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Roderick v. BRC Rubber and Plastics

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

August 20, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 by Defendant BRC Rubber & Plastics, Inc. (“BRC”) (Filing No. 34). Also pending before the Court is a Motion for Leave to Submit Newly Discovered Evidence in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff Byron Roderick (“Roderick”) (Filing No. 39). Roderick filed this lawsuit after he felt he had experienced discrimination and harassment based on his sexual orientation at BRC, his former place of employment. In his Amended Complaint, Roderick asserts a claim for sex discrimination and harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”). For the following reasons, Roderick's Motion to submit new evidence is denied and BRC's summary judgment motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are not necessarily objectively true, but as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the facts are presented in the light most favorable to Roderick as the non-moving party. See Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         BRC is a rubber and plastic injection molding company that operates a manufacturing plant in Hartford City, Indiana, where it makes rubber injection molding for the automotive industry (Filing No. 34-2 at 2). After working at BRC for twenty-three years Roderick resigned his employment at BRC on June 1, 2017, alleging discrimination and harassment based on his sexual orientation. Roderick is an openly gay male, and during his employment at BRC, most of the employees were aware that he is gay (Filing No. 34-1 at 2, 5, 8).

         Roderick began working at BRC on November 10, 1993 as a press operator. About six months later, he moved into the position of lead quality employee on the day shift in the quality department at BRC's Hartford City plant, where he remained for most of his of employment. The quality department day shift consisted of two individuals auditing parts on the floor and three individuals in the office, which included Roderick in the office. Linda Overmyer (“Overmyer”) was Roderick's supervisor for nine years in the quality department. Id. at 5-6.

         For several years, Roderick had workplace attendance problems. BRC provided multiple warnings to Roderick about his attendance. On June 18, 2010, Roderick was given a warning for a second time of being absent without calling in. A month later, on July 23, 2010, he received another warning for absences. Three days later, on July 26, 2010, Roderick received yet another written warning for attendance problems. On August 18, 2010, he received a final written warning for his absences and was notified if he accumulated three more attendance points he would be terminated. On September 10, 2010, Roderick received a warning that he had accumulated another attendance point. Id. at 23-24, 90-94. The following year, Roderick received a “verbal warning” on February 9, 2011, for again accumulating eight points on his attendance record. He continued to receive warnings about his workplace attendance issues in 2013 and 2014 (Filing No. 34-1 at 95-100).

         Roderick admits that in 2016 and 2017, his attendance was “horrible.” (Filing No. 34-1 at 23.) He received further warnings about his attendance problems on August 2, 2016, September 6, 2016, November 22, 2016, and March 8, 2017. Id. at 24, 102-04, 106.

         On March 8, 2016, Roderick received a warning for laughing at an employee who had made a mistake, which made the employee feel embarrassed and stupid. Id. at 101. On January 26, 2017, he received a warning for eating on the production floor. Id. at 105.

         In August 2016, Roderick had a meeting with Dave Laspas (“Laspas”), BRC's operations manager, and Mary Conden (“Conden”), BRC's human resources manager (Filing No. 34-1 at 10- 11; Filing No. 34-2 at 3). The meeting was held to address a complaint made by another BRC employee who alleged that Roderick was messaging his girlfriend about the possibility of making a sex video for money. In the meeting with Laspas and Conden, Roderick denied that his messages had anything to do with making a sex video, and Roderick rationalized that what happened outside of work hours was none of BRC's business (Filing No. 34-3 at 2; Filing No. 34-2 at 5; Filing No. 34-1 at 10-11).

         Conden and Overmyer (Roderick's direct supervisor) had already met with Roderick regarding the incident, and he had told them that what happened outside of work hours was none of BRC's business, so Laspas and Conden decided to meet together with Roderick after the initial meeting between Roderick and Conden and Overmyer (Filing No. 36-2 at 2; Filing No. 34-2 at 3- 4). When Roderick explained to Laspas and Conden that his conduct outside of work hours was not BRC's concern, they clarified that Roderick represented BRC at all times, even outside of work hours, and he acknowledged understanding their position and explained that he would block the other BRC employee and his girlfriend on Facebook (Filing No. 34-1 at 11). During the meeting, Roderick also was counseled about his poor attendance, which they explained was affecting his overall performance, and he was encouraged to make a concerted effort to improve his attendance.

         In 2016, Chuck Chaffee (“Chaffee”), BRC's owner and CEO, and other members of BRC's management team were aware of poor performance and other problems in the quality department at the Hartford City plant. BRC management asked Laspas, as the operations manager, to take any corrective action necessary to improve the Hartford City quality department (Filing No. 34-5 at 1). There were numerous, ongoing discussions with Overmyer, the manager of the quality department, about communication issues and other issues that were affecting the whole department (Filing No. 34-1 at 9).

         After the August 2016 meeting, Laspas began assigning new tasks to Roderick. The team members in the quality department, including Roderick, were informed during a meeting that Laspas was taking over the day-to-day operations of the department because of the ongoing issues in the department. Laspas had one-on-one meetings with each member of the quality department and planned to have additional one-on-one meetings every thirty days. Laspas and Conden had discussions with team members of the quality department throughout 2016 concerning the ongoing problems in the department (Filing No. 34-1 at 9-10; Filing No. 34-2 at 5; Filing No. 34-3 at 5).

         In September 2016, Roderick met with Laspas, Conden, and Overmyer to discuss how Roderick's work performance had not improved. Roderick was counseled that his performance needed to improve, he needed to report safety issues, and he needed to assist other employees when requested. After the meeting, Overmyer told Roderick that she did not have a problem with his work performance, but Roderick knew that Overmyer also was being counseled (Filing No. 34-1 at 12-13).

         On October 21, 2016, Roderick again met with Laspas, Conden, and Overmyer. Laspas told Roderick that he was frustrated with Roderick's performance despite numerous coaching sessions. Laspas also told Roderick that Roderick had shown a lack of commitment, desire, and interest in performing his assigned duties. Laspas informed Roderick that these matters needed immediate attention, and he placed Roderick on a performance improvement plan, of which Roderick received a copy. Laspas told Roderick that he had never seen anyone successfully complete a performance improvement plan, but Laspas would be there for Roderick if he needed help. Id. at 14, 15, 88.

         After approximately thirty days, Laspas informed Roderick that Roderick had not complied with his performance improvement plan, and BRC was moving him out of the quality department and returning him to production. BRC gave Roderick the option of taking a job as a press operator or an inspector/finisher. BRC also gave Roderick the choice of any shift, and Roderick chose to be an inspector/finisher on the third shift. Other employees in the quality department also were moved to other positions. Near the end of 2016, Overmyer was demoted in the quality department from the position of quality manager to quality engineer. Around that same time, Vicky Brinker (“Brinker”), another employee in the quality department, had been receiving counseling because of work performance issues, and BRC removed Brinker from the quality department because of her work issues. Overmyer and Brinker were the two other employees who worked with Roderick in the office of the quality department. Roderick explained that nobody wanted to deal with Laspas because he was tough on everybody and threatened to walk people “out the door” (Filing No. 34-2 at 7; Filing No. 34-1 at 15-17).

         On December 1, 2016, Roderick sent an email to BRC's owner, Chaffee, to “inform [him] of [Roderick's] feelings concerning his current situation” following his “recent demotion.” (Filing No. 36-4 at 14.) Roderick complained that he had been “meticulously criticized for every effort [he had] put forth, ” which made him feel “increased anxiety due to the hostile environment that has been created by this situation.” Id. Roderick's email to Chaffee concluded, “Dave Laspas has threatened to walk employees out the door, myself included. So I try to avoid him.” Id.

         Chaffee called Roderick after receiving the email and explained to Roderick that BRC management had asked Laspas to restructure the quality department as needed to help the company. Chaffee told Roderick that he would look into the issue and then ask the company president and human resources manager to review the issue (Filing No. 34-5 at 1-2; Filing No. 34-1 at 18, 20).

         On December 5, 2016, the human resources manager met with Roderick to discuss his concerns. Roderick told him that he was being harassed, he was upset with the whole situation, and he was upset with “the way Dave has done people” by his threatening behavior and threatening people to walk them out (Filing No. 34-1 at 19; Filing No. 34-6 at 1-2). Roderick did not tell the human resources manager that he had been singled out by Laspas, but rather, that Laspas treated all BRC's employees poorly (Filing No. 34-6 at 2).

         On December 8, 2016, Roderick met with the human resources manager, the plant manager, and the new quality department manager. Roderick was offered an opportunity to return to the quality department during the day shift with a fresh start, to resume the document control function that Roderick previously had performed, and to receive his pay at his previous level. Roderick was told he still would have to deal with Laspas even though he worked a different shift because Laspas, as the operations manager, ultimately was in charge of the facility. BRC made this offer after internal discussions because Roderick had been a long-time employee, he had expressed a desire to remain in the quality department, and BRC believed that Roderick might be able to improve his performance with the new manager in the quality department. The choice whether to return to his previous position and pay or to remain on third shift was left up to Roderick. Roderick told them that he wanted to remain on third shift so that he could avoid Laspas. After the December 8, 2016 meeting, neither the human resources manager nor any other employee of BRC received any further complaints from Roderick concerning Laspas (Filing No. 34-1 at 21- 22; Filing No. 34-6 at 2).

         Roderick's work hours on the third shift were 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. Laspas generally worked from 6:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. On occasion, Laspas would come in at 5:00 a.m. or 6:00 a.m. because he was working on a new system for BRC. While Roderick was working on the third shift, between January 2017 and June 1, 2017 (when Roderick quit his job at BRC), Laspas went out of his way to walk by Roderick a total of three times and said Roderick's name and nothing else. Laspas walked through all areas of the plant because he was the operations manager. Roderick acknowledged that Laspas did nothing else toward him ...

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