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Gray v. United States Steel Corporation

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

December 9, 2014

FRANK L. GRAY, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES STEEL CORPORATION, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

PAUL R. CHERRY, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on United States Steel Corporation's Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 36], filed on August 22, 2014. Plaintiff Frank L. Gray worked for Defendant United States Steel Corporation ("U.S. Steel") from 1969 to 2009. In 1995 and 2004, U.S. Steel entered into EEOC Negotiated Settlement Agreements with Gray to resolve charges of employment discrimination he had brought. Between 2003 and 2007, Gray filed grievances through the United Steelworkers Union ("USW") related to seniority violations, improper pay while on temporary machine assignments, improper vacation pay from 2004, and unfair overtime equalization practices; the USW separately filed related grievances on behalf of all affected employees of the Machine Shop where Gray worked. Gray retired on June 1, 2009, without a resolution of those grievances. Then, on November 12, 2011, U.S. Steel issued Gray a $30, 000 grievance settlement payment. In February 2012, Gray wrote to the administrator of U.S. Steel's pension fund, requesting that his pension be recalculated to account for the $30, 000 settlement; the request was denied.

Gray now brings suit, alleging a breach of the 1995 and 2004 Settlement Agreements by U.S. Steel's failure to properly calculate his pension earnings, timely resolve his grievances, properly consider his seniority and overtime rights in violation of the 2003 and 2008 collective bargaining agreements, grant him a full and fair hearing on his grievances, and allow him to actively participate in the grievance procedures. Although styled as breach of contract claims, Gray's claims, with the exception of his ERISA claim, would either require an analysis of the collective bargaining agreement under the Labor Management Relations Act and, thus, are barred by the six month statute of limitations or could have been brought during his prior lawsuit in 2009 and, thus, are barred by claim preclusion. Gray fares no better with his ERISA claim as U.S. Steel is not the proper party defendant. As set forth more fully below, summary judgment is granted in favor of U.S. Steel on all claims in Gray's Complaint.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On August 17, 2012, Plaintiff Frank L. Gray filed a Charge of Discrimination (No. 470-2012-03075) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") against "US Steel Corp - Gary Works" and "US Steel & Carnegie Pension Fund." Gray charged that Defendant United States Steel Corporation ("U.S. Steel") breached an EEOC negotiated settlement agreement from 1995 by failing to preserve his rights in all terms and conditions of employment, including seniority rights, and that U.S. Steel breached a 2004 settlement agreement by retaliating against him for past EEOC complaints. Specifically, Gray charged that U.S. Steel "grossly delayed" back pay wages owed to him for over 4-1/2 years, almost 2-1/2 years after his retirement, and that the United States Steel and Carnegie Pension Fund ("Carnegie Pension Fund") refused to adjust his average pension earnings to reflect the grievance settlement he was paid in December 2011. Gray charged that the discrimination took place from January 1999 through February 21, 2012, and was continuing. The EEOC issued a Dismissal of Notice of Rights on January 30, 2013, which Gray received on February 4, 2013.

Gray, pro se, filed a Complaint in this case against Defendant U.S. Steel on April 25, 2013, alleging that U.S. Steel breached "previous Title VII Negotiated Settlement Agreements." (Compl. 1). Gray asserts that the Court has jurisdiction under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1001.

In paragraph 1 of the Statement of Legal Claim in the Complaint ("Count 1"), Gray alleges that U.S. Steel breached the EEOC negotiated settlement agreement of 1995 ("1995 Settlement Agreement") in denying him terms and conditions of employment. He alleges that, after awarding him a $30, 000 grievance settlement, U.S. Steel refused to adjust Gray's monthly pension earnings with back pay, in violation of the Pension Agreement between U.S. Steel and the USW regarding "underpayments" and according to ERISA.

In paragraph 2 ("Count 2"), Gray alleges that U.S. Steel breached the 1995 Settlement Agreement concerning "terms and conditions of employment, including seniority rights" by not executing the grievance procedure in a timely fashion. Gray alleges that U.S. Steel refused to give him a full and fair hearing on the grievances for more than eight years and then, in November 2011, without comment or explanation, sent Gray a check for the $30, 000 grievance settlement.

In paragraph 3 ("Count 3"), Gray alleges that U.S. Steel breached the 2004 negotiated settlement agreement ("2004 Settlement Agreement") by retaliating against Gray by repeatedly ignoring his seniority and overtime equalization rights, in violation of the 2003 and 2008 Basic Labor Agreements ("BLAs") and by refusing to grant a full and fair hearing to Gray and to allow Gray to actively participate in any of the grievances' second and third step procedures.

Finally, in paragraph 4 ("Count 4"), Gray alleges that U.S. Steel has given Gray "just cause" to charge violations of the 1995 and 2004 Settlement Agreements in that U.S. Steel "implied" that it may have violated the terms and conditions of the 2003 BLA against Gray when it issued the grievance settlement check in November 2011. Gray alleges that these actions demonstrate a violation of the Settlement Agreements and that equitable tolling should be applied.

On May 23, 2013, U.S. Steel filed an Answer.

On August 22, 2014, U.S. Steel filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment and served a Notice of Summary Judgment Motion as required by Northern District of Indiana Local Rule 56-1(f). Gray filed a Response, a brief in support, a statement of genuine issues, and exhibits in support. On October 30, 2014, U.S. Steel filed a reply brief as well as a Motion to Strike Gray's response for exceeding the page limit set by Northern District of Indiana Local Rule 7-1. In response, Gray filed a Motion for Leave of Court to Correct Formatting Errors, filing a revised Statement of Genuine Disputes and Material Facts and a revised Response Brief. On November 19, 2014, the Court granted both motions, acknowledging the filing of the revised briefs. Having been granted leave of Court to file a revised reply brief, U.S. Steel notified the Court on November 25, 2014, that U.S. Steel stands on its original reply brief.

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).

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandate that motions for summary judgment be granted "if the movant shows 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). Rule 56 further requires the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery, against a party "who fails 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 Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). "[S]ummary judgment is appropriate-in fact, is mandated-where there are no disputed issues of material fact and the movant must prevail as a matter of law. In other words, the record must reveal that no reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party." Dempsey v. Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 16 F.3d 832, 836 (7th Cir. 1994) (citations and quotations omitted).

A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party may discharge its initial responsibility by simply "showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. When the nonmoving party would have the burden of proof at trial, the moving party is not required to support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 325; Green v. Whiteco Indus., Inc., 17 F.3d 199, 201 n.3 (7th Cir. 1994); Fitzpatrick v. Catholic Bishop of Chi., 916 F.2d 1254, 1256 (7th Cir. 1990). However, the moving party, if it chooses, may support its motion for summary judgment with affidavits or other materials, and, if the moving party has "produced sufficient evidence to support a conclusion that there are no genuine issues for trial, " then the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to show that an issue of material fact exists. Becker v. Tenenbaum-Hill Assoc., 914 F.2d 107, 110-111 (7th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted); see also Hong v. Children's Mem'l Hosp., 993 F.2d 1257, 1261 (7th Cir. 1993).

Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the non-moving party cannot resist the motion and withstand summary judgment by merely resting on its pleadings. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Donovan v. City of Milwaukee, 17 F.3d 944, 947 (7th Cir. 1994). Rule 56(e) provides that "[i]f a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may... consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion [or] grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials-including the facts considered undisputed-show that the movant is entitled to it...." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2), (3); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986). Thus, to demonstrate a genuine issue of fact, the nonmoving party must "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, " but must "come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. '" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

In viewing the facts presented on a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all legitimate inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Srail v. Vill. of Lisle, 588 F.3d 940, 948 (7th Cir. 2009); NLFC, Inc. v. Devcom Mid-Am., Inc., 45 F.3d 231, 234 (7th Cir. 1995). A court's role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge the credibility of witnesses, or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50.

MATERIAL FACTS

A. General Background[1]

Plaintiff Gray began his employment at Defendant U.S. Steel at its Gary Works plant in January 1969 and retired on June 1, 2009. Gray was a member of the United Steelworkers Union ("USW").

The USW and its Local Unions are the exclusive representative of bargaining unit employees working in Production and Maintenance at U.S. Steel's domestic facilities. The terms and conditions of employment for Production and Maintenance employees are governed by a collective bargaining agreement, known as the Basic Labor Agreement ("BLA"), between U.S. Steel and the USW.

Among other things, the BLA contains provisions on discipline and discharges, grievances and arbitration, hours of work, overtime, promotions, seniority, vacancies, wages, incentive rates, and a management rights clause. The management rights clause provides that "[t]he Company retains the exclusive right to manage the business and Plants and to direct the working forces. The Company, in the exercise of its rights, shall observe the provisions of this Agreement." (Def. Br., Ex. D, p. 105). It also provides that "[t]he rights to manage the business and Plants and to direct the working forces include the right to hire, suspend or discharge for proper cause, or transfer, and the right to relieve employees from duty because of lack of work or for other legitimate reasons." Id. at p. 106.

Should any differences arise between U.S. Steel and the USW relating to the interpretation, application, or compliance with the BLA or any other agreement, the BLA provides that an employee or the Union may file a grievance. The BLA has a detailed procedure governing the handling of grievances. The BLA establishes that the USW is the exclusive representative of the employees and may process grievances through the grievance procedure (including arbitration), or it may adjust or settle any grievance.

B. Gray's Previous Employment Discrimination Claims/Lawsuits/Agreements Regarding U.S. Steel

1. 1995 Settlement Agreement

As the result of an EEOC Charge of Discrimination filed by Gray in 1993, U.S. Steel entered into an EEOC pre-determination negotiated settlement agreement with Gray in 1995. The 1995 Settlement Agreement provided that, in exchange for Gray's promise not to initiate a lawsuit with respect to EEOC charge 24E-1993-0219, U.S. Steel agreed to pay Gray a certain sum of money. Additionally, the agreement provided, in relevant part:

USS recognizes its responsibilities under the applicable Basic Labor Agreement, USS' EEO policies and federal, state and local EEO laws and will assure that Charging Party's rights will be preserved in all terms and conditions of employment, including seniority rights.

(Def. Br., Exh. G, ¶ 4).

This 1995 Settlement Agreement was followed by two lawsuits initiated by Gray against U.S. Steel in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana: causes of action 2:99-CV-12 and 2:01-CV-178. In cause number 2:99-CV-12, Gray alleged, among other things, that U.S. Steel denied him opportunities to earn wage incentives and overtime on the 319 bar machine and other machines with high incentive rates due to discrimination based upon his race and his disability and due to retaliation. He also claimed U.S. Steel's actions breached the 1995 Settlement Agreement. In that case, U.S. Steel's Motion for Summary Judgment was granted, Gray appealed the decision to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and summary judgment for U.S. Steel was affirmed. See Gray v. USX Corp., 28 Fed.Appx. 570 (7th Cir. 2002). In cause number 2:01-CV-178, Gray, who was pro se, alleged, among other things, that U.S. Steel disregarded his seniority rights by letting junior employees work the 319 bar machine as well as other machines, unfairly disciplined him, refused to process his grievances, and/or otherwise discriminated against him because of his race, his alleged disability/perceived disability, and in retaliation. He also claimed that U.S. Steel's actions violated the 1995 Settlement Agreement. Gray later voluntarily dismissed the case.

2. 2004 Settlement Agreement

As the result of another Charge of Discrimination filed with the EEOC by Gray in 2004, U.S. Steel entered into a second EEOC pre-determination negotiated settlement agreement with Gray. The 2004 Settlement Agreement provided that, in exchange for Gray's promise not to initiate a lawsuit with respect to EEOC charge 24E-2004-00136, U.S. Steel agreed to pay Gray a certain amount of money and agreed "[t]hat [Gray] will not be retaliated against in the future and that no other potential employers will be advised of the facts and circumstances of these proceedings." (Def. Br., Ex. L, ¶ 3). The 2004 Settlement Agreement further provides that U.S. Steel agreed to provide written notice to the local EEO Director within 10 days of satisfying each obligation specified in the above paragraph of the Agreement.

C. Effects on the Machine Shop Resulting from the 2003 Basic Labor Agreement

Gray worked as a machinist in the Gary Works Machine Shop. In 2003, as a result of extensive negotiations, U.S. Steel and the USW agreed to restructure the entire job classification system for all production and maintenance bargaining unit employees at the various U.S. Steel plants. For the Machine Shop, this meant that Gray and the other employees were now all classified under one broad category: Maintenance Technician-Mechanical ("MTM"). Furthermore, management now had the ability to assign/reassign the MTMs in the Machine Shop to any of the various assignments within the Machine Shop: i.e. working in the floor assembly areas, performing field work, or working on any of the various machines used in machining parts, as these were all job assignments falling under the MTM (Labor Grade 4) job umbrella.

D. Machine Shop Grievances and Memoranda of Agreement

Following the adoption of the 2003 BLA, numerous grievances from the Machine Shop were filed. Gray brought several grievances, and the USW brought several additional grievances on behalf of all employees in the Machine Shop:

1. WGa-2003-0650 - Frank Gray claimed U.S. Steel unfairly allowed junior employees to work on the incentive machines and to earn overtime on those machines.
2. WGa-2003-0843 - Brought by USW Local 1014 on behalf of All Affected and claimed U.S. Steel unfairly changed the work schedule in the Machine Shop.
3. WGa-2003-0858 - Frank Gray claimed U.S. Steel unfairly used junior employees (Phillip Worthen and R. Scott Swenton) to fill in on the incentive machines, rather than using employees with the most seniority.
4. WGa-2003-0861 - Brought by USW Local 1014 on behalf of All Affected claiming U.S. Steel failed to use the previously established average incentive rates for ...

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