United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
Elizabeth A. Stafford U.S. Magistrate Judge.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
J. Tarnow Senior United States District Judge.
January 5, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging claims
of racial discrimination, racial harassment, and retaliation
under the Michigan Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA),
and a claim for breach of contract under §301 of the
Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) against her former
employer Defendant Pinnacle Foods Group. Defendant Pinnacle
Foods filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on November 14,
2016 . Plaintiff responded  on December 5, 2016 and
Defendant replied  on December 19, 2016. A hearing was
held before the Court on June 28, 2017. For the reasons
stated below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
 is GRANTED.
an African America woman, began working at Pinnacle's
Imlay City, Michigan facility on May 15, 2012. [20-4 at
¶3]. While employed with Defendant Pinnacle, Plaintiff
was a member of the Union. “At the time of her
termination, Plaintiff was a Labeler Operator, operating a
machine that places labels on jars.” [ Id. at
April 2015, Plaintiff got into an argument with her fellow
non-management employee, Lynn Hickey (Hickey). Plaintiff
testified that Hickey told her to “Get the fuck out of
my face. I feel like punching someone.” Plaintiff
reported Hickey to the HR department, and Hickey was
suspended for five days without pay for violating company
rule 8(B) through use of intimidating or abusive language,
including threatening bodily harm. [20-4 at 18]. This was not
a terminable offense until the third infraction. [20-3 at
testified that, after reporting Hickey to HR, she had fellow
non-management employees, including Hickey and John Wilcoxin,
working deliberately to make her job more difficult by
placing all the jars on her line. [20-5 at 127]. Plaintiff
also testified that her supervisor, Camerin Levi, was aware
of the tension between Plaintiff and Hickey, but did not
separate the two employees. [20-5 at 130].
4, 2015, Plaintiff testified that the jars on her line kept
tipping over, causing her machine to malfunction, and
stopping production. [20-5 at 72; 76]. Plaintiff then shut
the machine down and walked away to contact HR to see if
there was someone who could help her fix the machine. [
Id. at 77]. Per the employee handbook company rule
4(c), “employees will not leave their work area except
at designated break time, lunch periods, and quitting times
without permission from supervisor.” [20-3 at 20].
Plaintiff admits that she was informed of this rule as part
of her training. [20-5 at 87]. In Plaintiff's deposition,
she admits that when she left her work station, she saw the
Crew Leader Lorie Evans, but did not stop to ask her to call
the supervisor with her walkie-talkie as she had done in the
past, but rather abandoned her station and walked away
because she was frustrated and was heading to HR to obtain
help. [20-5 at 83-87]. Per Plaintiff's statements, she
was in violation of Rule 4(C). [20-4 at ¶9].
submitted a written statement to HR concerning Plaintiff
leaving her station. [20-4 at 8]. Plaintiff's Supervisor,
Camerin Levi (Levi), was informed about the labeler
malfunction and of Plaintiff leaving her station. When
Plaintiff reached HR, the door was locked, so she headed back
to her station. [20-5 at 89-90]. While on her way back to her
station, Plaintiff met Levi, who took her back to HR.
[Id]. Plaintiff testified that Levi was angry at her
for leaving her station, and informed her that she could be
automatically terminated for that offense. [ Id. at
91]. At HR, Plaintiff and Levi spoke with HR representative
Marilyn Hiller (Hiller). Hiller said that appropriate action
would be taken for Plaintiff's violation of company
policy. [20-5 at 92-93]. Plaintiff was upset and crying but
returned to her machine. [20-5 at 93].
and his supervisor Jim Robeson determined that Plaintiff
should be suspended pending investigation of her rule
violation, which had resulted in 60 minutes of downtime for
the machine. [20-4 at ¶11]. Plaintiff was not terminated
for this violation. After being informed of her suspension,
Plaintiff was walked out by a guard. [20-5 at 99]. Plaintiff
went to her car in the facility's parking lot, briefly
left to get food, and returned to have a friend drive her
home because she was upset. [Id]. Upon her return,
three employees, Brenda Stiff (Stiff), John Wilcoxin
(Wilcoxin) and Joan Brooks (Brooks) were in the parking lot.
Brooks and Wilcoxin, who were leaving their shift, stopped to
talk to Stiff and another employee who were coming in to
start their shift [20-4 at 12-14].
Brooks and Wilcoxin submitted witness statements to HR about
the following events in the parking lot. [20-4 at ¶13].
They all reported that, while they were in the parking lot,
Plaintiff flipped them the middle finger several times. [20-4
at 12-14]. Plaintiff admits in her deposition that she did
stick her middle finger up and gesture towards Wilcoxin.
[20-5 at 103]. After the group of four finished their
conversation, Brooks and Wilcoxin continued to their cars
while the other employees headed to their shift.
[Id]. Brooks and Wilcoxin reported that as they were
leaving the parking lot, in their own cars with the windows
rolled down, they observed Plaintiff made a gesture imitating
fellatio and yelled “Faggot!” at Wilcoxin several
times. [Id]. Plaintiff testified that she knew that
Wilcoxin was gay. [20-5 at 105]. While Plaintiff admits that
she gestured with her middle finger, she denies having used
any derogatory language or making any sexually obscene
gesture at Wilcoxin [Id].
Manager Michael Ryan (Ryan) and Plant Manager Jeannene
Schaffnit reviewed the witness statements and determined that
Plaintiff's actions violated company rule 11(c), employee
assault, a terminable offense for first time offenders.
Plaintiff was not interviewed as part of this investigation.
She was ultimately terminated for her violation of Rule
judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine
issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is
entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party has the burden of
establishing that there are no genuine issues of material
fact, which may be accomplished by demonstrating that the
nonmoving party lacks evidence to support an essential
element of its case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The Court must construe the evidence
and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,