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Puckett v. Spirit Aerosystems, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

July 19, 2017




         Before the Court is defendant Spirit Aerosystems, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff Carol Puckett and Brief in Support Thereof (the “Motion”) (Doc. 76), which plaintiff has opposed (Doc. 80). For the reasons below, the Court finds that the Motion should be granted.

         I. Background

         The following summary is based upon the evidence, drawn in favor of the plaintiff, as it must be at the summary judgment stage.[1] Defendant Spirit Aerosystems, Inc. (“Spirit”) manufactures component parts for the aerospace industry. Plaintiff was hired by defendant as an industrial engineer in 2008. Industrial engineers support Spirit's internal manufacturing operations by maximizing the flow and efficiency of production. An industrial engineer's internal customers are Spirit's operations/manufacturing managers, who are responsible for overseeing hourly production employees. Because industrial engineers must frequently communicate with and observe manufacturing operations employees, their shift hours coincide with the hours of manufacturing operations.

         Plaintiff received a “full high” performance review rating from her supervisor, Cynthia Isaacson, for the 2008 calendar year. (Doc. 80 at 8, ¶ 2; id. at 9, ¶ 4). A “full high” rating is the second-highest out of four possible ratings. (Id.). Rajen Shah became plaintiff's supervisor in April 2009. (Id. at 9, ¶ 5). In March 2010, plaintiff received a verbal warning from Mr. Shah regarding her attendance. Plaintiff received her first written warning regarding her attendance on April 14, 2010, in an Attendance Disciplinary Memo issued to her by Mr. Shah. That month, plaintiff also received her Salaried Annual Performance Appraisal for the 2009 calendar year, in which she received the lowest overall performance rating. (Doc. 76, Exh. 4-3). Mr. Shah noted in the comments section that plaintiff's excessive time off was caused by sickness and recommended that she take medical leave. (Id.). Plaintiff took a medical leave of absence for approximately four weeks from April 2010 through May 2010. (Doc. 80 at 10, ¶ 10).

         Plaintiff's comments on her 2009 performance review reflect that she was experiencing health issues due to “harassment from her coworkers, ” including her team leader, Ken Fitzgerald. (Doc. 80, Exh. 14 at 2; Doc. 80 at 9, ¶ 7). Plaintiff states that Mr. Fitzgerald called plaintiff “stupid, ” told her that she was not an engineer and that she had no business working there, instructed plaintiff's coworkers not to ask her questions, and refused to give her assignments that would allow her to expand her knowledge as an industrial engineer. (Id. at 9, ¶ 7). Plaintiff also alleges that Mr. Fitzgerald did not allow plaintiff to attend meetings. (Id.). Plaintiff states that this harassment affected her performance at work because she was unable to sleep and would therefore arrive late to work and found it difficult to focus. (Id.). Plaintiff stopped working with Mr. Fitzgerald in May 2010. (Doc. 76 at 12, ¶ 31).

         Plaintiff again received the lowest overall performance rating for the 2010 calendar year. (Doc. 76 at 4, ¶ 6). On her 2010 review, Mr. Shah commented that plaintiff had a “high rate of absenteesm [sic] due to illness” and failed to complete her assignments. (Id., Exh. 4-4).

         In February 2011, plaintiff began reporting to Paul Wright, her coworker, as her first level manager. Mr. Wright reported to Mr. Shah. Shortly after becoming plaintiff's supervisor, Mr. Wright observed plaintiff's pattern of tardiness and absences and began documenting plaintiff's attendance on a spreadsheet. (Id. at 4, ¶ 7). On February 28, 2011, Mr. Wright met with plaintiff to discuss her tardiness and absences. Plaintiff was told that she was expected to be at work at 7:18 a.m. each day and was reminded that it was important for industrial engineers to be punctual in order to communicate with and support manufacturing operations. (Id. at 4, ¶ 8). Mr. Wright's spreadsheet demonstrates that plaintiff was tardy 31 times and absent for 12 days from February 28, 2011 through July 7, 2011. (Id., Exh. 3-2). Mr. Wright received complaints from internal customers regarding issues with plaintiff's work, and also received a request from internal customers to assign another industrial engineer to plaintiff's projects.

         Plaintiff met with Mr. Shah, Mr. Wright, and Kaelin Blasel from Human Resources on July 8, 2011. At that meeting, plaintiff received a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”), which identified the following concerns regarding her attendance performance: frequent tardiness, high absenteeism, poor communication when absent, missing deadlines, and failure to satisfy internal customer expectations. (Id. at 5, ¶ 10). Plaintiff was advised that if she anticipated missing work, she should communicate with her manager within the first hour of her shift. Plaintiff was informed that she needed to understand her deadlines, prioritize her work, and communicate early if a deadline was at risk. Plaintiff was also told that she was expected to communicate with customers regarding whether their needs were being satisfied. (Id. at 5, ¶¶ 11-12). Plaintiff was informed that she would be monitored for the following ninety days and failure to improve her attendance and performance could result in further discipline, including as termination. (Id. at 6, ¶ 14).

         Plaintiff received counseling from Spirit's employee assistance program from July through September 2011. Plaintiff admitted to her counselor that she was aware of the issues with her attendance and performance. (Id. at 6, ¶ 15).

         Mr. Wright again met with plaintiff on July 15, 2011 regarding her continued attendance issues. (Id. at 6, ¶ 16). On September 6, 2011, sixty days after plaintiff was placed on the PIP, plaintiff met with Mr. Shah, Mr. Wright, and Ms. Blasel to discuss her progress. Mr. Wright documented that plaintiff was tardy 27 times and absent twice between July 8, 2011 and September 5, 2011. Plaintiff was informed at the meeting that she had not shown any improvement in her tardiness, absences, and missed deadlines, and that Mr. Wright was forced to work plaintiff's morning assignments because of her frequent tardiness. (Id. at 7, ¶ 17).

         Plaintiff contends that her absences decreased significantly during this period of time, and also that many of her absences until September 2011 were covered by her earned time off (“ETO”). Plaintiff further states that she “regularly made up” her time when she was tardy. Plaintiff also states that her inadequate performance was a result of health problems, harassment by her male team leader, not being permitted to attend meetings or meet with internal customers, and not being assigned projects to expand her knowledge. (Doc. 80 at 3, ¶¶ 5-6). Plaintiff also alleges that Don Timms, a male employee in plaintiff's department who worked under her supervisor, was not disciplined for his tardiness. (Doc. 76 at 10, ¶ 27; Doc. 80 at 7, ¶ 23).

         On October 6, 2011, Mr. Shah and Mr. Wright completed a final review of plaintiff's progress on her PIP. They noted that she had been tardy 21 times and absent twice since her September 6, 2011 review. They also reviewed plaintiff's performance on each of her assignments, most of which were late or incomplete. Mr. Wright noted that he was required to remind plaintiff to complete assignments or completed them himself. Further, internal customers continued to request that another industrial engineer work on plaintiff's projects. Based on their review, Mr. Wright and Mr. Shah recommended plaintiff's termination. (Doc. 76 at 7, ¶¶ 18-19).

         A Corrective Action Review Board (“CARB”), comprised of Mr. Shah, Mr. Wright, and four Human Resources employees, met on October 14, 2011 to discuss the recommendation that plaintiff be terminated. The CARB recommended that plaintiff be terminated for unacceptable attendance and performance. Plaintiff was terminated that day. (Id. at 8, ¶ 20).

         Plaintiff testified that she had never heard remarks by Mr. Wright or Mr. Shah regarding an employee's age or gender. (Doc. 76 at 13, ¶ 35). Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on October 26, 2011. (Id. at 8, ¶ 22). Plaintiff later filed this case alleging that Spirit unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of gender and age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq. and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.[2]

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). A fact is material only if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law . . . .” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. There is no genuine issue of material fact “unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Id. at 249. The district court thus must determine “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement [about that material fact] to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 251-52. The non-movant's evidence should be taken as true, and all justifiable and reasonable inferences are to be drawn in the non-movant's favor. Id. at 255.

         “Credibility determinations, the weighing of evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge . . . ruling on a motion for summary judgment. . . .” Id. “[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 249.

         III. Discussion

         Spirit argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case of both gender and age discrimination. (Doc. 76 at 14). Alternatively, Spirit argues that even if plaintiff can establish a prime facie case of gender and age discrimination, there is insufficient evidence of pretext. (Id. at 17). In response, plaintiff contends that she has met her prima facie burden and has also established that Spirit's asserted reason for her termination was pretextual. (Doc. 80).

         Where there is no direct evidence of discrimination, the Court applies the three-step, burden shifting analysis set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).[3]Under this framework, plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case that her employment was terminated due to her gender or age. A plaintiff's burden to make a prima facie showing of discrimination under Title VII is not onerous. Bird v. W.Valley City, 832 F.3d 1188, 1200 (10th Cir. 2016). Then, the burden of production shifts to defendant “to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for her termination. EEOC v. PVNF, L.L.C., 487 F.3d 790, 800 (10th Cir. 2007). If defendant satisfies its burden, “then summary judgment is warranted unless [plaintiff] can show there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the proffered reasons are pretextual.” Plotke v. White, 405 F.3d 1092, 1099 (10th Cir. 2005).

         However, the McDonnell Douglas analysis is not rigid. ‚ÄúRegardless of whether [courts] analyze the plaintiff's evidence in reference to the prima facie case or the business justification versus pretext inquiry, . . . if the court correctly concludes that the evidence of discrimination/pretext fails as a matter of law, summary judgment for the defendant is the proper ...

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