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Murphy v. Owens Illinois

March 25, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


Plaintiff Yolanda Murphy works as a machine operator at a blow-molded plastic products manufacturing plant now owned by Defendant Graham Packaging Plastic Products, L.P. ("Graham"). In this lawsuit, she charges Graham and co-Defendant Owens-Illinois, Inc. ("Owens"), the plant's former owner, with sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Both Defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons explained in this opinion, Defendant Owens' motion is granted in part and denied in part. Defendant Graham's motion is granted.


Procedural Background

Plaintiff began working for Owens-Brockway Plastic Products, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Owens, in January 1996. (Owens 56.1 ¶ 1.) On October 7, 2004, Graham purchased the facility and became Plaintiff's employer. (Id. ¶ 2; Graham 56.1 ¶ 2.) Prior to that date, Plaintiff had filed two charges of discrimination. The first, a sex discrimination charge filed on February 18, 2004, was settled in a written agreement on April 19, 2004. (Graham 56.1 ¶¶ 6, 7; Mediation Settlement Agreement, Ex. 6 to Graham 56.1.) Plaintiff's second charge, filed on September 23, 2004, alleged sex discrimination and retaliation over the period from April 28, 2004 through September 23, 2004. (Owens 56.1 ¶ 3; Graham 56.1 ¶ 8.) That second charge was pending as of the date of Graham's purchase of the facility where Plaintiff worked, and the parties agree that Owens alone is potentially liable for the conduct alleged in that charge. (Owens 56.1 ¶ 5; Graham 56.1 ¶ 11.) On July 5, 2006, Plaintiff filed a third charge against her employer, alleging retaliation over a period from October 3, 2005 through June 2006; the parties agree that Graham alone is potentially liable for the conduct alleged in that third charge. (Owens 56.1 ¶ 7; Graham 56.1 ¶ 11.) Plaintiff's History in the Apprenticeship Program

Plaintiff began working for Owens as a packer. In March 2002, she applied for admission into the Apprenticeship Program and after successfully completing the testing and interview process, was accepted into that program as a "Process Technician Apprentice." (Graham 56.1 ¶ 12; Owens 56.1 ¶ 13.) Apart from a period of time in 2002, during a temporary reduction in business, Plaintiff remained in the Apprenticeship Program through the date of Graham's purchase of the facility in October 2004. (Owens 56.1 ¶¶ 14, 15; Graham 56.1 ¶ 14.) As an Apprentice, Plaintiff was required to meet certain standards, provided to her in writing, including on-the-job training and completion of company-paid course work. (Owens 56.1 ¶¶ 16-17, citing Apprenticeship Standards, Ex. 8 to Owens 56.1; Graham 56.1 ¶ 13.) The Apprenticeship Standards provide that a joint labor-management committee interviews applicants, selects candidates, follows their progress, and provides regular evaluations. (Owens 56.1 ¶ 18, citing Apprenticeship Standards at 9-10.) Defendants assert that Plaintiff's training included work with journeymen and supervisors who provided assistance and feedback. (Owens 56.1 ¶ 21.) Defendants cite Plaintiff's testimony that Derrick Thomas, a mechanic (though evidently not a journeyman) provided daily job training; that journeyman Bill Thomas worked with her "every once in a while"; that she received regular performance feedback from Mike Halinski and Ed Motes; that another mechanic trained her "how to work on the tray maker." (Deposition of Yolanda Murphy-Strong [hereinafter, "Murphy Dep."], Ex. 1 to Owens 56.1, at 67-69, 78, 107.)*fn2 Plaintiff nevertheless denies having received appropriate training. She testified specifically that she "didn't have no journeyman training me in 2004;" that "as for the training, was nobody training me;" and that "[i]t wasn't like they had somebody on the machine helping me out, training me, no." (Id. at 67, 69, 107.)

Events Leading to Plaintiff's First Charge of Discrimination

Diane McAdrian was Plaintiff's supervisor in late 2003 and early 2004.*fn3 Beginning in the second half of 2003, McAdrian raised concerns regarding Plaintiff's performance. (Owens 56.1 ¶ 22.) In a progress note on July 5, 2003, Ms. McAdrian wrote that Plaintiff "needs to be told over and over what to do and how to do it and still cannot do most jobs on her own" and that Plaintiff "does not seem to retain what she does learn." (McAdrian notes, Ex. 13 to Owens 56.1.) In a written evaluation dated November 9, 2003, McAdrian gave Plaintiff an overall job performance rating of "poor." (Graham 56.1 ¶ 38.) A November 22, 2003 note stated, "For the length of time [Plaintiff] has been a mechanic and the training she has had she should be a [sic] more capable than she has been demonstrating. She does not have the mechanical aptitude she needs to do her job well." (McAdrian notes.)

On February 18, 2004, Plaintiff filed a grievance with her union and a charge of sex discrimination with the EEOC, alleging that she had been unfairly subjected to discipline for poor work performance. (Owens 56.1 ¶ 23.) In a March 19, 2004 performance evaluation, McAdrian again rated Plaintiff's performance as "poor." (Graham 56.1 ¶ 39.) The parties entered into a Mediation Settlement Agreement on April 19, 2004, in which Owens committed to monitoring Plaintiff's work to ensure that she received the same training opportunities as other apprentices in her department; agreed that the plant manger would meet with Plaintiff at least every other week to discuss her progress and any concerns she might have; and agreed, further, that any pending probationary notices would be expunged if she met performance expectations for the following three months. (Owens 56.1 ¶¶ 24-27.) The Agreement provided, in addition, that Plaintiff would contact an official in Owens's Equal Opportunity department if she had concerns about training. (Pltf.'s 56.1/Owens ¶ 66.) Plaintiff contends she did attempt to contact Dwayne Clark in Owens's EO department, but Mr. Clark never called her back. (Id.) Plaintiff did meet personally with Mr. Clark when he visited the plant some time in 2004. (Owens Resp. ¶ 66, citing Murphy Dep. at 60-61.)*fn4

Events Leading to Plaintiff's Second Charge

Effective May 1, 2004, Plaintiff received a pay increase from $17.69 to $18.04 per hour. (Owens 56.1 ¶ 28.) Her compensation, benefits, and work location remained the same through October 2004; she worked an eight-hour daytime shift and, although she contends she was denied overtime opportunities at some periods, Plaintiff is not claiming any damages for lost pay during the period from February through October 2004. (Owens 56.1 ¶¶ 29-35.)

Plaintiff's direct supervisors, Ed Motes and Mike Halinski, who worked with her on her daytime shift, prepared daily reports to track her training and performance, making notes of positive performance as well as incidents where Plaintiff needed improvement. To comply with the Mediation Settlement Agreement, Plant Manager Keith Clark and Human Resources Manager Diane Anderson sought daily input from Motes and Halinski and held regular meetings with Plaintiff in which they reviewed daily written evaluation notes and provided positive feedback as well as criticism. (Owens 56.1 ¶¶ 36, 37, 39, 40; Owens Resp. ¶ 62.)*fn5

Apprentice training records show that by August 30, 2004, Plaintiff had completed more than half of the required 8000 hours of on-the-job training, and Plaintiff admits that she logged all the required training hours for the "job change" task. (Process Technician Apprenticeship Training Summary, Ex. 11 to Owens 56.1; Murphy Dep. at 122.) Motes and Halinski issued a performance evaluation at that time in which Plaintiff again received an overall job performance rating of "poor." (Graham 56.1 ¶ 40.) In August 2004, the joint labor-management apprenticeship committee provided its evaluation, noting that Plaintiff continued to show performance problems despite the length of time she had been in the apprenticeship program. The evaluation also contained constructive criticism based upon the assessment of her immediate supervisors who had observed her work performance on a daily basis. (Owens 56.1 ¶ 42.)

On September 23, 2004, Plaintiff filed a second charge of discrimination with the EEOC in which she alleged that the daily monitoring of her activities and the poor performance evaluation on August 13, 2004 were a function of sex discrimination and retaliation. (September 23, 2004 EEOC Charge, Ex. 3 to Owens 56.1.)*fn6 Plaintiff alleged, further, that on the day she filed her charge, she "became aware" that she had been placed on probation some weeks earlier. (Id.) In fact, however, it is ...

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