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Henderson v. Mid-South Electronics, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division

March 2, 2015

TARA HENDERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
MID-SOUTH ELECTRONICS, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KARON OWEN BOWDRE, Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the court on Defendant Mid-South's "Motion for Summary Judgment." (Doc. 23). For the reasons discussed below, the court will GRANT Mid-South's motion for summary judgment IN PART. The court will ENTER SUMMARY JUDGMENT in favor of Mid-South as to the Wage Discrimination claim in Count II and the Equal Pay Act ("EPA") claim in Count III. The court will DENY SUMMARY JUDGMENT as to the Race Discrimination claim in Count I, the Gender Discrimination claim in Count II, the Retaliation claim in Count IV, and the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") Interference and Retaliation claim in Count V.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment allows a trial court to decide cases when no genuine issues of material fact are present and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. When a district court reviews a motion for summary judgment, it must determine two things: (1) whether any genuine issues of material fact exist; and if not, (2) whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

The moving party "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). Once the moving party meets this burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party "to demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment." Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991).

In reviewing the evidence submitted, the court must "view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden, " to determine whether the nonmoving party presented sufficient evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254; Cottle v. Storer Commc'n, Inc., 849 F.2d 570, 575 (11th Cir. 1988). In doing so, all evidence and reasonable inferences drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Graham v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 1274, 1282 (11th Cir. 1999). After both parties have addressed the motion for summary judgment, the court must grant the motion if no genuine issues of material fact exist and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.

II. STATEMENT OF FACTS

Tara Henderson, a black female, began working at Mid-South in 1992. Mrs. Henderson was originally employed as an operator and then was promoted to team leader before finally becoming a supervisor in 2005. Mrs. Henderson worked as a supervisor in numerous departments before eventually being transferred to the Molding Department. As a Molding Supervisor, Mrs. Henderson earned $31, 000 a year. This amount was less than the wages paid to each of the other Molding Supervisors, all of whom were male.

Human Resource Director Mark Weaver explained that the disparity in pay was based on the fact that all of the other Molding Supervisors-Thomas Carter, Billy Cash, David Clark, and Roger Eychner[1]-had additional technical skills that Mrs. Henderson lacked. Mr. Carter could tear down molds and repair and adjust the molding machines. Mr. Cash could hang a mold, work with resins, set dryers up, perform troubleshooting, and set up the molding machines. Mr. Clark had years of experience in the plastic molding industry and could repair and set up the molding machines. Mr. Eychner could also set up and repair the molding machines as well as calibrate the machines to produce a better part.

Although the parties agree that Mrs. Henderson lacked the technical skills and knowledge of her male counterparts, the parties dispute whether the men's technical abilities and experience were relevant to the day-to-day duties of the Molding Supervisor position. In support of its position, Mid-South presents testimony from numerous Mid-South employees that 50-70% of a Molding Supervisor's duties consisted of performing technical work on the molding machines. In contrast, Mrs. Henderson testified that her supervisor specifically instructed her not to perform any work on the molding machines. She also testified that she performed all of the same duties as her male counterparts.

Mrs. Henderson's absences from work

In 2011, Mrs. Henderson began suffering from chronic joint pain, edema, and joint swelling. Although Mrs. Henderson saw multiple physicians for her symptoms from 2011 to 2012, she was not diagnosed with fibromyalgia until 2013. As a result of her illness, Mrs. Henderson frequently missed work due to flare-ups and doctor's appointments. Mrs. Henderson's ongoing battle with fibromyalgia culminated in December of 2011 with a three-day hospitalization. Following her hospitalization, Mrs. Henderson's physician excused her from an additional four days of work so that she could recuperate from her illness. In total, Mrs. Henderson missed twenty-two days of work in 2011. Although Mrs. Henderson submitted a doctor's note for the days that she missed because of her hospitalization and subsequent recovery, she often failed to provide doctor's notes or call in to work for her absences.

Mrs. Henderson's absenteeism did not go unnoticed at Mid-South. On January 3, 2012, Human Resources Director Mark Weaver and Jean Lawson, who handled general personnel responsibilities for Mid-South, met with Mrs. Henderson to discuss her attendance. At the meeting, Mrs. Henderson explained that she was still awaiting a diagnosis but was feeling better and hoped to have better attendance in the future. Mr. Weaver and Ms. Lawson communicated to Mrs. Henderson that they understood she was having health issues and that they were willing to work with her. However, they told Mrs. Henderson that she needed to understand that her excessive absences negatively impacted the company. Mr. Weaver and Ms. Lawson told Mrs. Henderson that her attendance needed to improve in the next year, and they reminded her that she needed to call into work and provide a doctor's note if she was going to be absent.

Mrs. Henderson first complains of discrimination

The fact that Mrs. Henderson was paid less than her male counterparts bothered her, and in June 2012, she met with Mr. Weaver and Ms. Lawson to discuss what Mrs. Henderson believed was race and gender-based disparate pay. At the meeting, Mrs. Henderson also complained that her supervisor, Mr. Robertson, was discriminating against her by intentionally omitting her from work e-mails, excluding her from meetings, and undermining her authority in front of her subordinates. Additionally, Mrs. Henderson complained about a conversation Mr. Robertson had with her regarding her decision to promote an African-American employee, Kimisha Taylor. Specifically, Mrs. Henderson cited Mr. Robertson's statement to her that "[i]t's going to look like favoritism because you're promoting a black person and you're black." Although the parties agree Mr. Robertson made this statement to Mrs. Henderson, the parties dispute the context in which the statement was made.

Mr. Robertson testified that Mrs. Henderson attempted to promote Ms. Taylor without posting the opening as required by Mid-South's hiring protocols. He testified that he spoke with Mrs. Henderson about her decision to promote Ms. Taylor and underscored the importance of posting the job to allow all employees an equal opportunity to apply. Mr. Robertson stated his purpose in making the statement to Mrs. Henderson was to convey to her that failing to post the job could give the appearance of race-based preferential treatment. In contrast, Mrs. Henderson testified that Mr. Robertson's statement was not related to whether she would post the position. She knew the position needed to be posted and intended to do so. Mrs. Henderson understood Mr. Robertson's statement to mean that promoting an African-American would look bad to Mr. Robertson's supervisors and that he would have a difficult time explaining Mrs. Henderson's decision.

Mid-South Transfers Mrs. Henderson to Assembly Supervisor

The same month that Mrs. Henderson lodged her complaint of discrimination with Mr. Weaver and Ms. Lawson, Mid-South transferred her out of her Molding Supervisor position into a Production Supervisor position in the Assembly Department. Mrs. Henderson learned of her transfer in a meeting with Mr. Robertson, Mr. Weaver, and Ms. Lawson on June 27, 2012. During the meeting, Mrs. Henderson expressed concern that the change in position would make it difficult for her to see her physician because she had scheduled her doctor's appointments around the twelve-hour shifts she worked as a Molding Supervisor, not the eight-hour shifts she would work in the Assembly Department. Nevertheless, Mrs. Henderson's supervisors explained that Mid-South was opening a new assembly line and they believed that she would do a good job motivating the employees in the Assembly Department. In July of 2012, Mid-South transferred Mrs. Henderson to the Assembly Department. In the months following Mrs. Henderson's transfer, Mid-South's other departments transitioned from twelve-hour to eight-hour shifts.

Mrs. Henderson again complains of discrimination

In August 2012, Mrs. Henderson again met with Mr. Weaver and Ms. Lawson to discuss Mr. Robertson's alleged discriminatory treatment of African Americans. In the meeting, Mrs. Henderson again complained about Mr. Robertson's statement to her regarding her decision to promote an African-American employee. She also complained that Mr. Robertson continued to treat her differently and refused to speak to her. The record ...


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