug test. Both Jones and Gilliam gave the City written statements regarding the accident. The City obtained video of the accident from Waste Management's cameras. Sandra Rohrick, the City's Director of Human Resources and Labor Relations, spoke with Tom Ross, who was in Gilliam's garbage truck at the time of the collision, and Jason Brill, who was the other member of Jones's sanitation crew on June 8, 2017.

         David Biebel, the City's Director of Public Works, Rohrick, and Jason Blasiola, the City's Streets and Sanitation Superintendent (collectively, “City Management”), reviewed the information gathered. City Management concluded that Jones violated work rules when he backed his vehicle without a spotter. City Management also concluded that Jones's inattentive driving was the cause of the accident. They also concluded that Gilliam could not have safely backed up in accordance with the City's work rules once he stopped. Because of the severity and avoidability of the accident, City Management was no longer comfortable with Jones operating vehicles for the City. Because the Maintenance Worker I duties require, at least from time to time, operating large vehicles, City Management did not believe that reassigning Jones was a viable solution to its concerns. As a result, the City terminated Jones employment on June 20, 2017.

         In this lawsuit Jones alleges that the City of Sheboygan discriminated against him on the basis of race and color when it terminated his employment. The City has moved for summary judgment.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” only if it “might affect the outcome of the suit” and a dispute is “genuine” only if a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict for the non-movant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In resolving a motion for summary judgment, the court is to “construe all evidence and draw all reasonable inferences from the evidence in” favor of the non-movant. E.Y. v. United States, 758 F.3d 861, 863 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Gil v. Reed, 535 F.3d 551, 556 (7th Cir. 2008); Del Raso v. United States, 244 F.3d 567, 570 (7th Cir. 2001)). “The controlling question is whether a reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the non-moving party on the evidence submitted in support of and [in] opposition to the motion for summary judgment.” White v. City of Chi., 829 F.3d 837, 841 (7th Cir. 2016).

         ANALYSIS

         The City contends that it had a legitimate reason for terminating Jones: because he caused a serious and avoidable accident. It contends that his race and color were not a factor in the City's decision. Much of the City's brief in support of its motion for summary judgment focuses on the allegations in Jones's complaint, arguing that Jones “has not pled facts to suggest the City discriminates against whites” (ECF No. 23 at 23) and Jones “has not pled facts to show he was treated worse than similarly situated non-white employees” (id. at 25). But the sufficiency of the complaint is a matter for a motion to dismiss; at summary judgment the ...


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