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Canning v. FCA U.S. LLC.

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

October 31, 2017

Patricia Canning, Plaintiff,
v.
FCA U.S. LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          SEAN F. COX UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This is an employment discrimination case. Plaintiff has brought (1) retaliation claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et. seq., and the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA), M.C.L. § 37.2101 et. seq., and (2) hostile work environment claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et. seq., and the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act (PWDCRA), M.C.L. § 37.1101 et. seq. This matter is before the Court, following the close of discovery, on Defendant's motion for summary judgment. The parties have fully briefed the issues and the Court heard oral argument on October 26, 2017.

         For the reasons below, the Court shall grant the motion in part and deny it in part. The Court concludes that Defendant is not entitled to summary judgment in its favor on Plaintiff's retaliation claims because, construing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, there are genuine issues of material fact for trial. But the Court shall grant Defendant's motion as to Plaintiff's hostile work environment claims because she has failed to establish that she was subject to unwelcome harassment based on her disability.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Patricia Canning began working at Defendant FCA U.S. LLC in 1990. Def. Stmt. of Material Facts Not in Dispute, ¶ 1 (Doc. # 18). From February 2010 to October 2013, Plaintiff was the Terminal Manager in Defendant's Toledo, Ohio transport center, reporting to Martin DiFiore. Id. at ¶ 2. In October 2013, Plaintiff obtained a position as Defendant's Northern Borders Manager/FAST (Free and Secured Trade) coordinator. Id. at ¶ 4. Plaintiff started the position on a part-time basis and began working full-time later that fall. Id.

         The dispute in this case arises from Defendant's annual performance evaluation process for certain management-level employees. This process, called Performance Leadership Management (PLM), evaluates employees based on their work performance and leadership skills. Id. at ¶ 6. Employees receive a PLM rating based on the following 9-box matrix:

7

8

9

4

5

6

1

2

3

         The Y-axis evaluates performance and the X-axis evaluates leadership (for instance, a score of 3 reflects high leadership but low performance). Green box scores (6, 8, 9) are the highest possible scores, yellow box scores (3, 5, 7) are acceptable, orange box scores (2, 4) show that improvement is needed, and a red box score (1) is the lowest possible.[1] Id. An employee's PLM form also includes substantive comments regarding the employee's leadership skills and work performance. Id.

         Once a PLM form is prepared, calibration meetings occur where managers meet with their peers and fellow managers to review the PLMs. Id. at ¶ 7. An employee's PLM rating may be adjusted following calibration meetings. Schmidt Dep., 38. Defendant has informal guidelines for how many employees should be in each score category: about 15 percent in the red, 60 percent in the yellow, and 25 percent in the green. Id. at 20-22; DiFiore Dep., 38.

         In October 2013, Plaintiff was responsible for preparing PLM forms for two of her subordinates, Joe Russo and Ritchie Burns. Def. Stmt., ¶ 8. Burns was 48 years old. Id. at ¶ 30. Plaintiff gave each employee a “5” rating. Id. These scores were then addressed at a calibration meeting attended by Plaintiff, terminal managers from Detroit, Windsor, and Toledo, DiFiore, and HR representative Stacey Simonson. Id.

         At the meeting, Plaintiff advocated in favor of Burns' rating and brought documents to support her position. DiFiore Dep., 90; Pl. Dep., 215. Burns' score was discussed alongside that of another employee, Detroit supervisor Steve Daidone, who had also received a “5” rating. Pl. Dep., 110-11. Daidone was in his 60s. Def. Stmt., ¶ 30. There was a discussion about which of the two employees should be demoted to a “4” rating. Pl. Dep., 110-11. None of the materials Plaintiff brought were considered during this discussion. Id. at 215. After a consensus could not be reached, a blind vote was held to determine which employee would be rated a “4”. Id. at 110-11. Following the vote, Burns received a “4” rating. Id. at 122. Those voting in favor had agreed that Daidone should not receive a “4” because Detroit already had two employees with that rating. Id. at 124. Plaintiff received little explanation for why Burns' score was reduced. Id.

         Following the meeting, Plaintiff met with DiFiore and Simonson. Id. at 157. DiFiore and Simonson instructed Plaintiff to change Burns' rating, which she did. Id. at 86. Plaintiff did not substantively alter the comments on the PLM. Id. at 124.

         Shortly thereafter, a second level calibration meeting occurred. DiFiore Dep., 112. At the time, Burn's PLM indicated a rating of “4” but the substantive comments did not reflect that rating. Id. at 112, 115. A couple days later, Plaintiff met with DiFiore and Simonson, who directed her to change her comments on the PLM to reflect the rating score. Id. at 115. Plaintiff subsequently added numerous substantive comments to Burns' PLM (which she asserts lack factual basis). Pl. Dep., 136-38. During this process, Plaintiff told DiFiore and Simonson that she believed that Burns' rating was influenced by age and that she was forced to change the rating because of that. Id. at 142, 146.

         As a midlevel manager, Plaintiff was also subject to the PLM process. Plaintiff had received a “5” in 2010 and 2011 (meeting expectations in leadership and performance). Id. In 2012, because of Plaintiff's successful work in challenging the Union's position on pay practices, she received an “8” (meeting expectations leadership; high performance). Id.

         In November 2013, Plaintiff was the subject of a calibration meeting discussing her PLM. Def. Stmt., ¶ 12. Following the meeting, Schmidt told Plaintiff that she was rated a “5” for 2013. Pl. Dep., 166-69. Schmidt testified that when she left the meeting, Plaintiff was a low “5” trending towards a “4”. Schmidt Dep., 79.

         On December 5, 2013, DiFiore, DiFiore's superior William Cook, Simonson, and Schmidt met to determine Plaintiff's final 2013 PLM rating. Def. Stmt., ¶ 16. Plaintiff received a low rating on leadership, resulting in a “4” rating. Def. Ex. J. The PLM also contained substantive comments critiquing Plaintiff's communication skills, accountability, and leadership abilities. Id. 1. The PLM did not refer to complaints of age discrimination. Id.

         On December, 10, 2013, Plaintiff left work on medical leave. Def. Stmt., ¶ 20. That same day, Cook sent an email to Simonson, Schmidt, and DiFiore, among others, to confirm that Plaintiff's rating was being moved to a low in leadership and a medium in results, which corresponds with her “4” rating. Pl. Ex. 20.

         On September 2, 2014, Plaintiff returned from her medical leave and was assigned as a customs specialist reporting to Michele Wilton. Def. Stmt., ¶ 21. That same day, Plaintiff met with Schmidt, who expressed her concern that Plaintiff was returning for financial reasons rather than because she was ready to return to work. Schmidt Dep., 105. Schmidt also inquired as to whether Plaintiff was eating healthy and taking care of herself. Pl. Dep., 189.

         Wilton regularly scheduled 30-day review meetings with employees that were new to her unit. Wilton Dep., 68-69. Upon her return from medical leave, Plaintiff received a calendar notice for a 30-day review. Pl. Dep., 179. Plaintiff never received a document stating that she would face discipline if certain performance objectives were not met. Id. at 179-80.

         Plaintiff experienced difficulties as she transitioned into her new position. Early on, Wilton told her that “[w]e're going to take it easy on you.” Id. at 191. Plaintiff did not receive business cards and her phone was not publicly listed. Schmidt. Dep., 113. Plaintiff also testified that she believed that her coworkers knew she had been ...


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