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Gipson v. ArcelorMittal Steel USA

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

May 8, 2017

CYNTHIA P. GIPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
ARCELORMITTAL STEEL USA, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant ArcelorMittal Steel USA's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 51], filed on November 30, 2016. The Defendant seeks judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff Cynthia P. Gipson's claims for race discrimination and retaliation, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000, Title VII, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, which were alleged in an Amended Complaint [ECF No. 11]. This matter is now fully briefed and ripe for the Court's review.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Facts Relating to the Discrimination Claim

         The Defendant operates a steel plant in East Chicago, Indiana. (Rose Decl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 52.) The Plaintiff is an employee with the Defendant who works in the Security and Emergency Department as a Fire Service Technician/EMT, and most employees within that Department are represented by the United Steel Workers Local 1011 (the “Union”). (Id. ¶ 3.) The Plaintiff is a Black, Jamaican-American, and the only employee of such ancestry in the Security and Emergency Department. (Gipson Aff. ¶ 5, ECF No. 56-1.)

         In 2011, the Defendant “agreed to allow employees in the Security and Emergency Services Department . . . to volunteer for paid paramedic training.” (Rose Decl. ¶ 5.) The paramedic training course was administered by Methodist Hospital, included classroom and clinical components, and lasted for fifteen weeks. (Gipson Dep. 36:24-37:18, 63:23-64:4, ECF No. 52.) As part of its policy, the Defendant would “pay for paramedic training for one employee at a time, and . . . give that employee two paid days off to attend the training classes.” (Rose Decl. ¶ 5.)

         Ester Rosales, [1] a Hispanic employee senior to the Plaintiff, was the first employee to attend the paramedic training. (Gipson Dep. 35:14-17, Ex. 2.) Before the training, Rosales's regular schedule was to work Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and take days off Wednesday and Thursday. (Id. 39:6-8, Ex. 2.) For her paramedic training, Rosales's schedule was adjusted so that her two paid days off to attend training classes were Monday and Thursday, her paid days working at the plant were Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and her unpaid days off were Tuesday and Wednesday. (Id. 39:20-24, 40:4-6, 42:8-11.)

         The Plaintiff was the second employee to attend the paramedic training. (Id. 35:19- 36:15.) Before the training, the Plaintiff's regular schedule was to work Sunday through Thursday, and take days off Friday and Saturday. (Id. 53:2-5.)[2] The Plaintiff requested that her schedule during the paramedic training be five paid days off-Monday through Friday-without having to work at the plant during the fifteen-week paramedic training. (Id. 47:24-48:1, Exs. 6, 8.) She sought more time off than Rosales because she “needed more time to study.” (Id. 48:2.)[3]

         The Defendant denied the Plaintiffs requests but “offered her the same accommodation as Rosales-attend paramedic training on Monday and Thursday (paid), work at the plant on Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and have Friday and Saturday off.” (Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Summ. J. 6, ECF No. 52 (citing Gipson Dep. 53:12-16, 54:1, Exs. 7-8).) Because this adjusted schedule “caused her to be scheduled to work an overnight shift that began at 10:00 p.m. the same day that she had attended paramedic training, ” the Plaintiff filed a grievance. (Gipson Dep. 56:15-20.) On October 24, 2012, a grievance hearing was held with the Plaintiff, the Defendant, and the Union, at which the Defendant offered three schedule options to the Plaintiff:

• Continue to work Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at the plant, attend paramedic training (paid) on Mondays and Thursdays, and have Friday and Saturday off;
• Work at the plant Friday, Saturday and Sunday, attend paramedic training (paid) on Mondays and Thursdays, and have Tuesday and Wednesday off;
• Same as option one, except that on those weeks when the rotating schedule had the Plaintiff working nights, she would be given a day or afternoon shift, work in an open shift and at the rate of pay for the position she was assuming, and she would not be able to bump employees regularly scheduled to work the day or afternoon shift.

(Gipson Dep. 47:18-21, 49:13-16, 51:18-52:10, Ex. 8.) No other employee, before or after the Plaintiff, was given three options when they took the paramedic training. (Rose Dep. 106:19-25, ECF No. 52.) The Union agreed that the three options that the Defendant offered were consistent with the CBA and with accommodations offered to other employees. (Gibson Dep. Ex. 8.)

         Ultimately, the Plaintiff chose the first option “because she did not want to risk possibly being assigned to a lower pay grade, or a day or afternoon position, during the weeks in which she would normally be scheduled to work nights.” (Def.'s Mem. 6-7 (citing Gibson Dep. 136:21- 137:24, Ex. 8.)

         The Plaintiff failed her practical exam for the paramedic training program three times and was dismissed from the program. (Gipson Dep. 63:2-24, 65:1-4.) An appeal to Methodist Hospital regarding her dismissal was not successful, and her request to be reinstated to the program was denied. (Id. 65:8-15, Ex. 11.)

         B. Facts Relating to the Retaliation Claim

         The Defendant has in place a progressive discipline policy for violations of its work rules or policies. “The steps of progressive discipline are: (1) written reprimand; (2) one-day suspension; (3) three-day suspension; and (4) five-day suspension preliminary to discharge. When making suspension and discharge decisions, the [Defendant] may consider records relevant to an employee's conduct for up to five years and any other discipline the employee received during the previous two years.” (Rose Decl. ¶ 8.) Prior to 2012, the Plaintiff had no disciplinary history. (Gipson Dep. 114:2-8.)

         On July 5, 2012, the Plaintiff received a “step one” written reprimand for unauthorized use of computers and internet while at work. (Id. 101:15-103:7, Ex. 13.)[4] On April 23, 2013, the Plaintiff was issued a “step two” one-day suspension for insubordination after refusing to work as a “Squad 2” ambulance passenger, as instructed by her supervisor, and instead working as a “Squad 1” ambulance driver. (Id. 103:8-106:10, 130:10-132:10, Ex. 14.) On November 19, 2013, the Plaintiff was issued a “step three” three-day suspension for insubordination because on two separate occasions she was directed to call in security checks over the radio, as required by Department policy, and she refused to do so. (Id. 106:11-111:4, Ex. 15; Rose Decl. ¶ 10.)

         The Plaintiff's “step four” five-day suspension preliminary to discharge occurred on May 21, 2014, as the result of a false report investigation. On April 6, 2014, the Plaintiff reportedly told her shift leader that she “witnessed an employee not do a security check correctly.” (Rose Dep. 54:20-55:12, Ex. B.) On multiple occasions thereafter, the Plaintiff's supervisor “instructed her to write a report that she had witnessed her coworker calling in an assigned security check that he had not actually completed.” (Id. 53:4-55:11, Ex. E.) The Plaintiff was reportedly angry that her supervisor had identified her as the person who witnessed the employee falsify his security check. (See id.) Ultimately, on May 7, 2014, the Plaintiff submitted a report in which she stated that she had no recollection of the coworker falsely reporting his assigned security check. (Id. Ex. E.)

         Because the Defendant “believed that she lied about having no recollection of witnessing and reporting her coworker for failing to complete an assigned security check, ” the Plaintiff received her “step four” discipline. (Id.) Ultimately, an arbitrator decided that the Defendant did not meet its high burden of proof that Gipson's termination was supported by just cause, as required by the CBA, reinstated her, awarded her back pay for any work she had missed, and rescinded the suspension and discharge from her employment record. (Gipson Dep. 86:17-21; Rose Dep. 56:13-59:20, Ex. C.)

         On September 18, 2012, Gipson filed a charge with the EEOC alleging that the Defendant had discriminated against her by not permitting her to change her schedule with regard to the paramedic training, which was dismissed on July 26, 2013. (Hartman Decl. ¶¶ 4-5, Exs. A-B, ECF No. 52.) Then, on October 21, 2013, the Plaintiff filed this lawsuit. In a second EEOC filing on October 26, 2013, the Plaintiff alleged that she was unfairly disciplined, which was dismissed on June 24, 2014. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7, Ex. C.) Then, on July 14, 2014, the Plaintiff amended her Complaint to include retaliatory discharge claims.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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 nonmoving party is required to marshal and present the court with evidence on which a reasonable jury could rely to find in that party's 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 nonmoving 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) (first citing United States v. 5443 Suffield Terrace, 607 F.3d 504, 510 (7th Cir. 2010); then citing Swearnigen-El v. Cook Cty. Sheriff's Dep't, 602 F.3d 852, 859 (7th Cir. 2010)). A 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. [A] 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). Although a bare contention that an issue of material fact exists is insufficient to ...


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