194 F.3d 1312 (6th Cir. 1999), 98-3452, Eperesi v. Northernenvirotest Systems, Inc.

Docket Nº:98-3452.
Citation:194 F.3d 1312
Party Name:Luann EPERESI, Appellant, v. NORTHERNENVIROTEST SYSTEMS, INC., Appellee.
Case Date:October 06, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Page 1312

194 F.3d 1312 (6th Cir. 1999)

Luann EPERESI, Appellant,



No. 98-3452.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

October 6, 1999

Editorial Note:

This opinion appears in the Federal reporter in a table titled "Table of Decisions Without Reported Opinions". (See FI CTA6 Rule 28 and FI CTA6 IOP 206 regarding use of unpublished opinions)

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

Before SILER and MOORE, Circuit Judges; and SMITH, District Judge . [*]

SMITH, District Judge.

Plaintiff asserts that defendant fired her in retaliation for raising an equal pay issue, and because her supervisors disapproved of her involvement in an interracial relationship with another employee. Defendant avers it fired plaintiff because she performed two complimentary public relations vehicle emissions tests without authorization.

Defendant moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted the motion. For the reasons stated below we affirm the district court's granting of summary judgment on plaintiff's discrimination claims, but reverse and remand on plaintiff's claim of retaliation as well as her corresponding state common law claim of violation of public policy.

I. Background

Defendant-appellee, Envirotest Systems Corp. ("Envirotest"), tests vehicle emissions for the Ohio EPA. Plaintiff-appellant, Luann Eperesi ("Eperesi"), began working for Envirotest on October 25, 1995 as a Lane Inspector, an entry-level position. On January 20, 1996, Envirotest promoted plaintiff to the position of Lead Lane Inspector.

Late in the summer of 1996, Eperesi learned that a male employee, who has hired at the same time as Eperesi, and who was promoted to Lead Lane Inspector after Eperesi, was being paid a higher hourly wage. 1 Eperesi complained to her supervisor, Mary Weston, about the alleged unequal pay, and in September 1996 she filed a charge with the EEOC. Eperesi says she told Weston and other supervisors that she filed the charge with the EEOC. (Eperesi dep. at 34-35; JA at 106-07).

Envirotest asserts that after Eperesi raised the wage issue, Eperesi's attitude changed for the worse and quality of work suffered. Envirotest also alleges that Eperesi was late to work more frequently. Eperesi denies these allegations, and presents her own testimony and that of a co-worker to the effect that there was no change in Eperesi's job performance.

Eperesi maintains that in July 1996, another of her supervisors, Wanda Taylor told her that interracial relationships would not be tolerated at Envirotest. (Eperesi dep. at 22; JA at 94). At the time, Eperesi, who is white, was having a relationship with a black employee, Melvin Davis.

Eperesi also contends Mary Weston told her that her relationship with Davis created a "conflict," and that the two could not work together. (Eperesi dep. at 24; JA at 96). Eperesi does not allege that in making this comment, Weston referred to the interracial nature of the relationship. Id. Similarly, the testimony of Melvin Davis does not attribute any racial comments to Weston.

It is undisputed that on October 30, 1996, Eperesi performed two "public relations" emissions tests which are performed when a customer has had a problem with previous testing at Envirotest.

Envirotest contends that Eperesi lacked authority to perform these tests. Envirotest maintains that it had a policy that public relations tests could be performed only with the approval of management. Mary Weston discovered that Eperesi had performed the tests. Weston reported the tests to supervisor Norm McLeod, who prepared a memorandum to Human Resources Manager Lee Loeb Scott recommending Eperesi's termination.

Lee Scott accepted the recommendation to terminate, and sent Eperesi a letter dated November 7, 1996 stating that Eperesi was terminated because she performed the two public relations tests without the required approval. Envirotest contends that in doing so it treated Eperesi no differently than other employees, and submits evidence that it has terminated other employees-- several Lane Inspectors--for performing unauthorized public relations tests. 2

Eperesi points out that the others terminated for performing public relations tests were, in contrast to her, not Lead Lane Inspectors. 3 Eperesi argues that as a Lead Lane Inspector, she has management responsibilities and was therefore allowed to perform the public relations tests. Envirotest asserts that Lead Lane Inspectors are not members of management, and must have authorization to perform public relations tests.

Eperesi also alleges that her supervisor, Mary Weston, had, on several occasions, told Eperesi that Eperesi could perform public relations tests at her discretion. (Eperesi dep. at 48-49; JA at 120-21).

Eperesi filed her lawsuit in federal court on May 19, 1997, asserting claims of discriminatory and retaliatory discharge in violation of federal and state law, unequal pay under federal and state law, and violation of public policy under Ohio common law. Eperesi later abandoned her Equal Pay claims. Envirotest filed its summary judgment motion on February 6, 1998. The district court granted Envirotest's motion in an opinion and order dated March 23, 1998.

The district court concluded that Eperesi's discrimination claims failed because Eperesi did not come forward with evidence that comparable employees-- which it described as those in interracial relationships--were treated differently than employees in same-race relationships. (JA at 43). The district court also stated that Eperesi failed to show that Envirotest had a policy...

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