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Rangarajan v. Caterpillar, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

March 28, 2017

SRI RANGARAJAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CATERPILLAR INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          SARA DARROW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are Defendant Caterpillar, Inc.'s (“Caterpillar”) motions for summary judgment, ECF Nos. 47, 51. Also before the Court are Caterpillar's motion for leave to file under seal exhibits to the first motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 44; and Rangarajan's motions for leave to file exhibits to his responses under seal, ECF Nos. 62, 68. For the following reasons, the motions for summary judgment are GRANTED, and Rangarajan's case DISMISSED. The motions for leave to file are GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Rangarajan and Caterpillar

         Caterpillar is “an American corporation that designs, develops, engineers, manufactures, markets and sells machinery, engines, financial products and insurance to customers via a worldwide dealer network.” Caterpillar Inc., Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ CaterpillarInc. (visited Mar. 19, 2017). Rangarajan was born in India, but has lived in the United States since 1991, and is an American citizen. Caterpillar hired him in 1996, and he has worked for Caterpillar ever since.

         Caterpillar's Product Development and Global Technology division (“PD&GT”) performs engineering services for Caterpillar customers. It operates in North America, India, and China. Caterpillar ranks positions according to salary grade (“SG”). Schlicksup v. Caterpillar, Inc., No. 09-CV-1208, 2010 WL 2774480, at *1 (C.D. Ill. July 13, 2010). On September 1, 2007, Rangarajan became an Engineering Manager-1, an SG 26 position, in PD&GT. He held this position until he was promoted to an Engineering Manager-2, an SG 27 position, on January 1, 2016. Rangarajan's immediate supervisor from January 1, 2013 to April 30, 2015 was Ajay Shankar, also of Indian descent. Shankar was a Director of PD&GT, of whom there were four others: David Damerell, who was white; Brian Sun, Jim Blass, and Lou Balmer. Shankar, Damerell and Sun headed up divisions of PD&GT aimed at the Indian, North American, and Chinese markets respectively, although Rangarajan maintains that Shankar's division actually served a much larger market than the other two, and that it was composed primarily of United States companies.

         The Business Engagement Organization and the Global BE Manager

         In October 2011, Rangarajan started working on a “Six Sigma”[2] project sponsored by Shankar and Damerell. The purpose of this project was to make a proposal for setting up a “business engagement organization” that would offer all of the services currently offered by PD&GT in individual markets to a global market. The project leader was Lavanya Ajesh. The other members of the project team besides Rangarajan were Sandy Hoskins and Valerie Wiest, both of whom are white. In April 2012, the project team duly recommended that Caterpillar create the global business engagement organization, and, among other details, recommended that the organization be run by a “Global BE Manager, ” who would be an SG 27 Engineering Manager-2. This person would be responsible for marketing to all markets the Caterpillar engineering services that had previously been marketed by PD&GT to the Indian, North American, and Chinese markets.

         While working on the Six Sigma project, Rangarajan felt that Hoskins and Wiest were hostile toward him and the employees who reported to him. This hostility was manifested at least by Hoskins telling Rangarajan in a 2012 meeting that “none of you guys may have a job, ” and that Caterpillar would determine whether or not the creation of the global business engagement organization made Rangarajan's India team, and Rangarajan himself, redundant. Rangarajan also believed that Hoskins was hostile toward him based on race because at a meeting in 2010, Hoskins referred to the India engineering team as a “job shop.”[3] He believed that Wiest was hostile toward him because in 2011, an engineer working for Wiest had sent her a note stating that Rangarajan made his (the engineer's) life difficult by marketing to customers who were also the engineer's customers. Wiest had supported the engineer, over Rangarajan's objection.

         In late 2011 or early 2012, Rangarajan ate dinner with Shankar and Ajesh. During dinner, he told Shankar that he wanted to be considered for the Global BE Manager position that, per the Six Sigma project team's recommendation, was going to be created. Shankar told him he would be “a very strong candidate for that, ” and told him that “we will follow the Caterpillar process. We will find three strong candidates, and we will go from there.” Rangarajan Dep. 101, Mot. Summ. J. ECF No. 47 Ex. 1, ECF No. 47-3. Then, on April 17, 2012, Rangarajan met with Damerell to prepare for a meeting with the PD&GT Vice President, at which latter meeting Rangarjan was going to present the Six Sigma project team's recommendation for creating a new global business engagement organization. During the first meeting, Damerell told Rangarajan that “we are looking to elevate you to the global business engagement manager position.” Id. at 77. Rangarajan expressed his interest in the position, and said that he was well qualified, in part because the job was similar to the one that he currently did in Shankar's division of PD&GT. Damerell said “that's fine.” Id. In May or June 2012, Rangarajan spoke with Shankar on the telephone and asked when Caterpillar would hire the new manager. Shankar said that they were still working on it, and Rangarajan once again expressed his interest in the position. At some point, Rangarajan also asked Sun about when the position was going to be filled, and Sun said that Shankar and others were working on it.

         PCPP Hiring at Caterpillar

         Caterpillar fills some of its open management positions, including the one relevant here, by a “Priority Candidate Placement Process” (“PCPP”). The PCPP puts priority on “current support or management Caterpillar employees who do not have or are at risk of not having a job due to reduction in force or position elimination . . . .” Haig Decl. 2, Mot. Summ. J. ECF No. 47 Ex. U, ECF No. 47-22. It also puts priority on “[f]ull time support or management employees who may be in need of a position that better matches his/her skill set.” PCPP, Resp. Mot. Summ. J. ECF No. 64 Ex. E 5, ECF No. 63. Candidates for the PCPP must have satisfactory or higher performance ratings. Id.; Haig Decl. 2.

         The PCPP works by requiring hiring managers to consider minimally qualified candidates from the pool of PCPP candidates before they consider other candidates within Caterpillar. Id. If a PCPP candidate meets the minimum qualifications for a position, the hiring manager must hire the PCPP candidate for the position. Id. If no PCPP candidate meets the minimum qualifications for the position, then, Caterpillar asserts, the position is posted internally for other candidates within Caterpillar to apply for. Id. Rangarajan asserts, without citing to the record beyond his own deposition testimony and affidavit, that SG 26 positions and higher were not posted internally until February 2015, and that PD&GT positions were filled via another process if they were not first filled by PCPP candidates.

         The Global BE Manager is Hired

         Damerell was in charge of making the ultimate decision about who should be hired for the Global BE manager position. In 2012, Caterpillar's human resources organization told Damerell to consider Greg Ferkol, who is white, for the Global BE manager position. This was because Ferkol was an international service employee (“ISE”) who was returning to the United States after working overseas. Caterpillar claims that, pursuant to a letter of understanding between the PD&GT division and ISEs within PD&GT, PD&GT must consider an ISE for any open positions within the division when the ISE's international assignment ends.[4] Damerell reviewed Ferkol's personnel documents and decided to interview him, but after interviewing him in July 2012, along with Sun and Shankar, decided that he would not be a good fit for the position and declined to hire him.

         In January 2013, Damerell authorized a job requisition for the Global BE manager position. As a result, a job description of the position was prepared. This description stated that the Global BE manager should have at a minimum: a bachelor's degree, ten years of experience at Caterpillar, effective verbal and written communication skills, the ability to negotiate and arrive at “sound enterprise decisions, ” strong interpersonal skills, “being a self starter, ” the ability to work beyond organizational boundaries, the ability to grow and lead a diverse team, and a high level of business acumen. Hoskins Decl. Ex. A, Mot. Summ. J. ECF No. 47 Ex. T, ECF No. 49. Pursuant to the PCPP, Caterpillar did not at this time advertise the job internally. Caterpillar's human resources organization identified three PCPP candidates for the position: James Witte, Wade Samson, Chad Heltemes, all of whom are white.

         Damerell asked Hoskins to review these candidates to see if they met the minimum requirements for the Global BE manager. Hoskins reviewed the résumés of Witte and Heltemes, and all three of the applicants' employee datasheets. Hoskins also spoke with Heltemes's supervisor, Frank McCracken, who told her that he would not be a good fit for the Global BE manager position because he did not have strong sales and marketing skills. Hoskins also spoke to Samson's supervisor, Rebecca Downing, who told her that Samson did not have the requisite skills for the position. Finally, Hoskins spoke with Witte's supervisor, Brian Yoder, who told her that Witte was good at working with others, and could bring disagreeing groups of employees together. Hoskins also spoke to two of Witte's other supervisors, who told her that Witte had a “solid background, ” was good with people and at negotiating, and would be a good fit for the position. Hoskins Decl. 2. Hoskins determined that Witte was the only qualified candidate, and relayed all of this information to Damerell.

         Witte had earned a BS in Manufacturing Engineering and a MS in Manufacturing Systems from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Caterpillar had hired him in 1988. Over the years, he had worked for Caterpillar as a manufacturing systems engineer, facilities engineer, field sales representative, customer account manager, project lead for a hydraulic systems project, quality manager, and supervisor of an enterprise cost reduction team. He had been placed in the PCPP pool because in January 2013, roughly contemporaneously with the job requisition for Global BE manager, Caterpillar eliminated his position.

         In February 2013, Wiest, Hoskins, and Randy Huber, another Caterpillar employee, interviewed Witte for another job internal to Caterpillar for which he was eligible via PCPP, a Virtual Manufacturing Engineering Manager. Wiest testified at her deposition that she “declined on him as a fit for the role because he didn't have the skill set for that particular job, ” by which she meant, “[h]e did not have the experience in engineering and in manufacturing that were necessary for the role.” Wiest Dep. 31, Mot. Summ. J. ECF No. 47 Ex. Q, ECF No. 47-18. Witte described the interview this way: the interviewers “said, You've done very well in the interview. We believe we have - and you would be very well qualified for this position, but we have another position which we think you'll also be qualified at. That was the global business engagement manager position.” Witte Dep. 22, Mot. Summ. J. ECF No. 47 Ex. R, ECF No. 47-19. Two days later, Witte met with Hoskins to talk about the Global BE manager position, and Hoskins told Witte that if he was interested, she would arrange an interview. Two days later Witte told Hoskins that he was interested in the position, and Damerell, Shankar, and Sun interviewed him for the position shortly thereafter. After the interview, Damerell decided to hire Witte for the Global BE manager position. Shankar and Sun concurred in the decision, and Witte filled the position on March 1, 2013.

         Rangarajan Complains and Caterpillar Investigates

         Around January 13, 2013, Kamakshy Velayudhan, a Human Resources Manager, had told Rangarajan that “boss . . . [had] decided that this [Global BE manager] position must be filled by a local U.S. native.” Rangarajan Dep. 128. Shankar, who was Velayudhan's superior, testified that he did not remember making such a statement, but that had he said it, he would have meant that the position should be filled by someone based in the United States, because most of Caterpillar's customer base is there. Shankar Dep. 49-50, Mot. Summ. J. ECF No. 47 Ex. M, ECF No. 47-14.

         Around April 17, 2013, Rangarajan met with Shankar at Shankar's office in Chennai, India. Rangarajan asked Shankar why Rangarajan had not been given the opportunity to interview for the Global BE manager position. Shankar told Rangarajan “you need cream with your coffee, ” and to “just keep doing your job.” Rangarajan Dep. 155-56. On April 22, 2013, Rangarajan sent an email to Shankar stating that Damerell had abused his position in PD&GT to deny Rangarajan advancement opportunities, and threatening litigation. Rangarjan Dep. 195-96. On July 18, 2013, Rangarajan sent another email to Shankar, complaining of more or less the same thing, and adding that Damerell and a few managers of his had also blocked Rangarjan's efforts to get other jobs within Caterpillar. Rangarajan Dep. 206-07. He also alleged that Damerell's organization did not reflect the diversity of inclusion that would be expected of a company such as PD&GT. Id. at 212. He also complained that two other employees who did work similar to him had SG 27 positions, while he still had an SG 26 position. Id. at 217.

         On July 19, 2013, Rangarajan sent an email to PD&GT Vice President Gwenne Henricks complaining about minority staffing issues at PD&GT. The email alleged that minorities who conformed to managers' views of how things should work had advancement opportunities, while those who did not conform, like Rangarajan, did not; that the leadership was not diverse, that Hoskins had made the “job shop” comment, and that Rangarajan had not been promoted to the Global BE manager position because of his nonconforming views. Henricks forwarded this email to Human Resources Manager Suzanne Kisby, who investigated the complaints. As part of her investigation, Kisby interviewed Damerell, Shankar, and Hoskins. Damerell told Kisby that he had hired Witte because he was a PCPP candidate who met the minimum qualifications. Kisby met with Rangarajan on January 22, 2014, and told him that she had determined that Witte was properly promoted to the Global BE manager position.

         Reorganization and Rangarajan's First Lawsuit

         On August 9, 2013, Damerell told Witte that Witte was not meeting expectations, and that Damerell thought the poor performance was the results of a skills mismatch with the position, which Caterpillar had now decided to eliminate. Witte was placed back in the PCPP pool, and ultimately, on October 30, 2013, hired back within Caterpillar at an SG 24 position.[5]Witte Dep. 45-46.

         On November 13, 2013, Rangarjan filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (“EEOC”), alleging race and national origin discrimination by Caterpillar for not promoting him to the Global BE manager position. He also alleged that Caterpillar had retaliated against him for complaining by removing him from an organization chart and harassing him. On February 24, 2014, the EEOC declined to investigate further and issued a right to sue letter. Compl. Ex. 2, ECF No. 1-2. Rangarajan filed the instant lawsuit on April 24, 2014, alleging discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17 (“Title VII”), Counts I-II, and under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Count III, specifically for Caterpillar's failure to promote him to the Global BE manager position on account of his race (Asian) and national origin (Indian).

         Caterpillar Reviews Salaries

         This was not the end of it, however. When Caterpillar reorganized PD&GT in January 2014, all of the teams that had reported to Damerell and some of the teams that had reported to Sun began reporting to Shankar. Since Rangarajan worked for Shankar, this meant that Rangarjan was now responsible for engineering services performed in India, the United States, and China.

         In the first quarter of 2014, Henricks asked the human resources organization to do “a thorough review” of the employees who reported to a PD&GT director.[6] The review was undertaken because the employment structure in PD&GT had recently changed, as described above. Cignetti Dep. 32, Mot. Summ. J. ECF No. 51 Ex. S, ECF No. 51-20. It was specifically a review of salary grades. Cignetti Decl. 1, Mot. Summ. J. ECF No. 51 Ex. BB, ECF No. 51-29. Human Resources Manager Stacey Cignetti, who is white, was the coordinator for this project. She asked each employee whose salary was being reviewed to submit a description of his or her job duties. She sent out job description templates that included each employee's current job description, and the job descriptions for one salary grade above and below for purposes of comparison. Cignetti Decl. 2. The template contained a space for the employee to describe his or her actual job responsibilities. Cignetti asked all the employees not to modify the template and to fill out only the space provided on the template. Cignetti Dep. 15.

         Rangarajan filled out and sent back his template. He also sent a separate email to Cignetti claiming that three other employees who had had jobs similar to his in the past had held SG 27 positions. Cignetti reviewed Rangarajan's template, Cignetti Dep. 12, by comparing Rangarajan's description of his job duties to the duties of SG 25, 26, and 27 engineering manager positions, in order to determine if his then-SG 26 Engineering Manager-1 position was consistent with his actual job duties. Based on her review, Cignetti determined that Rangarajan's job responsibilities appropriately matched the SG 26 Engineering Manager-1 position that he held. Cignetti subsequently met with other job evaluators and with Shankar to review her findings. Shankar asked that they be send to Mary Crain, a Senior Corporate Job Evaluator, for final review. Crain concurred with Cignetti in her evaluation of Rangarajan's job responsibilities. Cignetti then gave her recommendations to Henricks and each Director, including Shankar. Henricks and Shankar approved Cignetti's recommendation to keep Ragnarajan at an SG 26.

         As a part of the salary review, six other employees who worked for Shankar were reviewed: Hoskins, an SG 28, and white; Wiest, an SG 28, and white; Nilesh Shah, an SG 24 and Asian; John Norlin, an SG 26 and white; Asokan Manivelu, an SG 26 and Asian; Ramalingham Venkatesan, an SG 26 and Asian. Shah, Norlin, and Manivelu were ...


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