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Davis v. FCA U.S. LLC

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

August 22, 2017




         Plaintiff 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.

         I. Background

         A. Alleged Discrimination

         Plaintiff, 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).

         On 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).

         Following 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).

         Plaintiff 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 PageID 952).

         Plaintiff 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 PageID 7).

         B. Plaintiff's Bankruptcy

         Plaintiff 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).

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 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. 56(c)).

         The 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 ...

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