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Turney v. General Motors, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

February 10, 2015

MARY TURNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
GENERAL MOTORS, LLC, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, District Judge.

The Plaintiff, Mary Turney, claims that her employer, General Motors, LLC, has discriminated against her on the basis of her gender in violation of Title VII and the Equal Pay Act. She maintains that the Defendant then retaliated against her after she filed an EEOC Charge complaining of the discriminatory pay. The Defendant has moved for summary judgment on all claims asserted by the Plaintiff. Having now received the parties' briefs and designated evidentiary materials, the matter is ripe for the Court's consideration.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is warranted when "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). Summary judgment is the moment in litigation where the non-moving party is required to marshal and present the court with evidence on which a reasonable jury could rely to find in his favor. Goodman v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th Cir. 2010). A court should only deny a motion for summary judgment when the non-moving party presents admissible evidence that creates a genuine issue of material fact. Luster v. Ill. Dep't of Corrs., 652 F.3d 726, 731 (7th Cir. 2011) (citing United States v. 5443 Suffield Terrace, 607 F.3d 504, 510 (7th Cir. 2010); Swearnigen-El v. Cook Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 602 F.3d 852, 859 (7th Cir. 2010)). The court's role in deciding a motion for summary judgment "is not to sift through the evidence, pondering the nuances and inconsistencies, and decide whom to believe. The court has one task and one task only: to decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial." Waldridge v. Am. Heochst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). Material facts are those that are outcome determinative under the applicable law. Smith v. Severn, 129 F.3d 419, 427 (7th Cir. 1997). "Irrelevant or unnecessary facts do not deter summary judgment, even when in dispute." Harney v. Speedway SuperAmerica, LLC, 526 F.3d 1099, 1104 (7th Cir. 2008).

STATEMENT OF FACTS

The Plaintiff is a current employee of General Motors, LLC. She began working in a salaried position for the former General Motors Corporation at its Baltimore, Maryland, assembly plant in 1983, and has worked in a variety of positions throughout her tenure with GM.[1] The Plaintiff received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1998 and a master's degree in business in 2006, while working for GM.

Under GM's pay grade system, salaried employees are assigned to a level ranging from level 4 through level 9. This salary system contains descriptions of the degree of work responsibilities that are commensurate with each of the levels, which are established by GM's corporate offices. Positions with more responsibilities are designated by higher levels. GM's corporate offices also establish the salary range that is attached to each level. The Plaintiff received numerous promotions that elevated her from a level 4 to a level 8 in GM's compensation structure. In 2004, the Plaintiff was working as a paint production superintendent and was classified as a level 8 salaried employee when she transferred to GM's Fort Wayne, Indiana, assembly plant because the Baltimore plant was closing.

GM's corporate office provides oversight and guidance to the plants on staffing and the classification of salaried positions. However, local plant leadership has some autonomy and discretion in setting the scope of work and responsibilities for jobs based on the unique needs and operations of a plant. A plant human resources management (HRM) committee makes personnel decisions regarding salaried employees at the Fort Wayne plant. From about 2009 through 2012, the following members of management within the Fort Wayne facility were on the HRM committee: Mike Glinski, Plant Manager; Betty Romsek/Nick Kassanos, Assistant Plant Manager; Mary Tonne, Controller; Ann Playter/Steve Andreen, Engineering Director; Rick Baker/Rick Hinzpeter, Quality Director; Ann Scheider, Material Director; Steve Shreffler, Body Area Manager; Steve Danielson/Bill Muzzillo, Paint Area Manager; Scott Landstra, General Assembly Area Manager; and Jeff Sorensen, Personnel Director. The Lead Salary HR Representative, Greg Brown, coordinated and facilitated the HRM committee meetings, but was not a voting member of the HRM committee.

In February 2009, the HRM committee decided to transfer the Plaintiff to the engineering manager position, which was open because the former engineering manager, Asifhusen Khatri, had been reassigned to production. The Plaintiff came into the position as a level 8A employee and her salary was $115, 452. In 2009, the salary range for level 8 was between $69, 000 and $145, 800. Khatri's salary in the engineering manager position had been $116, 952.

GM underwent a massive company-wide restructuring in 2008 and 2009 as a result of the conditions that eventually forced it into bankruptcy. As part of the restructuring, and in an attempt to create a leaner organization, GM corporate directed Fort Wayne management to reduce the number of its level 8 positions. As a result, in May 2009, the Plaintiff's engineering manager position was leveled down from an 8 to a 7. The Plaintiff continued to perform the same work and receive the same base salary. But by January 2010, her salary was capped at $118, 440.

The Plaintiff had ongoing discussions with Ann Playter, the Engineering Director at the Fort Wayne plant, about getting her position reinstated to a level 8, and Playter was supportive. In May 2011, GM's corporate HR asked Fort Wayne management to survey the plant's salaried positions affected by the bankruptcy restructuring to determine whether it was appropriate to restore those positions to their former levels. The HRM committee collectively believed the engineering manager position should be restored to a level 8. However, this change did not occur until over a year later, in September 2012. During this time, the plant leadership engaged in discussions about changing engineering from a centralized structure to a decentralized structure.[2] If the plant moved to a decentralized structure, it was unlikely the engineering manager position would be reinstated back to a level 8. Management ultimately decided to maintain a centralized engineering structure, but did not decide this until late 2011. In 2011 was also when the Engineering Director, Steve Andreen, began addressing performance issues with the engineering department, particularly its responsiveness to production needs when breakdowns occurred. The responsibility of the engineering department is to service production by troubleshooting breakdowns, making continuous improvements, and installing new equipment. The Fort Wayne plant was preparing to launch two new product lines that required a substantial installation of new equipment. However, the plant was also experiencing a high level of equipment failure because routine maintenance had previously been put off for lack of funds. This created a tension between the amount of time required to meet deadlines for project work, and time spent on maintenance work for existing production. However, according to the Plaintiff, her performance review meeting at the end of 2011 was the first time she was instructed to shift the engineering department's focus from project work to production floor response and maintenance.

The Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC on August 6, 2012, complaining of discrimination in her rate of pay. The next day, she visited Brown in the personnel department to advise him that she filed a discrimination claim with the EEOC due to GM's failure to re-level her position back to a level 8. Brown advised only his supervisor, Personnel Director Jeff Sorenson, of the Plaintiff's Charge. Brown did not inform anyone else of the Charge until after he received a formal notice from the EEOC on August 31, 2012, and there was never any discussion in HRM Committee meetings about the Charge.

On August 31, 2012, the Plaintiff met with the Assistant Plant Manager, Nick Kassanos, and the Material Director, Ann Schneider. They notified the Plaintiff that she was being promoted and the engineering manager position was being reclassified to a level 8 effective September 1, 2012. They also advised her that on November 1, 2012, she would be transferring to a level 8 material shift leader position. Her reassignment was part of a series of moves at the superintendent level made by the HRM committee in an effort to cross-train, align skills sets, and raise the level of expertise in various areas of the plant. It was not unusual within GM's structure to transfer or reassign salaried employees without seeking their input or providing them with options. The Plaintiff was informed she would initially be assigned to third shift, but that the Plaintiff and the other material shift leaders would eventually rotate shifts. During the meeting, the Plaintiff expressed her disappointment at the material shift leader assignment. She thought there would be less opportunity for overtime, wanted to remain in a technical engineering role, and opposed working third shift. Schneider explained that the Plaintiff's engineering background would be helpful to the material department, and that Schneider herself, as well as at least one other employee in the department, had engineering backgrounds similar to the Plaintiff's. The Plaintiff asked if she could remain in the engineering manager position or apply for a maintenance superintendent position if one became available as a result of the other lateral moves. Kassanos and Shneider advised the Plaintiff that the staffing decisions, which had been made to develop each individual's strengths and skill sets and to improve plant operations, were final, and management needed to stabilize the organization through the launch of new products.

The Plaintiff has continued to work in the material shift leader position at a level 8 pay grade since November 1, 2012. She has worked overtime since transferring to the material shift leader position, and she earns a shift premium of 10% of her base salary for working third shift.

Upon the Plaintiff's reassignment, a job posting for her former engineering manager position was posted internally. Brett Stillwell, who had been working as a level 8 general assembly maintenance superintendent at Fort Wayne, applied and was selected for the position. He retained his level 8 classification upon his transfer to engineering.

ANALYSIS

A. Equal Pay Act

The EPA prohibits employers from paying employees different wages based on gender. See 29 U.S.C. § 206(d); Warren v. Solo Cup Co., 516 F.3d 627, 629 (7th Cir. 2008). A prima facie case of wage discrimination is established if a preponderance of the evidence shows that the defendant (1) paid higher wages to a male employee, (2) for equal work requiring substantially similar skill, effort and responsibilities, and (3) the work was performed under similar working conditions. Warren, 516 F.3d at 629. A prima facie case does not require proof of discriminatory intent. Id. If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to offer a gender neutral justification for the wage differential. Id. The statutory defenses are bona fide differences bases on a seniority system, a merit system, a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or a differential based on any other fact other than sex. 29 U.S.C. § 206(d).

Before the Court can discuss the elements of a prima facie case, it must determine what the Plaintiff is claiming as an EPA violation. The Plaintiff alleges in her Amended Complaint that from April 2009 until September 2012, the Defendant paid male employees higher wages for jobs that required equal work, skill, effort and responsibility, and that the unlawful conduct was willful. In the Plaintiff's Brief in Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, the Plaintiff asserts that "she is not challenging her initial demotion under the EPA-such a claim would fall outside of the statute of limitations." (ECF No. 39 at 11.) An Equal Pay Act suit must be commenced within two years after the cause of action accrued, or within three years after the cause of action accrued if the alleged violation was willful. 29 U.S.C. § 255(a). The Plaintiff filed her Complaint on November 13, 2012. Thus, she may lodge an EPA challenge to any pay periods going back to November 13, 2009.

The Plaintiff also clarifies in her Response Brief that she is comparing her position and pay to the following male employees: (1) her predecessor, Asifhusen Khatri; (2) her successor, Brett Stillwell; and (3) the ...


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