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Koch v. Mack Trucks, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 1, 2018

MELISSA KOCH, Plaintiff,
v.
MACK TRUCKS, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          EDWARD G. SMITH, J.

         A sales engineer for a truck manufacturing company brought this action against her employer alleging, inter alia, gender discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. After a trial, the jury found that the employer had violated those laws by failing to promote the plaintiff based on her gender and retaliating against her for complaining about discrimination. The jury awarded her compensatory damages and determined on an advisory basis the amount of front pay and back pay to award. In an action tried on the facts with an advisory jury, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52 requires the court to find the facts specially and state conclusions of law separately. Accordingly, the court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law, determining that the plaintiff is entitled to $6, 823.08 in back pay and no front pay.

         I. FINDINGS OF FACT

         A. Melissa Koch's Initial Years With Mack Trucks, Inc.

         The plaintiff, Melissa Koch (“Koch”), began working for the defendant, Mack Trucks, Inc. (“Mack”), in April 1997. Trial Tr. Dec. 12, 2017, at 46, Doc. No. 97. She first worked at Mack's Winnsboro, South Carolina plant, building highway trucks as a process technician on the chassis line. Id. at 46-48. After one-and-a-half to two years, Mack promoted her to the production supervisor position on the cab line, where 20 to 25 employees reported to her. Id. at 50-52. Koch then transferred to different Mack facilities twice in the following eight years- first to the New River Valley, Virginia plant in July 2002, and then, following a five-month voluntary layoff, to the Macungie, Pennsylvania plant in May 2010. Id. at 52-53, 57-59. When Koch arrived in Macungie, she was the only woman in production management, which included, in ascending order of authority, at least 30 production supervisors, six business team leaders, one business unit manager, one director of operations, and one plant manager. Id. at 62-65; Trial Tr. Dec. 18, 2018, at 152-54, Doc. No. 103.

         B. Mack's Failure To Promote Koch To Business Team Leader

         Soon after arriving at the Macungie plant, Koch began working as a first-shift production supervisor on the cab line, reporting to Jon Tosh (“Tosh”), a business team leader. Trial Tr. Dec. 12, 2017, at 62-63, 88. Approximately 12 to 15 times each year between the end of 2011 and 2013, Koch covered some of Tosh's duties when he was absent. Id. at 63-64, 132; Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 202-04, Doc. No. 98. The duties Koch covered included schedule evaluation, manpower placement, and safety and union issues on the cab line-key items that would make the plant successful for the day. Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 203-05. Over the course of 2014, Koch covered some of Tosh's duties more often, a total of two to three months, because Mack intermittently relocated Tosh to better assist production in a low-performing paint department. Trial Tr. Dec. 12, 2017, at 132-33, 138; Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 146, 204, 213, 226.

         In December 2014, a “cliff event” in the paint department caused Mack to shut down the plant numerous times and relocate Tosh to the paint department on a “long term temporary” basis. Trial Tr. Dec. 12, 2017, at 138-39; Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 147; Trial Tr. Dec. 18, 2017, at 133-34. Jim Flannery, the plant's director of operations at the time, told Koch that Tosh's relocation would be short term, “a few months.” Trial Tr. Dec. 12, 2017, at 138. Koch “knew it was going to be longer, ” although not permanent, and Tosh told her he also had a feeling the relocation would be “long term temporary.” Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 147. Nevertheless, Tosh and others expected him to return to his position as business team leader over the cab line. Id. at 227; Trial Tr. Dec. 14, 2017, at 15, Doc. No. 101. Tosh did in fact return to his former position around September 2015. See Trial Tr. Dec. 12, 2017, at 138-39 (Tosh's relocation lasted until at least the end of July 2015); Trial Tr. Dec. 14, 2017, at 15-19 (explaining that Tosh returned to his former position in 2015 around the time that Kevin Duchala retired and Brad Ibach moved to first shift to replace Duchala in late 2015); Trial Tr. Dec. 18, 2017, at 145 (explaining that Duchala retired during the third quarter of 2015, likely in September); but see Trial Tr. Dec. 14, 2017, at 186 (Tosh's relocation lasted only three to six months).

         Rather than promote Koch to Tosh's temporarily vacated position, Mack reorganized its existing business team leaders' responsibilities. Trial Tr. Dec. 12, 2017, at 138; Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 149. Prior to Tosh's transfer, three business team leaders worked at the Macungie plant in assembly on first shift, none of whom worked in the paint department: Tosh, Kevin Duchala (“Duchala”), and Aaron Shay (“Shay”). Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 144-46. Following Tosh's transfer to the paint department, Shay assumed Tosh's vacated position as business team leader over the cab line, and Duchala assumed Shay's responsibilities as business team leader over one of the chassis lines, while also retaining his prior responsibilities. Trial Tr. Dec. 12, 2017, at 139; Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 147-49 (Duchala “absorbed one [spot].”). Although Shay assumed Tosh's former position, Koch continued to cover some of Tosh's former duties and taught Shay about the cab line, of which he had no experience. Trial Tr. Dec. 12, 2017, at 138-40; Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 211-12. Specifically, Koch still helped supervisors with manning issues in the morning and answered their questions, while Shay managed paperwork. Id. Mack never solicited applications for Tosh's vacated position. Trial Tr. Dec. 12, 2017, at 138; Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 148-49. Koch testified that if Tosh's position “was going to be temporarily filled, let me temporarily fill it.” Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 148. The jury agreed and found that Mack's failure to promote Koch to Tosh's vacated business team leader position in December 2014 violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”).

         C. Koch's Transfer Out Of The Macungie Plant

         After Mack reorganized its first-shift business team leaders in December 2014, Koch received a lateral transfer to Mack's offices in Allentown, Pennsylvania as a sales engineer in July 2015. Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 23, 94-95; Trial Tr. Dec. 15, 2017, at 173, Doc. No. 102. During her sales engineer interview, Koch explained that the position provided her with an opportunity to work in a less stressful, sedentary, and climate-controlled environment-a better work environment for her multiple sclerosis (“MS”) condition. Trial Tr. Dec. 18, 2017, at 39- 40. Had Koch instead received the business team leader promotion, she likely would have worked at least partially in an office environment, as evidenced by other business team leaders having offices, completing paperwork, creating charts and graphs, and attending meetings. See Trial Tr. Dec. 12, 2017, at 134-36, 139-41; Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 136, 183. At trial, Koch explained that gender discrimination motivated her to leave the Macungie plant:

I could not deal with what was going on in the plant anymore. It was evident there were no more changes. It was still making my MS worse, with my legs and everything else. I wanted out. At that point, if you had offered me a janitor's position, I would have probably considered it.

Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 23; see also Id. at 23-24, 50-51 (clarifying that “changes” refer to any progress in promoting Koch or other women); id. at 47-48 (explaining that the stress associated with Koch's complaints in this suit, and not plant environmental conditions, caused her MS to progress). Therefore, although Koch wanted to leave the Macungie plant for environmental reasons unrelated to gender discrimination, she nevertheless would have remained at Macungie but for Mack's failure to promote her.

         D. Mack's Consideration Of Koch For Other Promotions

         Between August 2014 and September 2016, Koch applied for at least 14 promotions, and Mack denied her each. Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 39-40. At trial, Koch did not submit evidence of the successful applicant's qualifications relative to her own for any of the positions to which she unsuccessfully applied.[1] For two of those promotions, the technical preparation engineer in October 2014 and product introduction engineer in March 2015, Mack's hiring managers chose male applicants over Koch based on superior education credentials and more relevant experience within Mack or its parent, Volvo. See Trial Tr. Dec. 12, 2017, at 45; Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 9-10; Trial Tr. Dec. 14, 2017, at 30-32; Trial Tr. Dec. 15, 2017, at 203-07, 210; Def. Exs. 41, 44. Based on this record, the court finds that the jury considered these promotion denials lawful and limited its failure-to-promote verdict to the business team leader position vacated by Tosh.

         E. Koch's Rejection Of Promotion Opportunities

         In the spring of 2015, after Mack failed to promote Koch to business team leader for the cab line in December 2014, Koch declined a promotion offer. Although one of Mack's hiring managers rejected Koch for the product introduction engineer - cab position, he instead interviewed her for the product introduction engineer - chassis position in March 2015. Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 9-11; Trial Tr. Dec. 15, 2017, at 207-14. Koch expressed reservations about the position because she believed working on the chassis line would expose her to heat that would exacerbate her MS, she lacked chassis experience, and any overtime or second-shift work tied to the position would violate her MS restrictions. Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 11-13; Trial Tr. Dec. 15, 2017, at 210-13. The hiring manager explained to her that the chassis position was “almost the same” as the cab position to which she applied. Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 10. The position was primarily an office job, any chassis line duties were located far away from that line's heat source, she only needed a general knowledge of the chassis, second-shift work was very rare, and regardless, Mack would accommodate her second-shift restrictions. Trial Tr. Dec. 15, 2017, at 199, 208-13. Nevertheless, Koch rejected the hiring manager's promotion offer for the product introduction engineer - chassis position. Id. at 214-15. The successful candidate for the production introduction engineer - cab position earned a $21, 063 salary, and there is no evidence as to the salaries of the successful production introduction engineer - chassis candidate or any other Mack employee with that title. See Pl.'s Ex. 40.

         F. Koch's Salary History

         The following table summarizes Koch's annual salary and merit raise history between her arrival at the Macungie plant in May 2010 and this case's December 2017 trial:

Period

Months

Monthly Salary

Annual Salary

Percent Raise Over Previous Salary

May 17, 2010 - Dec. 31, 2010

7.5

$5, 000.00

$60, 000.00

N/A

Jan. 1, 2011 - Mar. 31, 2012

15

$5, 162.50

$61, 950.00

3.25%

Apr. 1, 2012 - Mar. 31, 2013

12

$5, 627.13

$67, 525.50

9.00%

Apr. 1, 2013 - Mar. 31, 2014

12

$5, 866.28

$70, 395.33

4.25%

Apr. 1, 2014 - Mar. 31, 2015

12

$6, 056.93

$72, 683.18

3.25%

Apr. 1, 2015 - July 31, 2015

4

$6, 329.49

$75, 953.92

4.50%

Aug. 1, 2015 - Mar. 31, 2017

20

$6, 583.33

$79, 000.00

4.01%

Apr. 1, 2017 - Nov. 30, 2017

7

$6, 813.75

$81, 765.00

3.50%

Trial Tr. Dec. 12, 2017, at 59; Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 81, 84-88; Pl.'s Ex. 9; Def.'s Ex. 18.

         Koch did not receive a merit raise in the spring of 2016 because she had already received a raise upon her lateral transfer to the sales engineer position in August 2015. Trial Tr. Dec. 13, 2017, at 95-96; Trial Tr. Dec. 15, 2017, at 172-73. While a Mack human resources representative mistakenly included a provision in Koch's sales engineer offer letter stating she would be eligible for a 2016 merit increase, contemporary male hires to the sales engineer position did not receive a raise either. Trial ...


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