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Wren v. Chrysler Group, LLC

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

March 27, 2015

MARIAN WREN, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRYSLER GROUP, LLC, et al. Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

SARAH EVANS BARKER, District Judge.

This cause is before the Court on Defendants' separate motions for summary judgment, [Docket No. 66 and Docket No. 71], filed on May 15, 2014 and May 16, 2014 pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Plaintiff Marian Wren has sued her employer, Chrysler Group, LLC ("Chrysler" or "the Company") and her Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, Local 685 ("Union") for alleged acts of race and sex discrimination, racial and sexual harassment, and retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e, et. seq. ("Title VII"). Both Defendants deny having committed any such violations and, apart from the merits of the Complaint, contest the timeliness of her claims. For the reasons outlined in this ruling, we GRANT the motions for summary judgment in their entirety.

Facts

Ms. Wren, a Caucasian woman, is an employee at Chrysler's Kokomo Transmission Plant whose tenure began on August 15, 1988.[1] Throughout her employment, she has been a member of and represented by Local 685 of the Union. Between 2008 and 2011, Ms. Wren was assigned to the first shift in the tool crib. The "tool crib" is a two-story room where company equipment and tools are stored. The tool crib operates from a front counter from which it fills customers' service requests. This area also handles shipping, receiving and intake. Materials and tools and parts are maintained and issued through this department. Ms. Wren's duties included responsibility for issuance of goods, signing out materials, tools, inserts and machining parts, and taking care of customer service requests.

When Ms. Wren started working in the tool crib, one of her co-workers on the first shift was Tim Clark, an African American male. Mr. Clark later was transferred to second shift (3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.). At some point, Ms. Wren was bumped to third shift (11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.).

This litigation arises primarily out of a number of workplace conflicts that occurred between Mr. Clark and Ms. Wren. In or around early 2010, Ms. Wren observed cigarette ashes in her work area at the tool crib when she reported to work on the third shift. She suspected that Mr. Clark had been smoking during his second shift and, if so, believed he was in violation of company policy. Ms. Wren reported her suspicions regarding Mr. Clark to her supervisor, Bob Meguiar, who allegedly told her that unless Mr. Clark was caught in the act of smoking, there was nothing that could be done about it. Unhappy with that response by Mr. Meguiar, Ms. Wren next reported her suspicions to Mr. Meguiar's supervisor, Shelly Woods. Ms. Woods was more responsive, acknowledging that, if her complaints were true, the no-smoking policy was being violated and his smoking would have to stop. Ms. Woods indicated to Ms. Wren that she would pass along the information to the Company's second shift area manager with the request that he monitor the situation. When Mr. Meguiar later learned that Ms. Wren had lodged her complaint with his supervisor, Ms. Woods, he expressed to Ms. Wren his disappointment that she had gone over his head.

Apparently still not satisfied that her complaint had been properly addressed, Ms. Wren reported Mr. Clark's suspected smoking violation to her union representatives, Local 685 Committeeman Ryan Morgan and Steward Tedman Smith. (Morgan and Smith are both Caucasian.) In response to Ms. Wren's request that Mr. Clark be disciplined for his violation of the smoking ban, Mr. Smith informed her that the responsibility for monitoring and enforcing this no-smoking policy rested with the Company, not the Union. Ms. Wren also complained to the Union Committeeman Morgan, who informed Ms. Wren that enforcing the no-smoking policy was a company responsibility, not the Union's. Mr. Morgan, who as a Union official was responsible for representing both Ms. Wren and Mr. Clark, nonetheless did meet with Mr. Clark about this issue, reminding him that he was to smoke only in designated areas and informing him, without disclosing that Ms. Wren was the complainant, that a complaint had been filed with company management against him alleging that he had violated the policy. Thereafter, Ms. Wren requested no further action by or assistance from the Union or the Company regarding the smoking issue.

At some point, a company supervisor informed Mr. Clark that it was Ms. Wren who had filed the complaint against him.

In early February 2010, Mr. Clark and Ms. Wren had a run-in over Mr. Clark's lunch bag, which was situated on a shelf in his work area when Ms. Wren arrived at work a few minutes before her shift began. She allegedly grabbed hold of the lunch bag and moved it, which upset Mr. Clark, prompting him to tell Ms. Wren that if his "stuff" was in her way, she should let him know and he would move it.

Another more serious incident occurred between Ms. Wren and Mr. Clark approximately one week later, on February 11, 2010. Ms. Wren, who again had reported to work a few minutes prior to the start of her 11:00 PM shift, apparently needed to use a dolly from the tool crib. Mr. Clark, who had not yet finished up his shift, was sitting at his desk. He had hung his jacket on the handles of the nearby dolly, as he often did, to have it available when he wanted to go outside to smoke. Ms. Wren took hold of the jacket to move it, which again angered Mr. Clark, who grabbed it back from her and, speaking harshly vulgar words, told her to keep her hands off his coat. In his anger, Mr. Clark kicked the dolly into some nearby barrels and caused a scene. Mr. Clark contends that when Ms. Wren had picked up his jacket, she threw it on an oily scrap bin and called him a "n****r"-an allegation Ms. Wren denies. Mr. Clark maintains that as he left work at the end of his shift, he observed Ms. Wren talking loudly on her cell phone and complaining about the incident.[2] Later that evening, Ms. Wren telephoned her supervisor at his home to report the confrontation and was instructed to inform Union Steward Tedman Smith.

Ms. Wren filed a complaint with the Union over this incident, and Mr. Clark filed his own separate complaint against Ms. Wren with the company. Mr. Clark's complaint included his claim that Ms. Wren had used a racial epithet in addressing him. Ms. Wren's complaint was processed by the Union, but at some point Union representatives apparently decided to try to mediate a settlement of the issues between the two parties without involving the company. However, because Mr. Clark had filed his complaint with the Labor Relations department at Chrysler, a voluntary resolution negotiated by the Union was not possible.

Chrysler's (former) Director of Labor Relations, Keith Worthy, supervised the investigation into Mr. Clark's complaint by the company's Corporate Diversity Team. Director Worthy met with Ms. Wren to discuss Mr. Clark's complaint, though Ms. Wren maintains that no one from Labor Relations of the Union ever spoke to her about Mr. Clark's allegations. Union steward Steve Brooks corroborates Worthy's account of the meeting since he participated in it at Ms. Wren's request. During that meeting, Mr. Worthy informed Ms. Wren and Steward Brooks that he had concluded that Ms. Wren had violated Chrysler Standards of Conduct #8 (harassment and using vulgar, inappropriate language in the workplace) and #1 (providing the Company false and/or misleading information). Chrysler was authorized to discipline employees for such infractions, which sanctions could include terminating the offender's employment. Mr. Worthy announced at the meeting that he intended to take such action.

Almost immediately following the meeting, Mr. Morgan renewed discussions with Mr. Worthy on Ms. Wren's behalf to request further investigation by the Company, but Mr. Worthy declined to stay his decision. Mr. Worthy stated that besides the difficulties Ms. Wren had had with Mr. Clark, he had additional concerns about Ms. Wren's negative attitude based on information he had received from other tool crib employees, all of which substantiated Mr. Clark's allegations. On February 17, 2010, the Company issued a Notice of Suspension, Disciplinary Layoff or Discharge to Ms. Wren, indicating that she was being indefinitely suspended for violating Chrysler's Standards of Conduct Nos. 1 and 8.

Mr. Worthy continued his investigation of Mr. Clark's allegations, conducting interviews with Ms. Fording and Mr. Jarrett. Mr. Jarrett, an African American male, corroborated reports that Ms. Wren had thrown things and engaged in unseemly, uncontrolled outbursts of foul language, adding that he had heard her on more than one occasion describe herself as "the average n****r in the woodpile."

Mr. Morgan and Mr. Worthy met a third time, when Mr. Morgan further pled Ms. Wren's cause by proposing a nine-day, rather than indefinite, suspension, based on the fact that there were no eye witnesses to the incident between Ms. Wren and Mr. Clark. Having failed to convince Mr. Worthy to reinstate Ms. Wren, Mr. Morgan filed a grievance (the Suspension Grievance) on Ms. Wren's behalf, alleging that she had been unjustly suspended. The Company denied the Union Grievance at Steps 1 and 2.[3] When Union President Thomas Boruff conducted the Step 3 review of the merits of the Grievance, which included discussions of the facts with Morgan and-on June 1, 2010-with Wren herself, Boruff determined that the Suspension Grievance should be withdrawn, based on insufficiency of the evidence. On September 20, 2010, President Boruff wrote to Ms. Wren advising her that the Suspension Grievance had been withdrawn-a letter she acknowledges receiving.

Ms. Wren returned to work following her suspension. She and Clark did not work directly together, and there were no other interactions between them until February 2011. At that time, due to employee reductions in the tool crib workforce and other job position realignments by the Company, Chrysler planned to transfer Clark to the third shift, which would have required him to work again with Wren in the tool crib. Various meetings were held by Company supervisors and union representatives to discuss the difficulties of putting these two employees back together in the workplace. A private meeting was held among Company and Union supervisors with Ms. Wren and Mr. Clark, at which Mr. Morgan explained to Ms. Wren and Mr. Clark that, based on the Company's past practice, Chrysler planned to remove them both from the tool crib if either or both indicated they could not work together. Mr. Clark responded that he would make an effort to be civil and work with Ms. Wren on the same shift, but Ms. Wren indicated that she could not work with Mr. Clark in the tool crib on the same shift because she feared for her safety and did not want to "look over her shoulder." Because Ms. Wren said that she could not work with Mr. Clark, Mr. Worthy decided to move both employees to other work sites. Ms. Wren was transferred to Department 6200 and Mr. Clark was transferred to Inspection.

Ms. Wren remained unhappy and filed an objection to her transfer, believing that only Mr. Clark should have been moved since her seniority rights outranked his. Accordingly, the Union filed another grievance (the Transfer Grievance) on Wren's behalf, challenging her transfer and alleging that her seniority rights had been violated. The Transfer Grievance proceeded to Step 3, following Chrysler's denials at Steps 1 and 2, and again, after review and further investigation, Union President Boruff concluded that the Company's decision to transfer both employees was consistent with past practice, was reasonable under the circumstances, and was unsupported by sufficient evidence as well as contractual support to succeed on the Transfer Grievance. After discussing the matter further with Mr. Morgan, President Boruff withdrew the Grievance. On July 11, 2011, in a letter to Ms. Wren, Boruff advised her that the grievance filed on her behalf was being withdrawn, signaling that no further action would be taken on this matter. Ms. Wren acknowledges that she received this letter and understood shortly after it was sent that the Union was taking no further action on the Transfer Grievance.

Based on her transfer, Ms. Wren suffered no loss in contractual benefits or pay or any other detriment to her seniority rights and overtime eligibility. In fact, she testified that as a result of this change in her workplace assignment, her transfer to the second shift made for a less stressful environment for her than she had experienced when on the third shift, and that she was happy to be away from Mr. Clark.

A separate episode of workplace conflict involving Ms. Wren arose in October 2011 relating to certain alleged indiscretions by her fellow employee, Tammy McGuinness, whose behaviors Ms. Wren had found offensive.[4] Ms. McGuinness, a Caucasian woman, was Ms. Wren's "team leader" as of October 2011. According to Ms. Wren, Ms. McGuinness allowed a male fellow employee to fondle her (McGuinness's) breasts over her clothes on one occasion at work. Ms. Wren asserts that Ms. McGuinness also showed male co-workers pictures of her breasts that were stored on her cell phone. Ms. Wren claims that she viewed this behavior as disrespectful and demeaning. She recalls telling her Union steward about Ms. McGuinness's indiscretions, and maintains that this behavior should have been reported, though she concedes that Ms. McGuinness, who was also a member of the Union, was beyond the purview of Union discipline, since this dispute involved two Union members. Ms. Wren never requested that the Union file a grievance regarding Ms. McGuinness's conduct. She claims that after she made these complaints about Ms. McGuiness's behavior, Ms. McGuinness began to "harass" her, criticize her, and subject her to unwarranted disciplinary actions.

Under Article 33 of the UAW Constitution, a member has the right, at a membership meeting, to challenge the actions of the Local Union or its officials, in a wide range of areas, including grievance handling. Other sources of information and assistance are available to members about their rights to challenge Union actions with which they disagree. Wren apparently attended such a Local Union membership meeting on or about September 17, 2011, to challenge the Local Union's withdrawal of the Suspension Grievance and the Transfer Grievance and to request reinstatement of those grievances. The membership denied her request to reinstate the Suspension Grievance, and made no further effort to challenge the withdrawal of her Transfer Grievance. Thereafter, Ms. Wren took no further internal action to appeal the withdrawals of either grievance by the union. Wren filed her EEOC charge on July 17, 2012, and her Complaint on January 7, 2013.

Legal Analysis

Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment should be granted when the record evidence 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. Pro. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323 (1986). The purpose of summary judgment is to "pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Disputes concerning material facts are genuine where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In deciding whether genuine issues of material fact exist, the court construes all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See id. at 255. However, neither the "mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between ...


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