Smith v. Int'l Paper Co.

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In Smith v. Int'l Paper Co., 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 7157 (8th Cir. Apr. 4, 2008), the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment against a Title VII employment discrimination claim by employee Smith based on race.

The Court found:

Nowhere in his EEOC charge or in his pleadings in this lawsuit does Smith allege that he was retaliated against because of a complaint of racial discrimination or racial harassment to IP. With respect to his retaliation claim, Smith's EEOC charge merely states, "In October 2001, I complained about the treatment I was subjected to by my supervisor," and "I was disciplined and discharged ... in retaliation for lodging a complaint." In his complaint filed in the district court, Smith alleged that "the evidence will show that in October 2001, I complained to management about the treatment I was subjected to by my supervisor." Smith never alleged that his October 30 complaint about the treatment he was subjected to by his supervisor involved any form of racial discrimination or racial harassment.

The rejected a claim by the employee that he was terminated for retaliatory reasons:

In his response to IP's motion for summary judgment, Smith claimed for the first time that he was "terminated in retaliation for complaining about race discrimination." The evidence, however, does not support this characterization of his October 30 complaint to IP's human resource managers. As Smith conceded at oral argument, confirmed by our review of the record, there is no evidence that his October 30 complaint referred to any harassment or discrimination based on Smith's race. The only evidence in the record on this issue is Smith's deposition, which states that Smith complained to IP's human resource managers that Boyette was "hollering and cussing at me" and "accusing me of doing damage to the Bobcat that I was not doing at the time." The October 30 complaint to IP's human resource managers about Boyette's yelling, cussing and hollering at Smith, with no reference to "race, color, ... or national origin," does not constitute protected conduct. See Bakhtiari v. Lutz, 507 F.3d 1132, 1137-38 (8th Cir. 2007) (teaching assistant's complaints to student affairs office about the administration were simply complaints about "unsavory actions" that did not constitute complaints about unlawful employment practices); Curd v. Hank's Disc. Fine Furniture, Inc., 272 F.3d 1039, 1041 (8th Cir. 2001) (e-mail concerning salesman who opened his pants and tucked in his shirt was not a complaint concerning an unlawful employment practice); Evans v. Kansas City, Mo. Sch. Dist., 65 F.3d 98, 101 (8th Cir. 1995) (teacher's complaint about a school's desegregation plan was not made in opposition to an unlawful employment practice). "Title VII, we have said, does not set forth a general civility code for the American workplace." Carpenter v. Con-Way Cent. Express, Inc., 481 F.3d 611, 619 (8th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). It is not a "bad acts" statute. Evans, 65 F.3d at 101 (citation omitted). No reasonable person could believe that Smith's October 30 complaints about workplace civility, the only basis asserted by him, were protected under Title VII. Therefore, Smith has failed to present sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that he engaged in protected conduct when he complained to IP's human resource managers on October 30, 2001, about the yelling, cussing and hollering he was subjected to by his supervisor. As a result, Smith's retaliation claim fails.