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Hunter v. General Motors LLC

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

March 31, 2019



          Stephanie Dawkins Davis United States Magistrate Judge.


         Plaintiff, Cynthia Hunter, filed a complaint in state court for race and sex discrimination under the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and Title VII and for retaliation under Elliott-Larsen on December 22, 2016. (Dkt. 1, Notice of Removal, Pg ID 8-23). Defendant, General Motors LLC, removed the action to federal court on February 1, 2017. (Dkt. 1). On January 3, 2018, the parties executed a consent for reference of this matter to the undersigned magistrate judge. (Dkt. 20). On January 5, 2018, District Judge Robert H. Cleland signed the consent and referred this matter under 28 U.S.C. 636(c). (Dkt. 21). After completing a period of discovery, GM filed its motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. 23-25). Hunter filed her response (Dkt. 27) and GM filed a reply. (Dkt. 28). On October 4, 2018, the parties filed their joint statement of resolved and unresolved issues. (Dkt. 30). Pursuant to notice, the Court held a hearing on December 6, 2018. (Dkt. 29).

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS defendant's motion for summary judgment of plaintiff's sex-based claims. Plaintiff's race-based claims were conceded and thus, are also dismissed.[z1]


         Hunter was hired at GM on March 1, 2013. (Dkt. 25-1, Plf. Dep. pp. 36, 162-63; Plf. Dep. Ex. 14). Hunter worked at GM's Warren Technical Center as a Mainframe Technical Specialist during the entirety of her employment; she was a storage administrator for GM's mainframe computer. Id. at 34, 39-40, 162-63; Plf. Dep. Ex. 14. GM's mainframes store GM's data and are necessary to run the business; if the mainframes do not operate, the business cannot run normally. Id. at 52- 53. Mainframe Storage Manager Samuel Rurka supervised Hunter. Rurka also previously worked with Hunter at Ford Motor Company, and he had interviewed and hired her to work at GM. Id. at 30-31, 61; Dkt. 25-3, Deposition of Samuel Rurka, pp. 9-11.

         As Hunter's supervisor, Rurka conducted Hunter's 2014 performance review. (Dkt. 25-1, p. 104; Plf. Dep. Ex. 6). In that review he commented, “[t]he quality and quantity of work is not what I expect in your position” and that “task[s] that had been assigned to you to be delivered by a certain date have been reported ‘complete' when they actually were partially (sic) at best.” Id. at 105-06; Plf. Dep. Ex. 6. Although Hunter believed she had completed her assignments, Rurka did not. Id. at 106-07. According to GM, one significant performance failure by Hunter in July 2014 resulted in dealerships in Brazil being unable to use GMAC financing for customers to purchase vehicles. Despite these performance issues, GM gave Hunter a merit raise, and she was neither demoted nor subjected to any reduction in pay. Id. at 109, 115; Plf. Dep. Ex. 14. Although Hunter disagreed with the review and believed it was discriminatory, she did not complain to Human Resources. Id. at 112-15.

         In September 2014, GM's tape libraries were nearing maximum capacity; Hunter informed her group that the libraries were more than 90 percent full. Id. at 116-17. The issue was a serious one for the company because if the tapes reached 100 percent of capacity, GM's production of cars would stop. (Dkt. 25-7, Declaration of Samuel Rurka, ¶ 7). Rurka deemed the problem to be one that would require maximum effort from all team members to identify and implement a solution. Id. He met with the team, including Hunter, to strategize on how to address the storage problem. (Dkt. 25-1, p. 117; Dkt. 25-3, pp. 19-21, 30-31). However, instead of staying at work to continue conferencing with the team to resolve this issue, Hunter left to attend a personal engagement. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 118-19; Dkt. 25-3, p. 24; Dkt. 25-7, ¶ 9). The team members who continued meeting decided to delete certain tapes after Hunter left for her engagement. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 125-26).

         When Hunter arrived at work the next day, Rurka told her that Brent Beck, a contractor and not a GM employee, had deleted the necessary data files. (Dkt. 25-1, p. 120; Dkt. 25-3, p. 16). However, the deleted files were generational data group files (“GDGs”) that should never be deleted. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 120-25; Dkt. 25-3, pp. 19-21, 23-24). According to GM, this occurred because Hunter - the only person on the team who knew these GDGs should not be deleted - did not speak up during the meeting while her coworkers spoke about deleting them, and then left to go to her personal engagement instead of staying to assist team members in addressing the issue. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 121-24; Dkt. 25-3, 19-21, 24-26, 30-31). Although 500 to 600 of the deleted tapes were recovered, another 20, 000 deleted tapes could not be recovered and were lost forever. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 122-24). According to GM, Hunter had approximately 20 years of experience with mainframe computers and knew that these GDGs should not be deleted. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 12, 18-28; Plf. Dep. Ex. 1). GM maintains that if Hunter had stayed at work with her coworkers instead of leaving work early during a crisis situation, she could have prevented their deletion. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 121-24; Dkt. 25-3, pp. 19-21, 24-26, 30-31).

         Two women, Mainframe Storage Director Jessie Bruner and HR Business Partner Kathie Vosganian, conducted an investigation regarding the deleted data. Rurka, Smith, Hunter and contractors Walt Willis and Beck were interviewed as part of the investigation. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 126-27, 128-30, 133; Plf. Dep. Ex. 7; Dkt. 25-8, Kathie Vosganian Declaration ¶¶ 3-4; Vosganian Declaration Ex. 1). The investigation resulted in a finding that Hunter was partially responsible for the deletion. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 124-25, 128-30, 138-39; Plf. Dep. Ex. 7). Vosganian determined that Hunter “left the premises during a very serious problem that occurred with the mainframe and left the building when it was all hands-on deck situation, ” and “[s]he did not share critical information she knew that could have prevented a massive data loss” because “she wasn't concerned enough about it to stay with the rest of the group and help solve the problem.” (Dkt. 25-5, deposition of Kathie Vosganian (“Vosganian Dep.”), pp. 22-25). Hunter maintains, however, that she explained to the entire team how GDGs worked. (Dkt. 27-7, Ex. F). She asserts there was no “crisis” and she left at the end of the workday after explaining to everyone that the data would “fall off” on its own. Id. Hunter says that Rurka ignored her and did not follow her suggestions. She left work for the day due to a prior commitment, believing that the mainframe capacity issue had been handled. Id. Hunter also points out that Rurka did not understand how the GDG's worked or how certain files automatically “fell off” the Mainframe, and none of her team members were disciplined for not knowing how the mainframe storage worked. (Dkt. 27-8, Ex. G, Overview of Mainframe Data Loss; Dkt. 27-11, Ex. J, January 5, 2015 Memorandum to File - Cynthia Hunter).

         Some, though not all, members of the mainframe team suffered consequences as a result of this incident. Specifically, Hunter and two men received consequences. Beck saw his contract terminated as a result of his actions. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 43-44, 45-46, 88-89, 124). A second man, Rurka, received a written memo to his file for his role in the deletion, as did Hunter. Rurka also lost approximately $10, 000.00 in bonus money as a result and GM considered terminating his employment. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 134, 138; Plf. Dep. Ex. 10; Dkt. 25-3, pp. 22-23; Dkt. 25-5, pp. 19-20). Though Hunter denies responsibility for the tape deletion (Dkt. 25-1, p. 139), Bruner, a woman, determined that Hunter's leaving work to attend to a personal function and her failure to provide critical information regarding GDG tapes contributed to the loss of the data. (Dkt. 25-3, pp. 19-21, 24-26, 30-31).

         GM says Bruner was prepared to end Hunter's employment for her performance failings, but Rurka and Andrzejewski talked Bruner into giving Hunter one more chance. (Dkt. 25-7, Rurka Dec. ¶ 18). GM maintains that Hunter's poor performance continued in 2015 resulting in her placement on a “last chance agreement” on October 1, 2015.[2] (Dkt. 25-1, p. 149; Plf. Dep. Ex. 12). The document GM calls a last chance agreement is entitled “Memorandum to File - Policies and Procedures Violation” and it outlines additional instances of performance issues in 2015. (Plf. Dep. Ex. 12). Specifically, in June 2015, Hunter was involved in an incident that resulted in a three-and-a-half-hour outage at four warehouses in Canada, during which employees could not pick parts to build cars. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 143-45, 150-51; Plf. Dep. Ex. 12; Dkt. 25-3, pp. 72-74; Rurka Dep. Ex. 6). On August 4, 2015, Rurka documented to HR Business Partner Michael Andrzejewski that Hunter had made unauthorized changes, which Hunter does not dispute making. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 147-49; Plf. Dep. Ex. 11). On September 20, 2015, according to the Memorandum to File, Hunter allowed employees to move datasets after she started a catalog reorganization, even though her group had established procedures that prohibited these moves from taking place once a reorganization has begun. (Plf. Dep. Ex. 12). GM says that Hunter's actions resulted in the system being one hour and 23 minutes late coming back online. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 150-53; Plf. Dep. Ex. 12). The Memorandum to File, which Hunter signed, stated that further violations “will likely result in termination of employment.” (Plf. Dep. Ex. 12).

         Hunter maintains that the incident in September 2015 was Jorge Diaz's fault and she was unfairly blamed for his mistake. She says Diaz interrupted her change order and began his own change order, and that Diaz's actions were strictly prohibited and against company policy. (Dkt. 27-12, Ex. K, Deposition of Joseph Gurchiek, pp.11-12). Mr. Gurchiek advised HR that Hunter was not at fault for this incident. Id. Yet, Hunter was still disciplined as set forth in the October 1, 2015 “last chance” agreement. (Dkt. 27-13, Ex. L, October 1, 2015 Memo to File). As a result, Hunter contacted a co-worker, William Neale, who conducted an inquiry into the error rates of Hunter and her team-members. Neale found that Hunter had the lowest percentage of mistakes on her team. (Dkt. 27-14, Ex. M, deposition of William Neale, pp. 53, 56, 59; Dkt. 27-15, Ex. N, Affidavit of William Neale).

         In November 2015, GM says Hunter made another error that resulted in GM car factories in Europe not being able to print shipping labels for cars coming off the assembly lines; the cars were parked in a lot until labels could be printed. (Dkt. 25-7, Rurka Dec. ¶ 17). Then, during a February 2, 2016 team meeting, Rurka instructed his team to wait to execute any data change records until after Smith completed certain necessary pre-work steps. (Dkt. 25-1, p. 171; Plf. Dep. Ex. 17; Dkt. 25-7, Rurka Dec. ¶ 20). Despite Rurka's instruction, Hunter executed a change record before Smith had completed his pre-work. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 167-72; Plf. Dep. Ex. 17; Dkt. 25-7, Rurka Dec. ¶ 21). When Smith discovered what Hunter had done, he reported it to Rurka, who instructed Hunter to back out her changes. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 167-72; Plf. Dep. Ex. 16, 17; Dkt. 25-7, Rurka Dec. ¶ 22). According to Rurka, if Smith had not discovered Hunter's actions, GM might have experienced data failures. (Dkt. 25-7, Rurka Dec. ¶ 22).

         After the above events, Rurka concluded that Hunter could not perform her job duties satisfactorily. (Dkt. 25-7, Rurka Dec. ¶ 24). Rurka and Andrzejewski conferred and recommended to Bruner that Hunter's repeated carelessness and disregard of procedures warranted termination. (Dkt. 25-6, Andrzejewski Dec. ¶ 13). Bruner agreed. (Dkt. 25-6, Andrzejewski Dec. ¶ 13). Andrzejewski presented the facts to Sharon Ridgell, a woman in GM's Policy Department. Ridgell agreed that termination was appropriate. (Dkt. 25-6, Andrzejewski Dec. ¶ 14). GM terminated Hunter's employment on February 18, 2016. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 100, 172; Plf. Dep. Ex. 18; Dkt. 25-6, Andrzejewski Dec. ¶ 15). Shortly after Hunter's termination, Rurka also recommended that Michael Pietersz, a man, be terminated for poor work performance. (Dkt. 25-7, Rurka Dec. ¶ 27).

         Following her termination, Hunter made an “open-door” complaint and alleged that her termination was due to race and sex discrimination. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 172- 73; Plf. Dep. Ex. 19). The investigator interviewed Hunter; reviewed Hunter's personnel records; and interviewed Rurka, Andrzejewski, and Hunter's coworkers. Id. at 174-75.; Plf. Dep. Ex. 21. The investigation resulted in a determination that Hunter's termination was appropriate and that her claims of discrimination could not be substantiated. Id. at 174-75; Plf. Dep. Ex. 21.

         Hunter's discrimination and hostile work environment claims are based on the same alleged facts. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 59-60). Hunter testified at her deposition that Rurka was the only GM employee who harassed and/or discriminated against her. Id. at 41, 60-61. Regarding her hostile work environment claim, Hunter claims that at a meeting in Summer 2014, Rurka teased her for having a crush on Director Richard Kahn, which Hunter denies. Id. at 61-64. Hunter claims Rurka continued to tease her. However, Hunter admits she never told Rurka to stop and she never reported Rurka's alleged teasing to Human Resources. Id. at 64-66. Hunter also contends that Rurka began treating her and another woman on the team, Melissa Bruce-Fuller differently than their male co-workers in mid-2014. Hunter points to allegations in the anonymous GM Awareline report that Rurka called men “rockstars” but referred to the women on the team as “uneducated, ” “lazy” and “sloppy.” (Dkt. 27-3, Ex. B). According to this anonymous report and Ms. Bruce-Fuller, Rurka would also ignore women on the team, talk down to them, exclude them from meetings, and walk away from them while they were speaking. Id.; Dkt. 27-4, Ex. C, deposition of Melissa Bruce-Fuller, p. 32. Arthur Gutowski testified that there were times when Hunter was not heard at meetings. (Dkt. 27-5, Ex. D, pp. 21-22).

         Hunter asserts that Rurka harassed her by having a conversation with her about her personal hygiene in 2015. Id. at 67. She says that Rurka would not tell her who made the complaint, and no one would admit to Hunter that they had complained about her hygiene, so she assumed Rurka had made up the allegations. Id. at 68-71. However, Vosganian testified that one of Hunter's coworkers made the complaint to her. Hunter's open-door investigation confirmed that the coworker complained to Human Resources about Hunter's odor and appearance and that Bruner had directed Rurka to speak to Hunter about improving her hygiene. (Dkt. 25-1, p. 176; Plf. Dep. Ex. 21, p. 7; Dkt. 25-5, p. 63; Dkt. 25-3, pp. 67-68).

         Hunter also claims that Rurka forced her to work while on medical leave. (Dkt. 25-1, pp. 75-76). Hunter broke her ankle in January 2014, but she did not obtain a doctor's note ...

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