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McDaniels v. Plymouth-Canton Community Schools

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

October 18, 2017




         I. Introduction

         This is an employment case. Plaintiff Paula McDaniels (McDaniels) is suing defendant Plymouth-Canton Community Schools (PCCS) contending that she suffered discrimination based on her gender under Title VII and Michigan's Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act[1] when she was passed over for a promotion from an Assistant Head Maintenance Custodian to Plant Engineer on three occasions.[2]

         Before the Court is PCCS's motion for summary judgment on the grounds that there is no genuine issue of material fact that McDaniels' failure to be selected for the Plant Engineer positions was not due to her gender. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

         II. Background

         The relevant facts as gleaned from the parties' papers follow:[3]

         A. Maintenance Positions at PCCS

         The Maintenance Department at PCCS has three levels of maintenance employees: 1) Plant Engineers; 2) Assistant Head Maintenance Custodians (AHM); and; 3) Custodians. Plant Engineers are the highest-level employees in the Maintenance Department, followed by AHMs, then Custodians.

         AHM Custodians are further divided into three groups: AHM-A, who work at the high school; AHM-B, who work at the middle school; and AHM-C, who work at the elementary school level. AHM-A's are considered the highest-level employees in this group because they work in a larger school building, and confront the largest number of maintenance issues. This hierarchy is reflected in AHM's collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Under the CBA, AHM-As are paid more per hour than the other levels of AHMs.

         The Plant Engineers, the position at issue, are “responsible for the operation, care and maintenance of the heating, ventilating, lighting and plumbing systems in the building.” They are also required to “[s]upervise the care, maintenance and repairs of the building, equipment and grounds, ” and to “[c]heck that mechanical systems are operating properly.” “It is [also] expected that a Plant Engineer, in addition to the supervisory and training duties, will also actively participate in the . . . maintenance operation of the building. . .” (PCCS Ex. 2 Plant Engineer Job Description).

         As explained in the affidavit of Joe West (West), a Plant Engineer with PCCS since 1994 and a Union Representative for Plant Engineers, the duties include maintaining and repairing the building, equipment and grounds. To this end, Plant Engineers were required to perform tasks such as the following; stripping the wood gym floors, changing light ballasts, light switches and plugs; doing necessary maintenance to repair supply fan motors, including replacing wiring; changing Sloane valves and faucets; fixing plumbing leaks; repairing toilets, including changing flush valves, gaskets, and diaphragms; repairing and rewiring GFI outlets that extend downward from classroom ceilings; and repairing motors on small and mid-size equipment. (PCCS Ex. 5 Joe West affidavit).

         The AHMs and Custodians were responsible for cleaning the buildings and assisting Plant Engineers with the above duties. (PCCS Ex. 3 AHM Job Description).

         Each school building has one Plant Engineer, and a varying number of AHMs and Custodians. (PCCS Ex. 1 McDaniels' deposition at p. 34-35). There were approximately 20 Plant Engineer positions and 70 custodial positions at PCCS. Id.

         The Director of Maintenance for PCCS from 2004 until January 2014 was Harry Lau (Lau). Two females held Plant Engineer positions for PCCS under Harry Lau: Barb Bartel and June Rorabacher.

         B. McDaniels' Employment with PCCS

         McDaniels began her employment at PCCS in the Maintenance Department in 1997. She worked as an AHM-C at Hoben Elementary School (Hoben) starting in 2005. McDaniels' supervisor for the entire time she worked at Hoben was Plant Engineer Mike Hartline (Hartline). McDaniels and Hartline were close friends, and remain close friends today. (PCCS Ex. 1, McDaniels' deposition, at p. 42, 83). McDaniels admitted she had very limited experience and knowledge regarding mechanical, electrical, or plumbing systems. (PCCS Ex. 1 McDaniels' deposition at p. 13-15).

         C. The Gallimore Elementary Plant Engineer Position

         In March 2013, PCCS posted an opening for a Plant Engineer position at Gallimore Elementary School (Gallimore). When posting the Plant Engineer positions, consistent with the job description, the school district wanted to hire someone who had demonstrated experience dealing with mechanical, electrical, and plumbing issues. (Ex. 5 West affidavit). The school district gave preference to actual experience in these areas over attendance at instructional classes. (PCCS Ex. 5 West affidavit).

         In early April 2013, McDaniels applied for the Plant Engineer opening at Gallimore. She was one of 23 total applicants for the position. After submitting her application, McDaniels was selected as one of six finalists for the position, along with two other female applicants, Kathy Ladenberger and Judy Spehar. These three females were selected as finalists over twelve other male applicants for the position.

         The finalists for the Gallimore position were required to take a test and participate in interviews with the hiring committee. The hiring committee consisted of Gallimore Principal Kimberly May, who is female, Maintenance Director Harry Lau (Lau), Plant Engineers Bruce Haarala, and Union Representative West.

         After the first round of interviews were completed, on April 19, 2013, the hiring committee (including Kimberly May) unanimously agreed that Dan Wolff (Wolff) should receive the position.

         According to West, Wolff received the position because the committee believed that he had a superior understanding of, and greater experience in, handling maintenance issues than McDaniels. (Ex. 5 West affidavit). As for his background, Wolff was originally hired by PCCS on March 26, 1996, approximately one year before McDaniels. Wolff had consistently received excellent evaluations since his hire. He was also identified by his supervisor as being “very bright and ready for a leadership role.” (PCCS Ex. 9 Wolff Evaluation). Wolff had been an AHM-A at Canton High School since 2003, and therefore was a higher-level maintenance employee than McDaniels. And by virtue of working in a building more than three times larger than the elementary building where McDaniels worked, Wolff confronted more building issues on a daily basis, and, according to PCCS, received more relevant job training.

         Moreover, Lau (who was on the committee) had prior experience with Wolff. During their time together, Lau testified at deposition that he had seen Wolff successfully complete many “preventative maintenance” projects:

I had actually witnessed Dan performing duties in all these, less the heavy equipment. He had performed duties in plumbing, changing a P-trap, fixing a valve, carpentry. He would work in a door hardware. Electrical, may be changed a plug or a switch. HVAC, he would change filters, grease motors, do things in the boiler room. He was curious and asked questions and he stuck to people that were doing these things and he learned it.

(PCCS Ex. 10 Lau deposition at p. 40). Lau further testified that he encouraged Wolff to apply for the open position at Gallimore. (PCCS Ex. 10 Lau deposition at p. 43).

         In contrast to Wolff, Lau testified that McDaniels had not demonstrated the same skill set to Lau. (Ex. 10 Lau deposition at p. 41, 72). Lau testified as follows:

Q. Do you have reason to believe that Paula was not performing any of those functions that you just listed for Dan?
A. Yes. I had not witnessed her perform these duties, and as a matter of fact, she would lean on her plant engineer to perform them, even in an instance where she would perform their jobs for any amount of time, whether it be a day or a week, she would leave notes for Mike that certain things needed to be completed. (Ex.
10 Lau p. 41).
A. I'm suggesting that she would not do tasks and leave it for another employee while she was performing that job.
Q. What tasks do you specifically recall her leaving for another employee?
A. Ballast, for sure, changing ...

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