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Tucker v. Volkswagen Group of America, Inc.

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

August 16, 2019

D. DWAYNE TUCKER, Plaintiff,
v.
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP OF AMERICA, INC., NICK CARDONI, and DAKO RESOURCES, INC., Defendants.

          Magistrate Judge R. Steven Whalen

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [39, 40, 43] AND DENYING AS MOOT PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [44]

          LAURIE J. MICHELSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         D. Dwayne Tucker has diabetes that he says impacts his vision. He worked as a customer experience specialist for a Porsche customer call center. Porsche is an affiliate of Volkswagen. Tucker was placed at Porsche's call center through DAKO Resources, a staffing agency contracted to provide workers for Volkswagen. After only three months on the job, Volkswagen asked DAKO to end Tucker's placement. Soon after, Tucker sued Volkswagen, DAKO, and a manager at the Porsche call center. Tucker alleged all Defendants denied him a reasonable accommodation, created a hostile work environment, and had a neutral policy-discouraging public transit-that had a disparate impact on him.

         The parties conducted discovery and, eventually, all Defendants moved for summary judgment. Tucker did not respond to those motions. But he did move for partial summary judgment on an ancillary issue. Upon review of the record, for the reasons that follow, Defendants have met their summary judgment burden. So Tucker's claims will be dismissed and his motion denied as moot.

         I.

         In April 2016, DAKO Resources Group informed D. Dwayne Tucker about a job opportunity with Porsche, an affiliate of Volkswagen. (ECF No. 39, PageID.872.) Volkswagen was seeking customer experience specialists, people “empowered to ‘do what it takes' to leave a customer with the very best impression” of the brand. (Id. at PageID.873.) Although “[d]elivering exceptional customer experiences” was the job's “only priority[, ]” Volkswagen also indicated an essential function of the job would be to “[p]roperly document customer information in[to]” Porsche's customer database. (Id.)

         Tucker got the job. (ECF No. 39, PageID.583.) He started on May 23, 2016. (Id.)

         In the time Tucker spent as a customer experience specialist, he struggled. (See ECF No. 39, PageID.585; see also ECF No. 39-7.) According to Tucker, he struggled most with the customer database. Tucker had “low vision, ” a condition he says was made worse by his diabetes. (Id. at PageID.617.) As a result, he had trouble reading customer data as it appeared on the Avaya program. (Id. at PageID.607, 612-613.) Avaya was the call management application Volkswagen used to manage and distribute workflow among the customer experience specialists. (Id. at PageID. 578.) The customer experience specialists, like Tucker, were supposed to use customer information to input customer contacts into Porsche's' customer database. To better see the customer data, Tucker asked for larger font sizes on his Avaya system. More specifically, Tucker wanted the customer phone number on the Avaya system to be in a larger font. (Id. at PageID.637-638.) But neither Volkswagen nor DAKO would accommodate his request. (Id.) Because he had trouble using Avaya, Tucker had problems entering data into Porsche's customer database. (Id.)

         In his time at Porsche, Tucker experienced other problems as well. Tucker rode the bus to work. (ECF No. 29, PageID.703.) And he believes Volkswagen and DAKO had a problem with that. (Id. at PageID.703-704.) Specifically, a Volkswagen employee named Nick Cardoni frequently brought up the fact that Tucker relied on public transit. (Id. at PageID.708.) Cardoni would say things like “Hey Dennis, what's going on with transportation, what's up with the car situation.” (Id. at PageID.705.) Tucker interpreted Cardoni's comments as an unnecessary injection of race into the workplace. (Id. at PageID.703-704.) As Tucker put it, “many people like myself from Detroit, dark skin, we have to ride the bus out there for various reasons, and the fact that I had to ride the bus and did not have a car, Mr. Cardoni took issue with that.” (Id.)

         With less than three months on the job, Volkswagen asked DAKO to transfer Tucker out of the Porsche call center. (Id. at PageID.409, 627.) Tucker's time in the call center came to an end on August 15, 2016.

         Based on all of the above, Tucker filed suit against Volkswagen and DAKO. Initially he brought failure to accommodate claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Michigan's state-law analogue. Both claims centered on Volkswagen and DAKO's failure to accommodate Tucker's low vision. In time, Tucker amended his complaint to add Cardoni and claims of hostile work environment and disparate impact. The hostile work environment claim arose out of Cardoni's interactions with Tucker over public transit and car ownership. And Tucker alleged Volkswagen and DAKO had a de facto policy of discouraging public transit, a neutral policy that nonetheless had a disparate impact on African-Americans. (Id. at PageID.704-709.)

         Volkswagen, DAKO, and Cardoni each move for summary judgment. (ECF No. 39, 40, 43.) Tucker did not respond to any of them. He did, however, move for partial summary judgment on the grounds that diabetes is a disability for the purposes of the ADA. (ECF No.44.)

         II.

         Summary judgment is warranted if the moving party shows there are no genuine disputes of material fact and the moving party “is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists “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). At this stage, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant. FTC v. E.M.A. Nationwide, Inc., 767 F.3d 611, 629 (6th Cir. 2014) (internal quotations and citations omitted). ...


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