United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Northern Division
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANT'S
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
L. LUDINGTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
September 16, 2016, Plaintiff Eric Eggelston initiated the
above-captioned action by filing his complaint against his
former employer, Defendant Nexteer Automotive Corporation,
and his former local union, United Automobile Aerospace and
Agricultural Implement Workers of America, Local 699
(“Local 699” or “the
Union”). In his complaint Plaintiff alleges that
Defendant Nexteer wrongfully terminated him from his A-bucket
position in retaliation for his exercise of his rights under
the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C.
§ 2601, et seq, because of his race in
violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), the
Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act
(“ELCRA”), M.C.L. 37.2202, and in retaliation for
opposing a violation of ELCRA in violation of MCL 37.201(a).
Defendant Nexteer (hereinafter “Defendant”) moved
for summary judgment on December 21, 2017. Plaintiff
responded on January 11, 2018, and Defendant replied on
January 25, 2018. ECF Nos. 32, 35, 36.
Eric Eggelston is a resident of Saginaw County, Michigan. On
or about July 1, 2010, Plaintiff was hired as an assemblyman
by Defendant Nexteer, a corporation domiciled in Delaware and
operating a facility in Saginaw, Michigan. As a result of his
employment with Nexteer, Plaintiff became a member of Local
699, a labor organization domiciled in the state of Michigan.
Local 699 is a local chapter of the International United
Automobile Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of
America (“UAW”). He was therefore party to a
Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) between
Defendant Nexteer and Defendant Local 699.
into his employment, Plaintiff observed that Local 699
officials were not adequately representing African-American
members in pursuing grievances. Eggleston Dep. at 21-22, ECF
No. 35-3. Plaintiff therefore began assisting
African-American employees in filing appeals. On one occasion
spanning from late 2010 to early 2011, Plaintiff successfully
assisted a man named Larease Williamson in appealing a
wrongful discharge. Id. at 26-29. Prior to
submitting the appeal, Plaintiff spoke with Site Industrial
Relations Manager Dereon Pruitt in their church's parking
lot. Id. at 34. Prior to handing Mr. Pruitt the
appeal letter, Plaintiff explained that they had an
opportunity to right the wrong. Id. Plaintiff
contends that Mr. Pruitt physically slapped the appeal out of
Plaintiff's hands and stated that Plaintiff had no
business in doing that and demanded that he mind his own
business. Id. Plaintiff also contends that other
people in the parking lot had to get in between Mr. Pruitt
and Plaintiff and separate them. Id. Mr. Pruitt
denies that this altercation took place. Pruitt Dep. at 7,
ECF No. 32-3.
word got out that Plaintiff successfully assisted Mr.
Williamson, other employees asked Plaintiff to assist them
with writing grievances and appeals. Id. at 30. On
March 30, 2011 a union Committeeman, Joseph Laurin, came up
behind Plaintiff and threatened him, stating, "Eric,
either you stop this bullshit or I'm going to do
something to you or about you." Id. at 33, 36;
Resp. at 4. Plaintiff attempted to file a complaint about
this incident in Defendant's labor relations office with
representative Amy Schofield. Id. at 36. She told
him she would not accept a complaint regarding the threat,
and that Plaintiff would have to go the union. Id.
at 37. Plaintiff pursued his complaint with the union, but
they took no action. Id. Plaintiff then sought a
personal protection order from a local court against Mr.
January 6, 2012, Plaintiff filed a racial discrimination
complaint with the International Union. Id. at
38-39. Less than two weeks later, Plaintiff's supervisor
issued him a discipline, suspending him for the balance of
his shift plus two weeks alleging that he stopped the
assembly line. Id. at 40. Plaintiff filed a
successful grievance and received back pay. Id. at
41. After returning from the suspension, Plaintiff was
informed that he was banned from Plant 3 and involuntarily
transferred to Plant 4. Id. at 24-25. On April 2,
2012, Plaintiff's supervisor, Shannon Decker, issued
Plaintiff a discipline for unnecessarily making scrap. 4/2/12
Discipline, ECF No. 35-8. Ms. Decker asked if this was the
first time he had done this. Eggleston Dep. at 66-67.
Plaintiff responded affirmatively and Ms. Decker stated that
she would recommend a suspension of the balance of his shift
plus one day. Id. About 20 minutes later, Ms. Decker
called back and said she had to give Plaintiff a penalty of
the balance of his shift plus 30 days. Id. at 67.
Plaintiff subsequently learned that Ms. Decker had spoken
with someone at Labor Relations, possibly Mr. Pruitt, who
gave the directive concerning the penalty. Id.
Plaintiff filed a grievance, and was ultimately returned to
work a few days later with back pay, and the discipline was
removed from his record. Id. at 72.
23, 2012, Ms. Decker issued Plaintiff a discipline for
unexcused absences from May 16 to May 18, 2012. 5/23/12
Discipline, ECF No. 35-10. Plaintiff contended that his
supervisor altered the request by changing May 18 to May 15,
and writing “2-days” next to it. 5/25/12
Grievance, ECF No. 35-12; Resp. at 7. Plaintiff was
subsequently promoted to a position in the “A
Bucket.” Eggleston Dep. at 75, 78. In 2014, Denny
Getgood became the Human Resources Business Partner
supervising Plaintiff's area. Plaintiff had previously
encountered Getgood in the hallway. On one occasion Getgood
asked Plaintiff if he was “still raising hell.”
Id. at 90.
March 14, 2014, Plaintiff requested FMLA leave for sleep
apnea. Id. at 83. On March 27, 2014, Plaintiff
submitted FMLA forms, including his medical certification.
Id. at 83-84; Cert. Form, ECF No. 35-14. Mr. Getgood
provided Plaintiff with a Designation Notice which indicated
that his leave request was denied on April 7, 2014.
Designation Notice, ECF No. 35-21. Mr. Getgood did not
provide a reason for the denial. Eggleston Dep. at 97, 100.
Plaintiff went through his union to obtain information
concerning the reason for the denial of FMLA leave.
Id. Plaintiff testified that he was the only African
American that was denied FMLA leave without a reason.
Id. at 106. Plaintiff filed a complaint with the
union. Id. at 108-109.
September 4, 2015, Mr. Getgood informed Plaintiff that he was
terminated for theft from the market. Id. at 126. Mr.
Getgood interviewed Plaintiff, asking him several questions
about how he paid for food from the market, why he stole
items from the market, and whether Plaintiff was aware of the
market's policies and procedures. Id. at 127.
Plaintiff explained that he typically paid with either a
market card or a debit card. Plaintiff also explained that
there were no policies for returns and exchanges, and that he
previously filed five complaints relating to the process for
exchanging a bad product. Id. at 129. Plaintiff
explained that there were occasions where he would replace
spoiled products, such as sandwiches or salads. Id.
at 130-31. Plaintiff testified that he spoke with someone at
¶ 800 number who forwarded the information to an
employee who stocks the market. Id. Plaintiff
testified he spoke with that individual in person who told
him what to do if he purchased a bad item. Id. He
testified that he would go in, hold the product up to the
camera and rotate it. Id. He would then place it on
the counter at the checkout kiosk. Id.
testified regarding one such instance where he had purchased
a sandwich that had gone bad costing about $7.00. When he
returned it he no longer wanted a sandwich so he would take a
pop. Id. at 95, 131-32. He would record these
transaction in a log he kept in his locker. Eggleston Dep. at
On one occasion he spoke with a market representative who
offered to refund his market card. Id. at 134. He
wanted a refund on his debit card which they could not
provide, and he was not willing to wait three hours to
receive a refund in person. Id. at 134. The employee
authorized him to return the bad item by holding it up to the
camera and take a bag of combos as a replacement.
Id. Plaintiff further explained that this was common
practice, as there were frequently many items left on the
counter indicating someone had returned them. Id. at
135. Notwithstanding Plaintiff's explanation, Mr. Getgood
terminated Plaintiff. 9/4/15 Discipline, ECF No. 35-15.
Getgood testified that the alleged theft was brought to his
attention by members from loss prevention at Canteen
Services. Getgood Dep. at 10, ECF No. 32-5. He met with the
Canteen Services employees as well as Mr. Pruitt.
Id. at 11. The Canteen Services employees
“believed they had pictures of the gentleman that was
stealing from the Market.” Id. at 10. They did
not provide Mr. Getgood copies of those pictures at that
time. Id. at 11. Mr. Getgood did not review the
surveillance footage until after Plaintiff was terminated.
Id. at 13. Rather, he made the termination decision
based on what Plaintiff reported during the interview.
Id. at 23. Plaintiff's committeeperson Robert
Essenmacher was also at the interview as well as an
undisclosed witness from Nexteer management. Id. at
interview, Mr. Getgood asked if Plaintiff had taken anything
from the market without paying. Id. at 15. Plaintiff
indicated that he had. Id. “One of his answers
was that if he had bought product, a salad that the lettuce
was not good, or something that did not taste good he would
return it. His statement is that he would return it and grab
something either that day or a couple days later.”
Id. at 16. According to Mr. Getgood, Plaintiff told
him that “he never talked to anybody from Canteen
Services.” Id. During the interview, Mr.
Getgood took handwritten notes, which he typed up afterward
and attached to his declaration. The notes contain
the following discussion:
Q11: Is there a time any time that you have taken product
A11: If I go in and buy a sandwich, if it has bad meat,
lettuce, chicken salad, I take the sandwich back in by the
check out, then if I'm hungry right then I'll grab
something of the same amount or close to it.
Q12: What happens if your not hungry right then?
A12: I'll come back the next day or a couple of days
later and take something of similar value or different
product if they have not restocked.
Q13: Have you ever talked to someone, a member of
A13: Shawn when he was in S6. (followed up with
Shawn, never talked to Eric about this.)
Decl. Ex. 1, ECF No. 32-4 (emphasis added). Based on the
context and the response, it is unclear if Getgood was
referring to company management or Canteen Services
management, nor is it clear who Plaintiff was referring to in
his response when he identified “Shawn.”
Getgood further testified that Plaintiff was aware of the
market's return policy, and that Plaintiff in fact told
Mr. Getgood what it was: “The policy is there is a
white envelope . . . you fill out your name, what you had
purchased, the dollar value, and you turn that in. And then
within three or four days, that actually is returned to you
through the Union Rep. Mr. Eggleston actually told me
that.” Id. at 17. Mr. Getgood testified that
Plaintiff informed him he never utilized the market's
return policy, as “it was unreasonable for him to leave
any kind of note.” Id. at 17, 19. Mr.
Getgood's testimony does not conform to his
Q15: How often did you do this?
A15: Salads . . .often
Q16: How many times?
A16: Can't say, greater than 5.
Q17: You know that there is a resolution process for the
A17: Yea, fill out the form 3 or 4 days the Union calls
Q18: The things you have left, did you leave a note, any
A18: I have looked no way to do so. (he reiterated
several times he has looked for ways to
. . .
Q21: You return a product. No note. No communication.
Returned immediately or several days taking something of
A21: No one has ever said anything to me, leaving a note is
. . .
Q22: Have you asked the union for help? You ran as a
committeeman, you know the grievance process correct?
A22: Never asked the Union directly
. . .
Q25: Eric, do you have anything to add?
A25: I have never stolen anything from Nexteer or any of its
vendors, period. I'm not aware of any return
policy. I have looked.
Decl. Ex. 1, ECF No. 32-4 (emphasis added). Based on this
discussion it is unclear if the “resolution process for
the satellite area” refers to the Union grievance
process or to the market's return policy, or if they are
the same thing. Thus, it is unclear if Plaintiff was only
aware of a union grievance policy, or of the market's
return policy, or both. Plaintiff specifically stated he was
not aware of a return policy. Exhibit 2-4 of the Getgood
Declaration includes Continental Canteen's refund request
form, comment forms, and a comment box. ECF No. 32-4.
Plaintiff specifically testified, however, that “there
is no policies for returns or exchanges. There's no
written policy, there's nothing posted in the store. And
I have filed five complaints as it relates to how do we in
our plant return an item or exchange an item that is
bad.” Eggleston Dep. at 131. Based on what Plaintiff
said in the interview, Mr. Getgood terminated him for
violation of shop rule two: “theft or misappropriation
of property of employees or of the Company.”
Id. at 21; Shop Rules, ECF No. 35-17.
Ledger, a Caucasian male employee, was terminated for
stealing a pop. Pruitt Dep. at 19. Dave Smith, also a
Caucasian male employee, was terminated for stealing plates
for a party. Id. Mr. Ledger and Mr. Smith were both
later reinstated under a “Last Chance Agreement”
which was negotiated with the union. Id. at 20-21.
Mr. Pruitt was “involved” in Mr. Ledger and Mr.
Smith receiving last chance agreements. Id. at
21-22. Mr. Pruitt met with the union chairperson, Bob Glaser,
in response to Plaintiff's grievance, and Mr. Glaser
asked for a Last Chance Agreement for Plaintiff as well.
Id. at 21. Mr. Pruitt did not agree to give
Plaintiff a Last Chance Agreement, because he didn't
believe that the case warranted it. Id.
asked why Mr. Ledger and Mr. Smith were treated differently
than Plaintiff, Mr. Pruitt responded, “well at the end
of my investigation looking into those cases, they didn't
actually steal.” Id. at 22. Mr. Pruitt was
asked “Do you know how it came to be that they were, I
guess, incorrectly accused of engaging in theft?”
Id. at 31. Mr. Pruitt responded that Mr. Smith had
taken plates from the cafeteria in response to a request from
his supervisor to “bring them up for some kind of
celebration.” Id. at 31. With respect to Mr.
Ledger, Mr. Pruitt responded that “Ledger was in there
getting some fountain - he discovered he gets fountain pop
whenever he's in there working, so that's why.”
Id. When asked “who said that he gets fountain
pop whenever he's in there working?” Mr. Pruitt
“the cafeteria did.” Id. When asked why
they were given a Last Chance Agreement, and not just
returned to work, Mr. Pruitt responded “that was the
agreement I made with the union. Ledger had been fired
before, and had Dave Smith been fired before.”
Id. at 22. Mr. Pruitt was unclear if the cafeteria
was affiliated with Continental Canteen or
asked if there were any other allegations against Mr. Ledger
or Mr. Smith, Mr. Pruitt responded “not that I can
recall.” Id. at 30. Plaintiff testified that
he had the following conversation with Mr. Ledger following
his termination: “I called him up. The -the Union
president said, ‘Eric, this is some bullshit and they
know it. But they getting rid of you, so you wouldn't run
for election.' He gave me Greg Ledger's phone number.
So I called Greg up and I was like, ‘Man, what's-
what happened to you?' And he said, ‘Hey, they
fired me for theft like I heard they did you and then they
brought me back on a last chance ...