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Leary v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

May 4, 2017



          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant Ford Motor Company's motion for summary judgment. [DN 14.] Plaintiff Becky Leary responded, [DN 22], and Ford replied, [DN 29]. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, Ford's motion [DN 14] is GRANTED.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         Becky Leary is an engineer who worked for Ford Motor Company from 2000 to 2015. She started out as a composites expert at Ford's Dearborn, Michigan facilities. [DN 14-4 at 5.] Leary was transferred to Ford's Louisville, Kentucky truck plant in 2006, and remained there until she was terminated in May 2015. [DN 14-5 at 4-5.] Throughout her tenure, it seems that Leary's work product was generally satisfactory.

         According to Ford, however, the same cannot be said for Leary's on-the-job behavior. Her disciplinary record reflects a series of infractions beginning in 2012, when Leary worked as an Incoming Quality Manager under supervisor Milton Littles. While driving a company vehicle under the influence of alcohol, Leary was involved in a single-vehicle accident. [DN 14-4 at 13.] Leary pleaded guilty to a second-offense DUI charge, and her license was suspended for one year. [Id.] Although she informed Ford of the accident, Leary admits she did not tell anyone at the company it was alcohol-related or her license was suspended. [Id.] She continued to drive her personal vehicle and her management lease vehicle on company property until Ford discovered her DUI conviction in February 2013. For driving a leased vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, failing to notify Ford of her license suspension, and driving a vehicle on company property during that suspension, Ford suspended Leary without pay for four weeks. [DN 14-6 at 1.]

         The rest of Leary's several disciplinary infractions fall under two broad categories: attendance and language. A February 28, 2014 “Attendance Counseling Letter” suggests Leary was experiencing a pattern of “attendance-related concerns.” [DN 14-8 at 1.] Leary's start time was 6:00 am., but on March 11, Leary admits she did not call in and inform Littles she was going to be late until 6:19 a.m. [DN 14-4 at 22.] She also says she had “several moments of tardiness” during March 2014. [Id. at 23.] Leary was absent from work on April 24, 2014, after she told supervisors she was experiencing behavioral issues with her teenage daughter. See [DN 14-10.] Leary was not disciplined for this absence.

         Over the next few months, Leary's pattern of tardiness continued:

. May 21: Leary called in at 7:41 a.m. and arrived around 9:00 a.m. [DN 14- 13 at 1.]
. May 30: Leary called in at 6:24 a.m., telling Littles she would arrive at 7:00 a.m. [Id.]
. July 10: Leary called in at 8:23 a.m., asking for that day and the next day off to deal with family issues. Ford imposed formal Attendance Guidelines. [DN 14-17 at 1.]
. August 15: Leary arrived at 6:30 am. without first calling in, violating her Attendance Guidelines. Ford imposed a two-year letter of reprimand. [DN 14-16 at 1.]
. August 18: Per her request, Leary's start time is moved to 7:00 a.m. [Id. at 8.]
. September 12: Leary called in at 6:40 a.m. and arrived at approximately 7:30 a.m., both in violation of her Attendance Guidelines. [DN 14-20 at 1.] Leary claimed she had to stop by the hospital on her way in to work to possibly have her foot x-rayed. [DN 14-19 at 1.]
. October 13: Leary arrived at 7:10 a.m., attributing her tardiness to heavy traffic. [DN 14-21 at 1.]
. October 17: Ford suspends Leary for one week without pay for the September 12 tardy. [DN 14-20 at 1.]

         On each occasion, Leary was cautioned that her failure to arrive in a timely fashion and abide by her Attendance Guidelines could result in further disciplinary action, up to and including her dismissal.

         Throughout 2014, Leary frequently butted heads with her supervisor, Milton Littles. During her deposition, Leary testified that Littles routinely and unjustifiably complained about issues Leary viewed as minor, such as her tardiness and the dress code. [Id. at 19] Leary and Littles also “battled over a 6:30 meeting every morning” that Leary did not feel was necessary. [Id.] On or about February 25, 2014, Leary had a conversation with Salaried Personnel Supervisor Chuck Hoffman, during which Leary complained she was being harassed by Littles. See [DN 14-9 at 1.] Hoffman asked Leary to provide specific details regarding her allegations of harassment, but she never did. [DN 14-4 at 20.] She did say, however, that Littles, an African-American man, presented “the worst case of reverse discrimination [she'd] ever seen in [her] career, ” describing Littles as “seeming incompetent and illiterate.” [Id.]

         Leary met with Lisa Flaherty, a Salaried Personnel representative, on April 29, 2014 to discuss Leary's family issues. [DN 14-11 at 4.] Littles dropped in on that meeting, and Leary asked him to stay. [Id.] Near the meeting's end, Littles told Leary her Leadership Development Profile (LDEP) was due the following day. [Id. at 1.] Leary replied, “Bite me.” [Id.] When Flaherty told Leary that her comment towards Littles was inappropriate, Leary added, “Oh, that's endearment. Milton, you know I don't give a f*** about the LDEP. I may make you sweat and get it to you at 5:00 PM tomorrow.” [Id.] Following an investigation, Ford imposed a two-year letter of reprimand for Leary's “disrespectful and abusive language . . . used towards her manager.” [Id. at 2.] Leary testified she did indeed make these comments, but said they were “factory slang” and a running joke between herself and Littles. [DN 14-4 at 26.] She further clarified, saying “the F word is the most universal automotive word there is.” [Id.]

         A few months later on June 24, Littles was conducting a daily startup meeting. Leary and two other managers were in attendance. [DN 14-14 at 1.] According to Leary, she had prepared a document for Littles to apprise him of a quality control issue, and spent “20 to 30 minutes of the meeting . . . reading the document to Mr. Littles, making sure that he understood it so that he could report it to the plant manager.” [DN 14-4 at 28.] After she finished reading from her report, Littles asked a question that made it seem to Leary that Littles had not understood what she just finished saying. [Id.] According to Ford, Leary replied, “I should jump over this table and knock the snot out of you.” [DN 14-14 at 1.] Leary's account is somewhat different. She claims that she said, “Do I need to smack you this morning and get your coffee going?” to lighten the mood of the meeting. [DN 14-4 at 28; DN 14-14 at 1.] Leary was suspended two weeks without pay for this incident. [DN 14-14 at 2.]

         During Ford's investigation of the June 24 “knock the snot out of you” incident, Leary emailed Hoffman, complaining of perceived harassment by Littles:

I would like to mention and/or ask questions to a couple of related items:
1) If what I said to Milton on the 23rd or 24th was so annoying or bad, why did he wait 3 days to say ...

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