Caskey v. Colgate-Palmolive Co., 1:04 CV 1239 DFH TAB.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of Indiana)
Citation438 F.Supp.2d 954
Docket NumberNo. 1:04 CV 1239 DFH TAB.,1:04 CV 1239 DFH TAB.
PartiesTracy L. CASKEY, Plaintiff, v. COLGATE-PALMOLIVE COMPANY and Hill's Pet Nutrition, Inc., Defendants.
Decision Date09 June 2006

Richard L. Darst, Cohen Garelick & Glazier, Indianapolis, IN, for Plaintiff.

George A. Stohner, Morgan Lewis & Bockius, Los Angeles, CA, Jane A. Dall, Ellen E. Boshkoff, Susan W. Kline, Baker & Daniels, Indianapolis, IN, Rene M. Johnson, Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, Princeton, NJ, for Defendants.


HAMILTON, District Judge.

Plaintiff Tracy Caskey worked as an employee at defendant Hill's Pet Nutrition, Inc. ("Hill's"), a manufacturer of pet food. Defendant Colgate—Palmolive is the parent company of Hill's. Caskey was terminated by Hill's in May 2003. Caskey alleges that defendants interfered with the exercise of her statutory right to medical leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. She also alleges that she was subjected to discrimination based on her sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Caskey also alleges that defendants retaliated against her for exercising her rights under Title VII, the FMLA, and Indiana law. Defendants contend that all of Caskey's discipline was lawful and that her termination resulted from three consecutive unexcused absences from work.

Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims. As explained below, the court grants the motion. Caskey has failed to raise a genuine issue of fact that she was improperly denied FMLA leave on any occasion. Caskey also has failed to identify a genuine issue that she was discriminated against because of her sex in violation of Title VII. Finally, Caskey has failed to identify a genuine issue that Hill's retaliated against her for engaging in activity protected by Title VII or the FMLA, and she has failed to come forward with evidence that Hill's retaliated against her for filing a worker's compensation claim.

Summary Judgment Standard

The purpose of summary judgment is to "pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, affidavits, and other materials demonstrate that there exists "no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Only genuine disputes over material facts can prevent a grant of summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and a dispute about a material fact is genuine only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 248-49, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

On a motion for summary judgment, the moving parties must first come forward and identify those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, which the parties believe demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Where the moving parties have met the threshold burden of supporting the motion, the opposing party must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). Local Rule 56.1 requires, the party opposing a motion for summary judgment to identify specific and material factual disputes.

When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court considers those facts that are undisputed and views additional evidence, and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, in the light reasonably most favorable to the non-moving party. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505; Baron v. City of Highland Park, 195 F.3d 333, 338 (7th Cir.1999). However, a party must present more than mere speculation or conjecture to defeat a summary judgment motion. The issue is whether a reasonable jury might rule in favor of the non-moving party based on the evidence in the record. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505; Packman v. Chicago Tribunec Co., 267 F.3d 628, 637 (7th Cir.2001).

Facts for Summary Judgment

The following facts are either undisputed or reflect the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff Caskey as the party opposing summary judgment. Adverse facts established by defendants beyond reasonable dispute are necessarily included in the narrative.

In March 1995, plaintiff Tracy L. (Greye) Caskey began working as a technician in Hill's Pet Nutrition plant in Richmond, Indiana. Caskey Aff. ¶¶ 2, 3. The production areas at Hill's Richmond plant include Dry Mix/Bulk, Processing, Packaging, and Stretchwrap. Zaleha Aff. ¶ 3. From early 2002 through Caskey's termination, area leaders (formerly known as team leaders) supervised technicians working in the different production areas. Area leaders reported directly to operations manager Darren Haverkamp. Id. ¶ 4. Haverkamp, human resources director Jackie Vanderpool, and human resources manager Michael Keinath reported directly to plant manager Cathy Zaleha. Id. ¶¶, 5.

Because Hill's provides paid leave for illness under the FMLA and has other paid time-off programs, it does not also provide employees with "sick days." Zaleha Aff. ¶ 12. An absence that does not count as FMLA or another form of protected leave is recorded as an unexcused absence. Id. 1113.

Work performance issues at Hill's are addressed through the Individual Improvement Process ("HP"), a tiered disciplinary system comprised of the following steps: formal coaching, performance agreement, decision-making leave ("DML"), and "deselection" (i.e., termination). Zaleha Aff. ¶ 10. This process was formerly called the Performance Improvement Process ("PIP"). Id. ¶ 9.

Caskey progressed through Hill's disciplinary process until she was ultimately terminated in May 2003. In November 2001, Caskey was placed in the first stage of PIP for excessive absences. Caskey Aff. Att. 34. On February 27, 2003, Caskey was placed in the performance agreement stage of IIP. Hill's claimed that Caskey had eighty-four hours of non-protected absences in a twelve-month period. Keinath Aff. ¶ 4; Caskey Aff. Att. 62.

On March 12, 2003, Caskey was placed in the DML stage of IIP. Caskey Aff. Att 72. Hill's claimed that Caskey recently had committed unsafe behavior and had caused a quality problem. In February, Caskey slipped and fell on a wet floor when an extruder machine die swung toward her while she opened the machine to remove a plug. She broke her wrist and her injury was treated as a worker's compensation injury. Caskey I Dep. at 85. An Incident Investigation Team reported that the "root cause" of Caskey's accident was that she was standing on the "at-risk" side of the extruder. Caskey Aff. Att. 63. In early March, Caskey was responsible for performing quality control checks on a plant line Producing kibble. During her shift, over 50,000 pounds of reject product were, produced and approximately 20,000 pounds of this was bagged before the problem was discovered. Caskey II Dep. at 110, 124, 129; Doyle Dep. at 186.1

Caskey's decision-making leave required that she "[h]ave no absences and use no emergency vacation time for the duration of the agreement." Caskey Aff. Att. 72 at 4. On the morning of April 12th, Caskey called the Hill's Plant from Texas to request vacation time for a shift that started the morning of April 14th. Hill's contended that Caskey's request violated the terms of her DML. Haverkamp and Keinath spoke with Caskey when she returned from Texas and obtained her oral agreement to adhere to the terms of her DML.

From April 24 through May 12, 2003, Caskey was on FMLA leave. Upon returning from FML, Caskey worked shifts on May 12 and 13, took a birthday holiday on May 16, took vacation on May 17 and 18, and did not report to work for her next three scheduled shifts—May 21, 22, and 27. Caskey I Dep. at 69; Caskey II Dep. at 7-8; Keinath Aff. ¶¶ 20, 21.

Caskey's performance agreement required that she "communicate to [her] Area Leader and team" any absence and that she not have any unexcused absences. Caskey Aff. Att. 62. Caskey testified that on the morning of May 21st, she called a teammate and told him she was "sick" and would not be in on the 21st or 22nd. Caskey's decision-making leave noted that failure to "maintain acceptable levels of performance ... could result in termination." Caskey Aff. Att. 104. On May 29th, Hill's sent Caskey a letter stating that it deemed her to have "self-terminated" by not reporting to work on May 21, 22, and 27. Caskey Aff. Att. 117.

Caskey filed a charge with the EEOC on or about July 10, 2003. Cplt. ¶ 30. Additional facts are noted below, keeping in mind the standard that applies on summary judgment.

I. Colgate-Palmolive

Colgate-Palmolive is entitled to summary judgment on all claims. The undisputed evidence shows that it was not Caskey's employer and did not direct or control the acts of which she complains.

The FMLA protects eligible persons who work for a statutorily defined "employer." This includes "any person who acts, directly or indirectly, in the interest of an employer to any of the employees of such employer." 29 U.S.C. § 2611(4)(A)(ii)(I). The Seventh Circuit has not addressed the scope of this provision in the context of the FMLA, so the court looks to cases interpreting similar language from the Fair Labor Standards...

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