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Kaufman v. General Electric Co.

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

May 26, 2017



          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant General Electric Company's (GE) motion for summary judgment. [DN 13.] Plaintiff Demetria Kaufman responded, [DN 18], and GE replied, [DN 19]. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, GE's motion is GRANTED.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         Demetria Kaufman was hired by GE on April 13, 2012. [DN 18-1 at 116.] Part of a mass hire, Kaufman was tasked with working on the assembly line that produced GE's new model of refrigerator and freezer. [Id. at 97.] Like all other new GE employees, Kaufman was initially placed on a six-month probationary period. [Id. at 103.] Kaufman acknowledges that during their first six months on the job, GE employees are expected to abide by GE's rules, including its attendance policies. [Id. at 102-103.] Kaufman, an African-American, was terminated at the end of her probation because she did “not provide[] satisfactory reasons or documentation for [her] absences.” [DN 18-7 at 1.] In this suit, Kaufman alleges GE retained several Caucasian probationary employees with similar attendance records. See [DN 1-2.]

         All told, Kaufman had attendance issues on seven different occasions during her time at GE. The first occurred on April 28, 2012, a Saturday. Kaufman was scheduled to work a mandatory overtime shift. [DN 18-1 at 186.] She called in at 6:00 a.m., telling her supervisor, Sharon Lashinsky, her ankles were swollen. [Id. at 185, 249; DN 18-3 at 1.] Kaufman missed her entire eight hour shift. [DN 18-2 at 1.]

         Kaufman also missed the next regular workday, Monday, April 30. [Id.] That day, she went to the chiropractor and the dentist, providing GE with documentation for both visits. [DN 18-2 at 1.]

         Kaufman's next attendance issue occurred on Saturday, July 21. GE's records reflect that Kaufman clocked out twelve minutes before the rest of her department. [Id.] Kaufman admits she left early, but explains on that particular day, she was assigned to work a different assembly line than she normally worked. [DN 18-1 at 194.] According to Kaufman, the entire assembly line was dismissed early, so she left with them. [Id.]

         On Wednesday, September 5, Kaufman was late to work. GE claims Kaufman was nine minutes late; however, its gate scans reflect that she arrived at 6:04 a.m., four minutes after her shift was scheduled to begin. [DN 18-2 at 1.]

         Kaufman next missed work on Tuesday, September 11. Gate scans show, and Kaufman admits, she left work approximately four hours early. [Id.; DN 18-1 at 212-14.] During her deposition, Kaufman could not recall the reason for her early departure, but says she most likely left to attend her personal bankruptcy proceedings. [DN 18-1 at 213-15.] She testified that she provided HR a letter regarding those proceedings and received permission to attend. [Id. at 214-15.] However, no evidence of record supports this testimony.

         Two days later, on Thursday, September 13, Kaufman missed her entire shift. [DN 18-2 at 1.] Kaufman testified that she called in prior to her shift, [DN 18-1 at 231-33], but GE's records document her September 13 absence as a “No Call, No Show, ” [DN 18-2 at 1].

         Finally, on Tuesday, September 25, Kaufman missed a full day of work. [DN 18-2 at 1.] Kaufman called in sick to her supervisor, but did not provide a note. [DN 18-2 at 1; DN 18-6 at 1.]

         In sum, during her six-month probation, Kaufman missed approximately 4.5 days, or thirty-six hours, of work. Kaufman does not dispute this calculation, and she admits that as a probationary employee, she was expected to have no absences. [DN 18-1 at 103, 174.] However, Kaufman alleges that three Caucasian employees, hired around the same time, missed a similar or greater amount of work, but were not terminated. The first employee is Nicole Turner, hired on April 5, 2012. [DN 18-12 at 1.] Like Kaufman, Turner worked on a production line. [DN 18-1 at 154-55.] Kaufman testified that shortly after her termination, “Theresa, ” a Team Lead at GE, called her.[1] [Id. at 156.] Theresa told Kaufman that Nicole Turner had an 8% rate of absenteeism during her first six months, but GE extended her probation. [Id. at 273.] Kaufman's rate of absenteeism during her probationary period was only 4.2%. [Id. at 236, 238.]

         The second employee is Melissa Reece. She, like Turner, was hired on April 5, 2012. [DN 18-10 at 1.] Pointing to attendance records GE provided during discovery, Kaufman claims that Reece missed a total of 68.2 hours of work from April 2012 to June 2012. See [DN 18-13 at 1.] However, Jonathon Lewis, GE's Union Relations Manager, explains that Kaufman's calculation incorrectly includes “uncontrollable absence” hours, when the factory was closed for holidays or lack of work. [DN 20 at 2.] Lewis says Reece missed a total of twenty-one hours during her probationary period, all of which were documented. [Id.] In any event, Reece's probation was extended for one month, and she was kept on after her probation concluded. [DN 18-10 at 1; see DN 18-14.]

         Kaufman's final potential comparator is Stephanie Roby. Roby was part of the April 5, 2012 hire group, and worked on the same production line as Kaufman. [DN 18-11 at 1; DN 18-1 at 155.] Roby missed 21.2 hours during her probationary period. [DN 18-16 at 1.] At the end of her probationary period, Roby received a letter identical to the one received by Reece, extending her probation by one month. [DN 18-11 at 1.] GE says Roby's absences were all documented, and some were excused. [DN 20 at 4-5.] Roby was kept on at GE following her extended probation. See [DN 18-13.]

         In this suit, Kaufman claims that by terminating her employment but extending the probationary period for Turner, Reece, and Roby, GE engaged in unlawful race discrimination. See [DN 1-2.] GE moves for summary judgment, arguing that Kaufman was unqualified for her position at GE by virtue of her absences, that Turner, Reece, and Roby are not similarly situated to Kaufman, and that GE terminated Kaufman for a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason. S ...

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