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Hong v. Key Safety Restraint Systems, Inc.

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

April 3, 2019


          Stephanie Dawkins Davis United States Magistrate Judge



         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Bradley Hong initiated this employment discrimination suit on February 14, 2018, alleging violations of both state and federal law. Dkt. No. 1. Defendants now move for summary judgment on both claims in Plaintiff's Complaint. Dkt. No. 29.

         Present before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [#29]. After reviewing the briefs, the Court finds that it can resolve the matter without a hearing. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will DENY Defendants' Motion.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff Bradley Hong is a Chinese-American United States citizen who began working for Defendant Key Safety Restraint Systems (“KSS”) on October 15, 2007 as its Vice President for Global IT. Dkt. No. 1, p. 2 (Pg. Id. 2). At all relevant times to this suit, KSS has been owned by Ningbo Joyson Electronic Corp. (“Joyson Electronic”), a Chinese company headquartered in Ningbo, China. Dkt. No. 29, p. 12 (Pg. ID 309).

         In April 2017, Defendant Joe Perkins became Plaintiff's supervisor at KSS. Id. at p. 8 (Pg. ID 451). Plaintiff asserts that during staff meetings, Perkins would regularly make disparaging remarks directed at people of Chinese ethnicity, and specifically towards Joyson Electronic's leadership team. Dkt. No. 34, p. 8 (Pg. ID 451). Plaintiff claims Perkins would make statements such as, “Your Chinese people doing this” and “Your Chinese people doing that, ” and would frequently call ideas coming from Joyson Electronic, “F'ing stupid.” Dkt. No. 29-5, p. 4-5 (Pg. ID 365-66). Jie Song -- a senior manager at KSS -- corroborated this pattern of behavior, testifying that when he previously worked with Perkins at a company called Nexteer, Perkins would use the “F word” in a way that was derogatory towards the Chinese. Dkt. No. 34-8, p. 12 (Pg. ID 538).[1]

         At one particular meeting held the day before Plaintiff was terminated from KSS, Perkins was discussing Joyson Electronic's impending acquisition of a North American company. Dkt. No. 29-5, p. 7 (Pg. ID 368). During that discussion, Plaintiff claims Perkins made the following statement: “You know Trump doesn't like fucking Chinese, so the chance of that approval I guess is pretty low.” Id. According to Plaintiff, Perkins then added, “Bradley, I don't mean you.” Id. While Plaintiff acknowledges that Perkins' comments were typically aimed at Joyson Electronic, and never Plaintiff personally, he maintains that such comments made him feel uncomfortable. Id. at p. 5 (Pg. ID 366). Especially since Perkins would regularly single Plaintiff out by saying, “sorry, Bradley.” Id.

         On September 1, 2017, Yuxin Tang was appointed to serve as interim President of KSS. Dkt. No. 29, p. 13 (Pg. ID 310). Joyson Electronic directed Tang to begin taking measures to improve KSS's financial performance. Id. To that end, Tang informed the management team at KSS, which included Perkins, that the company would be undergoing a reduction in force (“RIF”). Dkt. No. 35-2, pp. 19-20 (Pg. ID 706-07). During a meeting held with the management team on October 2, 2017, Tang identified several positions within KSS that he thought could be eliminated during the RIF to help reduce expenses. Dkt. No. 29, p. 15 Pg. ID 312). He specifically identified five Vice President positions, including Plaintiff's position of VP for IT. See Dkt. No. 29-2, p. 17 (Pg. ID 347).[2]Ultimately, however, Tang left it to the discretion of his management team to make recommendations as to who KSS should terminate. See Dkt. No. 35-2, p. 20 (Pg. ID 707) (Q: Did you give the U.S. management team discretion to come up with a proposal as to how this would be accomplished? Tang: Yeah, based on this target I asked everybody to come up with a proposal and work with HR.).

         On October 17, 2017, Perkins emailed Tang a list of individuals that he recommended terminating as a beginning point for the RIF. See Dkt. No. 29-8, pp. 13-14 (Pg. ID 395-96). Among the list of individuals was Plaintiff -- one of two Chinese employees that Perkins selected for the RIF. Id. In a sworn declaration, Tang claims that he specifically directed Perkins to place Plaintiff's name on the list because Tang had doubts about Plaintiff's potential moving forward. See Dkt. No. 29-2, p. 7 (pg. ID 337). But in an earlier deposition, Tang testified that the names on the termination list were presented to him by the management team. See Dkt. No. 35-2, p. 22 (Pg. ID 709). Further, that because he had just arrived in the United States, he trusted his management team to identify the right individuals to terminate. See id.

         On October 27, 2017, Defendant KSS notified Plaintiff that he had been terminated as part of the RIF. Dkt. No. 34, p. 9 (Pg. ID 452). Following his termination, Nathen Rajen -- Plaintiff's subordinate -- assumed Plaintiff's job responsibilities. Id. at p. 13 (Pg. ID 456). According to Tang, Rajen took over as the functional head of IT, but without the title. Id. at pp. 13-14 (Pg. ID 456-57).

         Plaintiff now brings the instant suit, alleging he was wrongfully terminated on account of his race, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Michigan's Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act (“ELCRA”). See Dkt. No. 1.

         III. ...

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