Berry v. General Motors Corp.

Decision Date17 June 1992
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 88-2570-L.
Citation796 F. Supp. 1409
PartiesJames A. BERRY, et al., Plaintiffs, v. GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Kansas

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Dennis E. Egan, The Popham Law Firm, Kansas City, Mo., Christopher Iliff, Stillwell, Kan., Michael K. Whitehead, Kansas City, Mo., for plaintiffs.

Stephen A. Murphy, Michael J. Grady, Gage & Tucker, Overland Park, Kan., John J. Yates, Paul Scott Kelly, Jr., Marietta Parker, Rosalee M. McNamara, Gage & Tucker, Kansas City, Mo., for defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

LUNGSTRUM, District Judge.

In this employment discrimination action, fifteen plaintiffs have sued General Motors Corporation (GM) alleging various theories of recovery, including race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 et seq., and under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; sex discrimination under Title VII; age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 623 and 626(c); and breach of an implied contract of employment.1 Defendant GM has moved for summary judgment on the implied contract claims (Doc. # 82), and on the discrimination claims (Doc. # 97, 99, 101, 103, 105, 107, 109).

Plaintiffs claim that GM breached its implied contract and discriminated against them when GM shut down its Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kansas. All fifteen plaintiffs were salaried employees at the Fairfax plant until May of 1987. In response to increased competition from Japanese auto manufacturers and other market forces, GM decided to close its Fairfax plant and open a new, more automated plant, referred to as the "GM-10" facility. The manner that employees were selected to staff the new plant is the subject of this lawsuit.

After extensive briefing and oral argument on GM's motions for summary judgment, the court is now prepared to rule. For the reasons set forth more fully below, GM's motion for summary judgment on the implied contract claims is denied, and its motions for summary judgment on the discrimination claims are granted in part and denied in part. In addition, GM's motion for separate trials (Doc. # 148) is denied.

When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine all the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Barber v. General Elec. Co., 648 F.2d 1272, 1276 n. 1 (10th Cir. 1981). If the moving party does not bear the burden of proof at trial, it must show "that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2554, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

Once the movant meets these requirements, the burden shifts to the party resisting the motion to "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2514, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The nonmovant may not merely rest on the pleadings to meet this burden. Id. Genuine factual issues must exist that "can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Id. at 250, 106 S.Ct. at 2511; Tersiner v. Union Pacific R.R., 740 F.Supp. 1519, 1522-23 (D.Kan.1990). More than a "disfavored procedural shortcut," summary judgment is an important procedure "designed `to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.' Fed. R.Civ.P. 1." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 327, 106 S.Ct. at 2555.

I. FACTS

In its memoranda supporting its motions for summary judgment, GM has set forth statements of material facts that it offers as uncontroverted. D.Kan.Rule 206(c). The asserted uncontroverted facts are properly supported by references to deposition testimony and other admissible evidence. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The following facts do not appear to be controverted for purposes of these motions.

Seven of the plaintiffs assert claims of discrimination in violation of federal law in addition to the pendent state law contract claims. Plaintiff James Berry is an African-American male who was forty-one years old in May of 1987 when the downsizing of GM's Fairfax plant and transfers to the GM-10 plant occurred. He was a salaried sixth level production supervisor in the body shop prior to the 1987 work force changes. Mr. Berry was not selected to be a supervisor in the body shop in the new GM-10 plant. GM offered Mr. Berry what it referred to as the Special Separation Incentive Program (SSIP) — which consisted of a lump sum payment, continuation of certain insurance benefits, and career counseling — in exchange for his voluntary separation from employment. Mr. Berry, who had previously worked as an hourly employee in GM's bargaining unit before becoming a salaried employee, declined to accept the SSIP and elected to return to the hourly rolls. Mr. Berry claims that the selection process used by GM to choose salaried employees to staff the GM-10 facility was discriminatory. He asserts claims of race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and section 1981 and age discrimination under the ADEA.

Plaintiff Consolacion DiDonna is a female native of the Philippines. She was a salaried fourth level time keeper in the financial department prior to the downsizing and transfers in May 1987. She was not chosen to staff this position at the new plant, however. Like plaintiff Berry, she was offered and declined the SSIP. From October 1987 to March 1988 Ms. DiDonna was assigned to a salaried position in the suggestions section, retaining her fourth level salary status. She was then laid off in connection with a volume reduction in 1988. Ms. DiDonna asserts claims of national origin discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and section 1981.

Plaintiff Eugene Gold is an African-American male who was forty-four years old in May of 1987. He was a salaried sixth level production supervisor in the hard trim department prior to the 1987 downsizing and transfers. He also was not chosen for this position at the new plant, and he also was offered and declined the SSIP. Like Mr. Berry, Mr. Gold opted to return to the hourly rolls. He asserts claims of race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and section 1981 and age discrimination under the ADEA.

Richard McCauley is a white male who was forty years of age when the 1987 work force changes occurred. He was a salaried fifth level material scheduler in the material department in May of 1987. He was offered and declined the SSIP and elected to return to the hourly rolls. Mr. McCauley brings claims of retaliation under Title VII and age discrimination under the ADEA.

Plaintiff Linda Howell is a white female who was forty-one years old in May of 1987. She was a salaried fifth level specialized clerk in the personnel department prior to the downsizing and transfers. She also declined to accept the SSIP. From May 1987 to March 1988 Ms. Howell was assigned to salaried positions in the security and financial departments, retaining her fifth level salary status. She was laid off in August of 1988 in connection with a volume reduction. She asserts claims of sex discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and age discrimination under the ADEA.

Plaintiff Bernard Hurt is a white male who was forty-two years old when the work force changes at issue occurred. He was a salaried fifth level associate reliability engineer in the quality control/reliability departments in 1987. He was offered and declined the SSIP and elected to return to the hourly rolls. He brings claims of retaliation under Title VII and age discrimination under the ADEA.

Harold Scott is an African American male who was a salaried fifth level material scheduler in the materials department prior to the downsizing in 1987. He also was offered and declined the SSIP and instead elected to return to the hourly rolls. He asserts claims of race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and section 1981.

All of the plaintiffs contend that GM published and distributed a personnel policy manual entitled "Working With General Motors" (employment manual). They maintain that this employment manual, as confirmed by past practice and oral representations by GM supervisors, created an implied employment contract. Portions of this employment manual establish procedures that GM management has pledged to follow when making employment decisions relating to qualifying salaried employees. Plaintiffs claim that GM breached this implied contract by disregarding these procedures when it made decisions regarding which salaried employees at the old Fairfax plant would be offered positions at the new GM-10 plant.

Instead of following the procedures outlined in the employment manual, which allegedly protect the jobs of employees with the most years of service at GM, plaintiffs assert that GM's plant manager, Gus Bierne, instructed his department heads to ignore formal procedures and to choose whomever they wanted to staff their departments at the GM-10 plant. Salaried employees who were not selected to staff the new plant allegedly were given several options: plaintiffs claim that they were told they must either accept a buy out agreement and leave GM, return to the hourly rolls, or be fired; defendant maintains that employees were offered the buy out, a return to the hourly rolls, or a different salaried job at GM.

Of the fifteen plaintiffs, nine voluntarily transferred to the hourly rolls, four were given different salaried positions, and two others were initially given different salaried jobs and eventually laid off. The plaintiffs who opted to return to the hourly wage status argue that they were coerced into taking this option. All of the plaintiffs allege that GM breached the implied contract contained in the employment manual by not choosing them to staff the new plant.

II. IMPLIED CONTRACT CLAIMS

The plaintiffs claim that several portions of the employee manual...

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