United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
STANLEY H. MILLER, Plaintiff,
GENERAL MOTORS LLC, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART GENERAL MOTORS LLC'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT 
LAURIE J. MICHELSON, District Judge.
Plaintiff Dr. Stanley Miller, a Caucasian male of European descent, applied to be the Corporate Medical Director of Defendant General Motors LLC ("GM") in 2009. He was not selected. Instead, GM promoted Dr. Patricia Padilla, a Hispanic female born in Columbia. GM says Padilla interviewed better than Miller. About a year later, GM terminated Miller's employment. GM says Miller engaged in a "myriad" of instances of inappropriate conduct. Miller believes that GM's explanations for failing to promote him and for terminating him are a veil for race, sex, or national-origin discrimination. So Miller filed this diversity action under Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act alleging, primarily, unlawful employment discrimination.
Before the Court is GM's motion for summary judgment on all of Miller's claims. (Dkt. 25, Def.'s Mot. Summ. J.) After careful consideration of the parties' written and oral arguments and thorough review of the record, the Court will grant the motion in part and deny it in part. In particular, a reasonable jury could find that Miller was objectively much more qualified than Padilla to be Corporate Medical Director, but GM nonetheless sought out Padilla to interview for the position and then placed near dispositive weight on the interviewers' subjective impressions. It would thus not be unreasonable for a jury to conclude that GM was motivated to promote a minority candidate to Corporate Medical Director. While this conclusion might suggest that a reasonable jury could also find that GM terminated Miller in part because of his sex, race, or national origin, the record simply does not permit that conclusion. Instead, the record reflects that after he did not receive the promotion that he fully expected, Miller engaged in a number of questionable acts, including failing to report an Occupational Safety and Health Administration issue to his former peer but subsequent supervisor, Padilla. On this record, Miller cannot meet his burden to show that GM's articulated reasons for termination were a pretext for discrimination.
Because General Motors moves for summary judgment, the following factual summary is from Miller's perspective. See Lexicon, Inc. v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Am., 436 F.3d 662, 667 (6th Cir. 2006).
Miller holds a doctorate in osteopathic medicine and is board-certified in occupational environmental medicine. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1, Miller Dep. at 14, 21.) "A specialist in occupational and environmental medicine... understands workplace illnesses, injuries, and anything associated with the workplace and health by and large...." (Dkt. 27, Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 4, Bender Dep. at 8.)
Miller started working for General Motors full time in 1989, first as a plant medical director, then a regional medical director, and by 2002, a group medical director. (Miller Dep. at 19, 24, 32, 39-40; Pl.'s Resp. Ex. 2, Milller CV.) As a group medical director, Miller was "responsible for all the health services activity for [GM's] global power train and product development" organization, including overseeing the health services provided at several GM plants. (Miller Dep. at 40.)
Sometime in the summer of 2009, GM's Corporate Medical Director, Dr. Joel Bender, informed his supervisor, GM's Director of Healthcare Janice Uhlig, that he would retire. (Bender Dep. at 82-83; Def.'s Mot. Ex. C, Uhlig Dep at 13-14.) Bender's "number one person" to be his successor was Miller, a preference which he conveyed to Uhlig. (Bender Dep. at 83.)
Along with Miller, GM interviewed two others for the Corporate Medical Director position. One was Dr. Sharon Stewart, an African-American woman. (Miller Dep. at 34-35.) Like Miller, Stewart was a group medical director at the time of Bender's retirement. (Miller Dep. at 34.)
The other candidate was Padilla. After completing medical school in Colombia, Padilla completed a three-year program (similar to a residency in the United States) in occupational medicine. (Padilla Dep. at 7-10.) Padilla started as a contract physician for GM in 1990, became a GM employee in 2000, and, at the time of Bender's retirement, was GM's Senior Medical Director of Latin America, Africa, and Middle East ("LAAM"). (Miller Dep. at 39; Padilla Dep. at 12, 26-28.) Padilla testified that in this role, she managed around 38, 000 GM employees in 18 facilities in 12 countries. (Padilla Dep. at 28.) Still, her position was classified by GM as only a non-executive level eight, whereas the group medical director position held by Miller (and Stewart) was an executive position, above level nine. (Padilla Dep. at 42-44; Miller Dep. at 23-24, 32.)
Miller testified that he was "surprised" that GM had considered Padilla for the position because "it didn't make sense from objective criteria": she was not an executive, not licensed to practice in the United States, not board-certified, and Bender, Padilla's direct supervisor, felt she was not qualified. (Miller Dep. at 58-59.) Indeed, it was Bender's opinion, which he conveyed to Uhlig, that while Padilla was "a very bright individual" and "up and coming, " she needed "more management experience." (Bender Dep. at 60, 62.) Bender further testified that the president of LAAM, the human resources director of LAAM, and certain "HR people" agreed with him that GM "needed to get [Padilla] more direct involvement in managing a larger staff of professionals" before she was ready for the Corporate Medical Director position. (Bender Dep. at 86-87.)
The interviews for the Corporate Medical Director position took place in October 2009. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. E, Pallagi Dep. at 39; Miller Dep. at 92.) By that time, Bender had retired and thus did not participate in the interview process. (Miller Dep. at 43.) Bender testified that he had "expected" to be more involved in selecting his replacement, and that he had asked Uhlig two or three times to discuss his successor, but "[n]o action [was] taken." (Bender Dep. at 85.) According to Miller, Bender told him that Uhlig had delayed the process. (Miller Dep. at 43.) Pallagi, however, testified that "[t]ypically, we wouldn't involve the... incumbent" in the interviews. (Pallagi Dep. at 34.)
In addition to Uhlig and Pallagi, two other GM employees served as interviewers: Joe Ponce on GM's labor-relations staff, and Arvin Jones, a manufacturing manager. (Pallagi Dep. at 6-7; Ponce Dep. at 19; Jones Dep. at 6; Miller Dep. at 46-48.) The four interviewed in pairs: Uhlig and Jones as one, Pallagi and Ponce as the other. ( See Def.'s Mot. at Pg ID 190.) The interviewers asked the candidates the same questions (Uhlig Dep. at 47), and each pair scored the candidates on the same eight categories ( see Def.'s Mot. at Pg ID 190).
Uhlig and Jones scored Padilla the highest and Miller the lowest. (Def.'s Mot. at Pg ID 190.) Uhlig recalled that after interviewing Miller, she and Jones "talked about [Miller's] communication style even throughout the interview and that it was not crisp and clear.... The message was lost in all the words." (Uhlig Dep. at 78.) Jones similarly testified, "There were times when during the process where he was not clear and we would-I do remember we would say okay, can you explain that again. And he did." (Def.'s Mot. Ex. D, Jones Dep. at 76.) Uhlig also recalled that during the interview with Padilla, it came out that she "partnered well with manufacturing, rolled up her sleeves, she got great results in solving a number of the ergonomic issues that they had in the plants." (Uhlig Dep. at 80.) Uhlig thought that Miller was arrogant. (Uhlig Dep. at 83.) Uhlig recalled that she and Jones were "very aligned in our assessments." (Uhlig Dep. at 85.) Although Jones's memory on their scoring was quite foggy, he did testify that "there were occasions where [our numerical scores of the candidates] were close or exact. I don't recollect or recall any issue where... one was way left and one was way right." (Jones Dep. at 59.) Uhlig and Jones' joint scores were thirty-two for Padilla and twenty for Miller. (Def.'s Mot. at Pg ID 190.)
Pallagi and Ponce also jointly scored Padilla higher than Miller, but only by two points. (Def.'s Mot. at Pg ID 190.) Pallagi testified: "There was at least one thing that [myself and another manufacturing group person] had tried to work with [Miller], probably, I'm going to say for 18 months leading up to the interview. And that was having his communication be much more concise and to the point." (Pallagi Dep. at 27.) Pallagi recalled that during the interview process Miller was unable to "demonstrate or articulate things that he had personally done to drive any kind of result." (Pallagi Dep. at 60.)
Although his memory had faded by the time of his deposition, Ponce was able to recall his post-interview impressions of Miller and Padilla. ( See Ponce Dep. at 57-59.) "My impression of Dr. Miller was certainly a qualified candidate, and certainly my experience with him was a positive relationship; but my recollection was it almost came across like Dr. Miller was behaving in a way that he just assumed he was going to get the job." (Ponce Dep. at 57.) Still, Ponce did not consider Miller's confidence a negative. ( Id. ) As for Padilla:
I think it's fair to say the impression I formed was one that provided some very good examples to the questions, and she didn't say anything more than was needed. She did it very succinctly to the process that we kind of look for, the STAR process, which is, you know, the situation, the task, the action the individual took, and the results[, ] and I thought she did a very good job of pulling on her experiences to respond to the questions, because, having never met her before, this was my first impression, and I will admit she struck me as someone that was very capable.
(Ponce Dep. at 59.)
After each pair of interviewers jointly scored each candidate, the four interviewers met to discuss who should replace Bender as the Corporate Medical Director. Pallagi recalled, "the take away that I had that day was that clearly, all four interviewers saw Stan [Miller] as the weakest of the three people that were interviewed, and I would say that I was not surprised by that, based on having participated in the selection...." (Pallagi Dep. at 63.) Pallagi remembered: "I think as we discussed [the] concern [over Padilla supervising executives as she had not been an executive before], people felt, based on what she had articulated in the interview process, she clearly was best ready to provide the leadership that group needed." (Pallagi Dep. at 87.)
Padilla began her duties as the Corporate Medical Director in January 2010. (Padilla Dep. at 36-37.) In this new position, Padilla was Miller's supervisor. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. A at Pg ID 189, GM Health Services Org. Chart.)
In or around April 2010, Padilla restructured GM's Health Services in a manner that affected Miller. Prior to the reorganization, Dr. Mark Singer, a senior medical director, reported to Miller; after, Singer reported directly to Padilla. (Miller Dep. at 98-99.) In Miller's words, "This was delevelling in many ways for me." (Miller Dep. at 97.) Although this was the "main change" to Miller's role, Miller also testified that prior to the reorganization he and Stewart were co-managing "all of the power train locations, " but, after, they were "broken into individual parts." (Miller Dep. at 99.) Indeed, in April, Miller inherited two plants formerly under Stewart's supervision: Fairfax, Kansas, and Lordstown, Ohio. (Miller Dep. at 108-09, 148-49; Jones Dep. at 6.) Neither Miller's pay nor level changed as a result of the reorganization. (Miller Dep. at 106.) But, to Miller, "this organizational rearrangement seemed like it was a demotion in substance." (Miller Dep. at 97.)
As such, Miller sought a meeting with Padilla. ( See Miller Dep. at 97-106.) At the meeting, Miller expressed "[his] total and objective support" for Padilla. (Miller Dep. at 97, 106.) Miller conveyed to Padilla that he understood why Stewart had been moved, but "[he] hadn't done anything but perform positively and supportively towards [Padilla], so it seemed like there was a difference in treatment between two of us. [Stewart's] for one reason, me for an unknown reason." (Miller Dep. at 105.) According to Miller, "[Padilla] said why don't you think about leaving the company, we don't really need you." (Miller Dep. at 97-98; see also id. at 105-06.) Miller was "shocked" and responded that he was "here to support" Padilla, to which Padilla replied, "you are not valued in the manner that you think and you should think about leaving." (Miller Dep. at 98, 106-07.)
In the middle of 2010, Padilla reviewed Miller's performance. In a section of the mid-year review labeled "Accountability, " Padilla wrote to Miller:
In the last six months, you have been a poor contributor: In the meetings, where technical decisions have to be taken. There was no proactive participation and/or contribution from you....
In the last six months[, ] you have opposed systematically to the proposed activities[, ] i.e.[, ]
The open resistance to the internal OSHA audit, because in your concept everything was Ok. You expressed having no doubt that your plants were in good shape (when in fact results showed t[ha]t the plants have up to 70% of error rate)[;]...
You are always argumentative and defending "old" way to do things. Too controversial to accept changes or new approaches[;]...
Resistance to visit the Fairfax plant during the crisis and to be present to support the customer[.] (Instead you went to Lansing, when there plants are not under your responsibility during working days).
You are not setting a good example as a leader....
You tried to charge GM with expenses that are personal (ACOEM Conference in Orlando, Fl... the report included days of hotel and other expenses that were not part of the business activity, but of vacation time)....
(Def.'s Mot. at Pg ID 196, 198.)
This was Miller's first negative performance review in twenty years at GM. (See Miller Dep. at 133; Padilla Dep. at 166.) At his deposition, Miller provided explanations for most of Padilla's assertions in the mid-year review. Regarding Padilla's claim that Miller resisted the OSHA audit, Miller explained that an audit had just been completed, and, further, the poor-performing plants were those recently reassigned to him from Stewart following the April 2010 reorganization. (Miller Dep. at 147-48.) As for visiting the Fairfax plant, Miller explained that while Padilla had asked him to go to the plant in May 2010, he had already told Padilla that he was adequately supporting the plant remotely. (Miller Dep. at 110-11.) As for the expense report issue, Miller explained:
Padilla approved that I was going [to the conference] with my family, she was aware, she approved it. I told her the day I was going to be on vacation. Then the first day of the conference was like a preconference. Padilla saw me [there] at the meeting.... I did not pay that first day for tuition because I used to put on these conferences, and so the first day I was going to go to multiple different sessions, so I didn't pay for one session....
(Miller Dep. at 128-29.) He continued, "And so she said because I hadn't paid for the conference that day I violated GM's expense policy to change that date and made me reimburse that date. And then she went back and said I didn't get approval to go with my family." (Miller Dep. at 129.)
After the mid-year review, Miller "met with John Quattrone [in human resources] and reviewed [his] performance evaluation, the false statements that were made, including the expense report fraud, which is obviously a very serious allegation." (Miller Dep. at 152.) Miller recalled, "And John encouraged me to follow the process, work with your leader by formally asking that there be correctness in the evaluation." (Miller Dep. at 152.)
So, in September 2010, Miller sent an email to Padilla regarding his mid-year review. Miller wrote, "I would like to schedule time to meet with you so that we might discuss what changes I feel are essential to make this feedback you have written on me factually accurate in your statements and allegations; have this feedback demonstrate consistency with your evaluations on others; have this feedback given in a way that it integrates the stakeholder feedback, and have feedback that demonstrates fairness and balance." (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at Pg ID 200.)
Padilla met with Miller on September 8, 2010. (Miller Dep. at 159-61.) Miller recalled, "She was very angry and upset that we were meeting to review changes. She stated that I'll put you on a performance improvement plan which is an action just short of termination." (Miller Dep. at 160.) Miller further testified, "I was very frightened and scared by those kind of statements from my leader.... And she said that she wouldn't make any changes until I change my attitude and again invoked fear in me and was very intimidating with her comments and not at all willing to make changes to any statement on the [performance review]." (Miller Dep. at 160.)
Nonetheless, Miller acknowledged that in late October 2010, and again in early November 2010, Padilla requested via email that Miller provide a summary of his activities during the first half of 2010 to support his request for performance-review revisions. (Miller Dep. at 161.) Miller acknowledged that he did not respond to either request: "I was not understanding what she was asking me for. I had in my [mid-year review] listed accomplishments, listed things that I was doing. So it was-it felt like she was trying to set me up, it felt like I was not-I have already provided information, I wasn't understanding why she wanted me to re-provide the same information. It was confusing as well as intimidating given all the things that she had done." (Miller Dep. at 162.)
Miller was terminated in significant part due to findings made during an investigation into an Occupational Safety and Health Administration reporting issue. ( See Def.'s Mot. Ex. G, Richardson Dep. at 99; Def.'s Mot. at 21; Pl.'s Resp. at 21.)
In the late spring or early summer of 2010, Melissa Goddard, the nursing supervisor at the Fairfax plant-a plant for which Miller had health-services oversight responsibility-noticed that the Lordstown plant-a plant for which Singer had health-services oversight responsibility-was reporting significantly fewer injuries to OSHA. (Miller Dep. at 173-76.) This was a concern for Goddard as Fairfax's higher numbers placed her "in a bad light, " and because she believed that the health-services staff at Lordstown might have been underreporting to OSHA. (Miller Dep. at 174, 176-78.) So Goddard and Cheng, a physician at the Fairfax plant, brought the issue to Miller's attention. (Miller Dep. at 177-78.)
It is undisputed that Miller did not elevate the issue to Padilla (his and Singer's direct supervisor) and that he told Goddard and Cheng not to raise the issue; but it is also undisputed that Miller brought the issue to Singer's attention "[w]ithin minutes." (Miller Dep. at 176-78, 181.) At his deposition, Miller explained why he handled the situation this way: "[Goddard] was looking at someone else's plant, not her own, and finding this discrepancy. [Lordstown] was not... under my jurisdiction.... So I said I will take this up, make sure it's addressed, it's a very important thing, I take this seriously, and I will have it addressed...." (Miller Dep. at 177.) He recalled that Goddard was under pressure from leadership at the Fairfax plant regarding the OSHA numbers and that he told Goddard, "I don't want you to address it because you could be perceived in a negative light." ( Id. ) Miller testified, "I was strongly protecting her." ( Id. ) Miller recalled telling Cheng something similar. (Miller Dep. at 178.) Miller also explained, "I felt it would undermine Dr. Singer to make it look like I was going around him who is my peer and who was responsible. And I knew it was being addressed.... [I]t was being corrected, the [Lordstown] numbers were going up." (Miller Dep. at 181.) Miller acknowledged that "after many persistent discussions on the same matter" with Goddard and Cheng, he "may" have told them (or at least one of them) that they did not want to become whistle blowers. (Miller Dep. at 178.)
The issue nonetheless came to Padilla's attention in September 2010. That month, Padilla, along with Susan Richardson, a senior human-resources representative in GM's manufacturing organization, visited the Fairfax plant. (Richardson Dep. at 10-12, 74-75.) In anticipation of Padilla's visit, Miller again told Goddard and Cheng not to raise the OSHA reporting issue with Padilla: "I said let's focus on the positive things you guys have accomplished, our agenda is complete and full, we're going to be reviewing cases about the good record keeping you are doing, let's not have that be a distraction and talk about another plant's problems, let's focus on the visit and leave her with a positive impression." (Miller Dep. at 180.) Even so, "Dr. Cheng and Melissa Goddard asked to speak with [Richardson] and Dr. Padilla privately, and at that time they shared concerns with the OSHA recordables." (Richardson Dep. at 75.)
This triggered an investigation by three individuals: Donna Fulton from GM's Global Investigations, Michael Bartolac from GM's Risk Management & Special Investigations, and Richardson. ...