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Ani-Deng v. Jeffboat LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

April 24, 2014

AWOK ANI-DENG, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFBOAT LLC, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

SARAH EVANS BARKER, District Judge.

This cause is now before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 49], filed on December 2, 2013. Plaintiff, Awok Ani-Deng, has brought this action against her former employer, Defendant, Jeffboat LLC ("Jeffboat"), alleging that Jeffboat: (1) retaliated against her for complaints of discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq.; (2) refused to honor her recall rights under the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"), in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and (3) violated the Equal Pay Act ("EPA") by paying her less than her male counterparts based on her sex. For the reasons detailed in this entry, we GRANT Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

Factual Background

Jeffboat, an Indiana corporation, is in the business of barge construction. It is a heavy manufacturing industry, utilizing cranes and forklifts to move steel materials used in the construction of barges, which can be as large as 54 feet wide by 300 feet long and weigh as much as 950 tons. Ani-Deng is a Sudanese woman who was employed by Jeffboat as a welder until she was laid off as part of a reduction in force on October 19, 2011.

Plaintiff's First Aid History and Reclassification

Throughout Ani-Deng's employment with Jeffboat, she accumulated fourteen workplace incidents requiring the administration of first aid. On two separate occasions during a two-week period in June 2011, Ani-Deng overheated while welding in a confined space and had to be removed from the shipyard. Specifically, on June 6, 2011, Ani-Deng became overheated while welding inside a barge, and again, on June 21, 2011, she became overheated while welding inside a sidebox, which caused her to become dizzy and vomit.

As a member of the General Drivers, Warehousemen and Helpers Local Union No. 89 ("the Union"), the terms of Ani-Deng's employment were governed by the CBA, which sets forth the basic agreement between Jeffboat and the Union employees regarding rates of pay, hours of work, and conditions of employment to be observed by the parties, including the process of resolving alleged grievances. Under the CBA's Management Rights provision, Jeffboat has the right to direct its work force, including the "right to hire, classify, assign, suspend, promote, demote and discharge for proper cause or to transfer." Schultheiss Aff. ¶ 5. According to Rick Schultheiss, Jeffboat's Labor Relations Manager, Jeffboat and the Union agree that the safety and well-being of an employee may be sufficient "proper cause" for reclassification under the contract. Id.

Jeffboat contends that following the second overheating incident its management reviewed Ani-Deng's first aid history and became concerned for her future safety based on the increase in frequency and severity of the first aid incidents documented in her file. Thus, according to Jeffboat, in an effort to ensure her personal safety and the safety of others, it decided to reclassify Ani-Deng from a Welder 1 Class to a Welder 3 Class position. The Welder 1 Class is unique compared to other types of welders in that Welder 1 Class can work on vertical and overhead surfaces, which is called "out of position" welding, and is the type of welding Ani-Deng was performing on the two occasions when she overheated in June 2011. Unlike Welder 1 Class, the Welder 3 Class position does not require welding in high areas or close confines. Jeffboat notified Ani-Deng of this reclassification on June 28, 2011. Following her reclassification, Ani-Deng required no further first aid on any occasion.

Ani-Deng did not experience any break in employment as a result of her reclassification, but her pay as a Welder 3 Class was less than that she received as a Welder 1 Class. However, her hourly rate was the same as all other Jeffboat employees classified as Welder 3 Class, five of whom were men and two who were women.

Plaintiff's EEOC Charges

In August 2011, Ani-Deng filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging that Jeffboat retaliated against her for filing a prior EEOC charge on February 18, 2011[1] in reclassifying her from Welder 1 Class to Welder 3 Class. In her EEOC charge, she also alleged that she "was laid off with no reason given, " although she subsequently admitted that she was not in fact laid off in August 2011. The EEOC issued a right to sue notice on April 24, 2012.

Plaintiff's Layoff as Part of Reduction in Force

On October 19, 2011, Ani-Deng was laid off as part of a company-wide reduction in force ("RIF"). The CBA dictates the manner in which RIFs are to be conducted and provides for a seniority system based on length of tenure with the company. In the event of a layoff, the CBA requires that the least senior employee be laid off first. Jeffboat maintains a seniority list for this purpose and each employee has the opportunity to examine the list and object to its accuracy. Protests regarding the seniority list must be made in writing by the employee to his or her union steward, who will then initiate the grievance process by filing the protest. Here, Ani-Deng interposed no protest or other objection to the seniority list nor did she challenge the basis of her layoff by filing a grievance with the Union or a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.

Because RIFs are often temporary, the CBA includes procedures by which employees are subject to recall for employment. Specifically, the CBA provides that, as long as the employee has acquired seniority pursuant to the CBA, a Jeffboat employee who is laid off is entitled to Recall Rights. Ani-Deng was recalled to employment in January 2012. Although it was not required by the CBA, on January 23, 2012, the Union Steward, Ronnie Waiz, and Evelyn Miller of Jeffboat's Human Resources Department telephoned Ani-Deng in an attempt to notify her that she would be receiving a letter from Jeffboat regarding her recall. However, they were unsuccessful in reaching her. The following day, pursuant to Article IX, Section 9 of the CBA, Jeffboat sent a certified letter to Ani-Deng's ...


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