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Tillotson v. Manitowac Company, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Northern Division

May 2, 2017



          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Kim Tillotson filed a complaint naming his former employer, The Manitowoc Company, Inc., (“Manitowoc”) as a Defendant and alleging violations of the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq., and the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act (“ELCRA”), M.C.L. § 37.2201, et seq. ECF No. 1. On January 6, 2016, eight days later, Tillotson filed an amended complaint, which brought the same two claims. ECF No. 4. Manitowoc responded with a motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 29. On February 3, 2017, the Court granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the complaint. ECF No. 41. On March 3, 2017, Tillotson filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment, arguing that the Court improperly made factual determinations in resolving the motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 43. The Court directed Defendant to respond, and it did so. ECF Nos. 44, 45. For the reasons stated below, Tillotson's motion to alter or amend the judgment will be denied.


         The underlying facts were summarized in the Court's February 3, 2017, Opinion and Order. ECF No. 41. For clarity, they will be briefly summarized. Tillotson worked for Manitowoc as a product sales manager, a sales position that involved frequent travel. Those travel requirements caused difficulty for Tillotson because he suffers from “dumping syndrome, ” a condition stemming from damage Tillotson sustained to the vagus nerves in his stomach earlier in life. Even though the syndrome sometimes resulted in Tillotson being forced to use the bathroom up to eight times a day, he kept the condition secret from Manitowoc for a considerable period of time and performed his job duties.

         In 2014, Tillotson's workload increased and his symptoms worsened. To explore the possibility of an accommodation, Tillotson informed a human resources employee about his condition. That employee advised Tillotson to document his medical issues and contact Matrix Absence Management, Inc., a third-party contractor Manitowoc used to handle applications for leaves of absence. Tillotson submitted a request. Matrix informed Tillotson that his request would be approved, pending submission of medical certification that he was suffering from a serious health condition. Tillotson's doctor submitted a certificate which recommended certain work restrictions, but did not indicate that Tillotson required leave or otherwise recommend immediate action. Because the certificate did not indicate that Tillotson was suffering from a serious health condition, Matrix denied Tillotson's request for leave. Tillotson subsequently met with his supervisor and a human resources representative regarding the work restrictions imposed by his doctor. Together, the three decided that no immediate changes to Tillotson's duties were required. Tillotson believed that future changes would be necessary, but Tillotson's duties at the time were consistent with the work restrictions.

         In April 2015, there was a reduction in force within Manitowoc. Tillotson was considered for termination, but not discharged. The precise timeline is unclear, but it appears that the decision to retain Tillotson through the April 2015 reduction was made before Tillotson disclosed the details of his work restrictions to his boss. In the months that followed Tillotson's disclosure, Manitowoc employees twice allegedly made statements to third parties where they suggested that “you can't have a sales guy who can't travel.” Humphreys Dep. at 27.

         In November 2015, Tillotson was discharged. According to Mr. Willoughby, the executive who made the decision to discharge Tillotson, the determination was based on a rubric the company had previously created. That rubric ranked an employee's “performance” and “potential.” Of the four product sales managers employed at the location where Tillotson worked, Tillotson's ranking-Medium Perfomance/Medium Potential-was the lowest. Tim Wilczak had a High Performance/High Potential ranking. Jeffrey Michael had a High Performance/Medium Potential ranking. Pam Sharrar had a Medium Performance/High Potential ranking. The rubric was created during Manitowoc's “annual talent assessment process.” The record does not specify when that assessment process occurred, but Tillotson appeared to concede in his briefing on the motion for summary judgment that it was created prior to the April 2015 reduction in force. See Pl. Resp. at 20, ECF No. 31; February 3, 2017, Op. & Order at 25.


         Tillotson is seeking relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). That Rule allows a party to file a “motion to alter or amend a judgment.” Id. Motions under Rule 59(e) may be granted “if there is a clear error of law, newly discovered evidence, an intervening change in controlling law, or to prevent manifest injustice.” GenCorp, Inc. v. Am. Int'l Underwriters, 178 F.3d 804, 834 (6th Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted). “Rule 59(e) motions cannot be used to present new arguments that could have been raised prior to judgment.” Howard v. United States, 533 F.3d 472, 475 (6th Cir. 2008). If a party is effectively attempting to “‘re-argue a case' . . . the district court may well deny the Rule 59(e) motion on that ground.” Id. (quoting Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians v. Engler, 146 F.3d 367, 374 (6th Cir. 1998)). Likewise, a Rule 59(e) motion is not an appropriate vehicle to “‘submit evidence which could have been previously submitted in the exercise of reasonable diligence.'” Kenneth Henes Special Projects Procurement v. Cont'l Biomass Indus., Inc., 86 F.Supp.2d 721, 726 (E.D. Mich. 2000) (quoting Nagle Industries, Inc. v. Ford Motor Company, 175 F.R.D. 251, 254 (E.D. Mich. 1997)).



         Tillotson takes issue with a portion of the Court's analysis regarding his FMLA retaliation claim. He does not challenge the dismissal of his FMLA interference or age discrimination claims. As regards the retaliation claim, the Court first found that Tillotson had met his burden of establishing a prima facie case of FMLA retaliation under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. Under that framework, once a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of retaliation, the burden shifts to the defendant to “articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action.” Feb. 3, 2017, Op. & Order at 24 (citing Donald v. Sybra, Inc., 667 F.3d 757, 762 (6th Cir. 2012). Manitowoc asserted that Tillotson was discharged because he “ranked as the weakest product sales manager at Delfield in terms of performance and potential.” Id. The Court then rejected Tillotson's assertion that Manitowoc had “not met its burden of offering evidence of a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action”:

Specifically, Tillotson asserts that, because no evidence has been provided detailing how the rubric scores were calculated, the rubric cannot provide a legitimate reason for the discharge. However, Tillotson offers no legal authority that supports the assertion that Manitowoc must specifically prove each of the factors that may have contributed to the ultimate rationale for discharging Tillotson. Tillotson does not challenge the fact that the rubric identified him as the lowest ranked product sales manager at Delfield. Likewise, Tillotson does not contest Manitowoc's representations (supported by deposition testimony) that the rubric was created before Tillotson formally made his request for a reduced schedule. See Pl. Resp. at 20, ECF No. 31 (noting that the decisionmaker had no knowledge of Tillotson's request for a modified schedule until after the April 2015 reduction in force and further noting that there was no evidence that employees were evaluated for discharge differently in April 2015 than November ...

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