Walton v. U.S. Steel Corp.

Decision Date21 December 2012
Docket NumberCase No. 2:10-cv-188
PartiesERIC RASHAD WALTON, Plaintiff v. UNITED STATES STEEL CORPORATION, Defendant
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana

ERIC RASHAD WALTON, Plaintiff
v.
UNITED STATES STEEL CORPORATION, Defendant

Case No. 2:10-cv-188

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA HAMMOND DIVISION

Dated: December 21, 2012


OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the court on the Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 54] filed by the defendant, United States Steel Corporation, on April 30, 2012. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED.

Background

The plaintiff, Eric Rashad Walton, began working for U.S. Steel at its manufacturing facility in Gary, Indiana, on February 2, 2006. Walton was a member of the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial Services Workers International Union. The union negotiated a Basic Labor Agreement with U.S. Steel that governed the terms and conditions of its members' employment. The BLA set forth the discrimination policies and procedures for reporting incidents, as well as the grievance, discipline, and discharge process. The BLA stated that "[n]o employee will be disciplined or discriminated against in any way solely for suffering an injury or

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illness or for reporting an accident in good faith." U.S. Steel promulgated procedures for employees to report misconduct to the Employee Relations Department, or if the employee was uncomfortable with reporting the violation to the company, he could file a grievance with his union.

On December 12, 2007, Walton experienced an allergic reaction to one of the chemicals at work and went to the hospital. Walton did not return to work the next day and filed a claim with U.S. Steel for Sickness and Accident benefits, a monetary benefit that U.S. Steel provides to bargaining unit employees if they cannot perform the duties of their job as a result of sickness or accident. U.S. Steel paid Walton approximately $900 in sickness and accident benefits every two weeks while he was on sick leave from work.

Walton was examined by Nurse Practitioner Renee Lax on February 4, 2008, for a return to work physical. Walton had a form signed by his treating physician stating he could return to work the following day. Walton reported to Lax that he had a skin patch test for allergies, which revealed that he was allergic to nickel. Walton denied working around nickel, and his supervisor, Bruce West, informed Lax that there was no known exposure to nickel at work and that he could accommodate Walton's allergy. Walton returned to work the following day and worked through

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February 21, 2008. On February 21, 2008, Walton experienced another allergic reaction at work and took sick leave. He received sickness and accident benefits during his leave.

On June 16, 2008, Walton filed a workers' compensation claim for his allergic reactions on December 12, 2007 and February 21, 2008. Walton does not know who at U.S. Steel had knowledge of his workers' compensation claim, but he testified that U.S. Steel's claims unit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, became aware of the claim through a letter from his doctor. At some point after his doctor sent the letter to the claims unit, Walton met with Linda Woods, Manager of Employee Services at Gary Works, to get information about filing a workers' compensation claim. On July 29, 2008, Dr. Mark Gardner examined Walton and determined that he could return to work if he was not exposed to dichlorophene, nickel, or propylene glycol, and was provided a gas rescue accommodation. Dr. Gardner called the manager of the tin mill and was informed that the manager could not offer Walton such an accommodation. Walton remained off work and on workers' compensation. U.S. Steel did not challenge Walton's workers' compensation claim but subsequently terminated his benefits when it determined that Walton could return to work.

U.S. Steel management determined that they were able to accommodate Walton's medical restrictions in the coke products

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division. Walton went to the U.S. Steel Medical Department for a return to work physical on November 10, 2008. Dr. Gardner directed Walton to be fit-tested for a respirator that he would need to work in the coke division. Walton testified that Dr. Gardner agreed to test him at a later date so he could speak with his workers' compensation lawyer about returning to work in the coke division. Walton left the Medical Department without being fit-tested for a respirator and did not return or contact a manager to be fit-tested.

On December 9, 2008, Staff Supervisor Maria Flourney sent a letter to Walton advising him to report to the plant medical department before December 19, 2008, and that the failure to report without justification would result in a five-day suspension preliminary to discharge. Walton complained that he did not receive the letter until December 20, 2008, but he admitted that he became aware of the letter through a conversation with Human Resource Representative Sandra Armstrong on December 15, 2008. Armstrong read the contents of the letter to him over the phone and told him to report to the plant medical department. Walton did not report to the medical department by the December 19, 2008, and explained that the union advised him that the matter could be handled after the holidays.

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On December 29, 2008, Labor Relations Manager Laura Kocel issued Walton a five-day suspension for failing to comply with the instructions in the letter. Walton went to the U.S. Steel medical department to be fit-tested for a respirator on December 30, 2008, and received the discipline notice on January 2, 2009. Walton met with his union representative and U.S. Steel's managers to address the discipline. Following the meeting, U.S. Steel converted Walton's initial five-day suspension to a discharge on February 26, 2009.

The union filed a grievance on Walton's behalf challenging the discipline and asserting that U.S. Steel violated the BLA. A second meeting was held between Walton, his union representatives, and U.S. Steel management to address the discipline under the BLA's grievance procedure. U.S. Steel denied Walton's grievance, which subsequently was appealed. At a "Third Step" meeting, Labor Relations Manager Timothy Mosby made an offer to the union to resolve Walton's grievance and discharge, which was conditioned on Walton moving to the coke department. Walton was not present at the meeting, and Mosby only communicated with Walton's union representatives about this offer. Mosby was the only U.S. Steel manager with authority to resolve Walton's grievance and discharge. Mosby and the union representatives held another meeting during which they discussed the possibility

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of assigning Walton as a Utility Technician performing functions as a Truck Driver. Mosby never discussed this option with Walton, and his grievance eventually was denied on the third level of review. Mosby stated that he never rescinded an offer to resolve Walton's grievance and discharge, rather, the parties were unable to reach an agreement. An arbitration was scheduled for April 1, 2011, and the Board of Arbitration found that U.S. Steel had proper cause to suspend and discharge Walton.

On April 20, 2009, Walton filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging disability discrimination. Walton was issued a Notice of Rights letter and filed his pro se complaint. In his complaint, Walton alleges that he was discharged in retaliation for filing a grievances with the union, a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, his complaint in this matter, and a workers' compensation claim. U.S. Steel contends that Walton signed a Competition, Agreement, Stipulation, and Petition in the workers' compensation claim and that he is prohibited from pursuing this claim. Walton also alleges that he was terminated in retaliation for a letter he sent to the Indiana Occupational Safety & Health Association (IOSHA) on December 16, 2008, complaining about his recent experiences at U.S. Steel. Walton does not know whether U.S. Steel was aware of the letter he sent to IOSHA, and IOSHA has no

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record of receiving the letter. Walton's final complaint is that he suffered intentional infliction of emotional distress as a result of his termination, the termination of his workers' compensation benefits, and U.S. Steel causing his second allergic reaction. U.S. Steel now moves for summary judgment on all of Walton's claims.

Discussion

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is proper only if it is demonstrated that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Kidwell v. Eisenhauer, 679 F.3d 957, 964 (7th Cir. 2012); Stephens v. Erickson, 569 F.3d 779, 786 (7th Cir. 2009). The burden is upon the moving party to establish that no material facts are in genuine dispute, and any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue must be resolved against the moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Company, 398 U.S. 144, 160, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1610, 26 L.Ed.2d 142, 155 (1970); Stephens, 569 F.3d at 786. A fact is material if it is outcome determinative under applicable law. There must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d

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