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Smith v. FCA U.S. LLC

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

June 26, 2019

RANDY SMITH, Plaintiff,
FCA U.S. LLC., Defendant.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Senior Judge

         This cause is before the Court on the Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 57). The motion is fully briefed, and the Court, being duly advised, GRANTS the motion for the reasons set forth below.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment is appropriate “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.” In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the admissible evidence presented by the non-moving party must be believed, and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the non-movant's favor. Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009) (“We view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.”). However, a party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must show with what evidence it has that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires trial. Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., Inc., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003). Finally, the non-moving party bears the burden of specifically identifying the relevant evidence of record, and “the court is not required to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Ritchie v. Glidden Co., 242 F.3d 713, 723 (7th Cir. 2001).


         The relevant background facts of record, viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, as the non-moving party, are as follow.

         The Defendant hired the Plaintiff as a Process Lead at its Tipton, Indiana plant on March 10, 2014. At the time of his hire, there were two types of Process Leads at the Tipton facility -Process Lead A and Process Lead B. The Process Lead A was responsible for administrative duties, including the Chrysler Attendance and Timekeeping System (CATS) and overtime tracking, and the Process Lead B was responsible for supervising operations on the manufacturing floor. The Plaintiff was hired as a Process Lead B. During his initial employment interview, the Plaintiff mentioned his engagement in the Oklahoma National Guard. Two months later, he requested and received a letter from the Defendant so that he could seek excusal from Oklahoma National Guard service to continue his training with the Defendant.

         On January 29, 2015, the Plaintiff was called to a meeting with HR Manager Mark McLean, Manufacturing Manager Joe Good, and Business Unit Leader Gary Faurote. During the meeting, McLean informed the Plaintiff that his overall performance rating for 2014 was a 1, which equated to the lowest possible performance and leadership ratings. McLean told the Plaintiff that his employment with the Defendant was ending and that Plaintiff had until February 5, 2015, to resign or he would be terminated. At no point during this discussion did the Plaintiff mention his military service. The Plaintiff refused to resign.

         On February 5, 2015, the same day by which the Plaintiff had to decide whether to resign, at 5:22 a.m., the Plaintiff texted his supervisor, Faurote, that he had been “called up” by the Oklahoma National Guard and would not be coming into work that day. The Plaintiff explained that he had been contacted by his unit and told that in order to retire, he would need to report the next day. The Plaintiff also stated that he would be on leave for sixty days and would send a copy of his orders to the Defendant within five days. Rather than terminate the Plaintiff's employment, as originally communicated during the January 29, 2015, meeting, the Defendant placed the Plaintiff on a military leave of absence but continued to recommend him for termination.

         The Plaintiff repeatedly sent the Defendant a copy of his military orders, but the Defendant states that it never received them. This prompted the Defendant to issue a five-day letter to the Plaintiff asking him to report to work or provide documentation for his absence. This letter is consistent with the Defendant's practices. Specifically, if an employee is absent for more than five days without documentation for the absence, the Defendant will send the employee a letter requesting that he or she return to work or provide documentation for the absence by a specific date. If the employee fails to report back to work or provide the necessary documentation, then he or she can be terminated. The Plaintiff responded to the five-day letter and provided the Defendant with a copy of his military orders. While the orders covered the Plaintiff's leave of absence, the Defendant, believing that they did not, sent a second five-day letter.

         The Plaintiff returned from military leave on April 20, 2015. Upon arriving at work, the Plaintiff was told to see salary administrator Danna Weichmann[1] because he had been fired and needed to be reinstated. The Plaintiff went to Weichmann's office at a different facility, and upon arrival in her office, the Plaintiff saw a folder with his various military orders in it. When the Plaintiff questioned Weichmann about the military orders, she accused him of forging them. Subsequently, Weichmann demanded that the Plaintiff produce additional orders to be reinstated. The Plaintiff provided additional copies of the same orders that were previously sent to Weichmann.

         The Plaintiff was reinstated to his former role on April 27, 2015. The Defendant compensated the Plaintiff for the week of April 20 to April 27, 2015. On May 5, 2015, the Defendant placed the Plaintiff on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”). The Defendant provided the Plaintiff with ninety days to improve his job performance. As part of the PIP, the Defendant provided Plaintiff with feedback on his performance every thirty days. The thirty-day review on June 4, 2015, stated that Plaintiff was “meeting the requirements of his PIP but ha[d] not gone beyond these requirements in performance. [The Plaintiff] needs to be more engaged in issues with the Administrative Process Lead, and lead changes to the process w[h]ere it can be improved.” Dkt. No. 62-9 at 4. After the thirty-day review, the Plaintiff filed his Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) Charge of Discrimination on June 9, 2015, alleging that he had been discriminated against based upon his race, African American.

         There are two versions of the sixty-day review, one which states that the Plaintiff “is meeting the requirements of his PIP but has not gone beyond these requirements in performance, ” Dkt. No. 62-9 at 6, and another which states that the Plaintiff “is still not doing anything beyond minimal requirements, ” Dkt. No. 58-2 at 6.

         The document for the final review, dated August 3, 2015, stated that Plaintiff was continuing to do the bare minimum that was required, that he was still struggling to use the computer, that he was still having trouble getting things done accurately and in a timely manner, and that he needed to start taking more of a leadership role in the ...

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