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SANTELLI v. ELECTRO-MOTIVE

March 29, 2001

MARY C. SANTELLI, PLAINTIFF,
V.
ELECTRO-MOTIVE, A DIVISION OF GENERAL MOTORS CORP., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Mary Santelli is a welder who claims that her employer, Electro-Motive (EMD), a division of General Motors, discriminated against her in the terms and conditions of her employment because she is a woman and retaliated against her because she had previously complained about sex discrimination. EMD has moved for summary judgment, claiming that Santelli experienced the "same disappointments as many of her male counterparts." For the reasons stated below, the motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

Background

EMD first hired Mary Santelli as a welder on May 22, 1972.*fn1 EMD's plant in LaGrange, Illinois manufactures locomotive engines. Although she was laid off in 1985, Santelli returned to the plant in 1991 as a clerk. In 1993, she began testing for placement in one of the two welding job classification codes: W51 and W52. Of the two codes, the W51 classification requires a higher skill level and results in a higher salary. In fact, it is the highest paying job classification in the LaGrange plant.

The test for the welding classifications requires an applicant to weld satisfactorily either six test plates (for the W51) or three test plates (for the W52). After an applicant welds the test plates, the plates must pass both a visual and laboratory inspection. The visual inspection is performed by an EMD Tester, while the laboratory inspection is done by an EMD Engineer. EMD claims that test plates are recycled after the pass/fail determination is made, as storage space does not allow for keeping the used test plates. Once a welder passes and is certified as either W51 or W52, the Employment Division decides on the appropriate placement for the welder.

In November 1993, Santelli took the easier W52 test. Although she had previously worked as a welder, the collective bargaining agreement in effect at EMD provided for retesting of welders who had not worked as welders for six months. She spent two days either practicing or testing but failed two of the three parts of the test. One of the testers, Eph Edwards, asked her in that month, "Why do you want to be a welder? Don't you like being a clerk? It's a woman's job." According to Joe Ball, a union representative, EMD Supervisor*fn2 Ivan Ivanov found out sometime in 1993 that Charles Patton had failed the welding test. Ivanov nonetheless allegedly found a welding job for Patton. Santelli however, remained in a clerk's position after failing the W52 test.

On January 5, 1994, Santelli began preparing for the harder W51 test, using as many test plates as she could during the 48 hours of training and practice time allotted her over several days. On January 13, 1994, Santelli failed four of the six parts of the W51 test. The examination of the test plates from this test was conducted by EMD Tester Don Hinson and EMD Engineer Richard Jasper. Of the four test plates that Santelli failed to weld properly, Jasper determined that one failed the laboratory examination, while Hinson failed the rest on visual inspection. Around this time, Santelli claims that Supervisor Ivanov told her that she would not be a welder because welding was "too difficult for a woman."

After failing the W51 test, Santelli was placed in the W52 code from January 13 to February 16, 1994 for on-the-job training. She therefore received approximately a month's training in welding at the W52 level. On February 16, Santelli retook the portions of the exam that she had previously failed. She got credit for those plates that had passed in January and November, but she still failed the three-plate W52 exam. Santelli admitted at her deposition that she made mistakes on the General #1 test plate, but she still believes that she passed this exam. EMD destroyed the test plates after examining them. Santelli claims that around this time EMD Tester Don Hinson told her that she would "never weld again" and that her failure to pass the exam might be a blessing in disguise because welding is too hard for a woman.

On March 7, 1994, Santelli was moved out of welding and into a G-91 (general factory) position. The next day, EMD switched her to a night shift. The day after that, Santelli filed her first complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. In that complaint, she cited the failed February 16 welding test. She stated that she was the only female welder at EMD, that male welders had been allowed to remain in welding positions despite failing the welding test, and that some had never been required to take the test. Also, she alleged that several male welders passed only part of the test and were placed in production welding, or they were allowed to retake the test after a three-week training period. In her charge, Santelli singled out Don Hinson, Eph Edwards, and Ivan Ivanov as management officials who told her that she "would not be a welder because it was too difficult for women." She also alleged that William Donalds, an EMD superintendent, told her that the company had lost her test plates, thereby preventing her from examining them to see how she had erred.

From around April 1994 to the following January, Santelli took medical leave, first for tendinitis and then for major surgery (a hysterectomy) and job-related stress. Santelli returned to EMD on February 2, 1995, and she began full-time training for another welding test. On February 21, 1995, Santelli passed the harder, six-plate W51 test. She claims that EMD Tester Hinson told her that it was a "fluke" and required her to retake the test. She passed again. On February 22, 1995, Santelli was promoted to W51 welder and assigned to Department 7013. This department welded small crankcase engines. The welders in Department 7013 had to lift 65-pound coils of welding wire. Santelli had her male colleagues lift the coils for her. Loading the coils for Santelli took them five minutes every other day.

Santelli worked as a W51 welder in Department 7013 for eight months. Her work was considered satisfactory despite the fact that she could not lift the 65-pound coil. On March 24, 1995, she met with a number of supervisors (Legan, Lane, DeLeon, and Talbert, along with Joe Ball, her union representative) to discuss her welding. She told them that she was doing the welding, but that her coworkers were installing the welding coils and tightening clamps on the crankcases. The supervisors transferred her to another W51 job in Department 7013, but she demonstrated that she could perform the tightening of the clamps. Even without being able to lift the welding wire, Santelli was reassigned to her original W51 position.

In October 1995, Santelli was transferred out of Department 7013, where she had been working on the first shift. EMD claims that this transfer was part of a reduction-in-force (RIF)*fn3 in that department and notes that three male welders were transferred out at the same time. EMD asserts that its policy when a department RIF takes place is to reduce those employees with the lowest plant-wide seniority.

Santelli flatly asserts this articulation of EMD policy is false. She presents manpower sheets for several weeks in October 1995 which identify the employees in Department 7013. Plaintiff's Resp. Br., Exh. 2. The manpower sheets appear to refute EMD's articulation of its seniority policy. If EMD actually made personnel decisions based on the plant-wide seniority of workers within the particular departments, it would have started by transferring and laying off some of the seven Department 7013 W51 welders who had later seniority dates than Santelli. W51 welders Garcia, Marin, Martinez, Aguirre, Gonzalez, Alvarez, Ramirez all worked the second shift in that department and had plant-wide seniority dates from 1994, making them eighteen years less senior than Santelli. Regardless of that fact, EMD reduced Santelli and, it appears, none of those Department 7013 W51 welders. In fact, Vincente Aguirre transferred to the first shift from the second shift. EMD seems to hint, see Defendant's Reply Br. at 11, that the RIF was somehow shift specific, but it has made no effort to provide evidence explaining why Department 7013 welders with 1994 seniority dates remained in the department when Santelli, with a 1972 seniority date, was transferred out.

From Department 7013, Santelli was transferred to to Department 7021. Santelli has described this as the "most demanding and dangerous welding position in the company," and it certainly sounds formidable. In that department, she worked on "B-29" crankcases, which are enormous locomotive parts that must be secured to a fixture. The huge crankcases, each weighing several tons, are secured to the fixture via large clamps and bolts that must be tightened down using an impact gun or wrench. The crankcase is then lifted off the ground by the fixture and maneuvered into different positions so that the welder can access various points. W51 welders work around the B-29 crankcase and also stand on an elevated platform to reach certain spots. "Strongbacks" must be hoisted up to 15-foot platforms and attached to the ends of the crankcase to assist the welding.

Not all welders in Department 7021 worked on the B-29 crankcases. EMD asserts that Santelli's foreman, Tony Roberts, assigned Santelli to the B-29 crankcases because she had the lowest seniority date in the department. Santelli points out that three W51 welders had lower seniority numbers than her, but at least one was not assigned to B-29 welding. Plaintiff's Response at 9 & Ex. 2. The manpower roster for the week ending October 22, 1995 shows that Nicolas Garcia had a seniority date of June 25, 1974, James Blotnicki had a seniority date of July 10, 1974, and Antonio Mosivais had a seniority date of September 26, 1994, all later than Santelli's May 22, 1972 seniority date. Garcia did not work on the B-29 crankcases.

Santelli points out that EMD Superintendent Danny Legan stated in his deposition that department supervisors are "empowered to run their department as they need to run it," including on what and where employees work within each department. That suggests that EMD actually had no policy that required Roberts to assign the lowest-ranking W51 welders in Department 7021 to work on the B-29 crankcases.

When Santelli protested her assignment to B-29s, Roberts told her "You want to be treated equally, don't you?" and "You don't want me to discriminate, do you?" She accepted her assignment and started work. Just as in Department 7013, certain aspects of the B-29 work were beyond Santelli's physical capabilities. She could not lift the crankcase onto the platform and could not secure the bolts with a power drill (her fingers were too small for the trigger). She could not carry up to the 15-foot platform the coils of welding wire which needed to be replaced every few days. According to her affidavit, welding a B-29 took eight hours, while installing the "strongbacks" took five minutes per eight hours and mounting the welding wire took five minutes every other day. Santelli had no difficulty with the welding.

Unlike in Department 7013, however, Santelli's difficulty with lifting heavy objects was not tolerated in Department 7021. After one week working on B-29s, Santelli requested a transfer back to Department 7013. To increase her chances, she requested a shift change in an attempt to bump one of the less senior welders mentioned above who was working on the second shift in Department 7013. Santelli was transferred to the second shift but was not allowed to change departments.

Santelli was returned to the G-91 general factory work code on October 31, 1995, and her pay was reduced. On that same day, she filed a second EEOC charge. In the charge, Santelli stated that she was "placed in welding duties which were very demanding and I believe this was done in an effort to frustrate me in giving up the position." The form reveals that she claimed that the discrimination took place on October 23, 1995 (the day of the Red 618). She also denied that she had told her EMD supervisor that she was physically unable to do the job. On the charge form, the "Retaliation" box is checked, but her comments on the form also included as one of the reasons for her belief that she had been retaliated against the statement that "I am the only female in the welding position."

On November 13, 1995, Santelli transferred to Department 3116 as a lower-paid W52 welder. She worked there until May 13, 1996, when a RIF sent her back to the G-91 code. She was the welder with the lowest plant seniority in Department 3116 at that time.

In September 1996, Santelli needed time off to spend with her disabled brother and sick father, so she took personal leave, vacation time, and a voluntary deferred layoff. This layoff was planned to last until January, 1997, but EMD recalled her to work in the G-91 code on October 28, 1996. She started work in Department 2022.

Santelli took family medical leave in April and May 1997 and then worked at EMD as a W52 welder. On May 16, 1997, she received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC covering both her 1994 and 1995 complaints. She took and passed a W52 welding test, as well as a pipe welding test on June 5, 1997. This test was administered by Trancito Amador.

After receiving her EEOC letter, Santelli filed a pro se complaint in this Court on August 17, 1997, alleging that she "was deprived of higher welding classification and work opportunities based on defendant's contention that she/I was not physically fit to perform that type of work." She worked in the W52 code until ...

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