United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
CHARLES A. KNIGHTEN, Plaintiff,
MARUBENI AMERICA, INC., d/b/a/ GAVILON GRAIN, LLC, d/b/a KALAMA EXPORT, LLC. Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
B. Leighton United States District Judge
MATTER is before the court on Defendant Marubeni
America's Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. #17].
Plaintiff Charles Knighten is a long time Marubeni employee.
He claims that in 2006 he was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder caused by a past military sexual trauma.
Knighten currently works as a locomotive switchman at
Marubeni's Kalama Export facility. In 2008, Knighten
filed an employment discrimination suit against the
facility's previous owners, which was settled and
dismissed with prejudice by this Court in 2009. Knighten
voluntarily moved from the maintenance department to the
production department in 2011. In 2012, Knighten claims that,
for discriminatory and retaliatory reasons, Kalama denied him
two overtime opportunities.
sued, asserting claims under the Americans with Disabilities
Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination, for
disability discrimination, failure to accommodate a
disability, hostile work environment, and retaliation. Kalama
seeks summary judgment, claiming Knighten cannot establish
any of the required elements of his claims. Kalama argues
that even if Knighten could establish a prima facie case,
Knighten's claims nonetheless fail because Kalama
established legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for its
actions and there is no evidence that these reasons are
began working for Kalama's maintenance department in
1983. [Dkt #18 Exhibit B at 8]. He has periodically requested
and received medical leave for PTSD treatment. [Dkt #1
Exhibit A at 3]. Knighten has a long, documented history of
conflict with his maintenance supervisors and coworkers; he
has received two suspensions and five warnings or complaints.
In 1987, Knighten received a written warning for incomplete
work and a confrontation with his lead. [Dkt #20 Exhibit 2].
In 2007, a coworker complained that Knighten was sleeping
during work hours. [Dkt #18 Exhibit B, at 92-93].
personal disagreements with his maintenance supervisor, Gary
Carlson, and his coworker Mark Lydic, Knighten chose to avoid
both individuals and admittedly continues to turn his back to
them while in the same room. [Id. at 40-41].
Knighten once yelled an obscenity at Lydic in response to
Lydic placing his hand on Knighten's shoulder in apology.
[Id. at 23]. At some point Knighten witnessed Lydic
placing his head on Carlson's shoulder and saying,
“oh, Gary” in a joking manner while recounting a
recent fishing expedition. [Dkt #18 Exhibit B at 62-64].
Knighten claims the sight of two male friends displaying
affection in the workplace likely aggravated his PTSD.
[Id. at 69-71].
2011 Knighten requested a promotion to lead in the
maintenance department. Kalama denied his request because due
to Knighten's poor relationships with management and
coworkers in the department. [Dkt #20 at 3]. Kalama instead
promoted Lydic to lead. Knighten argues that because he had
seniority over Lydic at that time, he was entitled to the
promotion. He also claims Lydic's promotion violated
Kalama's policy prohibiting family members from
supervising each other because Lydic's son-in-law became
his supervisor. [Dkt #18 at 66].
same month, Knighten voluntarily transferred from the
maintenance department to a less physically demanding
position in the production department, where he continues to
work today. [Dkt #20 at 3]. Lydic asked him to remove his
belongings from his former maintenance locker because the
maintenance employees needed the space. [Dkt #17 at 18].
Knighten contends there was ample space because Kalama
recently expanded the maintenance storage. [Dkt #20 at 4].
was a senior employee in the maintenance department but he
lost his seniority status when he transferred to the
production department. Under the 2009 union agreement, an
employee who transfers between maintenance and production
restarts seniority in the new department on his or her
transfer date. [Dkt #18 Exhibit H].
Kalama denied Knighten's overtime bid for the production
department and instead gave the overtime to a more senior
employee. [Dkt #18 Exhibit D]. In response, Knighten filed a
union grievance claiming that he was the most senior in the
department. [Id.]. Two days later, plant supervisor
Steve Oakes responded to Knighten's complaint in writing,
explaining that Knighten was no longer a senior employee
after his transfer to the production department. [Dkt #18
Exhibit E]. Oakes apologized for the delay in posting the
updated seniority list and the grievance was dismissed.
2012, Kalama denied Knighten's overtime bid for a job
back in the maintenance department. [Dkt #18 Exhibit F].
Knighten again filed a union grievance, alleging he was a
senior qualified employee improperly denied overtime.
[Id.]. Oakes responded in writing within a week,
explaining Knighten was no longer eligible to work in
maintenance, due to his poor relationships in the department.
[Dkt #18 Exhibit G]. Nonetheless, Kalama paid Knighten for
the overtime he did not work and the grievance was dismissed.
[Dkt #18 Exhibit B at 50]. Knighten challenges not only his
overtime rejection but also Oakes' resulting
determination that he is no longer eligible to work in
2013, Lydic complained to management about Knighten calling
him a “squirrel” behind his back. [Id.
at 21]. Knighten did not deny the accusation but rather
explained that “if [Lydic]'s not there, then no
harm, no foul towards him personally.” [Id. at
43:7-8]. During the same year, Knighten claims Lydic asked
him if he was ‘hitting on him'. [Id. at
67]. Knighten contends he has since felt uncomfortable alone
with Lydic and will leave the room whenever Lydic comes in.
[Id. at 37].
sued in 2014. Knighten asserted four causes of action against
Kalama under the ADA and WALD: (1) Kalama discriminated
against him by denying his overtime and promotion requests
because of his PTSD, (2) Kalama failed to accommodate his
PTSD by denying his request to work in the maintenance
department, (3) Kalama created a hostile work environment by
asking Knighten to remove his personal property, subjecting
him to harassment and a public display of affection, and
allowing relatives to supervise each other, and (4) Kalama
retaliated against Knighten for his previous lawsuit by
denying his overtime and promotion requests. [Dkt #1 Exhibit
A at 10-12]. Knighten seeks compensatory damages and special
damages relating to lost wages and benefits, lost future
earnings, emotional distress, humiliation, and loss of
enjoyment of life. [Id. at 12].
seeks summary judgment on Knighten's ADA and WLAD claims
for three reasons: (1) Knighten failed to prove he was
disabled within the meaning of the ADA or WLAD, (2)
Knighten's claims are unrelated to his purported
disability, and (3) Kalama denied Knighten's promotion
and overtime requests because Knighten is unqualified due to
his lower seniority status and his inability to work with
maintenance supervisors and coworkers. Kalama also argues
Knighten received every accommodation he requested and he
failed to prove that Kalama's reasons for its adverse
actions are a pretext for discrimination.