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Steed E. Welford v. Caterpillar Inc

April 21, 2011

STEED E. WELFORD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CATERPILLAR INC., DEFENDANT.



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

E-FILED Thursday, 21 April, 2011 08:36:43 AM

Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD

OPINION

This case is before the court for ruling on the Motion for Summary Judgment (#14) filed by Defendant, Caterpillar Inc. (Caterpillar). This court has carefully reviewed the arguments of the parties and the documents filed by the parties. Following this careful and thorough review, Caterpillar's Motion for Summary Judgment (#14) is GRANTED.

FACTS*fn1

Plaintiff, Steed E. Welford, is African-American. He was hired by Caterpillar in August 2000 and currently works at Caterpillar's Decatur, Illinois manufacturing facility as a labor grade

4 Quality Auditor. Plaintiff has never been reprimanded or disciplined while at Caterpillar.

On March 27, 2008, Plaintiff arrived at work at 5 a.m. He found an approximately 8 to 10 inch object made from wire ties in the form of a hangman's noose taped to a printer stand. The printer stand was located between Plaintiff's desk and the desk of a co-worker, Charles Bennett, who is Caucasian. Plaintiff took a picture of the object with a digital camera. The object was then thrown in the trash by Bennett. Plaintiff and Bennett called their supervisor, Cindy Hale, and two other supervisors, Blake Fleming and Todd Berghoff, in response to finding the object. Plaintiff retrieved the object from the trash and showed it to Hale and Berghoff. At his deposition, Plaintiff testified that Hale and Berghoff were as shocked by the object as he was and told Plaintiff that they were "going to get to the bottom of it."

Within an hour or so, Hale told Plaintiff and Bennett to go to human resources (HR) to be interviewed about the incident. HR Manager Kathy Mock had directed Employee Relations Manager John Hubert to perform an investigation to determine who placed the "hangman's noose" object in the auditor's workstation. Hubert interviewed Plaintiff and Bennett about the incident. Hubert then asked Bennett to leave and spoke with Plaintiff alone. Hubert asked Plaintiff whether he believed that Bennett or David Young, a second shift auditor, might have been responsible for placing the object in the workstation. Plaintiff told Hubert he did not think either was responsible. Hubert told Plaintiff that the matter would be investigated. He also told Plaintiff that Caterpillar was sorry this had happened to him, but they may not be able to find out who did it. Hubert also met with Brandon Goforth, an African-American assembler who worked in the area, to find out if Goforth had any ideas about who might have been responsible for placing the wire structure in the area. Goforth did not identify any suspects.

Later the same day, Plaintiff attended a meeting called by Blake Fleming, the motor grader assembly line supervisor. Fleming called the assembly line employees together to address the object found that morning and to tell the employees that there was "zero tolerance" for that type of behavior. Plaintiff testified that he thought Fleming said the right things to the assembled employees. Fleming told Hubert that, at the meeting, he showed the employees a picture of the wire structure and explained that the conduct was completely unacceptable. Fleming also told Hubert that he spoke individually with over 15 employees, but that none of them could provide information on who might be responsible.

That evening, Hubert spoke with second shift factory superintendent Tom Selby, second shift operations supervisor Josh Robbins, and third shift Operations General Manager Greg Gruber and told them to be alert for any mention of the noose structure having been placed in the area.

Plaintiff worked the balance of his shift that day, which was a Thursday, and also worked the next day, a Friday. On Friday, Plaintiff had a conversation with Young, and Young denied responsibility for placing the object in the workstation. Plaintiff told Young that he did not think Young would do it. Plaintiff worked every day the next week. The following Monday, April 7, 2008, Plaintiff reported directly to the medical department to get the paperwork necessary to take a medical leave of absence. He had the paperwork filled out by his personal doctor and returned it to the plant the same day. Plaintiff was granted a medical leave of absence and remained off work until May 12, 2008. Plaintiff testified that, when he returned to work, he did not want to go back to his old area. He was assigned to work in a different building, Building W. Plaintiff testified that there was nothing he did not like about the work in Building W.

While Plaintiff was on leave, the investigation continued. Hubert followed up with Gruber and Shelby who told him that they spoke to 25 to 30 employees who worked in and around the area to find out if they saw or knew anything related to the incident. They told Hubert that they were not able to gain any useful information in determining who was responsible. On April 1 and 2, 2008, Hubert, Mock and the Decatur facility Operations Manager Thea Robinson met with all supervisors on all shifts and made them aware of the incident. Hubert stated in his affidavit that, during these meetings, they emphasized the inappropriateness of the act, its impact on the work group, and the supervisor's role in immediately addressing this type of inappropriate conduct. They also informed the supervisors that any information related to the incident should be reported to HR.

On April 23, 2008, Monica Ratcliff, Caterpillar Behavioral Health Coordinator, told Hubert that Plaintiff believed the employees' collective bargaining representative, the United Automobile Workers Union (UAW), knew the identity of the person who placed the wire structure in his area. Hubert stated that, in response to this report, he met with David Hess, UAW Local Bargaining Chairman, and asked ...


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