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Williams v. United States Steel Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

August 28, 2014

PATRICE WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES STEEL CORPORATION, Defendant

Page 1056

Patrice M Williams, Plaintiff, Pro se, Merrillville, IN.

For United States Steel Corporation, Defendant: Elizabeth M Bezak, Terence M Austgen, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Burke Costanza & Carberry LLP - Mer/IN, Merrillville, IN; M Cristina Sharp, LEAD ATTORNEY, United States Steel Corporation, Law Department, Pittsburgh, PA.

Page 1057

OPINION AND ORDER

Paul R. Cherry, Magistrate Judge.

On June 23, and 24, 2014, Plaintiff Patrice M. Williams appeared in person without counsel. Defendant United States Steel Corporation appeared by Department Manager Robert Chorzempa and by counsel M. Cristina Sharp and Terence M. Austgen. A Bench Trial was held. The Court received evidence and arguments.

Based upon the record of proceedings the Court FINDS, ORDERS, ADJUDGES, and DECREES:

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In November 2011, Plaintiff Patrice M. Williams filed a Charge of Discrimination against her employer United States Steel Corporation (hereinafter usually referred to as U.S. Steel) with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). At the request of Ms. Williams, a Right to Sue Notice was issued by the EEOC. The EEOC took no further action in the matter after issuance of the Right to Sue Notice.

On October 1, 2013, Plaintiff Patrice M. Williams filed in this Court her Amended Complaint [DE 53]. On October 16, 2013, Defendant U.S. Steel filed an Answer to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [DE 56].

The parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

On January 23, 2013, Ms. Williams filed a Motion to Cease and Desist Denial of Regularly Scheduled Off Days and Vacation Days [DE 23]. On April 2, 2013, Ms. Williams filed a Motion for Temporary " Real" Sabbath Accommodation [DE 32]. The Court construed both motions as motions for a temporary injunction. On May 2, 2013, the Court held a hearing on the motions. On September 20, 2013, the Court issued an Order denying both motions [DE 51].

On May 23, 2014, the Final Pre-Trial Conference was held. On June 23 and 24, 2014, the Bench Trial was held.

PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS

The claims of Ms. Williams in her Amended Complaint are brought pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in particular 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), alleging discrimination against her by U.S. Steel.

Page 1058

She claims U.S. Steel violated federal law by:

1. Failing to make reasonable accommodation for practice of her religious beliefs;
2. Discriminating against her based on her female gender;
3. Creating or allowing harassment of her by a hostile work environment.

U.S. Steel denies each of Ms. Williams's claims.

Ms. Williams seeks relief in the form of:

1. A permanent injunction against U.S. Steel;
2. An award of money damages;
3. An imposition of punitive damages.

BURDEN OF PROOF

The burden of proof in this case is on Plaintiff Patrice Williams to prove her claims by a preponderance of the evidence. See Hennessy v. Penril Datacomm Networks, Inc., 69 F.3d 1344, 1350 (7th Cir. 1995).

FINDINGS OF FACT

Plaintiff Patrice Williams was hired to work at U.S. Steel on October 13, 2008. She was hired as a Utility Technician -- Labor Grade 2. Her first work assignment was in the Tin Department at the Gary Works plant.

At the time Ms. Williams applied for employment, U.S. Steel informed her that its business operates continuously twenty-four hours per day, 365 days per year and that employees are scheduled to work rotating shifts, which include working on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. U.S. Steel asked Ms. Williams if she accepted these schedule requirements; she said yes. At that time U.S. Steel also gave her a company document entitled Job Requirements essentially stating the same thing.

The Job Requirements document given to Ms. Williams by U.S. Steel states, in pertinent part:

U.S. Steel's facilities operate continuously; 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Utility Technician position requires you to work rotating shifts. For example, one week you may be required to work from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM, the next week from 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM, and the following week from11:00 PM to 7:00 AM. This also means that you may be required to work different days of the week each time you rotate shifts. In other words, the days you have off will not be the same every week and you may be required to work Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays
The position also requires you to work mandatory overtime as needed, often with little or no notice.
Last but not least, punctuality and attendance are extremely important to the success of the operations in general as well as contributing to an overall positive team environment.

The standard shifts at U.S. Steel are: 11 p.m. -- 7 a.m.; 7 a.m. -- 3 p.m.; and 3 p.m. -- 11 p.m.

At all relevant times, Ms. Williams was employed and working at U.S. Steel. She remains employed and working at U.S. Steel. And, at all relevant times, Ms. Williams was, and is, a bargaining unit union employee subject to the terms and conditions of employment for union employees governed by a collective bargaining agreement between U.S. Steel and the United Steelworkers Union called the Basic Labor Agreement (BLA).

The BLA provides a three step employee grievance procedure. The BLA also provides for a seniority system used by U.S. Steel when scheduling work shifts. U.S. Steel maintains policies prohibiting discrimination based on, among other

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things, religion and gender, as well as a policy prohibiting harassment.

Sometime after Ms. Williams began working at U.S. Steel, she became an active, practicing Seventh Day Adventist. Ms. Williams continues to be an active, practicing Seventh Day Adventist. She sincerely holds to and devoutly practices her religious beliefs. It is important to Ms. Williams, as a Seventh Day Adventist, to observe the Sabbath (Friday sunset through Saturday sunset) which includes that a believer do no work on the Sabbath.

Ms. Williams began working in the Pickle Department (" pickling" refers to a process of using acids to clean steel) in early September 2011. Her first request to not work on the Sabbath was made her first or second day at the new position.

Although U.S. Steel has on many weeks scheduled Ms. Williams to work on the Sabbath, she has managed to have never worked on the Sabbath, primarily by trading work shifts with co-workers as well as using sick and vacation days.

As a result of her success at arranging to never work on the Sabbath, Ms. Williams has not experienced discipline by U.S. Steel for not working on a Sabbath aside from once requiring her to take absentee counseling. She has suffered no adverse consequences to her rate of pay nor other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. She has not been demoted, transferred against her will, or terminated from her employment. Nor did she have her scheduled work hours reduced; she did not lack opportunities for overtime or opportunities to bid on other work positions. Nor were her benefits compromised.

While working in the Tin Department, Ms. Williams signed a bid for a crane operator position in the Pickle Department. She was the successful bidder and was awarded the crane operator position. She started ...


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