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Little v. Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America

February 2, 2007

LARRY LITTLE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MITSUBISHI MOTOR MANUFACTURING OF AMERICA, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joe Billy McDade United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. [Doc. 83.] Plaintiff has filed a Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 108] and Defendant has filed a Reply to that Response [Doc. 114].

In addition, this Court previously addressed a Motion for Leave in which the Defendant requested that summary judgment motions be filed under seal. [Doc. 80.] This Court granted that Motion in part and required that certain non-party employee's names be redacted and replaced with numbers.*fn1 [Doc. 81.] Accordingly, the Court will publish this Opinion and Order to the public and it contains numbers in the place of those names. At the same time, this Court will enter an un-redacted order under seal [Doc. 121] for purposes of review.

I. BACKGROUND

Before the Court is a suit for racial discrimination in an employment context under 42 U.S.C. § 2000 ("Title VI"), 42 U.S.C. § 1981 §§ 2000e et seq, and 42 U.S.C. 1988. Larry Little ("Little"), an African-American male, is a former employee of Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America, Inc. ("MMNA"). Little's core allegation is that he was the victim of discriminatory policies and practices while employed at MMNA.

Little began working at MMNA on November 13, 2000 as a Group Leader in the Trim Area of Final Manufacturing at MMNA's manufacturing facility. (Doc. 82 at 7, Doc. 108 at 2.) In March of 2002, Little was transferred from the Trim area to the Chassis area of Final Manufacturing. (Doc. 82 at 7, Doc. 108 at 2.) While working in the Chassis area, two incidents occurred which are the focal points of Little's claim -- essentially Little was first suspended and later, during a company wide reduction-in-force ("RIF"), Little was terminated.

a. Suspension

Little received his suspension for violating MMNA's lock-out/tag-out procedures. Lockout/Tagout procedures are special safety measures designed to protect against "hazardous energy." (Doc. 82 at 19-20.) On July 8, 2003 Employee #22, a safety representative, reported seeing Little inside a fenced area while the power was still activated in violation of MMNA's Energy Control policy. Then, on July 9 Employee #22 reported that Little had directed associates in his area to clean a conveyor pit during non-production hours without properly locking and tagging out the area. (Doc. 82 at 20, Doc. 108 at 3.) MMNA investigated the incident and at the conclusion of the investigation, Little received a two day suspension.

Little filed a complaint with OPD claiming that his suspension was discriminatory. Little did not dispute the facts but instead argued that he was disciplined for alleged safety violations while non-black Group Leaders did not receive discipline for similar offenses. (Doc. 82 at 21, Doc. 108 at 3.) Specifically, Little now points out that three white employees violated lockout/tagout procedures and were not disciplined -- Employee #32, Employee #33, and Employee #34. (Doc. 82 at 23, Doc. 108 at 3.)

MMNA emphasized several facts in response to show that those Caucasian employees were not similarly situated to Little. MMNA first points out, and Little does not dispute, that there were three Caucasian Group Leaders who were also cited for safety violations, and they received similar discipline. (Doc. 82 at 22, Doc. 108 at 3.) Furthermore, MMNA emphasizes, and Little does not dispute, that there were differences in the safety violations committed by Employee #32, Employee #33, and Employee #34. Both Employee #32 and Employee #34's violations occurred in a different area of MMNA's facility. Both Employee #32 and Employee #33's violations were committed during production hours while Little was suspended for a violation during non-production hours. Employee #34 also held a different position (Superintendent in the Paint Department) at the time of his violation. (Doc. 82 at 24, Doc. 108 at 3.) Lastly, it appears to the Court as if all the employees put forward by Little had one safety violation while Little had two violations over a two day period.

b. Termination

Little's primary claim revolves around his termination. His termination was part of a Reduction in Force ("RIF") program in which numerous employees at MMNA were terminated due to a drop in Mitsubishi's sales volume. Little was terminated on February 26, 2004 and emphasizes that at the time of his termination there were no actual plans for more terminations. (Doc. 108 at 15, Doc. 114 at 33.) Furthermore, Little's position at MMNA was not eliminated. (Doc. 108 at 16, Doc. 114 at 36.)

Employee #11 and Employee #36 were both superintendents and Little's supervisors in the Chassis/Final area of Final Manufacturing at the time of the RIF. They evaluated the Chassis/Final employees to determine who would be selected for termination using an RIF Evaluation Sheet. The RIF Evaluation Sheet broke down various elements of an employee's qualifications into specific categories. These different categories received different weights to determine an employee's final score. Specifically, 40% came from job-specific competencies, 40% from universal competencies, 10% from relevant work experience, 5% from performance history and 5% from education.

Little received a Total Retention Score on his RIF Evaluation sheet of .42 on a scale of 0 - 2. This was the lowest score of the 33 Group Leaders evaluated in the Final Manufacturing Department (including both the Chassis/Final area and the Trim/Final area).

Little has emphasized two other employees who were not discharged during the February 2004 RIF. (Doc. 108 at 30.) These two Caucasian employees were Employee #10 and Employee #9.*fn2

Little emphasizes that both Employee #10 and Employee #9 had been on "performance action plans" within the last year prior to the layoffs because of their poor performance as group leaders. Correspondingly, they both received the lowest scores possible on the "performance history" portion of their respective RIF evaluations. (Doc. 82 at Exb. 9.) While Little received a higher score than both Employee #10 and Employee #9 on his "performance history," they both received overall scores on the RIF evaluation sheet that were higher than Little.

Statistically, this was because Little received a lower score than both Employee #10 and Employee #9 in the area of "Universal Competencies," which was weighted much heavier than performance history (40% versus 5%).*fn3 (Id.) However, of the employees in Little's area, Employee #10 and Employee #9 received the second and third lowest scores ahead of Little. Later that year, both Employee #10 and Employee #9 were terminated in the October 2004 RIF. (Doc. 82 at 27, Doc. 108 at 3.)

Employee #10 and Employee #9 followed the company policy for completing Little's RIF evaluation. Specifically, the RIF was a top-down reduction-in-force. The plan was developed with the assistance of outside consultants. Under the plan, vice presidents allocated the total number of reductions based on the future business plan for their organization. (Doc. 82 at 5, Doc. 108 at 2.) All managers and superintendents performing evaluations for the RIF received specific training on how the RIF evaluation process was going to work, how to identify job specific competencies, how to compete the RIF Evaluation Sheets, what definitions of the various competencies were, what the weighing was for each group of competencies and how to rate employees. (Doc. 82 at 6, Doc. 108 at 2.) The two heavily weighted categories, "Job-specific Competencies" and "Universal Competencies," had certain sub-categories. For example, "Universal Competencies" included the following sub categories: "adaptability to change, multi-tasking ability, concern for quality, teamwork, proactive, coaching, ...


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