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Rougeau v. Dapco Industries

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

May 29, 2019

GWEN ROUGEAU, Plaintiff,



         I. Introduction

         This is an employment discrimination case. Plaintiff Gwen Rougeau (Rougeau), an African-American, is suing her former employer, defendant Dapco Industries (Dapco) claiming race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e.

         Before the Court is Dapco's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

         II. Background

         The material facts as gleaned from the parties' papers follow.

         A. Dapco Generally

         Dapco manufactures fuel valves, filters, fittings, and other fuel handling components for the small engine market including recreational vehicles, personal watercraft and lawn car equipment. Dapco is family-owned and located in Dexter, Michigan. The company employs approximately 125 people, most of whom work as assemblers of the various parts Dapco manufactures and sells.

         Dapco provides its employees with an employee handbook which contains the company's Equal Employment Opportunity Policy. See Dapco's Exhibit 2 - Equal Employment Opportunity Policy and Dapco's Exhibit 3 - Open Door Policy. Dapco prohibits any forms of harassment, joking remarks, or other abusive conduct directed at employees because of their age, sex, race, and other protected groups under both federal and state law. Dapco also requires written notice of any complaint related to equal employment, i.e. harassment, which Dapco agrees to investigate and notify the employee of the resolution. See id. Dapco also prohibits workplace violence, including, but not limited to, aggressive verbal attacks, and conduct that threatens, intimidates, coerces or interferes with employees. See Dapco's Exhibit 4 - Workplace Violence Policy.

         Regarding performance and discipline, Dapco's employee handbook provides for the option of progressive discipline but the company retains the right to terminate employees at will, to start progressive discipline at any level in the process, or immediately terminate an employee for cause. A final warning, for example, can be the first course of discipline and is considered active for six months. Further violations of any Dapco policy during that period can result in immediate termination. See Dapco's Exhibit 5 - Disciplinary Policy.

         B. Rougeau's Employment at Dapco

         Rougeau was hired by Dapco as an assembler on April 5, 2011. Assemblers sit at an area/table and assembles the different parts that Dapco manufactures. Assemblers assemble parts depending on the work area they are assigned to. Each area/table typically has an assembler who is also a team leader. The team leader ensures that the assemblers have the correct parts to work with, follow the schedule, and complete their assigned tasks. The team leader is also responsible for the quality of the assembled parts.

         During the majority of the time Rougeau worked at Dapco, she was an assembler. She then became a team leader on the afternoon shift. Fewer employees worked on the afternoon shift compared to the day shift. In February 2015, Rougeau's afternoon shift supervisor promoted her to group leader/night lead and Rougeau got a raise. Rougeau was the only African-American team leader at Dapco. A few months later, in July 2015, Dapco eliminated the assembly work on the afternoon shift and transferred those employees, including Rougeau, to the day shift.

         After the transfer to the day shift, Rougeau retained her title of group leader and hourly rate (minus a $ .25 shift premium that affected all of the transferred employees. However, because all of the team leader positions on the day shift were filled, her supervisor, Jeff Carpenter, considered Rougeau “inactive” as a team leader. However, Carpenter stated at deposition that he does not recall telling Rougeau she was inactive and stated she still retained the authority of a team leader but did not have an actual team to lead. All of the Rougeau's employment evaluations in the record are very favorable.

         Almost a year after being on the day shift, in April 2016, Rougeau received a Final Written Warning, which states in relevant part:

On Tuesday, April 5, 2016, it was brought to the management's attention that you said inappropriate comments directed at another employee. The comments you made were considered threatening in nature. The exchange of words was overheard by at least one other co-worker in the are. It is unacceptable for any employee to use threatening language towards a co-worker.
. . . .
Any additional occurrences of harassment of any type will result in further disciplinary action including suspension or immediate Separation of Employment from Dapco Industries. I have read and understand the terms of this Final Written Warning.

         See Dapco's Exhibit 10 - Final Written Warning. This was Rougeau's first disciplinary action and Dapco investigated the incident before issuing the discipline. The Investigation Notes reveal that Rougeau told a co-worker, a Caucasian, to “keep my name out of your mouth.” When the co-worker said she did not have to listen to her, Rougeau responded “say it [my name] again and you'll see bitch.” The co-worker also complained that Rougeau was “cutting her off lately, stepping right in front of her.”

         A few months later, in August 2016, Rougeau was involved in another incident with a different co-worker, an African-American. According to Rougeau, she “bumped” this co-worker at their lockers. The co-worker responded to Rougeau by saying “if you bump me again, I'm going to slap the fuck out of you.” In response, Rougeau stated: “Well slap me then. Go ahead and slap me.” See Dapco's Exhibit 14 - Deposition of Rougeau. Dapco investigated. The Investigation Notes generally confirm Rougeau's version of the events. Dapco determined that both Rougeau and the co-worker were to blame for the incident.

         That same day, August 15, 2016, Dapco terminated Rougeau. The Separation of Employment letter stated in relevant part:

On Friday August 12, 206, it was brought to management's attention that your were involved in a verbal altercation with another employee. Management conducted a thorough investigation regarding the altercation. Based on the investigation it was determined that you were partially at fault. You have been involved in numerous altercations (employee issues) with co-workers in the past, these have been discussed with you.
On April 12, 2016, you received a Final Written Warning for making inappropriate comments ...

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