United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT (DOC. 13)
CARAM STEEH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Valarie Davis alleges two hostile work environment claims
against her employer, Fiat Chrysler Automobile U.S. LLC.
Count I alleges a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964. Count II alleges a violation of Michigan's
Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA). The matter is
presently before the Court on defendant's motion for
summary judgment. Oral argument was held on April 25, 2017.
For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion for
summary judgment is GRANTED.
an African American woman, is a clay modeler (sculptor) who
has worked for defendant since March 27, 2000. (Doc. 1 at
PageID 2). Plaintiff alleges that she was “treated
different[ly] from similarly situated white employees”
and subject to “horrific discriminatory conduct”
from her co-workers and managers. (Id.). Plaintiff
states that this discrimination began around 2001 while she
was working in Studio 1. (Doc. 13-3 at PageID 174).
April 27, 2004, plaintiff submitted a letter to Ms. Gibbs,
her EEOC representative, detailing various actions by
co-workers and management that she considered “blatant
racial discrimination” that may be
“violations” of “federal law[s]” and
her “civil rights”. (Doc. 13-3 at PageID 178).
Plaintiff's co-workers referred to her as “chicky
monkey” and their “little brown friend.”
(Doc. 1 at PageID 3; Doc. 13-3 at PageID 175). They commented
that plaintiff, a Detroit resident, “live[d] in the
ghetto.” (Doc. 13-3 at PageID 176). While plaintiff was
pregnant, they asked her if she “had chocolate milk in
her breast.” (Doc. 1 at PageID 3; Doc. 13-3 at PageID
175). Another co-worker used a “monkey calling
device” that produced a “whistle sound. . .
designed to attract monkeys” whenever she walked by.
(Doc. 1 at PageID 2; Doc. 13-3 at PageID 175).
Plaintiff's supervisor ridiculed her for wearing a Roots
sweatshirt in an apparent reference to the television
miniseries, Roots, which recounts the history of an
African man sold into slavery in America, and his
descendants. (Doc. 13-3 at PageID 175). They referred to
other African American employees as “Colored” and
“made remarks about their kinky hair.” (Doc. 13-3
at PageID 175). Plaintiff states that she apprised management
and human resources of many of these acts. (Doc. 1 at PageID
3). Plaintiff also contacted her union steward on several
occasions, submitting complaints and paperwork to aid an
investigation. (Doc. 13-3 at PageID 176). Dissatisfied with
their response, plaintiff met with another union
representative in April 2004, “who strongly recommended
that [she] take [her] issues to” defendant's
“EEOC representative.” (Doc. 13-3 at PageID 176).
her April 27, 2004 complaint, plaintiff asserts that she did
not experience any further discrimination while working in
Studio 1. (Doc. 13-2 at PageID 60; Doc. 14 at PageID 381).
moved from Studio 1 to Studio 7/8 in 2012. (Doc. 13-2 at
PageID 130). Discrimination allegedly resumed at an
unspecified point following this move. Plaintiff filed a
complaint with defendant's Diversity Office on March 25,
2013, stating that throughout the past two years, she had
experienced several actions that she found
“unprofessional, ignorant. . . and even racist.”
(Doc. 13-5 at PageID 219-21). These acts included unspecified
comments from co-workers and “a monkey hanging from a
cubical with Christmas lights wrapped around its neck.”
(Doc. 13-5 at PageID 220). Defendant responded by conducting
a walk-through of Studio 7/8. (Doc. 13-6 at PageID 222).
Kymberly Kinchen, Keith Worthy, and Lisa Hornung observed a
monkey hanging from a cubicle by its arms with Christmas
lights wrapped around its waist. (Id.). They noted a
second monkey sitting on top of an overhead cabinet at the
opposite end of the studio and concluded that “neither
monkey[ ] appeared to be racially offensive in any
way.” (Id.). Following this inspection, on
April 8, 2013, Kinchen and Worthy met with plaintiff to
discuss her concerns. (Id.). Plaintiff emailed
Kinchen that evening to report that both monkeys were still
displayed in Studio 7/8 and that she took this “very
seriously” given that “monkeys have”
historically “been used to depict” African
Americans “in derogatory terms.” (Doc. 14-27 at
asserts that her co-workers displayed eight to ten monkeys in
Studio 7/8 between 2013 and January 2015. (Doc. 1 at PageID
3). The monkeys appeared in various forms including
photographs within a calendar, stuffed and inflatable
animals, a ceramic mold, and a Valentine's Day card given
to plaintiff that depicted a monkey. (Doc. 1 at PageID 4).
Plaintiff also alleges that her co-workers taunted her by
repeating Johnny Cochran's statement; “if it does
not fit, you must acquit.” (Id.). Plaintiff
complained to management and/or human resources about the
monkeys on or about March 25, 2013, February 10, 2014, and
February 13, 2015. (Id.). She also
“repeatedly” informed her co-workers that the
monkeys offended her and were “racially
insensitive.” (Id.). Plaintiff filed a charge
of discrimination with the EEOC on March 10, 2015. (Doc.
13-10 at PageID 276). She received notice of the EECO's
decision to close its file on her charge as well as her suit
rights on August 20, 2015. (Doc. 13-11 at PageID 277).
Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on October 26, 2015. (Doc. 1 at
filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition on April 30, 2008.
(Doc. 13-12 at PageID 281-93). Her Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan
was confirmed on October 3, 2008. (Doc. 13-14 at PageID
308-09). The plan was modified for the last time on July 25,
2013. (Doc. 13-15 at PageID 310-11). The Bankruptcy Court for
the Eastern District of Michigan issued an order discharging
plaintiff after the completion of her Chapter 13 plan on
December 10, 2013. (Doc. 13-16 at PageID 312-13).
56(c) empowers a court to render summary judgment “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.” Williams v. Mehra, 186 F.3d
685, 689 (6th Cir. 1999) (en banc) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P.
standard for determining whether summary judgment is
appropriate is “‘whether the evidence presents a
sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or
whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a
matter of law.'” Amway Distrib. Benefits
Ass'n v. Northfield Ins. Co., 323 F.3d 386, 390 (6th
Cir. 2003) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)). The evidence and all reasonable
inferences must be construed in the light most favorable to
the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd.
v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986);
Redding v. St. Eward, 241 F.3d 530, 532 (6th Cir.
2001). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged
factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an
otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the