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Monroe v. Reynolds Consumer Products, LLC

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

February 26, 2019




         I. Introduction

         This case is before the Court on the motion for summary judgment of Defendants Local 155 of the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO-CLC (“Local 155”) and Rick Rigney, the current president and business agent of Local 155. DN 46. Plaintiff Michael Monroe responded. DN 50. Defendants replied. DN 55. Therefore, this matter is ripe for review. Finding that Monroe was required to exhaust contractually agreed upon remedies—including arbitration-prior to filing suit, the Court will grant the motion for summary judgment.

         II. Legal Standard

         A party moving for summary judgment must show that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A genuine issue for trial exists when “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Ibid. In undertaking this analysis, the Court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of establishing the nonexistence of any issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). They can meet this burden by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or “showing that the materials cited do not establish the . . . presence of a genuine dispute.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). This burden can also be met by demonstrating that the nonmoving party “fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         III. Factual Background[1]

         Monroe began working as an operator at Reynolds Consumer Products, LLC in Louisville in April 2002. DN 49-1 at 2. He was elevated to the position of shafter and then, in January 2006, to lead shafter. Ibid. In those positions, his job duties included transporting metal with forklifts. Ibid. In March 2006, while playing softball at a non-work event, Monroe was injured and lost sight in his left eye. Id. at 3. Monroe returned to work six months after the accident and continued working at Reynolds as lead shafter. Ibid. He remained in that position until his removal (at issue in this case) in August 2014 and ultimately remained at Reynolds until June 2017. Id. at 2.

         Employees at Reynolds are covered by Local 155, a local union chartered by the United Steelworkers international trade union. Local 155 covers approximately 420 employees at Reynolds and approximately thirty employees at each of two other plants in Louisville. DN 49-2 at 7. Rigney has been the president and business agent for Local 155 since 2012. Id. at 6. Before that, he worked at Reynolds but has been on a leave of absence as he fulfills his duties as president of Local 155. Id. at 5.

         Reynolds and Local 155 have a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which includes a mandatory grievance procedure. The grievance procedure is initiated by the filing of a grievance within ten working days of a grievable incident. DN 50-14 at 2. Next, a three-step process requires meetings in an attempt to reach a settlement. Id. at 2-3. Step 3 meetings are held more rarely because they require individuals from Reynolds who do not work at the plant to travel here, including Reynolds's Human Resources Manager from Richmond, Virginia. DN 49-5 at 34. As a result, scheduling those meetings can take up to seven months or a year. Ibid. In a good year, there are four or less Step 3 meetings held. DN 49-3 at 25. Ultimately, if the grievance is not resolved satisfactorily, it is referred for arbitration. DN 50-14 at 4.

         On June 25, 2014, Monroe hit a wall with his forklift. DN 49-1 at 8. He was given a written warning and a one-day administrative detention but permitted to return to work as lead shafter. DN 50-3; DN 49-1 at 8. However, two weeks later, Monroe was removed from his position for Reynolds to investigate whether his monocular vision affected his ability to perform the job. DN 49-1 at 8. On August 21, 2014, Monroe was sent to Reynolds's optometrist, Dr. Hayley Woodruff, who concluded that Monroe lacked normal depth perception and could not safely operate mobile equipment. Ibid.; DN 50-15; DN 50-16. On August 27, 2014, Monroe was informed he would not be permitted to return to his job using mobile equipment. DN 50-4.

         On September 12, 2014, Monroe, with assistance from officers of Local 155, filed a grievance related to the removal from his job. DN 50-19. This was not Monroe's first encounter with the grievance process.[2] However, Monroe alleges that this time he had difficulty reaching his union representatives, even reaching out to the Human Resources department at Reynolds, who forwarded the message to Rigney. DN 50-10; DN 49-2 at 45. While technically untimely filed (more than 10 days after his removal), Reynolds did not reject the grievance and it was processed accordingly.

         To prepare for the grievance process, Monroe sought out Dr. Joern Soltau, an ophthalmologist, for a second opinion. Dr. Soltau opined in a letter dated September 23, 2014, that Monroe had sufficient vision to continue operating mobile equipment. DN 50-21. That letter was not provided to the union representatives in time for the Step 1 grievance meeting on October 10, 2014. DN 49-1 at 12; DN 49-2 at 23. With no new evidence, Reynolds declined to change its position. DN 50-20. At some point afterward, Dr. Soltau's letter was provided to the union representatives, who provided it to Reynolds on October 30, 2014. DN 50-5 at 3. On November 18, 2014, Rigney waived the Step 2 hearing, saying they had no new facts to present. DN 50-22. Reynolds considered Dr. Soltau's opinion but determined that it was “not as detailed as the analysis given by Dr. Woodruff and denied the grievance at Step 2. DN 50-5 at 3.

         The Step 3 meeting was scheduled for April 15, 2015. However, Reynolds requested that the Step 3 meeting be held in abeyance pending the resolution of a charge of discrimination filed by Monroe with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). DN 49-2 at 27. This was the first the union representatives had heard of the EEOC charge, despite the fact that it had been filed on September 23, 2014—the same day of Dr. Soltau's opinion letter. DN 50-28. According to the union representatives, holding a grievance in abeyance while there are ongoing administrative proceedings is commonplace. DN 49-2 at 27; DN 49-3 at 53. ...

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