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Brown v. Michigan State University Board of Trustees

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

March 2, 2017




         Plaintiff Catryina Brown brings this action against Defendant Michigan State University Board of Trustees (“MSU”), claiming race and sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (“Title VII”), and under the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act (“ELCRA”), Mich. Comp. Laws § 37.2101 et seq. Before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 21.) Plaintiff has filed a response to the motion, and Defendant has filed a reply. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion will be granted.


         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires the Court to grant summary judgment “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment the Court must look beyond the pleadings and assess the proof to determine whether there is a genuine need for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). “[T]he district court must construe the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” Martin v. Cincinnati Gas & Elec. Co., 561 F.3d 439, 443 (6th Cir. 2009). When such a motion is filed by the defendant, the “plaintiff must do more than rely merely on the allegations of her pleadings or identify a ‘metaphysical doubt' or hypothetical ‘plausibility' based on a lack of evidence; [a plaintiff] is obliged to come forward with ‘specific facts, ' based on ‘discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits[.]'” Chappell v. City of Cleveland, 585 F.3d 901, 912 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586-87). The proper inquiry is whether the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986); see generally Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1476-80 (6th Cir. 1989).


         Plaintiff attended Michigan State University from 2003 to 2010, during which time she was a student custodian for the university's Infrastructure, Planning and Facilities (“IPF”) unit. In August 2011, Defendant hired Plaintiff as a non-student, on-call custodial employee. In January 2012, Plaintiff became a Temporary Custodian I, which is a three-month position that is renewable for up to nine months. Like other temporary employees, a Temporary Custodian is evaluated at the end of every three months. At the end of the nine-month period, the temporary employee is off work for a week while they are reevaluated. (Fox-Elster Dep. 11, ECF No. 22-6.) Defendant then decides whether to continue the employment for another nine-months as a temporary employee. If the employee's reviews are satisfactory, the temporary employee can apply for a permanent position, if one is available. (Id. at 12-13.)

         The Custodian I position requires a “casual knowledge of cleaning methods, techniques and equipment.” (ECF No. 22-7.) The employee is required to perform “cleaning and housekeeping activities” in an assigned area. (Id.) During Plaintiffs first year of non-student employment, from August 2011 to October 2012, Plaintiff was assigned to work in buildings that followed the “OS1” cleaning system. According to Brandon Baswell, the Custodial Services Manager for the IPF unit, the OS1 system uses a “job card protocol” that “is very specific and detailed in terms of cleaning chemicals, estimated time for each job, and workflow.” (Baswell Aff ¶ 3, ECF No. 21-3.) It is “designed to ensure consistency and equity in work flow[.]” (Id. at ¶ 6.) Because the university was in the process of adopting the OS1 system in 2012, not all of its buildings used it. After October 2012, Plaintiff worked in buildings that did not use the OS1 cleaning system.

         A performance evaluation of Plaintiff from August 2012 shows that she fell below expectations in “quantity of work, ” and “attitude and cooperation.” (ECF No. 21-8.) Plaintiffs supervisor from that time period told Baswell that the results of this evaluation were due to Plaintiff s failure to follow the OS1 process in a timely manner. (Baswell Dep. 15, ECF No. 21-7.) In contrast, Plaintiff s performance evaluations from October 2012, February 2013, May 2013, and February 2014, show that she met or exceeded expectations in all categories. (ECF Nos. 22-8, 22-9, 22-10, 22-11.) However, most of these evaluations were based on Plaintiffs performance in buildings that did not use the OS1 system.

         In July 2014, Plaintiff obtained a permanent position as a Custodian I, assigned to work in the Administration Building, which uses the OS1 cleaning system. Per Defendant's contract with the union, Plaintiffs position was subject to a probationary period of 6 months or 1040 hours. At the beginning of this period, Plaintiff complained about the OS1 system and the job cards. (Pl.'s Dep. 83, ECF No. 21-1.) She determined that other employees “figured out a way that made more sense than going by the job cards[.]” (Id. at 84.) For instance, she used a cleaning agent that was different from the one approved by the job card, because that is what another employee told her to do. (Id. at 78.) She complained to her supervisor that others were not following the job cards. (Id. at 88.)

         Several months later, in September 2014, the only other full-time custodial employee in the Administrative Building became injured, so Plaintiff took over as the building head. “The building head is not a supervisor, but is in a position of authority in that they provide oversight with respect to the daily workflow and answer questions for other staff.” (Ex. 14 to Pl.'s Resp., ECF No. 22-15, PageID.469.) At the time, Sean Fox-Elster was a Service Manager for Defendant; one of his responsibilities was to determine how much staffing was needed for custodial work at various buildings on campus. (Fox-Elster Dep. 14, ECF No. 21-5.) He was also responsible for making any necessary changes to the OS1 job cards. (Id.)

         In December 2014, Fox-Elster went to the Administration Building to meet with Plaintiff because her supervisor notified him of some concerns that she had raised about the job cards. (Id. at 22, 25.) At the meeting, Plaintiff told Fox-Elster that another employee had complained that there was too much work assigned on the job cards. (Pl.'s Dep. 90, ECF No. 21-1.) Plaintiff believed that some of the cards were “wrong” and “confusing.” (Id. at 91.) She told Fox-Elster that she had been trained to use different cards that were created by another employee, and Plaintiff followed those other cards. (Id. at 91, 93, 95.) She tried to persuade Fox-Elster that his job cards were insufficient. (Id. at 95.) But he advised her to follow his cards before they would discuss making changes to them. (Fox-Elster Dep. 19, 23; Pl.'s Dep. 94.) On one occasion, after Plaintiff argued with management and custodial staff about the job cards, she left work in the middle of her shift. (Pl.'s Dep. 96.)

         Plaintiff's probationary period was set to expire in January 2015. On January 28, 2015, Defendant offered her an extension of that period. Plaintiff indicated that she was not interested in extending her probation. (Pl.'s Dep. 96.) She was told that the alternative would be termination; nevertheless, she refused to extend her probation. (Id.) Defendant subsequently terminated her, effective February 3, 2015.

         III. A. Discrimination

         Plaintiff claims that Defendant terminated her on account of her race and gender. Under Title VII, it is unlawful for an employer to discharge an employee because of the employee's race or sex. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). The ELCRA prohibits similar conduct. Mich. Comp. Laws § 37.2202(1)(a). Plaintiff may prove discrimination by direct evidence, or by indirect evidence under the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973) and Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 256 (1981). See Mitchell v. Toledo Hosp., 964 F.2d 577, 582 (6th Cir. 1992) (noting that the McDonnell Douglas/Burdine framework applies ...

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