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Giron v. Tyco Electronics Corp.

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

February 28, 2018

VICKI GIRON, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Vicki Giron alleges that her former employer, Tyco Electronics Corporation ("Tyco"), wrongly terminated her. She alleges sex or gender discrimination in violation of Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act ("ELCRA"), Mich. Comp. Laws § 37.2101, et seq., and wrongful discharge in violation of public policy.[1] Tyco filed a motion for summary judgment. ECF 23. The Court reviewed the briefs and found that a hearing was unnecessary. ECF 34. For the reasons stated below, the Court will now grant Tyco's motion for summary judgment.


         Giron worked as a product manager in Defendant's Troy, Michigan office from October 2012 until her termination on January 31, 2016. ECF 1, PgID 2, 5. Giron contends that the Troy office was controlled by "a powerful group of sales managers who dubbed themselves 'The Legacies.'" ECF 28, PgID 384. At the beginning of her tenure with Tyco, Giron reported to Elizabeth Schroeder ("Schroeder"). About one year later, Suraj Alva ("Alva") replaced Schroeder. Id. One reason for Alva's assumption of supervisory responsibilities was that Giron had "ongoing issues, " in particular "behavioral" concerns due to "conflicts in the workplace with her internal colleagues." ECF 23-10, PgID 261. Giron "needed more direct supervision that [Schroeder] was unable to provide" because of the issues and because Giron was "difficult to work with." Id. Giron claims that Alva created rules applicable only to her, see ECF 28, PgID 396-97, [1] and sided with the Legacies in pricing disputes. Plaintiff further complains that Alva would meet with the Legacies without her and he subjected her to "chew out" sessions. Id. at 398.

         Moreover, Giron alleges that Alva, directed her to "agree to discriminatory pricing practices, and specifically charging customers different prices of the same product." ECF 1, PgID 4. Giron thought the practice was illegal, or at least potentially illegal, and allegedly faced "hostility and threats by Alva" when she refused the directive. Id. In particular, she claims that Defendant's directive implicated Section 2(a) of the Clayton Act, as amended by the Robinson-Patman Anti-Discrimination Act, 15 U.S.C. § 13(a). Id. at 6. Giron avers that Tyco retaliated against her for objecting to Alva's directives by terminating her employment. Id.

         In November 2015, Giron was placed on a performance improvement plan ("PIP"). On January 22, 2016, Tyco fired Giron-effective January 31, 2016. In May 2016, Giron filed her complaint alleging an ELCRA violation and wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. On September 12, 2016, the Court dismissed without prejudice TE Connectivity. ECF 13. In April 2017, the Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. ECF 23.


         Summary judgment is warranted "if the movant shows there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is "material" for purposes of summary judgment if proof of that fact would establish or refute an essential element of the cause of action or defense. Kendall v. Hoover Co., 751 F.2d 171, 174 (6th Cir. 1984). A dispute over material facts is "genuine" "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). To show that a fact is, or is not, genuinely disputed, both parties are required to either "cite[] to particular parts of materials in the record" or "show[] that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. 60 Ivy St. Corp. v. Alexander, 822 F.2d 1432, 1435 (6th Cir. 1987). Moreover, the Court may not "make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Harris v. City of Akron, 20 F.3d 1396, 1403 (6th Cir. 1994).


         I. Sex Discrimination Claim

         A plaintiff claiming sex discrimination in violation of the ELCRA must establish a prima facie case by a preponderance of the evidence. Lytle v. Malady, 458 Mich. 153, 172. The prima facie case of sex discrimination includes four elements: (1) membership in a protected class, (2) adverse employment action, (3) qualification for an employment position, and (4) discharge "under circumstances that give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination." Id. at 172-73. An employer's differential treatment of a female employee from "similarly situated male employees [engaging in] the same or similar conduct" is one circumstance giving rise to an inference of discrimination. Humenny v. Genex Corp., 390 F.3d 901, 906 (6th Cir. 2004); see also Wilcoxon v. Minn. Mining & Manuf. Co., 235 Mich.App. 347, 361 (1999). Establishment of the prima facie case creates a presumption of discrimination.

         The defendant may rebut that presumption by "articulat[ing] a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for plaintiff's termination[.]" Lytle, 458 Mich. at 173 (quotation marks omitted). At the motion for summary judgment stage, the defendant "need not persuade the court that it was actually motivated by the proffered reasons;" rather, the defendant must provide a legally sufficient justification to justify judgment in its favor. Id. at 174.

         The burden then shifts back to the plaintiff who must show "by a preponderance of admissible direct or circumstantial evidence, that . . . the employer's proffered reasons were not true reasons, but were a mere pretext for discrimination." Id. The Court "may not make factual findings or weigh the credibility of the evidence presented[.]" Id. at 176.

         A. Plaintiff makes a prima facie showing of sex discrimination.

         Defendant concedes that Giron is a member of a protected class. ECF 23, PgID 187; ECF 33, PgID 905. The Court, therefore, will address the last three elements.

         1. Adverse employment action.

         Both Giron's placement on a PIP and her termination constitute adverse employment actions.[2] The parties dispute whether Giron's placement on the PIP established an adverse employment action. The Sixth Circuit routinely finds that "the institution of performance improvement plans do[es] not constitute adverse employment action[.]" Allen v. Ohio Dep't of Job and Family Servs., 697 F.Supp.2d 854, 891 (S.D. Ohio 2010) (collecting cases). To qualify as an adverse employment action, a PIP must be accompanied by a "tangible employment action that [the employee] alleges she suffered, or is in jeopardy of suffering[.]" White v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 533 F.3d 381, 402 (6th Cir. 2008).

         If an employee's PIP results in her termination, the PIP may constitute an adverse employment action. See Kyle-Eiland v. Neff, 408 Fed.Appx. 933, 941 (6th Cir. 2011) (finding an adverse employment action when "the PIP may have led directly to [the employee's] dismissal" from his company). The Court, therefore, will consider both Giron's PIP and termination as adverse employment actions.

         2. Plaintiff was qualified for the position.

         The parties dispute how the Court should analyze Plaintiff's qualifications. Defendant emphasizes Giron's allegedly unsatisfactory behavior. ECF 23, PgID 187-88. Defendant's reliance upon Warfield v. Lebanon Corr. Inst., 181 F.3d 723 (6th Cir. 1999) is unpersuasive. Warfield states that an employee must "demonstrate that she was meeting her employer's legitimate expectations and was performing to her employer's satisfaction." 181 F.3d at 729. The Sixth Circuit has stated repeatedly, however, that an employer cannot conflate its reason for the adverse employment action with the employee's qualification for the position. Cline v. Catholic Diocese of Toledo, 206 F.3d 651, 660-61 (6th Cir. 2000). Tyco's reliance upon Giron's allegedly unsatisfactory behavior to refute her qualification for the job is inapposite. Plaintiff's objective background indeed suggests that she was qualified for the position. Giron brought 25 years of experience to her role as a Global Product Manager at Tyco. Giron worked as a Senior Project Engineer at General Motors and as a Business Development Manager, Senior Sales Engineering Manager, and Senior Program Manager at TRW Automotive. ECF 28-3, PgID 430-31. Plaintiff has shown by a preponderance of the evidence that she was qualified for the job.

         3. Plaintiff satisfies the fourth prong of the prima facie showing only as to her termination.

         Here, Plaintiff points to two separate ways in which Tyco allegedly treated her male counterparts more favorably. First, she contends that Tyco replaced her with a male employee. The Sixth Circuit has explained that a plaintiff may satisfy the final prong of the prima facie case by demonstrating that she "was replaced by someone outside the protected class." Tilley v. Kalamazoo Cty. Road Comm'n, 777 F.3d 303, 308 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Schoonmaker v. Spartan Graphics Leasing, LLC, 595 F.3d 261, 264 (6th Cir. 2010) (analyzing the prima facie showing for cases relying upon circumstantial evidence of sex discrimination under the ELCRA)).

         During his deposition, Alva indicated that Benjamin Ervin assumed some of Giron's former responsibilities. ECF 29-1, PgID 546. In particular, Ervin adopted Giron's main product line-FAKRA. Id. Tyco did not hire anyone else to assume Giron's other responsibilities. Id. Alva indicated that Ervin was "a head count replacement." Id. at 584. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, Giron established that she was replaced by a male.

         Second, Giron alleges that similarly situated male employees with similar or worse conduct were not placed on PIPs. Generally, the plaintiff and the employee(s) with whom she "seeks to compare herself must be similar in 'all relevant aspects.'" Ondricko v. MGM Grand Detroit, LLC,689 F.3d 642, 654 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Ercegovich v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 154 F.3d 344, 352 (6th Cir. 1998)); see Jackson v. VHS Receiving Hosp., Inc.,814 F.3d 769, 777 (6th Cir. 2016). Relevant factors include whether the plaintiff and the potential comparator(s) "have dealt with the same supervisor, have been subject to the same standards and have engaged in the same conduct without differentiating or mitigating circumstances that would distinguish ...

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