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Stanford v. Honda Manufacturing of Alabama LLC

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

November 6, 2018




         This matter comes before the court on Defendant Honda Manufacturing of Alabama LLC's (“Honda” or “HMA”) motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 27).

         In this case, Plaintiff Tangi Stanford asserts that her employer, Honda, violated her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”); the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), as amended by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008; and the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The court WILL GRANT Honda's motion for summary judgment and WILL ENTER SUMMARY JUDGMENT in favor of Honda and against Ms. Stanford. The court concludes that Ms. Stanford failed to administratively exhaust her hostile work environment claim and parts of her sex and disability discrimination claims because she did not file a timely charge of discrimination raising those claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. As to the claims that she did administratively exhaust, Honda proffered evidence that it terminated her because of her poor evaluations two years in a row and failure to improve her performance, and Ms. Stanford failed to create a genuine issue of material fact about whether those reasons for her termination were pretextual.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court “draw[s] all inferences and review[s] all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Hamilton v. Southland Christian Sch., Inc., 680 F.3d 1316, 1318 (11th Cir. 2012) (quotation marks omitted).

         Ms. Stanford worked for Honda from 2005 until her employment was terminated on April 13, 2016. (Doc. 29-1 at 33, 109; Doc. 29-5 at 35). When she began working for Honda, she received Honda's Associate Handbook, which includes a “Mutual Respect Policy.” (Doc. 29-1 at 33, Doc. 29-2 at 2, 13). The Mutual Respect Policy explains that Honda prohibits harassment relating to, among other things, a person's sex or disability and provides a process for reporting any harassment. (Doc. 29-2 at 13).

         In 2012, Ms. Stanford became a Business Specialist in Honda's Staffing and Development Department, a position she remained in until her termination on April 13, 2016. (Doc. 28 at 7; Doc. 29-5 at 35; Doc. 29-15 at 2; Doc. 33 at 4). As a Business Specialist, her responsibilities included “evaluating training needs at HMA, creating third-party vendor training budgets, serving as a liaison between training vendors and HMA, and scheduling and conducting training classes for HMA associates.” (Doc. 28 at 7; Doc. 33 at 4). When Ms. Stanford began working as a Business Specialist, her Team Manager was Dave Howell, but Warren Burbank became her Team Manager in October 2015. (Doc. 28 at 7; Doc. 29-8 at 5; Doc. 29-13 at 5; Doc. 33 at 4).

         Ms. Stanford alleges that Honda “maintained a ‘good old boys club' atmosphere.” (Doc. 33 at 9; Doc. 37 at 1). She testified that the male employees would go on breaks together, take weekend trips, “do things after work, ” banter and use nicknames like Buddy and Champ for each other, and conduct “training-related activities” and “community relations activities” that the women were not invited to attend. (Doc. 29-1 at 67-69, 91). When asked how any of these actions affected her work, she responded that “a lot of times, they would make decisions at break or lunch of things that were going to happen. They would come back from break and lunch and a meeting had been set up, or something had changed, and so then I had to rearrange my schedule so that I could go to that or do that.” (Id. at 91).

         Ms. Stanford testified that her male co-workers, including her then-Team Manager Mr. Howell, would joke about women being on their periods, making comments like, “Are you girls ragging?” or “Is it your time of the month?” (Id. at 92). On one occasion, during a meeting with Mr. Howell and a male coworker, the male coworker refused to speak to Ms. Stanford directly and, when she spoke to him, said, “What do you know? You're a girl.” (Id. at 70). After the meeting, when Ms. Stanford asked Mr. Howell why he did not defend her during the meeting, he told her: “That's just the way it is down here, ” and “That's the way people think.” (Id. at 70-71). On another occasion, Ms. Stanford was counseled based on a complaint made by an unidentified coworker against her, and her then-manager said “it was like two dogs, sometimes they just don't get along.” (Id. at 36).

         Ms. Stanford also alleged that she had repeated problems with another Honda associate, Doug East, with whom she worked in 2013. (See Doc. 29-1 at 57). On one occasion as she and Mr. East were waiting for another employee to join them, he got between her and the door and asked her out for a drink. (Id. at 55-56). She never reported this incident to anyone at Honda because she did not want to “ruffle any feathers” and she did not believe anyone would take it seriously. (Id. at 56). On another occasion, Mr. East was driving her to a training center when he “brought up something about liking to fuck or him fucking” and asked her “So you don't like to fuck?” (Id. at 59). As with the first incident, Ms. Stanford did not report this conversation to anyone at Honda. (Id.).

         In addition to their in-person conversations, Ms. Stanford and Mr. East also texted extensively throughout 2013. (See Docs. 29-3, 29-4). For example, in May 2013, they exchanged the following texts:

May 24, 2013, 1:56 PM
Mr. East: So where did you eat lunch?
May 24, 2013, 2:34 PM
Mr. East: I ate in cafe. Didnt get invite to dine with you.
Mr. East: I think I would like having a drink with you even better!
May 24, 2013, 2:53 PM
Ms. Stanford: Lol.. I was waiting on an invite from u.. I haven't even been to lunch yet..
Ms. Stanford: too bad we can't do drinks for lunch;)
Mr. East: We can if we take lunch at 4:00!:)
Mr. East: At your computer?
Ms. Stanford: Lol no but I will be in a bit if I need to.. why?
Mr. East: IM ME May 24, 2013, 3:19 PM
Ms. Stanford: I'm not at my desk
Ms. Stanford: Or in front of my pc lol
Mr. East: Somewhere around here has a bottle of capt morgan I hope!
Mr. East: so what are you doing? Not working obviously! Lol
May 24, 2013, 5:15 PM
Ms. Stanford: Lol.. I was working.. working very hard at not being found to have to ...

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