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Schutter v. Harold Zeigler Auto Group, Inc.

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

September 24, 2019




         Plaintiff, Mackenzie Schutter, has sued her former employer, Harold Zeigler Auto Group, Inc., alleging that Zeigler violated the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and discriminated against her on the basis of her pregnancy, in violation of the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA), M.C.L. § 37.201 et seq., when it eliminated her position as its corporate marketing manager.

         Zeigler has moved for summary judgment on both claims. The motion is fully briefed, and the Court heard oral argument on the motion on August 27, 2019.

         For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion and dismiss Schutter’s amended complaint with prejudice.

         I. Facts

         A. Schutter’s Employment with Zeigler

         Zeigler is in the retail automobile sales business and has 26 retail locations throughout southwest Michigan, northern Indiana, New York, and Illinois. (ECF No. 48-9 at PageID.329.) Zeigler first employed Schutter in March 2016, when she accepted the position of marketing manager for Zeigler’s JD Byrider franchises. Schutter’s salary in that position was $45, 000, plus a guaranteed bonus of $5, 000 during her first year of employment. (ECF No. 48-5.) Schutter’s responsibilities included creating a new website, posting pictures of vehicles to the website, working on the company’s social media presence, and performing other marketing functions. (ECF No. 48-4 at PageID.253.) She also assisted with recruiting at the JD Byrider locations, including publishing job postings, reviewing resumes, and sitting in on interviews. (Id. at PageID.251.)

         In late 2016 or early 2017, Ethan Sivewright, Schutter’s supervisor at JD Byrider, recommended to Zeigler’s president, Aron Zeigler, that Zeigler eliminate Schutter’s marketing position at JD Byrider. (ECF No. 48-9 at PageID.330.) Aron Zeigler had been considering creating a position at Zeigler’s corporate office that would perform entry-level marketing tasks for the corporate office. After consulting with Sivewright and Mike Van Ryn, Zeigler’s director of talent development, Aron Zeigler decided to create the position of corporate marketing manager and to offer it to Schutter. (Id.) Schutter understood that the new position was “experimental, ” as it had not existed previously, and that Aron Zeigler did not know whether the position would work out. (ECF No. 48-4 at PageID.258–59.) Schutter accepted the position, which paid the same base salary as her previous position. Schutter’s responsibilities in her new position were to be split among Zeigler’s auto group, its JD Byrider franchises, and Zeigler Motorsports, with each division or entity paying assigned percentages of her salary. (ECF No. 48-9 at PageID.330.) Aron Zeigler was Schutter’s direct supervisor, although her job responsibilities were similar to those of her former position. (Id.) Because Schutter now was also eligible for bonuses for recruiting new Zeigler employees in her new position, she began attending the regular recruiting department team meetings that Van Ryn held.

         B. Schutter’s Performance Shortcomings

         Schutter’s performance in her new position did not go well, at least from Aron Zeigler’s perspective. From the beginning, she failed to prioritize her job assignments and, consequently, did not complete some of them on time. For example, one of the first assignments Aron Zeigler gave Schutter was to put accurate and high-resolution photos of Zeigler dealerships onto Zeigler’s corporate website. He informed Schutter that this project was the top priority and that he wanted it completed by the end of February 2017. (Id.; ECF No. 48-4 at PageID.268.) When Aron Zeigler followed up with Schutter at the end of February regarding the status of the project, Schutter told him that it was not yet completed and that she had been busy performing other tasks for Motorsports. When Aron Zeigler followed up with Kevin Galer, Schutter’s supervisor at Motorsports, Galer said that when he had asked Schutter to perform tasks for Motorsports, she told him that she was too busy doing work for the auto group. (ECF No. 48-9 at PageID.331; ECF No. 48-14 at PageID.356.) The project came up again during a meeting on March 6, 2017, in which Schutter asked Aron Zeigler what he wanted her to do with the pictures on the website. Schutter’s question indicated to Aron Zeigler that Schutter had forgotten the meeting they had in early February in which they had first discussed the project. Aron Zeigler asked Schutter if she remembered the meeting, and Schutter admitted that she had “dropped the ball” and said she would get on the project immediately, promising to complete it by the end of March. Aron Zeigler told Schutter that her job performance on the project was unacceptable. She apologized and indicated that she would improve her performance. (ECF No. 48-9 at PageID.331.)

         The two met again on April 17, 2017, at which time Schutter said that she still had not completed the initial project. Aron Zeigler assigned Schutter a new project of writing a company history to put under the “history” tab on the company’s website, to be completed in 30 days. At the conclusion of the meeting, Aron Zeigler told Schutter that he had created Schutter’s position to accomplish specific functions for the auto group and that thus far, Schutter had not met his expectations and he was contemplating eliminating the position. (Id. at PageID.331–32.)

         On June 9, 2017, Schutter emailed Aron Zeigler about the status of her efforts to upload the new dealership photos to the auto group website. She also described delays that she was encountering in creating the description for the history tab on the company’s website. Aron Zeigler responded, indicating his displeasure with her progress and reminding her that he had asked her to complete the dealership picture project months ago and had not seen any progress until he had emailed her the day before. Schutter apologized, said that she would reiterate to company vendors that the project was a priority, and committed to reprioritizing her tasks. (Id. at PageID.332.)

         When asked about her job performance during her deposition, Schutter said that she chose to communicate with Van Ryn rather than with Aron Zeigler but admitted that, in hindsight, she should have sought direction and clarification about her work directly from Aron Zeigler. (ECF No. 48-4 at PageID.256–57.) Schutter believed that communicating directly with Aron Zeigler would have provided her more “clarification” on her job priorities because “he, obviously, got rid of me for a reason and so I would have liked to have known ahead of time what I was doing wrong because I was getting no sense of what I was doing wrong.” (Id. at PageID.276–77.) Schutter also admitted that, at times, she felt distracted from completing her work. (Id. at PageID.278.)

         C. Schutter Learns She is Pregnant

         Schutter learned that she was pregnant around the time she accepted the new corporate marketing manager position. (ECF No. 49-1 at PageID.437.) She shared this information with Van Ryn on or about March 7, 2017. (Id. at PageID.438.) Schutter never discussed her pregnancy with Aron Zeigler. (ECF No. 48-4 at PageID.270.) Schutter claims that “[w]ithin a few weeks” after she informed Van Ryn of the pregnancy, Van Ryn told her that when he informed Aron Zeigler that Schutter was pregnant, Aron Zeigler commented that the pregnancy was “poor timing, ” said that “[a]t least she can get us through the busy season, ” and asked, “[i]s she [Schutter] the working type?” Van Ryn said that he responded, “Yeah, I think so.” (ECF No. 49-1 at PageID.438.) Schutter claims that she and other employees considered Aron Zeigler’s “working type” comment “a joke” that she did not take seriously.[1] (ECF No. 48-4 at PageID.290.)

         Soon after Schutter informed Van Ryn that she was pregnant, she inquired about FMLA leave because she “was curious on how it worked, . . . what paperwork [she] needed and how soon they needed it.” (ECF No. 48-4 at PageID.293.) Schutter did not actually request leave at that point. (Id.) Schutter’s plan was to take two-to-six weeks off work for the birth, for which she would use the two-to-three weeks of vacation time that she had accrued and then go on unpaid leave, if necessary. (Id. at PageID.296.)

         D. Aron Zeigler Decides to Eliminate Schutter’s Position

         Following his June 9, 2017, email exchange with Schutter, Aron Zeigler met with Schutter and indicated that he didn’t see a need for the corporate marketing manager position and that he would most likely eliminate it. He also told her that if he decided to eliminate the position, he would offer her another position within the company if one were available. (ECF No. 48-9 at PageID.332.) Aron Zeigler ultimately decided to eliminate the position because he believed that it was not adding value to the company and because of Schutter’s ...

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