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Vasquez v. Caterpillar Logistics, Inc.

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

October 20, 2017

CARLOS VASQUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CATERPILLAR LOGISTICS, INC., EA STAFFING SERVICE, INC., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CHIEF JUDGE

         Presently before the Court are Defendants EA Staffing Service, Inc. (EA) and Caterpillar Logistics, Inc.'s (Caterpillar) Motions for Summary Judgment [ECF Nos. 30, 34] and EA's Motions to Strike [ECF Nos. 42, 46]. The Defendants seek summary judgment on all counts and request that the Court strike the Plaintiff's Response to the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 39], the Plaintiff's filing entitled “Introduction” [ECF No. 40], the Plaintiff's Motion to Deny Caterpillar Logistics Inc. and EA Staffing's Summary Judgment Responses [ECF No. 44], and the Plaintiff's Disclosures of Disputed Facts [ECF No. 45]. This Opinion and Order disposes of all of the parties' outstanding motions.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The Plaintiff, Carlos Vasquez, filed his complaint [ECF No. 1] on December 27, 2015, alleging unlawful discrimination by the defendants on the basis of race and sex, in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., as amended; color, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (ADEA).

         Prior to bringing his action in federal court, the Plaintiff filed a charge against Caterpillar with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging discrimination on the basis of race, color, and age. He received a Notice of Right to Sue on November 28, 2015, and thus exhausted his administrative remedies, as required by 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1), against Caterpillar. (Compl. at ¶ 10.)

         On February 16, 2016, Defendant EA filed a Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 6] pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim as to the Plaintiff's claims against it under Title VII and the ADEA, arguing that the Plaintiff never named EA as a respondent to the EEOC charge and that, therefore, the Plaintiff had not exhausted his administrative remedies against EA as required by law. The Court granted EA's motion to dismiss on April 19, 2016 [ECF No. 18], which left only a 42 U.S.C. § 1981 race discrimination claim pending against EA.

         Discovery closed on January 20, 2017. Until February 10, 2017, the Plaintiff was represented by counsel, but he has since proceeded pro se. On March 27, 2017, Defendant EA filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 30], Defendant Caterpillar filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 34], and the Plaintiff moved for an Extension of Time to respond [ECF No. 29]. The Court granted the Extension [ECF No. 38] allowing the Plaintiff until June 23, 2017, to respond.

         On June 23, 2017, the Plaintiff responded to both of the Defendants' motions for summary judgment in a single filing [ECF No. 39]. On July 5, 2017, the Plaintiff filed an uncaptioned pleading titled “Introduction” [ECF No. 40], which appears to be a supplement to his June 23 response. On July 7, 2017, Defendant EA filed its Reply [ECF No. 41] to the Plaintiff's Response as well as a Motion to Strike [ECF No. 42] both the Plaintiff's Response to the Defendants' Summary Judgment Motions and the Plaintiff's Supplement to his Response. EA argues as to both of the Plaintiff's filings that the Plaintiff failed to comply with Local Rule 56-1(b), which requires the Plaintiff, as the non-movant, to submit a statement of disputed facts. EA further argues that the Plaintiff's Supplement is outside of the summary judgment record because it was filed twelve days past the deadline and without leave of court. Defendant Caterpillar filed its Reply [ECF No. 43] on July 12, 2017, in which it also requested that the court strike both of the Plaintiff's filings for the reasons stated in EA's Motion to Strike.

         On July 26, 2017, without leave of Court, the Plaintiff filed a Surreply [ECF No. 44] and a Disclosure of Disputed Facts [ECF No. 45]. Defendant EA filed an Amended Motion to Strike [ECF No. 46], requesting that the Court also strike both of these filings as being outside of the summary judgment record.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This case arose out of the termination of the Plaintiff from his position at Caterpillar. The Plaintiff, a 54-year-old African-American male, began his employment with Caterpillar in October 2014, when he was assigned to Caterpillar by Mark Stayer, an EA employee. At the time of the assignment, the Plaintiff understood that EA had no control over the length of his assignment. (Pl. Resp. Ex. 3, ECF No. 39-3.) From October 20, 2014, through December 5, 2014, the Plaintiff performed the “Kitter” job while waiting for his certification to become an “Order Picker.” Caterpillar employee Bill Logsdon supervised the Plaintiff, and the Plaintiff's primary responsibilities as a “Kitter, ” were to put kits of parts (e.g., ignition coils, air filters, different kinds of brackets, etc.) together so that the kits could be placed in containers and shipped to another Caterpillar facility for assembly.

         From December 5, 2014, until February 18, 2015, the Plaintiff performed the “Order Picker” job. Logsdon continued to supervise the Plaintiff as an Order Picker until January 20, 2015, at which point Caterpillar employee Luis Araiza assumed supervision of the Plaintiff. As an Order Picker, the Plaintiff's primary responsibilities were to operate a reach truck and an order picker truck to gather parts from different sections of the warehouse and place them into a container so that they could be shipped to another Caterpillar facility for assembly. Araiza and Logsdon were the Caterpillar employees primarily responsible for evaluating the Plaintiff's job performance. Both reported to Caterpillar manager Tom Ropp.

         Araiza and Ropp made the decision to end the Plaintiff's assignment with Caterpillar. On February 17, 2015, Araiza communicated this decision to Stayer at EA, who then emailed John Preston, another EA employee, regarding the necessary documentation for the Plaintiff's termination. EA then communicated this decision to the Plaintiff. After the Plaintiff's termination, EA offered to seek a new assignment for the Plaintiff. (Pl. Resp. Br. 2, ECF No. 39.)

         A. Caterpillar's Assertions

         Caterpillar asserts that it ended the Plaintiff's assignment because he violated Caterpillar's PPE (personal protective equipment) policy, did not respond well to corrective feedback, had low productivity, and exhibited poor quality work. (Cat. Br. 3, ECF No. 35.) Specifically, Araiza determined that the Plaintiff (1) violated Caterpillar's PPE policy by failing to wear steel-toed boots to work on February 17, 2015; (2) was argumentative with Araiza about a mispick attributed to the Plaintiff; (3) had 22.7 mispicks per 10, 000, which was fourth worst in the entire operation; (4) argued with team lead Dan Bushor regarding his workload and un-scanned tags; (5) picked a G2 kit without stamping, highlighting, or logging it in, which was contrary to the standard work process; and (6) failed a standard work audit due to tags that were not highlighted. (Cat. Br. Ex. 1 ¶ 6, ECF No. 35-1.) According to a “Stamp # Search” that was run on February 17, 2015, the Plaintiff had mispicks on January 13, 2015, January 22, 2015, February 10, 2015, and two errors on February 11, 2015. (Pl. Resp. Br. Ex. 3, ECF No. 39-3.) These entries were variously recorded on January 14, 2015, January 23, 2015, February 12, 2015, and February 13, 2015. (Id.)

         B. The Plaintiff's Assertions

         The Plaintiff disagrees with the Defendants' characterization of the reasons for his termination. He instead alleges that the mispick records were forged and that the errors he supposedly committed were setups. Specifically, the Plaintiff denies any deficiency in his productivity or performance and argues that the mispicks and un-scanned tags attributed to him were either the fault of other employees or intentionally precipitated by the manner in which he was trained and the specific tasks he was assigned to perform.[1] He also states that he was, in fact, wearing his steel-toed shoes at all times on February 17, 2015, contrary to Araiza's claim.[2]

         The Plaintiff further alleges that on February 18, 2015, EA associate John Preston terminated the Plaintiff's employment with Caterpillar after the Plaintiff's supervisor at Caterpillar informed “his superiors . . . as well as EA Staffing management, that [the Plaintiff] was ‘not someone who we would want to hire onto the company' and that ‘we would be better off cutting tires [sic] with [the Plaintiff] at this point.'” (Compl. ¶23.) Although the Plaintiff was not informed of his termination until February 18, 2015, Preston signed an “offboarding” checklist (Pl. Resp. Ex. 3, ECF No. 39-3) dated February 16, 2015, indicating that the Plaintiff had returned his pass key, badge, and punch card, even though the Plaintiff remained in possession of those items as of that date[3] and worked his shift on February 17, 2015.

         The Plaintiff alleges that Caterpillar and EA unlawfully discriminated against him based on his age, color, sex, and race. Specifically, the Plaintiff alleges that Logsdon, Araiza, Bushor, Stayer, Ropp, Preston, and Doug Brunton (Caterpillar Human Resources employee) discriminated against him. The Plaintiff also believes that the fact he had just applied for health insurance and that he threatened to report a legal violation both contributed to his termination.

         The Plaintiff alleges that Logsdon discriminated against him when “he was not proactive in asserting his authority to ensure that [he] was trained in a timely fashion” (Vasquez Dep. 74:14-16, ECF No.36-1), but he admitted that Logsdon never made any discriminatory comments to him (Id. 77-78) and that he was sufficiently trained to perform his job (Id. 25:19- 22, 21:20-22, 45:3-22, 108:9-109:10).

         The Plaintiff alleges that Ropp discriminated against him because Ropp “was contacted for an OK to advance [his] termination, ” but the Plaintiff admits that Ropp also did not make any discriminatory comments to him. (Id. 76:3-77:21.)

         The Plaintiff alleges that Araiza discriminated against him because Araiza was “more alienated and distant from [him] after Araiza attempted to speak to the Plaintiff in Spanish and realized that the Plaintiff did not speak Spanish, ” but the Plaintiff admits that Araiza never made any discriminatory comments to him. (Id. 93:22-94:9.)

         The Plaintiff alleges that Brunton discriminated against him because “Brunton was present . . . when an offer was made by the company to the employees to vie or avail themselves of the medical plan . . . and within six days, [the Plaintiff] had been terminated and [his] medical insurance did not go through, ” although the Plaintiff admits that Brunton never said anything personally to him and that his contact with Brunton was minimal. (Id. 78:9-79:16.)

         The Plaintiff alleges that Bushor discriminated against him because he did not expedite Vasquez's training and did not show up to train Vasquez on a G2 kit on February 12, 2015. (Id. 79:17-80:6, 81:12-83:19.) The Plaintiff also believes that Bushor assigned him more laborious tasks than non-African Americans. (Id. 89:12-17.) The Plaintiff alleges that on one occasion, Bushor was engaged in a conversation with the Plaintiff and others about rock and roll when he commented that the Plaintiff would probably remember about doo-wop because he was old (Id. 85:13-86:19.) The Plaintiff admits that Bushor did not make any other comments that he considered to be discriminatory. (Id. 86:20-87:2.)

         The Plaintiff alleges that Stayer and Preston discriminated against him because they “failed in their advocacy role as [the Plaintiff's] employer at EA Staffing to give [the Plaintiff] a chance to receive a balanced assignment list.” (Id. 179:4-7.) The Plaintiff also states that Stayer “failed to correct misperceptions, and he generated emails . . . he did not clarify misstatements and did not contribute at all to clarity in the situation that occurred on the 17th in any way.” (Id. 189:4-11.) The Plaintiff alleges that Stayer was “in the loop and privy to” the communications surrounding the Plaintiff's termination and that Stayer and Preston “didn't try to go to bat for [the Plaintiff] for [him] to keep [his] job at Caterpillar.” (Id. 198:24-25; 205:20-24.)

         The Defendants argue that the Plaintiff has not submitted any evidence of discrimination and cannot point to any derogatory or discriminatory comments made by any of these employees, with the possible exception of Bushor's comment in reference to doo-wop music. Moreover, the Defendants argue, the Plaintiff's claims of discrimination based on the fact that certain employees were “in the know” ...


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