Schoonover v. Schneider Nat. Carriers, Inc.

Decision Date26 June 2007
Docket NumberNo. 4:06-cv-00042-JEG.,4:06-cv-00042-JEG.
Citation492 F.Supp.2d 1103
PartiesDeborah SCHOONOVER, Plaintiff, v. SCHNEIDER NATIONAL CARRIERS, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Iowa

Michael J. Carroll, Kodi A. Petersen, Babich Goldman Cashatt & Renzo PC, Des Moines, IA, for Plaintiff.

Dennis P. Ogden, Christopher L. McDonald, Belin Lamson McCormick Zumback & Flynn, P.C., Des Moines, IA, for Defendant.


GRITZNER, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Schneider National Carriers, Inc. (Clerk's No. 19). Plaintiff Deborah Schoonover is represented by Michael Carroll and Kodi Peterson. Defendant Schneider National Carriers, Inc. ("Schneider"), is represented by Dennis Ogden and Christopher McDonald. Following a May 7, 2007, hearing, this matter is fully submitted and ready for disposition.

I. Factual Allegations.1
A. Introduction.

Defendant Schneider National Carriers, Inc. ("Schneider"), is an international provider of trucking, transportation, logistics, and intermodal services headquartered in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The company employs approximately 15,000 truck drivers, each of whom is assigned to one of fifteen Schneider Operating Centers scattered throughout the United States. One such Operating Center is found in Des Moines, Iowa, which supports between 700 and 1,000 drivers.

Each of Schneider's over-the-road truck drivers are paid a rate per mile determined by seniority, driving experience, and other factors. Solo drivers are paid at the lowest end of the spectrum but would graduate to a higher level the longer they stayed with the company.2

Plaintiff Deborah Schoonover applied to work as a driver for Schneider on January 14, 2003, by submitting an application for employment to the company's Recruiting Department, which has exclusive authority to hire truck drivers.

Schoonover agreed that if she were offered employment, it would be at will and could be terminated "at any time, without recourse." Def.App. 80 (application for employment); see also Def.App. 86 (indicating Schoonover "recognize[d] and agree[d] that [her] employment [was] strictly at will and [could] be terminated by Schneider at any time, without cause"). She acknowledged that failing to update any information she provided, or "providing false, misleading or incomplete statements or data in [the] application and/or supplemental documents" in connection with the application would be "grounds for immediate termination" of employment, "regardless of when such information is discovered." Def.App. 80. The record shows Schoonover's pay was to be $0.27 for each mile driven. This compensation was commensurate with other similarly situated drivers.

Schneider offered Schoonover a job as a solo driver. Before Schoonover was permitted to drive for Schneider, the company required Schoonover to attend a driver training program in Green Bay, Wisconsin, to allow her to obtain a commercial driver license. After training, Schoonover was assigned to the Des Moines Operating Center. Schneider terminated Schoonover's employment on August 20, 2003, for allegedly providing false information in certain medical forms included in her employment application materials.

B. Schneider's Personnel and Operations.

Sheri Houdesheldt worked as a Service Team Representative in the Des Moines Operating Center from January 2000 through September 2003. Houdesheldt provided day-to-day support for truck drivers but lacked managerial or supervisory authority over them. She routinely communicated with all drivers assigned to her, one of whom was .Schoonover. Jeff Morse has been employed by Schneider for approximately nine years as a service team leader or senior service team leader in the Des Moines Operating Center. As a senior service team leader, Morse managed service team representatives, trained service team leaders, managed drivers, and provided customer service. She could also terminate the employment of Schneider's drivers. Morse reported to Team Operations Manager Marla Williams.

Since at least 2003, Williams has served as the Des Moines Operating Center's Team Operations Manager. Williams ensured service team leaders followed corporate procedures and processes and properly worked through issues that arise during the day. Williams reported to Operating Center Manager Lisa Gonnerman, who was the highest ranking Schneider employee at the Des Moines facility.

The Des Moines Operating Center des not assign trucks to drivers. Schneider's Tractor Network Center handles that function. Schoonover agrees this is true but notes that when she would experience mechanical problems with her equipment, she would contact her supervisors at the Des Moines Operating Center.3

The Tractor Network Center uses a Van Tractor Assignment Policy "to ensure the right tractors are assigned to all work configurations and that appropriate drivers are assigned to drive them." Def.App. 72. The policy lists a variety of factors to consider, including mileage on the truck and the seniority and past performance of the driver. There is no specific record that a driver's gender is among the factors weighed. Under the policy, new solo drivers like Schoonover received the lowest priority for truck assignments. Because new drivers in Schoonover's position typically received old equipment, it was "fairly common" for the vehicles they drove to experience mechanical problems. Houdesheldt Dep. 21:6-22:4; Schoonover Dep. 54:3-55:2 (explaining her understanding that new drivers did not receive new equipment to use). As a result of mechanical problems, new drivers would frequently be shifted to drive several different trucks in the early days of their employment. The record shows that during the course of her employment with Schneider, Schoonover was assigned to drive at least four different trucks.

Schoonover admits the Van Tractor Assignment Policy exists but argues that in practice some factors are considered when making assignments and others are not, adding that Schneider's management still may have at least some role in truck assignments.4 However, beyond a broad understanding that she would receive equipment upgrades the longer she stayed with the company, Schoonover confessed to having no knowledge about who makes truck assignments or the processes or criteria used. She also provided no specific examples of situations where only some of the required factors were used by the Tractor Network Center to assign any vehicle.

In addition to equipment assignments, drivers are also provided routes to drive. Schoonover was cognizant of the general method used to assign work:

Q: Can you tell me how loads were assigned to you?

A: I don't know., They — I would put in an end macro to my — on my computer, and after so long a load would come up. The computer would beep. I would either call [Morse] or [Houdesheldt] if I had questions on the load.

Q: Okay. And you would put in — it was your responsibility ... to put in something on the QUALCOMM system that told them you were ready to take another load; is that right?

A: That I had ended that load, yes.

Q: And do you know where that communication would go to?

A: No.

Q: Would it be a surprise to you if that communication ended up in Green Bay somewhere?

A: I don't believe it did.

Q: Where do you believe it went?

A: I believe it went to my [Service Team Leader].

Q: Okay. Well, all right. But you're not sure who it went to?

A: No.

Q: And what would happen, then, once you told them you were ready for a load is you would be communicated with again on the computer telling you what load was next?

A: Yes.

Q: And you don't know where that communication came from, do you?

A: No.

Q: You assumed it came from [Morse] or someone who was your [Service Team Leader]?

A: Yes.

Q: But it may have come from somewhere else; you don't know?

A: It could have, yes.

Schoonover Dep. 133:12-134:25.5 Schneider fills in the details regarding work assignments. The Transportation Planning Department in Green Bay, Wisconsin, schedules loads for Schneider's drivers. Employees known as transportation planners are vested with final decision-making authority for all work assignments, and no person outside the department can override an assignment. Transportation planners use a computer program called Global Scheduling System ("GSS") to assign routes. The program maximizes efficiency and profitability by weighing a variety of factors, including driver location, hours of availability, dates of availability, equipment availability, customer needs, and other factors. Defendant contends the focus is on efficiency, not the sex of the drivers.

The GSS system allows for limited flexibility in route assignments. For example, while drivers can request to be home for specific days, Schneider cannot guarantee a driver's return on a specific date because schedules depend heavily on the movement of freight, company needs, and driver availability. Thus, drivers would sometimes miss important events at home. A driver could appeal an unfavorable assignment to the service team leader or service team representative, who would then contact the transportation planners to attempt to negotiate a plan so the driver could return home. In other words, an Operating Center could attempt to intervene on a driver's behalf, but if a change was made, it would come from the transportation planners.

Schoonover points out that in some cases, transportation planners must make adjustments. For example, a work assignment can be shifted if a driver experiences a medical emergency and is physically incapable of driving. She adds that while the GSS program may not consider a driver's sex, transportation planners might. However, she has...

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