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Hanks v. Spirit Aerosystems, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

September 1, 2017

Roderick J. Hanks, Plaintiff,
Spirit Aerosystems, Inc., A Delaware Corporation, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Roderick Hanks, an employee of Spirit Aerosystems, has sued Spirit for racial harassment and discrimination, retaliation, and disability discrimination. Spirit has moved for summary judgment on Hanks' claims. For the reasons provided herein, the court finds that the defendant's motion should be granted.

         Findings of Fact

         Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine all evidence in a light most favorable to the opposing party. McKenzie v. Mercy Hospital, 854 F.2d 365, 367 (10th Cir. 1988). The party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate its entitlement to summary judgment beyond a reasonable doubt. Ellis v. El Paso Natural Gas Co., 754 F.2d 884, 885 (10th Cir. 1985). The moving party need not disprove plaintiff's claim; it need only establish that the factual allegations have no legal significance. Dayton Hudson Corp. v. Macerich Real Estate Co., 812 F.2d 1319, 1323 (10th Cir. 1987).

         In resisting a motion for summary judgment, the opposing party may not rely upon mere allegations or denials contained in its pleadings or briefs. Rather, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing the presence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial and significant probative evidence supporting the allegation. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). Once the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), the party opposing summary judgment must do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. "In the language of the Rule, the nonmoving party must come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)) (emphasis in Matsushita). One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses, and the rule should be interpreted in a way that allows it to accomplish this purpose. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986).


         Spirit hired Hanks in March 2006 as an assembly mechanic. He soon became a level C tooling technician, then increased to a level B tooling technician, and was eventually assigned to the cutter crib in May 2011.

         Hanks steadily received pay increases throughout the course of his employment. When he was assigned to the cutter crib, he received an hourly wage of $24.95; Hanks now earns over $32 per hour.

         Hanks has had two first-level managers in the cutter crib. Dean Lebeda was Hanks' first-level manager from May 2011 until March 2013. Jim Kalal has been Hanks' first-level manager since March 2013.

         Hanks has not received any discipline since moving to the cutter crib in 2011, has not been transferred or demoted, and his job duties have not changed in a negative manner.

         At all times during Hanks' employment with Spirit, Spirit has maintained a policy prohibiting harassment and discrimination, and requires employees to complete periodic training with respect to preventing discrimination and harassment. Spirit also periodically reminds employees of its policy, including that the repercussions of violating it may include termination. Spirit's policy is stricter and prohibits more conduct than state and federal law when it comes to harassment, discrimination, and retaliation; thus, a finding that Spirit policy has been violated does not mean that federal or state law was also broken. Spirit's EEO office investigates complaints of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.

         Hanks participated in Spirit's training, was aware of Spirit's Discrimination and Workplace Harassment Procedure, and knew Spirit required him to report any alleged discrimination or harassment to the company's EEO.

         Spirit prohibits all employees, supervisory or not, from discriminating or retaliating against employees who participate in EEO investigations. EEO investigators instruct supervisors and respondents that such actions against an employee are prohibited.

         Hanks has filed six complaints with the EEO office since May, 2011 - five complaints related to his race and one to his alleged disability. Spirit's EEO office promptly and thoroughly investigated each complaint and Hanks does not contend they did anything wrong or should have done anything more. Hanks knew Spirit's process for reporting incidents of discrimination and harassment. He admits that he failed to utilize Spirit's reasonable procedure for reporting “day to day” incidents he now claims were discriminatory and harassing.[1]

         August 7, 2012 Complaint

         On August 7, 2012, Hanks complained about the actions by three workers: Scott Ingram, Robert Robinson, and Dean Lebeda. The allegations relating to Robinson (who was disciplined for his behavior) have nothing to do with race discrimination and are not at issue in this lawsuit. Hanks alleged that Ingram said “nigger please” to him. He also stated he had “been around [Ingram] for a year and he never said anything like that.” Hanks believed that he and Ingram were friends- he had helped Ingram with hay outside of work and the two had gone fishing together. Hanks had been to Ingram's house twice before the August 2012 complaint. Hanks alleged that Lebeda referred to the music Hanks was playing “jigaboo” music.

         Lucretia Taylor promptly and thoroughly investigated Hanks' complaints and interviewed nine employees, including the respondents and all witnesses identified by Hanks.

         Ingram admitted to saying the “N word” in a conversation with Hanks. In his statement, Ingram stated that he thought he and Hanks were friends, that he had heard Hanks say the word twice, and that after Ingram said “nigger please, ” Hanks responded with “whatever cracker.” Ingram believed they were joking. Ingram and his wife have a black son.

         The investigation confirmed a violation of Spirit's Discrimination and Workplace Harassment Procedure with regard to Ingram, and Ingram was disciplined.

         Though Hanks subsequently alleged that Ingram used a racially derogatory term in April 2015-more than two years after Ingram was disciplined in 2012-Spirit EEO did not confirm that 2015 allegation, and no other employee has ever complained to EEO that Ingram has ever used racially derogatory language.

         Manager Lebeda denied making the “jigaboo” music comment. The investigation did not confirm that Lebeda made the “jigaboo” comment, but confirmed Lebeda called Hanks a troublemaker in front of other employees. Lebeda received a counseling session, and was instructed to treat all employees with dignity and respect.

         Hanks does not mention Lebeda in any other statement provided to EEO or Spirit Security. The EEO has never confirmed that Lebeda has ever made any racially derogatory comments.

         Taylor informed Hanks that the facts gathered in the investigation confirmed a violation of Spirit policy and that appropriate action has been or will be taken.

         Hanks did not report any workplace concerns or complaints to EEO between his August 2012 complaint and his May 2014 complaint, and Hanks does not identify any alleged racially discriminatory, harassing, or retaliatory conduct during this time period.

         May 27, 2014 Complaint

         In May, 2014, Hanks alleged that Ingram was refusing to train him on Ingram's machine, that Hanks was missing out on overtime as a result, and that he did not have the right programs installed on his machine. The complaint was investigated by outside counsel, who interviewed ten employees, including Hanks, the respondents, and alleged witnesses.

         The investigation did not confirm Hanks' complaint. Ingram denied the allegations against him and affirmed his willingness to train Hanks. The witnesses Hanks identified to substantiate Ingram's alleged statements that he would not train Hanks denied hearing Ingram make the remarks. Hanks admitted that certain programs he had requested were installed on his machine prior to filing a complaint and he could not identify what specific programs he was missing. The investigation also could not confirm Hanks' allegations regarding overtime.

         In his Response, Hanks points to the statements of a co-worker, Gary Fullerton, who stated that Hanks had been deprived of overtime. Fullerton believed that statements that Hanks was unqualified for overtime were a “total fabrication” because he himself worked “tons of overtime.” Hanks also cites his own statement that his manager Lebeda told him that he would “throw those fucking cutters away before I let you work overtime.”

         Spirit responds in part by noting that Fullerton and Hanks were not similarly situated, as Fullerton at the time had worked in the crib for some 17 years, Ingram for eight years, and Hanks for three. More importantly, Hanks does not controvert the other facts presented by Spirit with respect to the 2014 complaint, including the fact that, when asked about the issue, Hanks admitted in his deposition that he was not actually taken out of the weekend rotation. He agreed that he made a weekend rotation in approximately October 2013, and that it has been followed ever since, with minor deviations when people have forgotten who is up next to work overtime.

         It is also uncontroverted that, when questioned about what programs he did not have on his machine, Hanks could not identify specific programs, but stated that if someone brings him a cutter that he does not have the program for, then he cannot run the cutter. Hanks could not identify any programs that he had asked for and did not receive, any programs he did not have that he wanted, or programs that other machine operators had that he did not have. He also could not specifically identify more than one or two instances, over the course of almost six years, when he received a job that he could not complete.

         There are five ANCA machines in the cutter crib. The different ANCA machines are “dedicated to different kinds of cutters” and run different cutters. Different operators are assigned different machines and different types of cutters in order to improve efficiency. Although most of the machines are technically capable of running each type of cutter, it would require more down time in between running each cutter and does not make business sense.

         Hanks testified that the shop receives cutters of lots of different sizes and that it is not discriminatory to divide up cutters by sizes among the crew. Hanks is the only person in the shop who regularly runs the large cutters.

         Hanks did not identify any “training” he requested but did not receive. He identified not having programs on his machine as the training that he has not received.

         According to Hanks, he asked Lebeda for programs on his machine “from the time that [the prior operator] retired.” (Hanks dep. at 193). Hanks replaced the retiree on the ANCA machine in January, 2012. Hanks did not identify the lack of programs as a complaint in his August 2012 EEO statements.

         Hanks also alleged in his May 27, 2014, complaint that he believed “Jim [Kalal] is racist.” He identified no evidence other than his personal belief to support this claim. Hanks stated in his deposition that he no longer believes Kalal is racist.

         December 3, 2014 Complaint

         On December 3, 2014, Fullerton found on a union bulletin board a picture of a black man holding a sign that said, “No mother should have to fear for her son's life every time he robs a store.”

         Fullerton told Hanks, who was the only African-American in the crib, about the picture, and Hanks called Spirit Security, which immediately removed the posting and began an investigation.

         Hanks' manager Jim Kalal was out of town when the incident occurred, so another manager, Henry Burns, was contacted and instructed to address the situation. Burns spoke with employees in the area, as well as the team lead, but was unable to determine who posted the picture.

         Hanks gave a statement to Lucretia Taylor of Spirit's internal EEO office on December 4, 2014, regarding the anonymous posting. He did not know who placed the posting on the bulletin board.

         It is uncontroverted that Taylor immediately and thoroughly investigated the complaint and met with five witnesses, including Hanks, and coordinated with the investigation by Spirit Security.

         Spirit Security attempted to determine who had printed the picture, but their investigation was unsuccessful because Security determined that the paper was not printed at Spirit. During the investigation, no one admitted to posting it, nor did anyone see who posted it.

         To prevent future occurrences, the bulletin board in the cutter crib was enclosed with glass and a lock and key to prevent anyone from posting materials without approval. This occurred within about one week of the incident.

         Hanks met with Taylor on February 9, 2015, to close out the investigation. Taylor told Hanks that although the investigation could not identify the person who posted the picture, the facts gathered in the investigation confirmed a violation of Spirit Policy and that appropriate action was taken.

         Hanks has not witnessed any offensive pictures or posters in the workplace since the December 3, 2014, posting.

         April 15, 2015 Complaint

         Hanks filed a complaint with Spirit's EEO office on April 15, 2015, alleging he overheard Ingram say the word “nigger” twice, and that he heard co-worker Jordan Light yell “boy.” Hanks does not allege that the terms were directed at him and does not know the context of the use of the terms.

         After Hanks heard Ingram use the “N” word, he put in his earbuds and listened to his music. Hanks believed he heard the word “boy” while he was listening to his music, and when he took out his headphones thought he heard James Frey ask Light “what does it sound like I am saying” and Light responded “boy.”

         It is uncontroverted that Brenda Zobkiw, another EEO investigator, promptly and thoroughly investigated Hanks' complaint and interviewed ten employees, including Hanks, the alleged respondents, and witnesses, including all witnesses identified by Hanks, in the course of her investigation.

         None of the employees interviewed confirmed Hanks' allegations. In fact, both Ingram and Frey denied using the language Hanks alleged. Moreover, witnesses who would have been within hearing distance all denied that Ingram or Frey used that language.

         Ultimately, Spirit's EEO office did not find a violation of policy. Since the filing of Hanks' April 15, 2015 complaint, Hanks has not witnessed any other alleged racial epithets in the workplace.

         May ...

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