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Reitz v. Ford Motor Co.

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

September 25, 2019




         I. Introduction

         This is an employment discrimination case. Plaintiff, Shala Reitz (“Reitz”), brought this law suit against Defendant, Ford Motor Company (“Ford”), alleging: disability discrimination, failure to accommodate her disabilities, age discrimination, gender discrimination, and retaliation. This matter is before the Court on motion for summary judgment by Defendant. DN 42-1. For the following reasons, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment will be GRANTED on all claims.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party can show that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a 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 non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Id. In undertaking this analysis, the Court must view the evidence in the 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 proof for 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. The nonmoving party also “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

         III. Factual Background

         Shala Reitz is an hourly employee at Ford Motor Company’s Kentucky Truck Plant (“KTP”). DN 42-3 at 8; DN 46-1 at 1. She has been employed at the KTP since 1999 when she started as a Vehicle Assembly Technician. Id. In 2002, she developed thoracic outlet syndrome and suffered a torn labrum in her left shoulder. DN 42-3 at 13, 19. When her shoulder reached maximum medical improvement, Reitz’s physicians cleared her to work but only with permanent work restrictions. Id. at 15–16. These restrictions included no overhead pushing and pulling, no use of vibratory tools, and no overhead work with the left extremity. Id.

         At the KTP, when an employee has been cleared for work but has workplace restrictions, the Labor Relations Department and the employee work together to find an appropriate position. DN 42-3 at 28; DN 42-4 at 92, 98-99. The employee must first complete a No. Work Available (“NWA”) form. Id. The employee lists the jobs she can do, then returns the form to Labor Relations. Id. If Labor Relations is unable to place the employee in a position where they can work safely, the employee is placed on NWA leave and receives short-term disability benefits. Id. This procedure is outlined in the union contract between Ford and United Auto Workers Local 862. DN 43-5 at 63-64. When Reitz returned to work after her shoulder injury, she engaged in this process several times. DN 42-3 at 28. Labor Relations placed her in temporary jobs to accommodate her workplace restrictions. Id at 28, 30, 37, 45, 47-49, 56-59.

         In late 2012, Reitz suffered a second injury on the job; she injured her right elbow. DN 46-1 at 1. In October of 2013, she underwent her first surgery on her right elbow and went on medical leave. DN 46-1 at 1; DN 42-3 at 29. She returned to work in February 2014 and worked in a temporary position in the “Mod” center. DN 42-3 at 59. In April of 2014, Reitz “bid” into a Material Controller position in the Materials Planning and Logistics (“MP&L”) division. Id. at 24, 58-59. She worked with “C” crew on Friday and Saturday days, Sunday and Monday nights. Id. Reitz asserts that she began to request disability-related restrictions because of her elbow in the spring of 2014. DN 46-1 at 1.

         Reitz worked as a Material Controller from April to August 2014. DN 42-7. She underwent a second elbow surgery in October of 2014 and returned to work in April of 2015. Id. On or around this time, Reitz asserts that she asked MP&L manager, Chris Tierney, “if there was something that I could do [within the department] to give me some relief.” DN 46-1 at 2; DN 42-3 at 167-168. He suggested that she apply for a Process Coach position in the Final Department. DN 42-8 at 8, 30. Also in April of 2015, Reitz worked on discrete projects for MP&L supervisor, Paul Hineman. DN 42-4 at 19-22, 65. These projects included, among others, preparing the MP&L’s portion of the annual summer shutdown plan and organizing inventory in the General Stores. Id. at 19, 27, 30-37. Her official position remained Material Controller. 42-1 at 3.

         By summer of 2015, Reitz asserts she continued to complain about having to work outside her workplace restrictions. DN 46-1 at 1-2. She also asserts she requested a disability accommodation from Steve Hoffman. DN 42-31 at 4-6.

         On September 10, 2015, Reitz interviewed for a Process Coach position. DN 42-9 at 44. She did not receive the minimum average score necessary to pass the interview. DN 43-10. Under KTP policy, an employee who fails an interview must wait one calendar year before interviewing for another position. DN 42-9 at 200. Reitz asserts she never knew that she failed the interview and, instead, did not receive the promotion because Ford discriminated against her. DN 46-1 at 6.

         On September 12, 2015, Ford assigned Reitz to the Stamping Department. DN 42-3 at 67. Reitz asserts the “press” broke and a team lead told her she could leave early. 42-14 at 1-2; DN 46-1 at 3. She then left the plant and drove to the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant on Westport Road. DN 42-12; DN 42-13; DN 46-1 at 3. There, she saw Senior Process Coach, David Richardson, Frame/Engine/Tire Team Manager Steve Streicher, and Labor Relations Representative Jake Weimer. Id. There is a dispute between the parties as to whether MP&L Supervisor Paul Hineman was with Reitz when she arrived or was already sitting at the table with the other employees. Id. Ford proceeded to investigate whether Reitz had been “absent without leave” (“AWOL”) from the KTP. DN 42-1 at 8; DN 46-1 at 4.

         During the investigation, Paul Hineman refused to answer any questions during the investigation because of his pending divorce. DN 42-9 at 84-89, 96, 109. Process Coach Brett Knipp emailed Labor Relations and said he could not find Reitz at 3:30 p.m. and therefore marked her AWOL for one hour. DN 42-16. On September 25, 2015, Ford disciplined Reitz for being off the job without permission. DN 42-3 at Exhibit 5. She received a reprimand and a balance of shift penalty. Id. Reitz asserts she complained about this discipline because other male workers did not receive the same discipline. DN 46-1 at 4.

         On October 22, 2015, Reitz asked Team Manager Mark Burnam to be off work without pay on October 23 and 24 to visit her ill stepfather in Florida. DN 42-17. Burnam approved the request. Id. Personnel Supervisor Chuck Hoffman alerted Labor Relations that Reitz’s timecard showed she was paid for ten hours of work in the General Stores on the October 23. DN 42-18. Instead of being off work on both October 23 and 24, she had asked MP&L Supervisor Paul Hineman if she could work in the General Stores on the night of October 23. DN 42-3 at Exhibit 8. Ford initiated an investigation into Reitz’s shift because it potentially violated the local union contract. DN 42-4 at 146, 152.

         On November 20, 2015, Reitz caused an accident while driving a forklift. DN 42-3 at Exhibit 10. Ford disciplined her for poor and careless workmanship the same day and assessed her a balance of shift penalty. Id.

         On December 4, 2015, Labor Representative James Hoagland interviewed Reitz regarding her shift on October 23. DN 42-3 at Exhibit 8. Reitz told Hoagland that she started at 7 p.m. on the 23rd and had to be at the airport by 4:20 a.m. the next day. Id. Hoagland noted it was impossible for her to have made her flight if she worked a full 10-hour shift. Id. Reitz responded that she could have if she had “taken all breaks on the end.” Id. Reitz met with Hoagland again on December 7, 2015. DN 42-3 at Exhibit 6. Hoagland informed Reitz that it was against KTP policy to “take your breaks and lunch out the door.” DN 42-3 at Exhibit 6; 42-4 at 26. Finally, Hoagland asked for documentation of Reitz’s flight to Florida. DN 42-3 at Exhibit 6. She never provided such documentation. DN 42-3 at Exhibit 7.

         On December 9, 2015, Reitz called Ford’s Corporate Harassment Hotline. DN 42-19; 46-1 at 5. Reitz alleged the following:

“…L[abor] R[elations] and management are harassing, bullying & threatening her via ongoing investigations and constant repetitive interviews. She also alleges that she is being treated differently than coworkers (was given AWOL when seen at a Sports Bar after work with other hourly employees who left early were not). She alleges that her ongoing medical issues are also being held against her.” DN 42-19.

         Sometime between December 9, 2015 and December 17, 2015, Reitz also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). DN 42-3 at 126; 46-1 at 5-6. Ford received notice of the complaint on December 17, 2015. DN 42-1 at 13. Reitz alleged the discrimination she experienced took place from April 1, 2014 to December 11, 2015. Id. In her complaint, she made the following allegations: (1) she asked Management for workplace restrictions starting in April 2014 but her requests were ignored (2) Management assigned her outside of her department to positions that should have been assigned to less-senior employees regularly (3) Labor Relations disciplined her more harshly than her male co-workers (4) Management required her to work in areas that do not meet safety specifications (5) she applied and interviewed for a Management position but was not selected and (6) she told Labor Relations and her supervisors about these conditions but nothing changed. DN 42-3 at Exhibit 13. She claimed this treatment amounted to violations of the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Age Discrimination and Employment Act (“ADEA”), and Title VII of the Civil Rights act (“Title VII”). Id.

         On December 15, 2015, Reitz began medical leave; she sought treatment at a local psychiatric hospital for stress and anxiety disorder. DN 42-3 at 119-121, 130. Reitz asserts that she advised Senior Process Coach Sanda Velic she needed a disability accommodation around “Christmastime.” DN 42-31 at 4-6. Reitz also asserts that, at some point before January 1, 2016, Chris Tierney “told [Reitz] that he would have MP&L openings after the first of the year in 2016, which she would be considered for.” DN 46 at 14. Reitz asserts Tierney never mentioned these openings to her again. Id.

         Reitz returned to work, at the earliest, on February 26, 2016. DN 42-20. Reitz was not at work for the first three weeks of March. Id. The EEOC filed an official charge of discrimination against Ford on March 29, 2016. DN 42-3 at Exhibit 13. Reitz further asserts she approached Labor Relations in March of 2016 with verbal requests for disability accommodation. DN 42-31 at 4-6.

         Reitz requested a personal day for April 1, 2016. DN 46-4. Process Coach Brett Knipp denied her request. DN 42-24. She did not come to work on April 1 and Knipp marked her AWOL. Id. Knipp also denied personal days for April 1 for two male employees. Id . But, when neither came into work on April 1, Knipp retroactively gave each vacation days instead of marking them AWOL. DN 42-24. Both male employees have seniority over Reitz at the KTP. Id. Reitz also asserts she continued to verbally request a disability accommodation from Steve Hoffman at this time. DN 42-31 at 4-6.

         On April 8, 2016, Reitz met with Personnel Supervisor Chuck Hoffman as part of the investigation into her hotline complaint. DN 42-18. She repeated her concerns from her hotline and EEOC complaints. Id. On April 9, 2016, Reitz went to Building Chairman Rodney Janes and informed him that she had worked through her breaks and was not paid for a shift. DN 46-7. She also told him that she should have been granted a personal day on April 1. Id. Janes relayed these concerns to Chuck Hoffman. Id.

         As part of Ford’s investigation into Reitz’s hotline and EEOC complaints, senior Labor Relations Representative Lonnie Corkum emailed MP&L Team Managers, David Richardson, Mark Burnam, and Jeff Whyte, and all the Process Coaches and Senior Process Coaches Reitz worked under since 2014. DN 42-21. Corkum asked whether Reitz had complained about any unfair treatment. Id. Corkum specifically asked whether Reitz had raised the following complaints: (1) Reitz had been disciplined more harshly than male co-workers; (2) Reitz had been assigned outside of her workplace restrictions; (3) Reitz had worked in areas that did not meet safety specifications. Id. All but MP&L Supervisor Paul Hineman responded that they had no knowledge of any complaints. Id.

         On April 21, 2016, Senior Labor Relations Representative Christina Peace emailed Labor Relations Representative James Hoagland and told him to discipline Reitz for leaving her shift early on October 23, 2015. DN 46-11. On April 25, 2016, Peace emailed Suzie Furton in the Equal Employment Planning Department and asked whether she should inform the EEOC investigator that Reitz would be disciplined for being off the job without permission. DN 46-8. Furton responded that she should not contact the investigator. Id. On May 10, 2016, Ford ...

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