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Smith v. Masterbrand Cabinets

May 15, 2006

CINDY SMITH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MASTERBRAND CABINETS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY Chief U.S. District Judge

OPINION

This case is before the court for ruling on the Motion for Summary Judgment (#31) filed by Defendant, Masterbrand Cabinets, Inc. Following this court's careful consideration of the arguments of the parties and the documents provided by the parties, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (#31) is GRANTED. Accordingly, Defendant's Agreed Motion to Continue Trial and Final Pretrial Conference (#38) is MOOT.

FACTS*fn1

Plaintiff, Cindy Smith,*fn2 began working for Defendant on May 18, 2001. Throughout the course of her employment, Plaintiff worked in the door plant as a Material Handler on second shift. Plaintiff testified that, during her employment with Defendant, men were allowed to call women names. Specifically, Plaintiff testified that Allen Brickey and Dustin Hall called her "lazy fat ass," "fucking bitch," "fucking fat bitch" and "cunt." Plaintiff testified that other women were also called offensive names by Brickey, Hall and other male employees. Plaintiff testified that this occurred several times a week from the time she started working at Defendant. Plaintiff testified that, in the beginning, she reported this conduct to her supervisor, John Winschief. She testified that she was not sure how many times she reported it, but it was more than once. Plaintiff testified that she also reported this conduct to Rhonda Gatons and "possibly" to Kord Kozma. Plaintiff stated that she did not recall when she made these complaints. During her testimony, Plaintiff was unable to provide even approximate dates or times for any of the conduct she recounted and answered numerous questions by stating, "I don't remember." Gatons testified that she was Employee Relations Manager for Defendant until 2001 or 2002 and did not recall receiving any complaints from Plaintiff.

Cheryl Doss, who was employed at Defendant during the same time period as Plaintiff, testified that she heard male employees call Plaintiff "fucking bitch" on more than one occasion. Doss also testified that offensive language, specifically the word "fuck," was frequently used by male employees. Doss testified that she "told them that they were not to talk to me that way" and "after that when I was around they usually did not say that." Doss also testified that this kind of language was directed at both women and men and that there was at least one female employee who "cussed."

Defendant has a four-page "Policy on Equal Employment Opportunity, Workplace Harassment and Retaliation." This document included a detailed explanation of Defendant's policy prohibiting sexual harassment. The document also stated:

Employees who believe that they have either witnessed or been subjected to Discrimination shall immediately report the Discrimination to [Defendant]. Employees have a duty to report Discrimination to [Defendant] in order to protect themselves, their colleagues and the company. [Defendant] cannot investigate and take appropriate action if the conduct and behavior is not reported.

Employees have options for reporting Discrimination. To ensure that a report is properly recorded, an employee should report the Discrimination to Human Resources. In the event Human Resources is not available or the employee is uncomfortable in reporting the conduct to Human Resources, the employee may report the Discrimination directly to the Vice President of Safety, Environmental and Risk Management who can be reached at 812-634-0543. Employee may also call a confidential password-protected voicemail telephone hot-line at 1-888-786-2949. Only a member of the Corporate Compliance Committee will retrieve voice mail messages left on that telephone line.

Plaintiff testified that, on most occasions, she reported conduct to her supervisor, Winschief. She testified that she did not call the hot-line to report any conduct by her co-workers.

Plaintiff testified that she missed almost five hours of work on one occasion because her co-worker, Hall, yelled at her and accused her of making mistakes "on fucking purpose." Defendant submitted documentation regarding this lost time which showed that it occurred on July 19, 2001. Plaintiff testified that she was upset and crying and reported this incident to Winschief. Plaintiff stated that Winschief told her that "he was not going to put up with people in our department being disrespectful [and] using that kind of language" and that he would talk to Hall about it. Plaintiff testified that she was selected to go on a company-sponsored trip to Tennessee related to wood quality. She testified that, when she returned, a co-worker, Maury Laurence, told her that the only reason she got to go was because she "sucked [Winschief's] dick." Defendant provided documentation which showed that the Tennessee trip occurred in November 2001.

Plaintiff testified that an incident occurred where Brickey shoved her and pushed her on the chest. Plaintiff stated that she spoke to both Winschief and the second shift superintendent, David Pantier, about the incident. Plaintiff testified that she told Pantier she wanted to call the police. Plaintiff testified that she was not allowed to call the police but that Pantier stated that, if it ever happened again, he would call the police. Plaintiff testified that Pantier made Brickey apologize to her later that night. Plaintiff testified that she had no idea as to when this incident occurred, but it may have been in 2001 or 2002. Plaintiff also testified that Art Decker hit her with a door part "right across the butt" which caused "actual bruising" on the back of her legs and butt. Plaintiff testified that she could not recall when this incident occurred but stated that she did report it to Winschief. Defendant provided documentation to show that Decker's employment was terminated on September 9, 2002, so that the incident had to have occurred prior to that date.

Plaintiff testified that men in her department were allowed to work on machines and she was never put on a machine. Plaintiff also complained that she was never allowed to drive a fork truck. Plaintiff named Hall, Brickey and Laurence as male employees in her department who were allowed to work on machines. Plaintiff testified that she did not know the job title of these employees, nor did she have any idea of the time period she was talking about. Plaintiff stated that, in her opinion, male employees were allowed to be cross-trained on machines and women were not. Defendant submitted documentation to show that employees with the job classification of Material Handler did not run the machines Plaintiff stated she wanted to be "cross-trained" on. Instead, these machines were run by employees with the job classification of Machine Operator I. Defendants also submitted documentation that Machine Operator I positions became available numerous times during Plaintiff's employment. These positions are awarded through a job bid process and are awarded on the basis of seniority. Plaintiff only bid on two of these positions, and was not selected because she was not the most senior employee who bid on the position. Women employees were the successful bidder on five of these positions during the time Plaintiff was employed by Defendant.

Plaintiff testified that, at some point, new machines were being brought into the department. She asked Winschief if everyone was going to be allowed to be trained on the new machines. Plaintiff testified that Winschief stated that "the machines were expensive machines and that I might break a fingernail and something to the effect that it would be too expensive to replace parts to have women trained on them." The evidence shows that, in January 2003, Plaintiff complained to Matthew Ohrt, who was Defendant's Employee Relations Manager at that time, about this remark by Winschief.*fn3 Ohrt conducted an investigation and spoke to every woman who worked in Plaintiff's department. Ohrt concluded that no sex discrimination took place. A meeting was held in Ohrt's office following the investigation. Plaintiff testified that Ohrt told her that her allegations were not true. Plaintiff testified that Ohrt also accused her of preferring married men and of leaving notes on Winschief's windshield. Plaintiff testified that she did not leave notes on Winschief's windshield, but did ask him out for drinks four or five times.

Plaintiff testified that she had work related injuries to her shoulder, wrist, and knee while she was employed by Defendant. She testified that, when male employees were injured, they were taken off their jobs and given light duty work whereas female employees were required to keep doing the same thing. Plaintiff testified that she did receive light duty but that she "was not taken off [her] job right away to go to light duty." On March 7, 2003, Plaintiff complained to Winschief that a stool she was using at work was being "thrown" over to the other side of the machine by Hall. Plaintiff stated that she needed the stool to follow her doctor's orders that she needed to sit for a period of time and then stand for a period of time. Plaintiff testified that she saw Hall throw the stool once, possibly twice. Winschief reported the complaint to Ohrt. Ohrt conducted an investigation and concluded that Hall had moved the stool because it was in an aisle way causing a trip hazard. Ohrt also concluded that, although the stool was moved, it had not been thrown. Plaintiff testified that Ohrt called her into his office to discuss her complaint. Plaintiff testified that Ohrt told her that she was making false accusations about other employees. Plaintiff also testified that Ohrt told her she needed to make things right with God. Ohrt had a much different recollection of the meeting. He testified that he did not accuse Plaintiff of making false accusations, but counseled her on the use of words, especially when making accusations toward others. Ohrt also stated that Plaintiff was very emotional at the meeting and he gave her an card about the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) because he thought she was troubled.

Plaintiff began a leave of absence on April 7, 2003. Defendant had implemented a comprehensive leave of absence policy in March 2002. The policy defined the circumstances under which employees could be absent from work on an approved leave of absence. The policy provided for leave in accordance with the Family and Medical Leave Act as well as additional medical leave which was discretionary with Defendant. Employees, including Plaintiff, received training on the policy in March 2002. In June 2003, Defendant's leave of absence policy was modified such that the total amount of leave available to employees was reduced from 12 months to 6 months. Defendant determined that it would be unfair to suddenly terminate the employment of employees out on leave who had already received six months of leave at the time the policy changed. These employees, Joyce Good and Brad Hug, were therefore grandfathered and were allowed a total of 12 months leave. Employees who were out on leave who had not yet been on leave for six months were notified of the change in policy and the date their leave time would be exhausted under the new policy. These employees were Plaintiff, James Poundstone, and Martha McCoskey. Plaintiff received a letter on September 5, 2003, which stated that, with the implementation of the revised Leave of Absence policy, her medical leave of absence would expire on November 5, 2003. The letter stated that if she was unable to return to an open position by that date, her employment would be terminated. Plaintiff's employment was terminated on November 17, 2003, because she had exhausted all available leave time and remained unable to return to work. Plaintiff testified that she believed that Brad Hug was treated better because he was allowed to have a full year of leave.

At her deposition, which was taken on November 15, 2005, Plaintiff testified that she still suffers from depression and anxiety attacks and is unable to work. She testified that she takes medication for her anxiety attacks. Plaintiff provided medical records from her doctor, Dr. Kopacz. In these records, Dr. Kopacz stated that Plaintiff is suffering from post ...


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