Cole v. Knoll, Inc., 1:96 cv 836.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District Michigan)
Writing for the CourtScoville
Citation984 F.Supp. 1117
PartiesJeffrey William COLE and Danielle Cole, Plaintiffs, v. KNOLL, INC., Defendant.
Docket NumberNo. 1:96 cv 836.,1:96 cv 836.
Decision Date07 October 1997
984 F.Supp. 1117
Jeffrey William COLE and Danielle Cole, Plaintiffs,
KNOLL, INC., Defendant.
No. 1:96 cv 836.
United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division.
October 7, 1997.

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Eugenie Bauman Eardley, Eardley Law Offices, P.C., Grand Rapids, MI, for Plaintiff.

Timothy J. Ryan, Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey Grand Rapids, MI, for Defendant.


SCOVILLE, United States Magistrate Judge.

This is an action brought by Jeffrey Cole and Danielle Cole against Jeffrey Cole's former employer Knoll, Inc. for wrongful termination of his employment. Plaintiffs initially filed this action in Kent County Circuit Court. Defendant removed the case to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 on the basis both of federal question jurisdiction and of diversity and the requisite amount in controversy. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332.

Plaintiffs' complaint asserts that Mr. Cole's discharge from employment violated his rights against race and sex discrimination under both Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the analogous Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, and his rights under an implied employment contract under state law. They also asserts claims for promissory estoppel, libel, slander, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and loss of consortium. The matter is now before me on defendant's motion for summary judgment (docket # 24). The parties have agreed to the exercise of case-dispositive jurisdiction by a magistrate judge (docket # 9). 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

Applicable Standard

As the Sixth Circuit has noted, the federal courts have entered a "new era" in summary judgment practice. Cox v. Kentucky Dep't of Transp., 53 F.3d 146, 150 (6th Cir.1995); Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1478-81 (6th Cir.1989). While preserving the constitutional right of civil litigants to a trial on meritorious claims, the courts are now vigilant to weed out unsupported claims before trial. Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals that there are no issues as to any material fact in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Sable v. General Motors Corp., 90 F.3d 171, 175 (6th Cir.1996); Payne v. Board of Education, 88 F.3d 392, 397 (6th Cir.1996) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2509-10, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). The standard for determining whether summary judgment is appropriate is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law."

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See Adcox v. Teledyne, Inc., 21 F.3d 1381, 1385 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 871, 115 S.Ct. 193, 130 L.Ed.2d 126 (1994) (quoting Anderson v, Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 251-52, 106 S.Ct. at 2511-12).

The court must consider all pleadings, depositions, affidavits, and admissions on file, and draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the party opposing the motion. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, but need not support its motion with affidavits or other materials "negating" the opponent's claim. Moore v. Philip Morris Companies, Inc., 8 F.3d 335, 339 (6th Cir.1993). Once defendants show that "there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case," plaintiff his the burden of coming forward with evidence raising a triable issue of fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). To sustain this burden, plaintiff may not rest on the mere allegations of his pleadings. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); Copeland v. Machulis, 57 F.3d 476, 479 (6th Cir.1995); Cox, 53 F.3d at 150. A party opposing a motion for summary judgment has the burden to come forth with requisite proof to support his legal claim, particularly where he has had an opportunity to conduct discovery. See Noble v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 32 F.3d 997, 999 (6th Cir. 1994); Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d at 1478-81; Booker v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co., 879 F.2d 1304, 1310 (6th Cir.1989). In so doing, plaintiff must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. FED. R.CIV.P. 56(e); see Kensu v. Haigh, 87 F.3d 172, 175 (1996); Brennan v. Township of Northville, 78 F.3d 1152, 1156 (6th Cir.1996). The respondent must "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586, 106 S.Ct. at 1355.

Even though plaintiffs bring several claims under Michigan law, the federal summary judgment standard nevertheless applies. See Reid v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 790 F.2d 453, 459 (6th Cir.1986) (claims of wrongful discharge under Michigan law governed by Rule 56 standards arid not Michigan law); accord, Gafford v. General Elec. Co., 997 F.2d 150, 165-66 (6th Cir.1993). Consequently, plaintiff's reliance on the somewhat more lenient summary judgment standard applied by the Michigan courts must be rejected, in favor of a faithful application of federal standards. Applying these standards, the court determines that defendant's motion for summary judgment should be granted as to all claims.


I. Findings of Fact

The following facts, with all inferences drawn in plaintiffs' favor, are beyond genuine issue. Defendant is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in East Greenville, Pennsylvania. Defendant owns and operates a factory located at 4300 36th Street, S.E., Grand Rapids, Michigan. Jeffrey Cole, a white male, was employed by defendant at this location for a six-month period, from October of 1995 to April of 1996.

Contract Claim

Plaintiff1 had his initial job interview with defendant in the fall of 1995. Plaintiff was interviewing for a temporary hourly position. Ron Termolen was a second shift manager for defendant at that time (Termolen Aff., ¶ 3, docket # 28). Termolen interviewed plaintiff and others for a the temporary hourly position (Termolen Dep., Ex. C, at 7, docket # 28; Plf. Dep. at 32-37, docket # 33). Plaintiff's resume reflected his work history as a personnel manager for the United States Army (Ex. A, docket # 28). Termolen asked plaintiff why he was looking for work in a factory, when his resume did not reflect any history of factory work. Plaintiff responded that he was looking for some extra Christmas money (Plf. Dep. at 35). Plaintiff was on a ninety-day leave from the

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Army with a ninety-day window for reenlistment (Plf. Dep. at 16, 22, 28). Defendant was generally looking for hourly employees, but also asked its interviewers to look for candidates suitable to hold supervisory positions (Termolen Dep. at 8). Termolen identified plaintiff as a possible candidate for a supervisory position. Termolen inquired if plaintiff might be interested in a supervisory position (Plf. Dep. at 35). Plaintiff responded that he was "always listening ... always willing to listen to someone." (Plf. Dep. at 36). Termolen did not relay any information about the terms or conditions of the salaried position, but did request that plaintiff drop off an extra copy of his resume to the human resources department (Plf. Dep. at 36, 47). Termolen made no representation to plaintiff that he could expect any job security in the temporary hourly position (Plf. Dep. at 33-39). Plaintiff was contacted for a second interview (Plf. Dep. at 41).

Termolen relayed plaintiffs name as a possible supervisor to Leendert Ringlever. The temporary supervisor position reported to Ringlever (Termolen Dep. at 12-13). Ringlever interviewed plaintiff and several other candidates for the temporary supervisor position (Id. at 16; Plf. Dep. at 45). The day after this interview, plaintiff received a telephone call from Brenda Moon, advising plaintiff that he would be hired as a temporary hourly employee through Adia Employment Agency at $25.00 per hour (Plf. Dep. at 48). Plaintiff began work as a temporary supervisor at Knoll on October 16, 1995 (Ex. A, docket # 28; Plf. Dep. at 52). Plaintiff understood that he was not represented by the union or covered under the union contract (Plf. Dep. at 59).

Some time thereafter, Termolen and others interviewed plaintiff as part of the process of making him a regular rather than a temporary employee (Termolen Dep. at 21; Plf. dep. at 69) Termolen, Brenda Moon, John Pfaendtner and Phil Baker were the group of interviewers seated around a conference table (Plf. Dep. at 69). Termolen did not give plaintiff any handbook or written policy, did not inform him that he was an at-will employee and did not advise plaintiff of any probationary period (Termolen Aff., ¶ 5).

Plaintiff testified at length concerning this and other meetings and the representations (or had thereof) made to him concerning his job security as a permanent employee:

Q Did—during this meeting were you offered the regular full-time position with Knoll?

A No.

Q Were wages and benefits discussed at all?

A No.

Q Were there any other terms and conditions of your employment discussed at all?

A No.

Q No?

A No.

Q All right. When's the next time you had a discussion with anyone about obtaining a regular position with Knoll?

A A few days later, Leo [Ringlever] called me up to his office somewhere around 7:00 and offered me a salary and a permanent position with Knoll.

Q That would be 7:00 in the evening?

A Correct.

Q Was there anyone else in the office at that time?

A No.

Q Okay, I want you to tell me again, in as much detail as you can recall, what it was that...

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