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Phillips v. Gestamp Alabama LLC

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

July 19, 2018




         The court has before it the October 13, 2017 motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Gestamp Alabama, LLC (“Gestamp”). (Doc. 39). Pursuant to the court's initial order (Doc. 18), the motion was under submission as of November 14, 2017. After consideration of the briefs and evidence, [2] the motion is due to be granted for the following reasons.


         Gestamp manufactures automotive parts and components at its facility in McCalla, Alabama. (Doc. 41-6 (“Wells Decl.”) ¶ 3). Plaintiff began her employment with Gestamp as a production associate on March 14, 2011. (Id. ¶ 12; Doc. 41-1 (“Phillips Dep.”) at 35). Plaintiff worked for several years in different positions, and, on April 1, 2013, she was promoted to the ultrasonic technician position. (Id. at 50, 58; Doc. 41-2 at 68-69, 75). Ultrasonic technicians check and ensure the integrity of welds on automotive parts manufactured by Gestamp before the parts are shipped to customers. (Doc. 41-21 (“Landry Decl.”) ¶ 3). Plaintiff was the first female promoted to this position. (Doc. 5 ¶ 9).

         Hourly employees such as Plaintiff are paid in accordance with a pay scale applicable to their position. (Wells Decl. ¶ 11). The entry level pay rate for an ultrasonic technician is $14.00 per hour. (Id. ¶ 11a). Employees transferred or promoted to an ultrasonic technician position receive a raise at least to the minimum pay rate for the position. (Id. ¶ 11b). With her promotion to ultrasonic technician, Plaintiff received a $0.75 raise from $14.25 to $15.00 per hour.[3] (Id. ¶ 13; Phillips Dep. at 35, 58; Doc. 41-2 at 75).

         All employees receive hourly wage increases every six months in accordance with the pay scale applicable to their position and based on their length of time working in the position. (Wells Decl. ¶ 11e). Additionally, Gestamp adjusts the pay scales upward for all employees to account for market wage rate increases, cost of living, and inflation. (Id. ¶ 11f). When adjustments to the pay scale are made, all employees in particular positions receive a corresponding hourly pay raise. (Id.).

         As an ultrasonic technician, Plaintiff first worked on the second shift and Warren Landry was her supervisor or group leader. (Phillips Dep. at 37, 66-67; Landry Decl. ¶ 8). Beginning in October 2013, Plaintiff contends Landry harassed her regarding her work progress, paper left at her work station, and restroom breaks. (Doc. 42 ¶ 16). Specifically, during Plaintiff's first week in zone 3, a particularly difficult area, Landry repeatedly came to her work station throughout the night and demanded to know her progress. (Id. ¶ 17; Phillips Dep. at 179-80). Landry used a hostile tone when speaking with Plaintiff. (Doc. 42 ¶ 16). Landry began to record the time on Plaintiff's work log to show her progress, or lack thereof, throughout her shift. (Id.; Phillips Dep. at 179-80).

         Additionally, Landry questioned Plaintiff regarding her workstation. Plaintiff testified she left work related documents neatly under her computer at her workstation. (Doc. 42 ¶ 17; Phillips Dep. at 182). Landry made her write an essay explaining why she left documents at her workstation. (Id.). He also instructed the day shift team leader to search Plaintiff's workstation in the morning to see if Plaintiff left anything behind. (Id.). In contrast, Plaintiff contends male ultrasonic technicians left trash, candy wrappers, and soda bottles at their workstations without any repercussions. (Id.). There is no evidence Plaintiff was ever disciplined for leaving paper at her workstation.

         Finally, Plaintiff contends Landry harassed her about the length of restroom breaks. (Doc. 5 ¶¶ 10-11). In October 2013, Plaintiff received a written warning for leaving her work station for thirty-eight (38) minutes on October 9, 2013, and thirty-one (31) minutes on October 10, 2013.[4] (Doc. 41-22 at 4). Plaintiff did not inform anyone she was leaving her workstation and when questioned, stated the long breaks were necessary because she had undergone surgery less than a year beforehand and needed to take longer restroom breaks. (Id.). The warning stated Plaintiff's performance was slower than her peers and well-below the required amount of testing. (Id.). Plaintiff did not comment on her performance, but stated she would try to take shorter, more frequent restroom breaks. (Id.). There is no evidence Plaintiff asked for an accommodation regarding her restroom breaks.

         Plaintiff also contends Landry treated males more favorably with respect to overtime assignments. (Doc. 5 ¶¶ 12-14). The Associate Handbook contains Gestamp's policy for scheduling overtime. (Doc. 41-8). The policy states volunteers for overtime will be asked on a rotating basis when an entire shift is not required to work overtime. (Wells Decl. ¶ 10; Doc. 41-8 at 23). Further “[w]hen production requirements exceed the number of those volunteering to work, the Group Leader [has] the flexibility to determine the process by which overtime will be distributed.” (Doc. 41-8 at 3). If volunteers are not found, employees may be required to work based on “length of service and skills.” (Id.).

         Plaintiff contends Landry temporarily changed the way he assigned overtime hours to prevent her from being offered overtime first. Specifically, she argues when she was not the most senior ultrasonic technician, Landry offered overtime to the most senior employee first. (Doc. 42 ¶ 21). Near the end of 2013, the most senior ultrasonic technician regularly turned down overtime and Plaintiff was “next in line to receive overtime assignments.” (Id.). The team leader, David Ward, informed Plaintiff, however, Landry changed the overtime assignment and was going to assign overtime evenly among the ultrasonic technicians. (Id.). According to Plaintiff, Landry changed the overtime assignment policy back to seniority when Bryant Swan joined the second shift and became the most senior ultrasonic technician. (Id.).

         In July 2014, Plaintiff began having more problems with Landry. On July 10, 2014, Landry spoke with Plaintiff regarding her failure to complete quality checks on a sufficient number of parts during her shift. (Landry Decl. ¶ 11). Landry required Plaintiff to write a statement discussing how she spent her time during her shift that day. (Id.). Plaintiff wrote a short statement and argued with Landry regarding her performance. (Id.). Landry instructed Phillips to clock out for the remainder of her shift and required her to perform alternative duties in the Quality Department for a few days when she returned. (Id.).

         On July 24, 2014, group leader Alcendo Robinson approached Plaintiff and asked her to check the welds on a certain part. (Id. ¶ 12; Doc. 41-25 at 2). She told him she would check it, but continued work on another part. (Id.). Robinson told her he needed the quality check performed immediately because the part at issue was still being built and could not continue until the check was performed. (Doc. 41-25 at 2). Plaintiff responded she would do it “in a little while.” (Id.). Robinson contacted team leader David Ward and informed him Plaintiff refused to do a quality check as requested. (Id. at 3). Ward then asked Plaintiff to stop what she was doing and perform the check and she again refused. (Id.)

         At this point, Robinson and Ward informed Landry that Plaintiff refused to perform a quality check as instructed. (Landry Decl. ¶ 12). Ward and Landry immediately met with Plaintiff regarding her denial of the request made by two of her supervisors. (Id.). Landry asked Plaintiff to write a statement regarding the incident. (Id.). Plaintiff wrote: “I have done things the way I thought they were to be done and I've gotten in trouble. I've done them the way Warren Landry has told me to and I've still gotten in trouble. I just don't know what to do anymore.” (Doc. 41-23 at 2). Landry asked Plaintiff to clock out for the remainder of her shift. (Landry Decl. ¶ 12). She refused and Landry told Plaintiff she would be transferred from the second shift to the first shift. (Id.). The next day, July 25, 2014, Plaintiff transferred to the first shift and has not been supervised by Landry since that date. (Phillips Dep. at 37, 66-67). Plaintiff remains employed at Gestamp as an ultrasonic technician. (Phillips Dep. at 28, 59-60; Wells Decl. ¶ 12.c). She is paid the maximum amount under the pay scale for her position. (See Phillips Dep. at 188-92).

         On January 18, 2015, Plaintiff completed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) intake questionnaire. (Doc. 41-5 at 1-4). On January 26, 2015, the EEOC mailed a Notice of Charge of Discrimination to Gestamp stating “a charge of employment discrimination has been filed against your organization under” Title VII based on race, color[5] and sex. (Id. at 5). The Notice lists the issues as assignment, discipline, harassment and terms/conditions and notes the dates as January 1, 2015 through January 15, 2015. (Id.). On the Notice provided to Gestamp, in the “Enclosure(s)” section, the “Copy of Charge” box is left unchecked. (Id.). The Notice states “[a] perfected charge . . . will be mailed to you once it has been received from the Charging Party.” (Id.). The charge of discrimination was signed and perfected by Plaintiff on May 26, 2015. (Id. at 6). On February 5, 2016, the EEOC dismissed Plaintiff's charge and notified her of her right to sue. (Id. at 20). Plaintiff timely filed her complaint on May 5, 2016.[6](Doc. 1).


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party asking for summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings or filings which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(e) requires the non-moving party to go ...

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