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Cruse v. Schneider Electric USA, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

November 5, 2018

CHARLES CRUSE, Plaintiff,
v.
SCHNEIDER ELECTRIC USA, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          KAREN K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Schneider Electric USA, Inc. [DE 33.] For the reasons stated below, the Defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         I.

         Plaintiff Charles “Tommy” Cruse has been employed by Schneider Electric USA, Inc. for over 40 years. A nationwide company, Schneider Electric specializes in the manufacture of electrical transmission equipment. Its Lexington plant, which employs Cruse and hundreds of others, assembles safety switches and breaker boxes. [DE 33-1, at 3.] Schneider Electric's Lexington employees are represented by the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers, Local 220 Union (“the Union”).

         Cruse began his tenure with Schneider Electric in 1976 as a Paint Line Conveyer. In 1981, Schneider Electric promoted him to the position of “Leader” on the welding line. [DE 39, at 3.] Schneider occupied this Leader position until his demotion in October of 2015. [DE 1, at 2.] It is this demotion that brings the parties before the Court.

         In February of 2005, Cruse began to experience dizziness and loss of hearing while on the job. [DE 33-3, at 16.] Cruse reported these symptoms to Pamela Macy, an HR Representative in Schneider Electric's Lexington facility. [DE 33-3, at 16.] Macy then instructed Cruse to go see a physician. [DE 33-5, at 3.] Company nurse Eva Elam was the only other Schneider Electric employee present for this conversation. [DE 33-5, at 3.]

         On the advice of Macy, Cruse went to go see Dr. Kenneth Hughes, an ENT specialist. [DE 33-9, at 2.] Dr. Hughes diagnosed Cruse with profound hearing loss in his left ear, disequilibrium, vertigo, and eustachian tube dysfunction. [DE 33-9, at 3.] Eustachian tube disfunction is the medical term for the buildup of fluid in one's ear canal. With the approval of Schneider Electric, Cruse took a medical leave of absence from February 21, through August 29, 2005. While on leave, Cruise underwent outpatient physical therapy. [DE 33, at 10.]

         Cruse returned to Schneider Electric in August of 2005 without any documented restrictions. [DE 39, at 4.] Moreover, Cruse did not explicitly request any accommodations. [DE 33-3, at 80.] Nevertheless, Cruse maintains that he continued to experience symptoms of dizziness and vertigo. [DE 33-3, at 10.]

         As part of its OSHA compliance, Schneider Electric provides hearing examinations for all its Lexington production employees. [33-14, at 3.] These examinations take place every one-to-two years and are performed by audiologists provided directly by Schneider or through a third-party vendor. [33-14, at 3.] The results of these hearing exams are disclosed only with the examinee and the Safety Manager of the Lexington facility. [DE 33-4, at 3.]

         The record reveals that Cruse's hearing was examined several times between 1976 and 2015-the year Cruse was demoted. [DE 33-4, at 9-44.] Every examination in this period indicated a hearing impairment in Cruse's left ear, but the degree of impairment varied. For example, in 2014 Cruse experienced a total impairment of 18.8% in his left hear. This number jumped to 43.1% in 2015 and then returned to 28.1% in 2017. [DE 33-14, at 4.] Cruse also stipulated that he never sought an outside opinion regarding his left ear and he was never tested for a hearing aid. [DE 33-3, at 7-9.]

         II.

         Starting in 2013, Schneider Electric implemented a probationary program for Lexington Leaders failing to meet performance goals. [DE 33-4, at 3.] Pursuant to the program, an underperforming Leader was placed on probation for approximately 60 days. However, when necessary, the probationary period was extended for another 30 days. [DE 33-4, at 3.] During probation, the Leader was required to attend progress meetings at the 30-and 60-day marks. If the probationary period was extended to 90 days, a progress meeting was also held at the 90-day mark. Progress meetings were traditionally attended by the Leader, his or her Supervising Manager, the Lexington Manufacturing Manager, and representatives from both Human Resources and the Union. At the end of the probationary period, Leaders either retained their position or, pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, returned to the post held immediately before their promotion to Leader. [DE 33-4, at 3.]

         From the inception of the probationary program in 2013 through Cruse's EEOC filing in March of 2016, five Leaders were placed on probation. [DE 33-4, at 3.] This group was comprised of Cruse (then age 57), Brandi Hayes (then age 32), Josue Lamartiniere (then age 40), Ianthia Baker (then age 56), and Robert McLachlan (then age 48). Of the five Leaders who were placed on probation, only two were demoted: Cruse and Robert McLachlan. Like Cruse, McLachlan was demoted shortly after completing a probationary period. His demotion came as a result of using profanity in a meeting with superiors. [DE 33-4, at 4.] Nothing in the record suggests that the Leaders placed on probation, other than Cruse, suffered from a disability or required accommodation.

         III.

         On June 25, 2014, then Supervising Manager Nicole Licursi issued a written reprimand to Cruse [DE 33-5, at 11.] Licursi claimed that Cruse had deliberately ignored her repeated requests to remove objects from the plant floor. Cruse, however, maintains that he simply did not hear Licursi's demands. [DE 39, at 6.]

         As it turns out, the day Cruse received this reprimand, he was already scheduled for a meeting with Schneider Electric management. The purpose of the scheduled meeting was to inform Cruse that he was being placed on the Leader probation program. The record conclusively indicates that Cruse was going to be placed on probation irrespective of the incident earlier in the day. [DE 33-5, at 5.] In fact, Cruse's reprimand was never discussed during the June 25th meeting.

         Cruse's June 25th initial probation meeting was attended by Cruse, Nicole Licursi (Supervising Manager), Pamela Macy (HR Representative), Jeff Board (Union President), Donna Mullins (Union Steward), and Teresa Caldwell (Union Recording Secretary). At the outset, Licursi notified Cruse that he was being placed on probation. [DE 33-5, at 5.] Licardi further explained that Schneider Electric expected Cruse to improve in four key areas: (1) safety; (2) efficiency; (3) reaction to instruction from superiors; and (4) communication.

         On July 27, 2015, Schneider Electric conducted Cruse's 30-day progress meeting. By this point in time, Licursi had stepped down from her role as Supervising Manager. Before her departure, however, Licursi emailed the Manufacturing Manager at the time, Brian Hilander, and conveyed to him that she was “pleased with the progress [Cruse] has made and the direction welding is in.” [DE 33-5, at 18.] The progress meeting was attended by Cruse, Pamela Macy (HR Representative), Jeff Board (Union President), and Teresa Caldwell (Union Recording Secretary). [Ex. 13.] Cruse's reviews at this meeting were all positive and Licursi's email was read aloud. Near the end of the meeting, Union President Jeff Board noted that Cruse had a hearing problem that “the company knew about.” [DE 33-15, at 56.] Cruse chimed in, proclaiming that the hearing in his left ear was “about 55%.” However, Cruse went on to say that did not want to use his hearing in his left ear as a “crutch.” [DE 33-15, at 56.]

         On August 25, 2015, Schneider Electric convened Cruse's 60-day progress meeting. Prior to this meeting, Schneider Electric had hired Susan Savard to replace Licursi as Supervising Manager. As such, Savard was the one who reviewed Cruse's performance from July 27, 2015 up until the second progress meeting, which was attended by Cruse, Savard (Supervising Manager), Lee Turner (Manufacturing Manager), Jeff Board (Union president), and Teresa Caldwell (Union Recording Secretary). Over the course of the meeting, Savard explained to Cruse that he still had room for improvement when it came to efficiency and communication. [DE 33-15, at 60.] Moreover, Savard tacked on another 30-day period to Cruse's probation. Savard reasoned that as a new Supervising Manager, she was still learning the process. [DE 33-15, at 42.]

         Following Cruse's 60-day progress meeting, Savard and Cruse met on multiple occasions to discuss ongoing communication issues. [DE 33-3, at 40-41.] On September 2, 2015, the two discussed an incident where, because of a lack of communication by Cruse, an overtime shift was overstaffed and another employee had to be sent home. [DE 33-7, at 3.] Savard and Cruse had another conversation on September 4, 2015. During this exchange, the two discussed Cruse's attitude and the efficiency of the welding line. [DE 33-7, at 4.] Savard and Cruse again spoke on September 11, 2015. Savard's notes from this meeting indicate that the two conferred regarding Cruse's attitude and its negative impact on the production line.

         On September 23, 2015, Schneider Electric conducted Cruse's 90-day progress meeting. [DE 33-4, at 57.] The attendees at this meeting included Cruse, Jeff Board (Union President), Lee Evans (Union Steward), Lee Turner (Manufacturing Manager), Pamela Macy (HR Representative), Susan Savard (Supervising Manager), and Teresa Caldwell (Union Secretary). During the meeting, Savard informed Cruse that his performance and communication were still unsatisfactory. Savard specifically pointed out that the welding line was more efficient in his absence and noted that Cruse tended to be ...


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