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Brent v. The Boeing Company

United States District Court, C.D. California

September 17, 2019

THE BOEING COMPANY; and DOES 1-10, inclusive, Defendants.




         Plaintiff, Michael Brent (“Brent”), brings this action against Defendant, The Boeing Company (“Boeing”), for various claims related to Boeing's decision to not promote Brent to an hourly lead position. Brent alleges six claims relating to alleged racial discrimination and harassment. Pending before the Court is Boeing's Motion for Summary Judgment, or in the alternative, Partial Summary Judgment (“Motion”). (ECF No. 55.) For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Boeing's Motion.[1]


         Boeing argues that Brent has not provided sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case for his claims. (See Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Mot. (“Mem.”) 11- 12, ECF No. 56.) In the alternative, Boeing argues that even if Brent is able to establish a prima facie case, Boeing proffers evidence that its actions were taken for legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons, and Brent failed to show Boeing's reasons were pretext for discrimination. (Mem. 14-15.) For this reason, the factual background section focuses primarily on the evidence Brent presents, construing all disputed facts in his favor.

         A. Brent's Employment with Boeing

         Boeing employed Michael Brent, an African-American male, as a Space Simulation Laboratory (“SSL”) technician for the past sixteen years. (Pl.'s Statement of Additional Material Facts (“PSAMF”) 149, ECF No. 74.) Brent is an hourly technician in Boeing's SSL. (Id.) During Brent's tenure at Boeing, he was laid off seven times due to a decrease in business. (Decl. of Michael Brent (“Brent Decl.”) ¶ 5, ECF No. 70). Yet, after each layoff, Brent was ultimately called back to work. (Id.) For the past three years, Brent's supervisor was Patrick Sawyer (“Sawyer”), a Caucasian male. (Id.) Brent's current manager is Tien Van (“Van”), an Asian-American male, and his former manager was William Churley (“Churley”), a Caucasian male. (Id.)

         Boeing's SSL is staffed in three shifts, and Brent serves on the third shift, which starts at 10:15 p.m. and ends at 5:15 a.m. (Def.'s Statement of Uncontroverted Facts (“DSUF”) 9, ECF No. 57.) The SSL is administered by managers, who supervise non-union “salaried leads, ” non-union engineers, and union member technicians. (DSUF 10.) Managers have the sole discretion, if justified, to designate one or more hourly technicians on a shift as an “hourly lead.” (DSUF 16.) Brent has repeatedly requested to become third shift “hourly lead.” (DUSF 53.) However, Boeing never promoted Brent. (PSAMF 155.) Boeing informed Brent that there is no business need for an “hourly lead” on third shift and declined to promote him. (DSUF 53.)

         On February 1, 2017, Brent filed a claim with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) and complained about race-based offensive behavior. (First Am. Compl. (“FAC”) ¶ 33, ECF No. 10.) Ultimately, on June 14, 2017, Brent filed his Complaint against Boeing. (See generally Compl., ECF No. 1.)

         B. Brent's Repeated “Hourly Lead” Promotion Requests

         In 2011 or 2012, Sawyer became Brent's supervisor. (PSAMF 157.) Brent subsequently requested the “hourly lead” position, but Boeing filled the position with David Gonzalez, a Hispanic male. (Suppl. Decl. of Joseph V. Marra III (“Suppl. Marra Decl.”) Ex. A (“Sawyer Dep.”), at 30:14-21, 38:17-39:4, ECF No. 83-1; Suppl. Marra Decl. Ex. B (“Cooney Dep.”), at 72:23-73:2, ECF No. 83-3.) The following year, Brent told Sawyer “[i]t has been good working with you on 3rd shift. Best 3rd Shift Leader I [sic] ever known.” (DSUF 58.)

         At some point after David Gonzalez, Vince Cooney (“Cooney”) became the hourly lead; however, on or about August 2017, Cooney retired from Boeing, leaving the “hourly lead” position vacant. (PSAMF 153.) Brent again requested the “hourly lead” position, but Boeing again declined the request. (Id.) Instead, Boeing left the “hourly lead” position unfilled, and stated that its decision was due to continuing decline in business and workforce downsizing. (Mem. 15.) After Boeing denied Brent's request, Brent suggested to Van that “perhaps the main reason is because of his race.” (Decl. of Tien Van (“Van Decl.”) Ex. 21, ECF No. 62-6.) Van insisted that the reason was because it was “impossible to justify . . . an hourly lead man” and told Brent “we will wait . . . and then we will evaluate if there is a need for additional hour lead man.” (Van Decl. Ex. 16, ECF No. 62-1.)

         C. Brent's SSL Satellite Launches Requests

         From September 2013 to May 2017, SSL conducted thirteen different satellite launch campaigns. (PSAMF 168.) Brent requested to be placed on the launch team and allowed to travel to the launch sites. (Id.) Boeing declined Brent's request, stating that Brent was ineligible to attend the launches. (Suppl. Decl. of William Churley (“Supp. Decl. Churley”) ¶¶ 3-4; ECF No. 82.) Brent concluded that Boeing declined his request because of his race. (PSAMF 158.)

         D. Sawyer's “Redneck” Nickname and “Redneck” Cartoon Incident

         Since 2002, Brent knew that Sawyer went by the nickname “redneck.” However, in 2014, Brent reported to his manager Churley and human resources representative Donna Syas-Brandon that Sawyer had a “cartoon in the workplace of a man wearing an ice cream bucket on his head while cutting concrete and bore the caption ‘redneck safety glasses' and that he found the term ‘redneck' to be offensive.” (Decl. of Joseph V. Marra III (“Marra Decl.”) Ex. 24Ba (“Brent Dep.”), at 124:4-25, ECF No. 63-1; DSUF 59.) Additionally, Brent requested that Sawyer's “REDNECS” license plate be removed. (PSAMF 158.) Brent also demanded that Sawyer refrain from using his nickname “redneck” because Brent found the term to be “functional[ly] equivalent of a white man calling him [the N-word].” (PSAMF 158.) Churley made Sawyer remove the cartoon and license plate and told Sawyer to refrain from using his nickname “redneck” at work. (DSUF 62.)

         E. Incident with Sawyer and Boeing's Subsequent on Investigation

         On an unspecified date, Sawyer told Brent “F*ck you, F you.” (Brent Decl. ¶ 17.) On October 21, 2015, Brent and Sawyer had another verbal altercation. While the team conducted crane operations, Sawyer observed Brent and Stan Jolley (“Jolley”), an African-American engineer, sitting down. (DSUF 64.) Sawyer became upset and told Brent to either “get up or go home.” (See DSUF 66.) Brent retorted that he was checking out push carts to Jolley and was waiting for the crane to come down. (DSUF 65.) Brent informed Churley about the altercation, and Churley then initiated an investigation. (DSUF 69.)

         Churley interviewed seven employees who were either on third shift or witnessed the interaction between Sawyer and Brent. (Id.) Churley concluded that Brent had sat in the chair for only a couple of minutes before both Brent and Sawyer raised their voices. (Decl. of William Churley (“Churley Decl.”) Ex. 10, at 2, ECF No. 60-1.) Neither yelled nor swore. (Id.) Brent reported that he did not like Sawyer's “redneck” nickname, that Sawyer often discussed his firearms hobby at work, and showed-off his firearms related videos. (PSAMF 159.) On occasion, while sitting at his desk, Sawyer would assemble his rifle scope in plain view. (Id.) Brent told Churley that he hoped Sawyer “would not do anything to get back at him.” (Id.)

         In Brent's December 8, 2017 deposition, he was asked if he knew why Sawyer had showed him his firearm videos. Brent responded, “I guess to brag, boast . . . I wasn't the only person he showed these videos to.” (Brent Dep. at 117:18-23.) Brent also testified in his deposition that he was in good mental and physical health, had not seen a mental healthcare provider in the last three years, did not feel a need to see anyone who is a mental healthcare provider, and boasted about his 91 percent Boeing wellness score. (Brent Dep. 11:18-15:6.) However, in Brent's Declaration dated May 30, 2019, Brent stated that Sawyer caused him to suffer severe emotional distress. (Brent Decl. ¶ 15.)

         Following Churley's investigation, Boeing provided Brent and Sawyer feedback on how to interact with dignity and respect. (DSUF 80.) Brent stated that he was satisfied with how Boeing handled his complaints. (DSUF 83.) Nevertheless, Brent informed Boeing that he still felt that he was a target and victim of discrimination. (Brent Decl. ¶ 70.)

         F. Sawyer Assigns Brent Non-Preferred Tasks

         In August 2016, Brent reported to Churley that Sawyer did not assign him his preferred assignment. (DSUF 84.) Brent reported that, on thirteen different occasions, Sawyer assigned Brent to menial tasks, including re-taping and removing tape from the SSL floors, and assigned lesser-qualified technicians to the preferred spacecraft testing. (Brent Decl. ¶ 16; PSAMF 133.) Brent states that Sawyer assigned him to menial task based on his race. (PSAMF 133.) Yet, Sawyer also assigned Cooney, the hourly lead and a Caucasian male, to the same menial tasks. (DSUF 84.)

         G. Sawyer's DFEH Complaint & February 24, 2017 Communications

         On February 1, 2017, Brent filed a complaint with the DFEH, claiming that he experienced discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. (DSUF 93.) Also, on February 24, 2017, Brent informed Churley that he endured the following harassment: (1) someone spat snuff on Brent's front fender causing damage; (2) someone splashed soda on Brent's car; and (3) someone took items from Brent's lunch box. (DSUF 100.) Brent informed Churley that he considered these hate crimes, and that Churley did not know about these events because Brent did not advertise them. (DSUF 98- 99.) Brent also told Churley that Sawyer was ordering him to take before and after pictures of his work, and asked whether the reason was to justify his work accomplishments. (PSAMF 164; Churley Decl. Ex. 12, at 3, ECF No. 60-3.) Finally, Brent asked Churley not to disclose the information because Brent feared retaliation. (Churley Decl. Ex. 12, at 3)

         Thereafter, Churley asked Brent to bring him all past or future incidents or issues as soon as possible. (Id. at 2.) Churley also asked Brent to provide him additional information and details concerning the hate crime incidents so he could investigate. (Id.) Churley informed Brent that the photographs were not about Brent's work, but rather to justify the overhead budget. (Id.) Brent replied on March 13, 2017, that he reported the incidents to Allied Barton Security, but otherwise provided no further information or details. (Id. at 1.) Brent even stated that “[t]here was no need for investigation, this kind of stuff happens all the time. You remember the jokes.” (Id.) Concerning the photos, Brent stated that he was the only one taking the pictures on his shift, and that it was not really a problem. (Id.)

         After filing his complaint with the DFEH, Brent requested an immediate right to sue and filed this lawsuit against Boeing on June 14, 2017. (DSUF 94.)

         III. ...

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