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Hall v. Forest River

July 30, 2008

SHELLEE J. HALL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
FOREST RIVER, INCORPORATED, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. No. 04 C 0259-Robert L. Miller, Jr., Chief Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Manion, Circuit Judge

ARGUED MAY 14, 2008

Before BAUER, FLAUM, and MANION, Circuit Judges.

Shellee Hall sued her former employer, Forest River, Inc., for sex discrimination, constructive discharge, and retaliation, under Title VII. The district court granted Forest River summary judgment on the constructive discharge claim and, following the close of Hall's case-in-chief, granted Forest River judgment as a matter of law on the retaliation claim. The sex discrimination claim was submitted to a jury, which returned a verdict in favor of Forest River. Hall appeals, challenging only the district court's decision granting Forest River judgment as a matter of law on her retaliation claim. We affirm.

I.

Forest River manufactures recreational vehicles. Hall began working for Forest River in January 2000 as a quality control inspector in the Quality Assurance Department in Forest River's Goshen, Indiana facility. The Quality Assurance Department is responsible for ensuring that Forest River's products meet certain standards, including the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association standards. Inspectors work on a single production line (or on segments of the line) and are responsible for spotting defects. In addition to inspectors, the Quality Assurance Department employs supervisors known as auditors. Auditors travel from plant to plant and supervise multiple inspectors. John Blair was the manager of Forest River's Quality Assurance Department.

On several occasions, Hall approached Blair and expressed an interest in being promoted to the auditor position. Blair assured Hall that she would be considered for any vacant position, along with other inspectors. On March 11, 2002, Blair promoted Christopher Hare from inspector to auditor. After Blair promoted Hare, Hall "from time to time reaffirm[ed] her desire to become an auditor," and Blair assured Hall that Forest River would consider her for promotion to auditor, "as well as the other folks that have put their names in."

In January 2002, Hall transferred to Forest River's plant in Topeka, Indiana. While at the Topeka plant, a male co-worker named John Quake allegedly sexually harassed Hall and another Forest River employee named Monica Horn. On August 7, 2002, Horn resigned from Forest River. After Horn resigned, Hall called Blair and asked to be transferred. Blair initially said that he would think about it, but Hall called Blair back later and again requested a transfer. As she explained in her trial testimony:

I explained to him that [Horn] had been there and everything that happened to [Horn] and that I told [Horn] I would support her if she went further with this, and I told [Blair] that I needed to get out of that plant because it was going to get heated. I didn't know exactly what was going to go down.

In response to Hall's concerns, Blair allegedly told her "not to stick [her] neck out for anybody." Blair then told Hall he would work on the transfer and within a week, on August 16, Forest River had processed a transfer for Hall from the Topeka plant to the Elkhart, Indiana plant, effective August 19, 2002.

After her transfer to the Elkhart plant, on August 22, 2002, Hall spoke with Forest River's human resources director Jeffrey Rowe about Quake's alleged harassment of her and Horn. Hall met with Rowe the next day and during this meeting detailed Quake's conduct toward her and Horn. During her conversations with Rowe, Hall stated that she intended to stand behind and support Horn. Rowe instructed Hall "not to talk to anybody about the situation."

Around the same time that Forest River was investigating Horn and Hall's complaints, Forest River processed a payroll-change notice form by which Forest River promoted Leo Akins to the position of auditor. The payroll change form was dated August 23, 2002, and was effective August 26, 2002. Rowe had stated in a letter to the EEOC that "Leo Akins was promoted from quality control inspector to auditor on 8/26/02." At trial, Rowe testified that Forest River had actually decided to promote Akins in late July or early August, when it learned that one of its current auditors intended to return to military service in the fall, but the promotion was not official until August 26, 2002. Rowe explained at trial that he had listed August 26, 2002, as the date Leo Akins was promoted because "the EEOC specifically [said] they wanted to know when they began working as an auditor." Rowe, the HR director, testified about the timing of the promotion. But Blair, not Rowe, was the decision-maker in promoting Akins.

At trial, Blair explained the qualities he believed important for auditors and why he chose Akins over Hall. Specifically, Blair testified that auditors would have to be "self-starter[s]"; they would have to "move from plant to plant"; and would "have to be very conscientious of their work." Also, auditors must "be able to inspect and document." Blair added that

[t]hey have to be able to keep production and quality separated, and they have to be able to . . . disarm confrontation. They have to be able to talk to plant managers. If there's a heated discussion, they need to calm that down and find the ...


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