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Matthews v. Faurecia Automotive Seating, Inc.

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

June 19, 2018



          L. Scott Coogler United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Marilyn Matthews ("Matthews" or "Plaintiff"), a 44 year old female, brought the instant action against her former employer, Faurecia Automotive Seating, Inc. ("Faurecia") and others, alleging claims for gender discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), [1] 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Faurecia is the only remaining Defendant. Before the Court is Faurecia's motion for summary judgment (doc. 39). For the reasons stated below, the motion is due to be granted.

         I. Background[2]

         Faurecia is a first-tier supplier of automotive equipment and parts; they specialize in manufacturing seating. After working on a nonpermanent basis, Matthews began her employment on January 13, 2014 at the Cottondale, Alabama location of Faurecia as a full-time Production Operator. Matthews' duties included pulling leather over seats for Mercedes Benz vehicles. On January 21, 2014, approximately one week after she began work, Matthews received an injury to her hand. She reported the injury to her supervisor at the time.[3] According to Matthews, she filed numerous complaints and grievances with her Union not only for the improper handling of her injury, but also incidents she claims prevented Faurecia from being a conducive working environment.[4]

         As a part of the orientation process, Faurecia requires new hires to sign a Receipt and Acknowledgment form demonstrating that they have read and understood Faurecia's Employment Handbook ("the Handbook"). Matthews signed the form indicating her receipt and understanding of its contents on December 12, 2013. (Doc. 41-1 at 10, Ex. 1G.) The Handbook includes Faurecia's attendance policy, which provides that "[a]n absence of three (3) or more consecutive days without reporting will result in voluntary termination of employment with the Company." (Doc. 41-1 at 12-14, Ex. 1C, Employee Handbook.) The attendance policy assesses points and partial points for employees' unapproved absences and tardiness. (Id. at 12-13.) It specifies that "immediate termination of employment" is warranted after an employee has accumulated 10 attendance points during a 12-month rolling calendar period. (Id. at 13.)

         As of the end of June, Matthews had accrued 12.5 points during a 12-month rolling calendar period. On July 1, 2014, instead of terminating Matthews, Faurecia gave her a one-day suspension and issued a written warning apprising her of the fact that receiving any further points would result in dismissal from Faurecia. (See Suspension Letter, Doc. 41-1 at 21, Ex. 1F.) Thereafter, in the wake of her suspension and warning, between June 29, 2014 and August 1, 2014, Matthews received an additional 4.5 attendance points. (Parrish Bowlin ("Bowlin") Declaration, Ex. 1.) Bowlin, a Faurecia Human Resources ("HR") manager to whom all Shift Supervisors directly reported, terminated Matthews effective August 21, 2014, for her violation of the attendance policy. (Termination Letter, Doc. 41-1 at 23, Ex. 1G.) At the time of her discharge, Matthews had received a total of 17 attendance points.[5]

         According to Matthews, on the day Bowlin fired her, she had written out a grievance against her female co-worker Shavote Bonner ("Bonner") who was physically threatening her. Immediately thereafter, Akins, her supervisor at the time, told her that Bowlin wanted to see her in his office. Matthews complied and brought the union shop stewardess on duty, Diane Austin ("Austin"), to Bowlin's office with her. Akins accompanied them as well. Austin had Matthews' written statement in hand; upon their entering Bowlin's office he snatched the statement, then looked at Matthews and said that her services were no longer needed. Bowlin then refused to give the grievance back to either Matthews or Austin-though they both pointed out that Matthews had the right to make her complaint and present it to union representatives. The three of them went back and forth about Matthews' rights, and also about whether or not Matthews had actually exceeded the allowable attendance points. (See Pl. Dep. at 78- 80, 127.)

         On August 22, 2014, Matthews' union filed a grievance on her behalf. After review, Faurecia determined that "the discipline given was appropriate, " and denied the grievance request for reinstatement owing to the fact that Matthews' termination was in conformance with Faurecia's attendance policy and did not violate the labor agreement between it and the union. (Doc. 41-1 at 26, Ex. 1H.) The union subsequently withdrew its grievance by letter dated November 6, 2014. (Doc. 41-1 at 28, Ex. 1I.)

         On November 4, 2014, Matthews filed two Unfair Labor Practice Charges with the National Labor Relations Board, in which she alleged her discharge was on account Faurecia's efforts "to discourage union activities[6] or membership, " and that her union grievance was not considered "for arbitrary or discriminatory reasons or in bad faith." (Doc. 41-2 at 2.) Both of the Charges were withdrawn in letters dated November 20, 2014. (Pl. Dep. at 111-12.)

         Matthews filed her Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on November 7, 2014, alleging age discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Matthews did not allege discrimination based on sex or gender in the first section of her EEOC charge. She did, however, briefly reference how gender played a role in the discrimination she experienced in the explanation section located below the heading. She specifically alleged that she "opposed discriminatory employment practices by filing complaints with the union about being subjected to adverse treatment that employees not of [her] protected class Age (44) were not." (Doc. 41-4 at 2, EEOC Charge.) Matthews also averred that she had lodged complaints to Faurecia Supervisor Chris James ("James") regarding an incident in which her co-worker, Hamilton stated to Matthews that she "needed to be in a nursing home" and that "women were a distraction . . . ." (Id.) James refutes that Matthews ever specifically complained to him about discriminatory practices, discrimination or harassment on the basis of her age or gender. There were also other incidents which Matthews avers contributed to her claims. Some female co-workers, Bonner and Rudolph allegedly assaulted her, dropped parts on the floor and stared at her. On September 15, 2015, the EEOC issued Matthews' Dismissal and Notice of Rights Letter.

         Matthews filed the present action in December of 2016, alleging gender discrimination, hostile work environment based on gender, and retaliation in violation of Title VII. Her Complaint makes no reference to any allegations of discrimination based on age which were raised in her EEOC charge. Though Matthews was initially represented, her counsel was terminated on July 10, 2017, and she now precedes pro se.[7]

         II. Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact[8] and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute is genuine if "the record taken as a whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party." Id. A genuine dispute as to a material fact exists "if the nonmoving party has produced evidence such that a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict in its favor." Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001)). The trial judge should not weigh the evidence, but determine whether there are any genuine issues of fact that should be resolved at trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, trial courts must give deference to the non-moving party by "view[ing] the materials presented and all factual inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Animal Legal Def. Fund v. U.S. Dep't of Agric, 789 F.3d 1206, 1213-14 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970)). However, "unsubstantiated assertions alone are not enough to withstand a motion for summary judgment." Rollins v. TechSouth, Inc., 833 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1987). Conclusory allegations and "mere scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party will not suffice to overcome a motion for summary judgment." Melton v. Abston, 841 F.3d 1207, 1220 (11th Cir. 2016) (per curiam) (quoting Young v. City of Palm Bay, Fla., 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th Cir. 2004)). In making a motion for summary judgment, "the moving party has the burden of either negating an essential element of the nonmoving party's case or showing that there is no evidence to prove a fact necessary to the nonmoving party's case." McGee v. Sentinel Offender Servs., LLC, 719 F.3d 1236, 1242 (11th Cir. 2013). Although the trial courts must use caution when granting motions for summary judgment, "[s]ummary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986).

         III. Discussion

         Matthews failed to respond to Faurecia's motion for summary judgment; however, this Court is nonetheless obligated to determine whether Faurecia is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the undisputed facts.[9] See Trs. of Cent. Pension Fund of Int'l Union of Operating Eng'rs & Participating Emp'rs v. Wolf Crane Serv., Inc., 374 F.3d 1035, 1039 (11th Cir. 2004) (per curiam) (A district court "cannot base the entry of summary judgment on the mere fact that the motion was unopposed but, rather, must consider the merits of the motion." (internal quotation marks omitted)). As such, the Court will address the merits of Faurecia's motion.

         A. Title VII Gender Discrimination Claim

         Matthews avers that she was discriminated against on the basis of her sex by Faurecia's decision to discharge her. A plaintiff can prove her Title VII discrimination claim by either direct or circumstantial evidence. Quigg v. Thomas Cty. Sch. Dist., 814 F.3d 1227, 1236-37 (11th Cir. 2016). Matthews has presented the Court with no direct evidence, but circumstantial evidence is before the Court in the form of her deposition testimony submitted by Faurecia. When analyzing a claim of discrimination by way of circumstantial evidence, the Court applies the McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green burden-shifting framework. Id. at 1238 n.7; see also Vessels v. Atlanta Indep. Sch. Sys., 408 F.3d 763, 767 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam).

         Under McDonnell Douglas, a plaintiff carries the initial burden of producing circumstantial evidence sufficient to prove a prima facie case of discrimination. 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973); see also Schoenfeld v. Babbitt, 168 F.3d 1257, 1267 (11th Cir. 1999). If the plaintiff meets her initial burden of establishing a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Traskv. Sec'y, Dep't of Veterans Affairs,822 F.3d 1179, 1191 (11th Cir. 2016), cert. denied sub nom. Trask v. Shulkin, 137 S.Ct. 1133, 197 L.Ed.2d 176 (2017). If the defendant is successful, "the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to ...

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