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William E. Coe v. U.S. Steel Corporation

November 21, 2012

WILLIAM E. COE,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
U.S. STEEL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.

MEMORANDUM RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. Introduction

Plaintiff William Coe ("Plaintiff"), an African American male, brought this action against his employer, Defendant U.S. Steel Corporation ("Defendant"), alleging that Defendant discriminated against him by denying him full-time work in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Defendant moves for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) (the "Motion"). For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED.

II. Summary of Undisputed Facts

The following facts are undisputed or reflect Plaintiff's version of facts in the record, pursuant to this Court's duty to view all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

Plaintiff is a long-time employee at Defendant's steel finishing plant in Fairless, PA (the "Fairless Plant"). (Coe Dep. 15:9-11, 17:2-19, June 28, 2012, App'x 1 to Def.'s Mot.) He is currently, and was at all relevant times, a Maintenance Technician represented by the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union (the "International Union"). (Id. at 15:20-16:4, 17:9-19.) He was elected president of Local Union 4889 at the Fairless Plant (the "Local Union") in mid-2009. (Id. at 21:14-22:9.)

Defendant and the International Union have negotiated collective bargain agreements, known as the Basic Labor Agreements, that set forth and govern the various terms and conditions for production and maintenance employees at Defendant's facilities, including the Fairless Plant. (Show Dep. 12:13-23, May 22, 2012, App'x 2 to Def.'s Motion.) Two Basic Labor Agreements are relevant to this case: the Basic Labor Agreement that was in effect from mid-2003 until September 1, 2008 (the "Pre-September 2008 BLA" or "Previous BLA") and the one that came into effect on September 1, 2008 and is currently in effect (the "Post-September 2008 BLA" or "Current BLA").

Pursuant to both the Pre- and Post-September 2008 BLAs, presidents of the local unions at Defendant's facilities have the exclusive power to appoint union workers as representatives on a number of joint union-management committees. (Coe Dep. 59:5-60:4; Show Dep. 18:21-20:16.) One such representative is known as the Safety Representative. The Safety Representative is partly responsible for handing safety issues, performing what is referred to as "safety work." Safety work is what most people would consider white collar work: it includes handling safety complaints from plant workers, investigating safety matters, chairing meetings, and deciding whether new safety equipment would be useful; the work is done from an office and involves a limited amount of work-related travel. (Coe Dep. 25:21-26:2, 38:19-39:21; Bara Dep. 19:18-20:7, 21:18-22:3, June 29, 2012, App'x 3 to Def.'s Mot.) Safety work does not, however, entitle the Safety Representative to any additional pay or benefits. While the Safety Representative performs safety work in lieu of his or her usual assignment, he or she is compensated as if he or she were performing his or her usual assignment. (Show Dep. 19:14-20, 29:3-20.)

The governing Basic Labor Agreement determines the maximum number of hours for which the Safety Representative is supposed to perform safety work each week. Under the Pre-September 2008 BLA, the Safety Representative for the Fairless Plant could perform safety work for a maximum of forty hours, i.e. the Safety Representative could perform safety work full-time. (Coe Dep. 50:19-51:10; Excerpt from the May 20, 2003 Agreement Between United States Steel Corporation and the United Steel Workers of America: Production and Maintenance Employees, Ex .1 to the Show Dep., at US00265 (¶ 3.J.1).) Under the Post-September 2008 BLA, the Safety Representative for the Fairless Plant is only supposed to perform sixteen hours of safety work per week, i.e. the position is part-time. (Excerpt from the September 1, 2008 Agreement Between United States Steel Corporation and the United Steel Workers of America: Production and Maintenance Employees, Ex .1 to the Show Dep., at US00267 (¶ AQ6.3).)

Plaintiff appointed himself Safety Representative for the Fairless Plant on August 28, 2009*fn1 by submitting a letter to Suzanne Show ("Show"), (Ltr. from W. Coe to S. Show, Ex. 4 to the Coe Dep. at USS00371) who is responsible for Employee Relations, including Labor Relations, for the Fairless Plant (Show Dep. 5:24-6:17, 7:17-8:25). When Plaintiff submitted the letter to Show, Show informed him that he would only be allowed to work sixteen hours per week as Safety Representative.*fn2 (Coe Dep. 101:19-102:14.) Plaintiff believed that he was entitled to perform forty hours of safety work per week because Kathryn Bara ("Bara"), the white woman he was replacing, routinely had been allowed to perform safety work full time throughout her tenure as Safety Representative.*fn3 (Id. at 99:6-100:17.) Her tenure spanned a period during which both the Previous BLA (allowing forty hours of safety work) and Current BLA (allowing only sixteen hors of safety work) were in effect. (Bara Dep. 48:14-17, 53:14-24.) Plaintiff testified that he did not know who was responsible for the decision to reduce the Safety Representative's schedule, though he believed that Show made the decision. (Coe Dep. 90:11-20, 92:10-17.)

According to a declaration from Robert Ives ("Ives"), he was responsible for the decision to reduce the Safety Representative's schedule. (Ives Decl. ¶ 14, App'x 6 (Revised)*fn4 to Def.'s Mot.) Ives's declaration states that he was Area Manager for the Fairless Plant from June 1, 2009 until March 21, 2010, and his responsibilities included setting the daily schedules for union employees, including the Safety Representative. (Id. ¶¶ 2-3.) Ives's account of his decision-making process is:

1. That while reviewing the Current BLA in August 2009, he became aware of Appendix Q-6, which set the Fairless Plant Safety Representative's maximum hours at sixteen, as opposed to the forty hours for which the position was being scheduled at that time;

2. He then conferred with his supervisor, Irvin Plant Manager Gene Hackey, and Employee Relations Manager Preston Henderson ("Henderson"); and

3. He subsequently decided "on or about" August 24, 2009 to reduce the Safety Representative's schedule "solely" in order comply with Appendix Q-6 of the Current BLA.

(Id. ¶¶ 11-14.) Neither Hackey nor Henderson was deposed, and neither of them submitted declarations. Nothing in the record sheds further light on the content of their communications with Ives.

Sometime before Ives reduced the Safety Representative's schedule,*fn5 Plaintiff spoke to him about removing Bara as Safety Representative, but Plaintiff did not tell Ives that he intended to appoint himself as Bara's replacement. (Coe Dep. 102:20-103:11.)

Ives's motivation for reducing the Safety Representative's schedule and the exact date on which he made his decision are hotly contested issues. Ives was never deposed and there are no documents corroborating or contradicting Ives's declaration. The only corroboration for Ives's account of his decision-making process is:

1. Show's declaration, in which she avers that "[o]n or about August 24, 2009, Area Manager Robert Ives informed me that the Safety Representative would be scheduled for 16 hours a week, as stated in the [Current BLA]"; and

2. Show's deposition testimony that that the decision was discussed in mid-August and was expected to take effect on August 23, 2009.

(Show Decl. ¶ 12, App'x 6 (Revised) to Defendant's Motion; Show Dep. 52:9-24.)

Plaintiff held the Safety Representative position for approximately a week before he stepped down and reappointed Bara, at the request of the International Union. (Coe Dep. 104:6-11, 111:20-114:1; Ltr. from W. Coe to S. Show, Sept. 3, 2009, Ex. 4 to the Coe Dep. at USS00372.) Bara was only allowed to perform sixteen hours of safety work per week after returning to the position.*fn6 (Coe Dep. 123:22-124:5, 126:2-7; Bara Dep. 59:23-60:8.) Bara was eventually replaced as Safety Representative by a white man who also has been limited to only sixteen hours of safety work per week. (Coe Dep. 125:8-126:12; Show Decl. ¶ 22.)

After reappointing Bara as Safety Representative, Plaintiff pursued a grievance against Defendant according to the procedures in the Current BLA, claiming that he should have been allowed to work forty hours per week as Safety Representative and seeking $500,000. (United Steel Workers Civil & Human Rights Complaint Form, Oct. 2, 2009, Ex. 6 to the Coe Dep.) The grievance process ended with Plaintiff's claim being denied. (Ex. 7 to the Coe Dep. (including various documents generated during the grievance process).) Plaintiff then filed a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (Ex. 8 to the Coe Dep. (including various documents generated during the EEOC process).) The EEOC found that Plaintiff had failed to establish that Defendant discriminated against him. (Id.) Plaintiff subsequently filed this case.

II. Summary of the Parties' Dispute*fn7

This case orbits around the timing of Defendant enforcing Appendix Q-6 of the Current BLA, which reduced the Fairless Plant Safety Representative's schedule to sixteen hours, down from the forty hours allowed under the Previous BLA. In short, it is undisputed that despite the Current BLA being effective as of September 2008, Defendant did not enforce Appendix Q-6's schedule reduction until late August 2009, which coincided with Plaintiff, an African American, appointing himself as Fairless Plant Safety Representative, replacing Bara, a white woman. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant finally enforced Appendix Q-6's schedule reduction in order to discriminate against him because of his race.

Defendant counters by asserting that:

1. Ives was responsible for the decision to enforce Appendix Q-6 and reduce the Safety Representative's schedule, and

2. Plaintiff cannot prove a discriminatory motive for Ives's decision, because Ives was unaware of Plaintiff's intent to appoint himself Safety Representative when he made his decision.

Plaintiff retorts that Defendant's position is entirely unbelievable, and that the only reasonable conclusion to draw from the circumstances surrounding the delayed enforcement of Appendix Q-6 is that it was motivated by racial animus. The crux of Plaintiff's position is his assertions that:

1. Defendant has offered no plausible explanation for the almost year-long delay in enforcing Appendix Q-6;

2. Defendant proffered no documentary evidence to corroborate Ives's account of his decision-making process; and

3. Because a pervasive atmosphere of racial animus plagues the Fairless Plant, any doubt about the reason for finally enforcing Appendix Q-6 should be resolved in ...


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