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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. the Standard Register Company

March 28, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Conner)


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC") brings this action on behalf of Penny L. Zink ("Zink"), alleging that Zink was the victim of unlawful sex-based harassment during her employment with the Standard Register Company ("Standard Register"). Presently before the court is Standard Register's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 21). For the reasons that follow, the motion (Doc. 21) will be granted.

I. Statement of Facts and Procedural History*fn1

A. Zink's Employment

Zink began working for Standard Register, a document management services company, on February 14, 2005, at their plant in York, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 23 ¶ 17; Doc. 26 ¶ 17). Initially, Zink worked as a miscellaneous forms finisher in the bindery department, and her responsibilities included shrink wrapping, filling out packing forms, putting forms in packed boxes, or cutting or folding forms, depending on the day. (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 17, 19; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 17, 19). In June of 2006, Zink sought a transfer to a different department. (Doc. 21 Exh. 20). Zink's application indicated that "advancement" was her reason for transfer, (id.), but subjectively, as the employee with the lowest seniority in the bindery department, Zink was concerned that a possible layoff in the bindery department would cause her to lose her job.*fn2 (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 23-24; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 23-24). After Zink passed prerequisite tests for written knowledge and physical aptitude, Standard Register transferred her to its coating department. (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 32, 35; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 32, 35).

On July 24, 2006, Zink began working as a trainee on the coater machine, a printing press that applies special security coatings to paper, e.g., checks. (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 31, 39; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 31, 39). The coater is the largest machine in the plant; it is approximately two stories tall and fifty yards long. (Doc. 23 ¶ 30; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 30, 173; Doc. 29 ¶ 173). It is feasible for one individual to operate the coater alone, and each coater operator has occasionally done so, but typically, two employees work together to operate the coater. (Doc. 26 ¶¶ 190-191; Doc. 29 ¶¶ 190-191). Coater operators work in three shifts to keep the coater machine operating 24 hours a day.

(Doc. 23 ¶ 36; Doc. 26 ¶ 36). When Standard Register transferred Zink to the coating department, Brian Guise ("Guise") and Matthew Oyler ("Oyler") worked during the first shift, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Dwane Young ("Young") and Harry Mundy ("Mundy") worked during the third shift, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 36-37; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 36-37). Standard Register assigned Zink to work during the second shift, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., with Nicholas Wire ("Wire"), another new coater operator, who had been a press operator in Standard Register's press department since approximately December 2003. (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 37-38; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 37-38). Zink was the first-and to date, the only-female to work for Standard Register as a coater operator. (Doc. 26 ¶¶ 202-203; Doc. 29 ¶¶ 202-203).

For two weeks, Guise trained both Zink and Wire, separately, on their new jobs as coater operators. (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 40-41; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 40-41). After their training periods were complete, Wire and Zink worked together, with Wire acting as the "lead operator," because of his experience as a press operator, and Zink working as his "helper." (Doc. 23 ¶ 175; Doc. 26 ¶ 175). Wire, as lead operator, was responsible for "set[ting] the slitting and 'signing his name' to the job[,]" whereas Zink was responsible for hanging rolls and assisting Wire in setting up the coater machine. (Doc. 23 ¶ 176; Doc. 26 ¶ 176).

B. Zink's Workplace Complaints

On or about August 9, 2006, a few days after Zink's training period ended, Zink requested to return to her previous position as soon as possible. (Doc. 23 ¶ 48; Doc. 26 ¶ 48). She informed the plant manager that she did not feel safe working at the coater without assistance, and she felt that Oyler left her alone too often.*fn3 (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 48-49; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 48-49). The plant manager consulted with the human resources manager, who then contacted Zink to explain that Standard Register could not return her to the bindery department, because such a transfer would constitute a downgrade prohibited by the union's collective bargaining agreement. (Doc. 22 at 8; Doc. 23 ¶ 52; Doc. 25 at 9; Doc. 26 ¶ 52). The union president similarly informed Zink that, in order for Standard Register to return her to her old job, it would have to make a determination that she could not perform her work as a coater operator. (Doc. 23 ¶ 54; Doc. 25 at 9; Doc. 26 ¶ 54). Zink continued working as a coater operator thereafter.

In October 2006, Zink complained that Wire was not providing her with sufficient training, and that Wire had called her "fucking stupid."*fn4 (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 55, 58; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 55, 58). Within a day, Zink and Wire had a meeting with the plant manager, Tracy Green ("Green"), and the human resources manager, Rosilee Hardin ("Hardin"), to address Zink's concerns. (Doc. 23 ¶ 57; Doc. 26 ¶ 57). Hardin advised Wire that using the "F word" was not acceptable, and according to Zink, Hardin also warned both Zink and Wire that one of them could lose their job if they were unable to work together. (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 60-61; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 60-61). Zink and Wire resumed working together after this meeting. (Doc. 23 ¶ 66; Doc. 26 ¶ 66). Zink admits that, by January 2007, Wire provided her with better training, in anticipation of his departure from the coating department. (Doc. 21 Exh. 1 at 416; Doc. 23 ¶ 69; Doc. 26 ¶ 69).

On January 25, 2007, Zink reported another issue of concern to Standard Register's new human resources manager, Jill Bohannon ("Bohannon"), who met with Zink, a union representative,*fn5 and plant manager Green. (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 72, 74-75; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 72, 74-75). Zink told Bohannon that, the previous day, Wire had told Zink that Mundy was out to get her and would not work with her, upon Wire's departure. (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 74, 76; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 74, 76). Zink also reported a past confrontation with Mundy, which occurred in October of 2006, and which Zink had never previously reported. (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 77, 79; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 77, 79). Zink stated that, in October 2006, Mundy yelled at her, with his fists clenched at his sides, and she yelled back at him. (Doc. 23 ¶ 78; Doc. 26 ¶ 78). Bohannon promised to investigate Zink's concerns. (Doc. 23 ¶ 80; Doc. 26 ¶ 80). She also inquired about Zink's working relationship with Wire, and Zink reported that it was fine. (Doc. 23 ¶ 81; Doc. 26 ¶ 81; Doc. 21 Exh. 2 at 156). Bohannon then spoke with Wire, who denied making the statements alleged by Zink, concerning Mundy's willingness to work with her. (Doc. 23 ¶ 82; Doc. 26 ¶ 82). She later questioned Mundy, who admitted yelling at Zink in October 2006, but denied saying that he would not help her. (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 83-84, 86; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 83-84, 86). Bohannon advised Mundy to treat others respectfully, and to take issues to a supervisor when necessary, and she reminded him about Standard Register's anti-harassment policy. (Doc. 23 ¶ 87; Doc. 26 ¶ 87).

In early February of 2007, Zink took steps towards filing a union grievance, on the basis that the union failed to represent her adequately when she raised the issues discussed above. (Doc. 26 ¶ 187; Doc. 29 ¶ 187). There is no evidence that Standard Register had notice of this grievance. The union declined to process Zink's grievance. (Doc. 26 ¶ 188; Doc. 29 ¶ 188).

Wire left the coating department, as anticipated, on or about February 25, 2007, and after his departure, Zink was the sole coater operator assigned to second shift. (Doc. 26 ¶ 189; Doc. 29 ¶ 189). Zink is the only one of Standard Register's coater operators to be assigned to a shift without another coater operator. (Doc. 26 ¶ 190; Doc. 29 ¶ 190). Although each operator has operated the coater machine alone on certain occasions,*fn6 no other operator regularly worked without another operator. (Doc. 26 ¶¶ 190-191; Doc. 29 ¶¶ 190-191). When Green, Bohannon, and other employees of Standard Register asked Zink how she felt about operating the coater alone,*fn7 she told them she felt she could do it if necessary. (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 92-94; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 92-94; Doc. 29 ¶¶ 92-94). Zink was, in fact, capable of operating the coater alone, and she did so, without ever receiving discipline for poor performance. (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 100-101; Doc. 26 ¶¶ 100-101). However, as the court will discuss infra, Zink later filed a grievance about her operation of the coater without assistance.*fn8

The next occasion on which Zink raised a complaint with Standard Register was March 7, 2007.*fn9 On this date, Zink met with Bohannon and notified her that Young told her that her work "looked like 'shit.'"*fn10 (Doc. 23 ¶ 108; Doc. 26 ¶ 108). Bohannon inquired whether Zink was having problems with any other coater operators, and Zink responded that she was not. (Doc. 21 Exh. 2 at 221; cf. Doc. 26 Exh. B at 413). After meeting with Zink, Bohannon spoke to Young about his alleged remark.*fn11 (Doc. 23 ¶ 113; Doc. 26 ¶ 113; Doc. 21 Exh. 2 at 200). She advised him that the language Zink accused him of using was inappropriate language, and she reminded him of Standard Register's anti-harassment policy, code of ethics, and its expectations that all employees should treat each other respectfully. (Id.) She also warned him that disciplinary action would ensue if Standard Register determined that an employee violated its policy, or if ...

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