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Golden v. Uaw-Chrysler National Training Center

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

November 14, 2019

IRMA GOLDEN, Plaintiff,
v.
UAW-CHRYSLER NATIONAL TRAINING CENTER, Defendant.

          STEPHANIE DAWKINS DAVIS MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [35]

          LAURIE J. MICHELSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Irma Golden was earning more than $55, 000 when she left her job at the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center (“NTC”) on May 31, 2017. She had worked at the organization for more than a quarter of a century in a variety of support-staff positions.

         Golden did not leave on the best terms. During the preceding decade, she had complained to superiors that she was underpaid. And closer to her departure, she had lost some of her job responsibilities and had been assigned tasks that she found to be menial. These changes, according to Golden, amounted to a constructive discharge, giving her no choice but to quit.

         Golden then sued the NTC. She alleges that the NTC discriminated against her based on age and sex and retaliated against her for engaging in protected activity. In particular, Golden argues that the NTC unlawfully paid her less than two similarly situated coworkers, Alfred Jones and Michelle Adams. The NTC moved for summary judgment, arguing that Golden cannot establish any of her claims.

         For the reasons described below, the Court will grant the NTC's motion.

         I.

         The NTC, an organization jointly operated by UAW and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, “provide[s] joint programs for the benefit of UAW-represented workers at FCA and provides extensive training to FCA employees represented by the UAW.” (ECF No. 36-1, PageID.227- 228.)

         The specifics of Golden's role are central to this case, so the Court will discuss them in some detail. Golden, who holds a bachelor's degree, first joined the NTC as a security guard in 1990. (ECF No. 36-1, PageID.239; ECF No. 36-6, PageID.663.) Within several months, she moved to the organization's professional support staff. (Id.) Over the subsequent 26 years, in the roles of communication specialist and then training specialist, Golden had many job responsibilities. She worked on numerous conferences and trainings, such as the women's committee program and the employee assistance program, and coordinated a March of Dimes event. (ECF No. 36-6, PageID.682-684.) According to Golden, her functions included planning the agendas, arranging audiovisual technology, and registering participants. (ECF No. 36-6, PageID.686-687.) Eventually, she also became responsible for entering information into a database to track the list of training participants. (ECF No. 36-6, PageID.691-694.) The number of trainings dwindled, though, in the aftermath of Chrysler's 2009 bankruptcy and lack of new hires. (ECF No. 36-4, PageID.489-490; ECF No. 36-9, PageID.1062-1063.)

         Position data questionnaires from three separate points during Golden's NTC career shed light on her job responsibilities. Golden's 1997 and 2005 questionnaires listed her title as “Training Specialist.” (ECF No. 36-8, PageID.976; ECF No. 36-19, PageID.1198.) The 1997 report described her principal role as providing “on-going technical expertise and assistance for the development and implementation of NTC education and training programs, ” which included “involvement with conferences, in-service training, small group sessions, and other activities.” (ECF No. 36-19, PageID.1198-1200.) Golden's duties ranged from planning the agendas of the trainings to taking group pictures. (Id.) Her 2005 questionnaire summarized her position in roughly the same manner. (ECF No. 36-8, PageID.976-977.) One new addition was that she had become the program support administrator of TEDS, a “database designed to catalog and track NTC sponsored training.” (Id.)

         By 2015 Golden's title had changed slightly to “Training Specialist/[Learning Management System] Administrator.” (ECF No. 36-7, PageID.969-974.) Golden estimated that she spent 60 percent of her time delivering trainings and developing training materials for various programs. (Id.) She worked the remainder of the time providing “[a]dmin responsibilities” for the Learning Management System (which tracked participant attendance), entering the information of program attendees into the ToolingU database, and assisting in research for other trainings. (Id.) The questionnaire confirmed that she had no budgetary duties or supervisory responsibilities. (Id.)

         At some point in 2015, higher-ups at the NTC removed Golden from trainings that included solely UAW workers. (ECF No. 36-5, PageID.560-573.) For trainings such as UAW new-hire orientations, the sessions became facilitated by so-called Special Assigned and International Reps-FCA or UAW employees, respectively, who had been assigned temporarily to the NTC. (Id.) But as long as the training included some non-union employees, such as members of management, Golden continued to conduct the trainings as usual. (Id.) According to Delrico Loyd, who administered the training programs on behalf of UAW, this change aligned with the UAW philosophy that its members should be trained by UAW-appointed trainers, a group that did not include Golden. (ECF No. 36-5, PageID.535-536, 564-565.)

         Golden was displeased by this change. On July 23, 2015, she sent an email to both Loyd and Helen Smith, Loyd's counterpart from the FCA side. Golden was “seeking explanation, ” she wrote, after learning that her “assignment to conduct the Diversity series training for New Hire Orientation has been eliminated without notification.” (ECF No. 38-8, PageID.1289-1290.) In response, Scott advised Golden to discuss the matter with her direct supervisor, Lamar Harris. (Id.) When Harris then met with Golden, he assured her that he would “get to the bottom of it.” (ECF No. 36-6, PageID.149.) When the two spoke several months later and nothing had happened, Golden decided to “just let it go.” (Id.)

         Around this time, Golden also was assigned to duties that she describes as “menial.” (ECF No. 38, PageID.1240.) When she worked at the all-UAW training sessions, she provided support for the trainers rather than doing the trainings herself. (ECF No. 36-6, PageID.810.) For instance, Golden advanced the presenters' slides and checked whether the microphones had batteries. (Id.) At one weeklong conference, she sat in the back of the room and occasionally made photocopies or poured coffee for people. (ECF No. 36-6, PageID.812-813.) She also was invited to fewer staff meetings. (ECF No. 36-6, PageID.792-794.) But she continued to conduct various other trainings, including the employee assistance program and workplace violence program, as well as organizing the March of Dimes event. (ECF No. 36-6, PageID.802.)

         In addition to Golden's frustration with her role, there also was the issue of her compensation. At several meetings from 2007 until her departure, she expressed to managers that she desired a larger paycheck. (ECF No. 36-2, PageID.266-269; ECF No. 36-4, PageID.411-414; ECF No. 36-5, PageID.553-556; ECF No. 36-6, PageID.735-736, 848-850.) As the record shows, the NTC's system for establishing wages was not simple. The board of the NTC, which controlled Golden's pay, had a system involving a third-party evaluator to set compensation ranges. (ECF No. 36-1, PageID.229; ECF No. 36-2, PageID.264-265.) But the frequency of this process was erratic. (Id.) When a third party eventually presented a report in August 2015, the evaluator suggested that employees in Golden's category (“Specialists, Exec Asst”) earn between $46, 750 and $63, 250, with a midpoint of $55, 000. (ECF No. 36-1, PageID.237-239.) At the time, Golden made $26.54 per hour, which amounted to $55, 203 per year. (Id.; ECF No. 38-6, PageID.1283.)

         Golden also thought that the NTC had a bias against older employees and would ignore their needs. (ECF No. 36-6, PageID.822-823.) In a 2015 meeting with Loyd, she asked him to bring up the issue of her pay with UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell. (ECF No. 36-6, 820- 21.) A month or two later, Loyd and Golden spoke again. (Id.) According to Golden, Loyd told her that management “want[ed] people to retire” and then asked her directly, “Have you ever thought about retiring?” (Id.) (Loyd says he “never” had any conversations about retirement with Golden (ECF No. 36-5, PageID.613), but the Court construes evidence in the light most favorable to Golden at the summary-judgment stage.)

         About two years later, Golden indeed retired. Soon after, she filed this lawsuit.

         II.

         Summary judgment is appropriate only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “An issue of fact is ‘genuine' if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Hedrick v. Western Reserve Care Sys., 355 F.3d 444, 451 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). “A fact is material only if its resolution will affect the outcome of the lawsuit.” Id. at 451-52 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, this Court views the ...


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