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Mueller v. Nexteer Automotive Corp.

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

November 14, 2017

Jeremy Mueller, Plaintiff,
v.
Nexteer Automotive Corp., Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Sean F. Cox United States District Court Judge

         Plaintiff filed this action against his former employer, alleging that he was terminated in retaliation for having made a complaint under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 215 et seq. After the close of discovery, Defendant filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court finds that the issues have been adequately presented in the parties' briefs and that oral argument would not aid the decisional process. See Local Rule 7.1(f)(2), U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan. The Court therefore orders that the motion will be decided upon the briefs. As explained below, the Court shall GRANT the motion because the decision-maker's knowledge of the plaintiff's protected activity is an essential element of a prima facie retaliation claim and Plaintiff has failed to present either direct or circumstantial evidence that the decision-makers who decided to terminate his employment had knowledge of Plaintiff's verbal complaint made to others.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jeremy Mueller filed this action against his former employer, Defendant Nexteer Automotive Corp., asserting one claim - “Retaliation in Violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 215.”

         Following the close of discovery, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. This Court's practice guidelines, which are expressly included in the Scheduling Order issued in this case, provide, consistent with Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c) and (e), that:

a. The moving party's papers shall include a separate document entitled Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute. The statement shall list in separately numbered paragraphs concise statements of each undisputed material fact, supported by appropriate citations to the record. . .
b. In response, the opposing party shall file a separate document entitled Counter-Statement of Disputed Facts. The counter-statement shall list in separately numbered paragraphs following the order or the movant's statement, whether each of the facts asserted by the moving party is admitted or denied and shall also be supported by appropriate citations to the record. The Counter-Statement shall also include, in a separate section, a list of each issue of material fact as to which it is contended there is a genuine issue for trial.
c. All material facts as set forth in the Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute shall be deemed admitted unless controverted in the Counter-Statement of Disputed Facts.

(D.E. No. 19 at 2-3).

         In compliance with this Court's guidelines, in support of its Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendant filed a “Statement of Material Facts Not In Dispute” (“Def.'s Stmt.). In response to that submission, Plaintiff filed a “Counter-Statement of Disputed Facts” (Pl.'s Stmt.”).

         The following material facts are gleaned from the evidence submitted by the parties, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the non-moving party. But the facts are largely undisputed.

         Nexteer's U.S. Salaried Employee Handbook states: “Nexteer's principles include a commitment to promoting diversity, providing quality, ensuring health and safety, and preserving the environment”; “Nexteer applies a company-wide focus on quality, working toward a zero-defect goal in all products, processes and business services”; and “Nexteer is committed to protecting the health and safety of each Employee, visitor and contractor.” (Def.'s & Pl.'s Stmt. at ¶ 1).

         Plaintiff Jeremy Mueller began working in Nexteer's Automotive Prototype Plant as a contract employee through Dynamic Corporation in February 2013. In July 2014, Mueller applied for a position to work for Nexteer directly. Nexteer hired Mueller to work as a production group leader on the second shift, or B-shift, in August 2014. (Def.'s & Pl.'s Stmt. at ¶¶ 2-4). After Defendant hired Mueller as a production group leader, Defendant classified him as a salaried-exempt employee under the FLSA. (Id. at ¶ 5).

         Mueller worked in Nexteer's Plant 6, and his immediate supervisor was B-shift General Foreman, Richard Weigl. As a B-shift production group leader, Mueller generally worked from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 or 10:30 p.m. As a B-shift production group leader, Mueller supervised employees that worked on the production line. Mueller's job duties included ensuring that there were enough employees to cover the shift, making sure that the employees were filling out paperwork they were to complete, ensuring that employees had the proper supply and were running the proper parts, keeping management informed of developments and issues, and “keeping a general overview of what was going on.” (Def.'s & Pl.'s Stmt. at ¶¶ 6-9).

         To ensure quality, Mueller was required to go over quality control instructions with employees and have them initial a document stating that Mueller went over the instructions with them. Mueller was responsible for making sure that Nexteer's policies were followed both by himself and the others he supervised. (Def.'s & Pl.'s Stmt. at ¶¶ 10-11)

         Nexteer's U.S. Salaried Employee Handbook contains a cell phone policy that states, “[a]ny time a cell phone is used in an industrial environment, there is the danger that it will cause the user to become distracted and, therefore, be at risk for injury or accident.” Under Nexteer's cell phone policy, cell phones are prohibited within manufacturing areas, unless authorized by Nexteer management. Violation of the cell phone policy may result in termination of employment. Mueller understood that it was a violation ...


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