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Vandalsen v. Chrysler Group, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 31, 2014

YVETTE VANDALSEN, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRYSLER GROUP, LLC, AND LOCAL 685, UNITED AUTOMOBILE, AEROSPACE, AND AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENT WORKERS OF AMERICA, Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

SARAH EVANS BARKER, District Judge.

This cause is before the Court on separate motions for summary judgment, both filed on May 17, 2013 by Defendants. Docket Nos. 51, 54.

Plaintiff Yvette VanDalsen has brought this action against Defendants, Chrysler Group, LLC ("Chrysler"), her current employer, and the union to which she belongs, Local 685 of the United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America ("Union") alleging that they discriminated against her because of her disability and retaliated against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112, et seq. Complaint at 1, ¶ 1. Ms. VanDalsen also alleges that Chrysler breached its Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") with the Union with respect to her rights and that the Union breached its duty of fair representation to her. Id.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Chrysler operates four manufacturing facilities in Kokomo, Indiana: the Kokomo Transmission Plant ("KTP"), the Indiana Transmission Plant 1 ("ITP1"), the Indiana Transmission Plant 2 ("ITP2"), and the Kokomo Casting Plant 1 ("KCP"). Def.'s Br. at 5. All non-management employees at the KTP, ITP1, and ITP2 operations are represented by the Union. Id. Ms. VanDalsen was hired by Chrysler in 1998 to work at the KTP; around this time she became a member of the Union and has remained a member throughout her employment, including during layoffs. Complaint at 3, ¶¶ 12-13; Id.

In 2002, Ms. VanDalsen was diagnosed with pancreatitis divisum, a disease that causes acute pancreatic inflammation accompanied by abdominal pain. Pl.'s Resp. at 15. Due to her condition Ms. VanDalsen took extended sick leave, as allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA"). Complaint at 3, ¶ 15. Ms. VanDalsen also claims that beginning in 2002 she was placed on permanent work limitations by her physician, including, "restrictions on lifting, pushing/pulling, prolonged standing and bending, " and was restricted to working outside the assembly area and only on first and second shifts; she claims these accommodations continued through 2008, when she was placed on a general layoff with other Chrysler employees. Id. at 1, ¶ 16-17. During her layoff, Ms. VanDalsen was placed on a transfer list to ITP1. She had surgery toward the end of this layoff to place four stents in her pancreatic ducts, devices which may remain in place no longer than ten weeks before they must be replaced or removed. Id. at 3-4, ¶ 19-20.

Ms. VanDalsen claims to have performed a number of jobs before the general layoff that were consistent with her physical limitations; yet, after her reinstatement and while employed under different supervision, she claims that she was no longer afforded these accommodations. When she was recalled from layoff in March 2010, Ms. VanDalsen was assigned to Department 8400, which was supervised by Eric Grady at the Chrysler Kokomo Transmission Plant ("KTP"). Id. at 4, ¶ 21. During the last week in March 2010, she was reassigned to the second shift, which was supervised by Pete Lynch; her direct supervisor on the 704 line was James Parks. Id. at 4, ¶ 23. In response to her request for an accommodation similar to the permanent restrictions under which she had been working since 2002, Mr. Parks placed her in a parts loading position, which she was able to perform while sitting and thus accommodated her need to sit when she felt pain. Pl.'s Br. at 15; Id. at 4, ¶ 22. Shortly thereafter, Ms. VanDalsen was reassigned to the second shift and was directly supervised by Pete Lynch. Complaint at 4, ¶ 23.

Ms. VanDalsen alleges that with the reassignment to the second shift while under Mr. Lynch's supervision, Chrysler began to deny her access to jobs that she had previously performed with restrictions to accommodate her physical pain. Pl.'s Br. at 15. Ms. VanDalsen claims that Mr. Lynch harassed her by "deliberately assigning her to positions that violated her restrictions" and by shouting at her, "Get out of my face until I can find a job for you." Complaint at 4, ¶ 24. Chrysler health and safety officials and "representatives of the Union, including Shop Steward Dave Johnson" met with Ms. VanDalsen in March 2010, when she allegedly was told, "If you don't change your PCQs [restrictions], you're going to be put out on [U.S. Highway] 31 with no job." Id. at 4, ¶ 26, (brackets in original).

Shortly thereafter, Ms. VanDalsen was assigned to Department 7900 where she reported having no problems. Id. at 4, ¶ 24. However, she does describe harassing events that occurred from March 2010 through April 2010 in her "home" Department 8400, including the tampering of her toolbox (finding mucous and human feces inside or on the toolbox) which harassment neither Chrysler nor Shop Steward Mr. Johnson attempted to remedy. Id. at 4-5, ¶ 25-30. She recounts another instance of harassment that was a death threat, when a sign was placed upon her toolbox which read, "If I catch you outside, I'm going to kill you." Pl.'s Resp. at 38.

Ms. VanDalsen applied for but did not receive various jobs in the period from May 2010 through December 2010; during that period, she claims that Chrysler placed her in positions that were not appropriate to her medical restrictions and refused to place her in positions that did address her limitations. Complaint at 5-6, ¶ 31-36. She reports that she was not allowed to work overtime "unless her restrictions were removed." Id. at 6, ¶ 37.

Ms. VanDalsen filed her first charge[1] of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), against Chrysler and a concurrent complaint against the Union on or about February 25, 2011. Pl.'s Resp. at 26. Before the EEOC, Ms. VanDalsen claimed that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her disability from June 1, 2010 through February 15, 2011, and faced continued harassment from particular supervisors and team leaders, namely, Bill Guinan, Ritchie Boraff, Dave Johnson and Ron York, all of whom were also Union officials. Chrysler's Br. at 10. She also noted that she had taken significant time off during this period, yet Chrysler had not allowed her to take this leave under the FMLA. Dkt. 69-15 at 1.

Ms. VanDalsen's filed a second disability discrimination charge against Chrysler along with a second concurrent complaint against the Union on May 7, 2011, alleging that the Defendants had retaliated against her by transferring her to ITP1 in response to her filing the first discrimination claim. Chrysler's Br. at 10.

The EEOC issued its right to sue notice, prompting Ms. VanDalsen to file this lawsuit against Chrysler and the Union on January 9, 2012 alleging that they discriminated against her because of her disability and retaliated against her in violation of the ADA by creating a hostile work environment. Complaint at 1, ¶ 1. Ms. VanDalsen also alleges that Chrysler breached its CBA with the Union with respect to her rights and that the Union breached its duty of fair representation to her. Id. Ms. VanDalsen has not been cleared for work since January 2012 and has not received work assignments from Chrysler.

Presently before the Court are motions for summary judgment filed by Defendants Chrysler and the Union.

ANALYSIS

I. Whether Ms. VanDalsen's claims are time-barred.

First we address the issue of the timeliness of Ms. VanDalsen's claims of discrimination. Chrysler contends that Ms. VanDalsen's discrimination claims are limited to those presented to the EEOC, and that any claims predating May 2010[2] are not recoverable. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f), incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a); see also Gorence v. Eagle Food Centers, Inc., 242 F.3d 759, 763 (7th Cir. 2001); Chrysler's Br. at 11. They maintain that there were four jobs that Ms. VanDalsen applied for and did not receive which are at issue in this matter: (1) the grinder job on line 704; (2) the 200% job on line 935; (3) the 910 line; and (4) the air decay job on line 935. Chrysler's Br. at 11. Since Ms. VanDalsen applied for these positions in March and April 2010, and her EEOC claim was filed a year later, on March 29, 2011, the Defendants contend that her claims are time-barred. Turner v. The Saloon, LTD., 595 F.3d 679, 684 (7th Cir. 2010); Chrysler's Br. at 13.

Ms. VanDalsen notes that she had applied for several positions that were offered to other applicants; however, she contends that these are merely examples, reflecting an ongoing series of harassing acts and as such, they serve as the framework or context for her hostile work environment claim. Pl.'s Resp. at 32-42.

The Supreme Court has held that the applicable statute of limitations applies differently depending on whether a plaintiff asserts a claim for a discrete act of employment discrimination or for a hostile work environment. For the latter category, which would include the ongoing harassment claim that Ms. VanDalsen has brought, "consideration of the entire scope of a hostile work environment claim, including behavior alleged outside the statutory time period, is permissible for the purposes of assessing liability, so long as an act contributing to that hostile environment takes place within the statutory time period." Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 122 S.Ct. 2061, 153 L.Ed.2d 106 (2002). Thus, under the reasoning of Morgan, an employee claiming a hostile work ...


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