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Morgan v. Triumph Aerostructures, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

November 2, 2017

KAREN MORGAN, Plaintiff,



         Pending before the Court in this employment discrimination case is the Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 65) filed by Triumph Aerostructures, LLC (“Triumph”), to which Karen Morgan (“Morgan”) has responded in opposition (Doc. No. 70), and Triumph has replied (Doc. No. 73). For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted, and Morgan's claims will be dismissed.

         I. Factual Background [1]

         On October 24, 2005, Vought Aircraft Industries, Inc. hired Morgan as an Aircraft Assembler, and she kept that job when Triumph acquired Vought. (DSOF ¶¶ 1, 2). In December 2013, Morgan applied for, and received, a promotion to an Aircraft Inspector position, and was assigned to the production line for the C-130, a military aircraft. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 9).

         As the name suggests, an Aircraft Inspector inspects aircraft parts that have been built by assemblers. If a deflect or flaw is observed in the part, the Inspector has authority to send the part back to assembly for correction. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 8).

         When Morgan began working as an Inspector on the C-130 line, Christopher Criss (“Criss”), a subassembly supervisor, screamed at her for rejecting parts, and later became angry with her for buying (or approving) parts. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 25).[2] Even though Criss screamed and yelled, Morgan does not recall him ever using any slurs or derogatory words against her. She believes, however, that Criss was trying to intimidate her to go against company policy and use defective parts. (PSOF ¶ 1).

         In January 2014, Morgan moved from subassembly to major assembly, where she was supervised by Don Cuozzo (“Cuozzo”). (DSOF ¶¶ 32, 34). Cuozzo believed Morgan was responsible for a missing part and required her to look for it. That turned out to be a misunderstanding because Criss had taken the part to a meeting with supervisors and the plant manager. (Id. ¶¶ 34, 36-38). Although Morgan was not present at the meeting, she claims Criss threw the part on the table and said he “wanted something done about” Morgan because the part was defective and she had approved it. (Id. ¶¶ 39-40). Later, Cuozzo took Morgan aside and told her that he had received a complaint about her from Criss, who “wanted something done” because Morgan had approved the defective part. (Id. ¶ 40)

         Criss's action prompted Morgan to contact Valerie Jordan-Taylor, a Human Resources Generalist for Triumph. At a meeting on January 16, 2014, Morgan told Valerie-Jordan “everything that had happened to that point, ” including that Criss was upset about Morgan approving a part, even though Morgan thought the part was good. (Id. ¶ 43). Morgan does not recall telling Jordan-Taylor that any slurs or offensive language had been used toward her by Criss, but wanted an apology from Criss, and an acknowledgment that he had acted unprofessionally. (Id. ¶¶ 47).

         After the meeting, Jordan-Taylor prepared a written summary that, in part, reads:

Karen stated to me that Chris Criss screamed at her; said that everyone time [sic] the department got a new inspector they “had to go through this, ” that Karen was being too picky. Karen stated that she knew Chris Criss was mad when he approached her and she felt the environment around her was a little hostile. Karen stated that she is new to the program; she doesn't stamp off parts on her own yet; another inspector or her supervisor checks her work.
Karen also felt that Chris Criss had complained about her to other employees. Someone told Karen that Criss had wrote an e-mail to Ron White complaining about her and Karen felt that if that was true, she wanted to know what the e-mail said because she doesn't appreciate Criss making slanderous comments about her.
I explained to Karen that I would talk with Chris Criss regarding his behavior. I also told Karen that if she had encounters of this type, she should inform the person that they needed to talk with her supervisor and then to just walk away from the situation.

(Id. ¶ 46).

         Jordan-Taylor also spoke to Criss, summarizing their conversations as follows:

I talked with Criss about the situation. He stated to me that they always have these problems with new inspectors. Criss felt like Karen should not have gotten the inspector job; that she wasn't qualified to do it. I explained to him that per the contract she was qualified to do the job and currently was in training. I asked Criss to be a little more conscious of his actions and words toward Karen and to give her the opportunity to learn the job. I also explained that if he had problems with her inspection of his parts he should take them up with Karen's supervisor until Karen has completed all her training.

(Id. ¶ 48). She also summarized a conversation with Chris Ray (“Ray), whom Morgan had identified as a witness:

I talked with Chris Ray regarding Chris Criss' actions toward Karen Morgan. C. Ray commented that he felt Chris Criss handled the situation in the wrong way. Ray stated that Criss was mad because the earlier part had not been approved but the second part had. Ray stated everyone knows how Criss can talk and he could have approached Karen in a different way. Ray stated that Criss can sound like he was yelling when he is adamant about something. C. Ray felt like Karen was taking Criss words a little strongly.

(Id. ¶ 49).

         Jordan-Taylor claims that, after talking to the involved parties, her “assessment was that Morgan was a new Inspector and Morgan did not understand everything about the position.” (Id. ¶ 52). She claims to have told Criss to be more patient with Morgan, give her more direction, and show more understanding because Morgan was new to the job of Inspector. (Id. ¶ 53).

         Jordan-Taylor then followed-up with Morgan the following week and checked-in with her on a monthly basis thereafter to see if the problem was resolved. Morgan reported no further problems with Criss. (Id.).

         Morgan's conversation with Jordan Taylor occurred around the time that Morgan moved from subassembly to major assembly. While working in the major assembly area on the C-130 line, Cuozzo mistakenly thought that Morgan had missed an inspection call. When discussing the supposed missed call with her, Cuozzo did not make any derogatory comments about women. He did, however, tell Morgan “every morning” thereafter not to miss calls, and laughed. (Id. ¶ 55-56).

         Also while working in Cuozzo's area, Randy Cox (“Cox”), the lead inspector on the C-130 told Morgan that he was “burned out, ” and that he was tired of answering questions from new employees. (Id. ¶ 57). Cuozzo then told Morgan to direct her questions to him, instead of Cox. Although Morgan thought she was being singled out, she did not ask other inspectors whether they, too, had similarly been instructed to ask Cuozzo questions, instead of Cox. (Id. ¶ 58).

         In May 2014, Morgan was still on the C-130 line when Anthony Booker, a mechanic, told her to “get off the jig”[3] because she did not belong there. (Id. ¶ 61). Booker did not explain what he meant by her not belonging, but he stood in her way so that she could not walk down the stairs and off the jig.[4]

         Morgan reported the incident to Jordan-Taylor, who told Morgan that she would talk with Booker. Morgan admits that, after speaking with Jordan-Taylor, “it was better, ” and admits that she has not had any further issues with Booker. (Id. ¶¶ 67-68).

         When Cuozzo was not at work, Randy Vaughter (“Vaughter”) filled in as the supervisor. On June 5, 2014, he showed Morgan a picture of a panel with bolts missing that should not have been approved. Because Morgan was not the one who approved the panel, she replied, “okay, I will keep an eye out on that so that it doesn't happen again.” (Id. ¶ 71). Vaughter did not use any derogatory language or call Morgan names when he confronted her with the picture of the panel. Nevertheless, Morgan took exception to the comment because Vaughter was suggesting she had made a mistake, when, in fact, she had not. (Id. ¶¶ 72-73).[5]

         By June 2014, Morgan had transferred to the second shift, where she was supervised by Rick Angel (Angel”). Morgan describe her working relationship with Angel as being “great.” (DSOF ¶ 82). Whenever Morgan had a problem, she reported it to Angel who then took care of the matter. For example, on June 17, 2014, Morgan was asked to close out an order for a panel that was not part of her inspection area. When Morgan told Angel about the instruction, he told Morgan he would take care of it and for her to forward all of her emails to him so he could filter ...

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