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Coleman v. ARC Automotive

January 31, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James H. Jarvis United States District Judge


This is an action brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5. Plaintiff alleges that her employer, ARC Automotive, Inc. (ARC), discriminated against her on the basis of her sex and race, as well as retaliated against her and subjected her to a hostile work environment. This discriminatory treatment allegedly began as soon as plaintiff was elected to the position of Union President in April 2004. Currently pending is the defendant's motion for summary judgment [Court File #9]. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted and this action dismissed.

I. Factual Background

The following factual allegations are considered in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.

Plaintiff is an African-American female who has worked at the ARC factory for 12 years as a general machine operator. ARC manufactures airbag inflator components at its Knoxville plant and employs approximately 400 bargaining unit personnel operating in three shifts per day.

Plaintiff admits that during her tenure of employment with the defendant she was not subjected to anything she thought might be sex or race discrimination, at least until she was elected the Plant President of UNITE! Local 906 in April 2004. Plaintiff was removed as Plant President by the Union in January 2005 based on internal union charges of attempting to oust the UNITE! union in the fall to winter of 2004 in order to replace it with other unions. The Union initially suspended plaintiff as local Union President and subsequently convicted her of disloyalty following an internal union trial. Because of this conviction by the Union, plaintiff was returned to her regular general machine operator position which she had held prior to being elected Union President.

The immediate past president of the Union at the time the plaintiff was elected was an African-American male named Jacob Grant. Plaintiff contends that when she was first introduced as Union President, Robin Whyte, Senior Plant Manager, and Darryl Bunch, an employee of ARC, referred to plaintiff as the "Anointed One," and "this is the new little Jacob," referring to the prior president Jacob Grant. Plaintiff contends that these comments provoked laughter throughout the room, at the plaintiff's expense. Plaintiff further contends that Robin Whyte told Jacob Grant that "they do not need anyone like Terri Coleman as Union President."

Plaintiff contends that between April 2004 and when she was removed from office in January 2005 she was subjected to continuous targeted surveillance of her activities at the instruction of the defendant. She claims that special instructions were given to supervisors and guards to observe and report plaintiff's contact with employees as union representative, especially when the encounter with employees lasted more than two minutes.

At a grievance proceeding, plaintiff and her vice-president were stopped and informed that both individuals could not attend the meeting on behalf of an employee who was facing disciplinary action. When plaintiff questioned this, she was informed that these were orders of Jackie Theg, the Director of Human Resources for the defendant. Ultimately the plaintiff and the vice-president were allowed to attend the disciplinary hearing.

Plaintiff contends that during her tenure as Union President she was subjected to automatic stops at the guard gates at the direction of management, and that her photograph was inserted in a notebook with employees who had been previously terminated. Plaintiff claims that these actions had not been visited upon any prior Union President.

Plaintiff contends that Jackie Theg on one occasion refused to accept a grievance filed on behalf of the plaintiff because she did not agree with the language. She claims that this was inappropriate and not in the purview of the Human Resources Director.

Plaintiff contends that even after her tenure as Union President ceased, the hostility continued. On one occasion, when plaintiff's pay was less than she had earned, she addressed the discrepancy and was informed that she needed to file a grievance. This was inconsistent with past actions relative to those who had similar pay issues.

Plaintiff claims that her retaliation claim is tied not only to her filing of an EEOC complaint, but also her duties as Union President in assisting employees to avail themselves of Title VII safeguards against discrimination.

With respect to plaintiff's claim that she was stopped and required to check in at the guard shack, the defendant admits that she was when she entered the company buildings on Union business off of her work shift / work site building. It is undisputed that this only occurred during the first shift and that she was never barred entry anywhere in any company facility on any shift and that the waiting time at the guard gate varied from zero to a few minutes. It is undisputed that the purpose of this check-in procedure was to secure compliance with the company's badge policy and collective bargaining agreement requirement that it be notified of any such Union representative's entry. It is also undisputed that the company requested the previous Union President, Jacob Grant, to comply ...

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