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Hawkins v. Anheuser-Busch

January 16, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Gregory L. Frost

Magistrate Judge Terence P. Kemp


This matter is before the Court for consideration of Defendant's motion for summary judgment on the claims of Plaintiff Amanda Grace-Hawkins (Doc. # 40), Defendant's motion for summary judgment on the claims of Plaintiff Kathryn Jackson (Doc. # 41), Defendant's motion for summary judgment on the claims of Plaintiff Cherri Hill (Doc. # 42), and Defendant's motion for summary judgment on the claims of Plaintiff Jackie Cunningham (Doc. # 43). Plaintiffs have filed a joint memorandum in opposition (Doc. # 47), and Defendant has filed a reply memorandum for each Plaintiff (Docs. # 53, 54, 55, 56). For the reasons that follow, the Court finds the motions for summary judgment well taken.

I. Background

Defendant, Anheuser-Busch, Inc., is a Missouri-based brewing company that operates a Columbus, Ohio brewery. Plaintiffs Amanda Grace-Hawkins, Kathryn Jackson, Cherri Hill, and Jackie Cunningham are all brewery employees. Most of the brewery employees fall under a collective bargaining agreement that provides for termination of employees only for just cause. The agreement also provides that employees can file a grievance through which their union, Teamsters Local Union No. 284, which can challenge any disciplinary action taken against the employee. Such grievances are entertained first by a department head, then by a human resources manager, and finally by the Multi-Plant Grievance Committee, which is composed of two company representatives, two union representatives, and a mutually agreed-upon arbitrator. A grievance decision by the Multi-Plant Grievance Committee is binding and there is no additional appeal.

One employee who filed such a grievance was William Robinson. In July 1993, a brewery employee named Diane Chiandet complained to management that she had received anonymous handwritten notes. Defendant hired a handwriting expert who compared the notes to handwriting samples taken from brewery employees and concluded that Robinson had authored the notes. Robinson initially denied writing the notes, but later confessed. Defendant consequently terminated Robinson's employment. Robinson pursued a union-backed grievance, however, and a successful appeal to the Multi-Plant Grievance Committee resulted in Robinson's reinstatement.

Robinson was therefore still working for Defendant when Plaintiff Hill began working on the same assembly line in 2000. On November 28, 2000, Hill contacted her union steward and stated that Robinson had begun touching her arms and shoulders, brushing up against her from behind, and making notably lewd remarks to her. The union steward informed Hill that she should report the conduct to her supervisor, Don Schlarman. Later that day, Hill asked Schlarman to move her to a different line, but she did not mention her allegations of harassment at that time. After the union steward again told Hill to report her allegations, Hill informed Schlarman. Robinson and Hill were then assigned to different work areas, and Schlarman contacted Defendant's human resources department. Human resources contacted Hill, who informed the investigator that Robinson had also allegedly harassed Plaintiff Cunningham.

Assistant Human Resources Manager Cortlin Davidson and Robinson's manager subsequently met with Robinson and his union steward on November 30, 2000. Robinson denied Hill's allegations of harassment. Davidson then spoke with Cunningham on December 4, 2000. Cunningham stated that Robinson's conduct had indeed made her uncomfortable in the past, but that the conduct had ended after she had requested and obtained a transfer to a different line than Robinson. Cunningham also stated that when seeking transfer, she had not told her supervisors of the reason behind her request. Instead, she had simply told supervisors that Robinson was "really trying to make [her] job difficult."*fn1 (Cunningham Dep. at 118.) She expressed a desire not to be involved in any investigation and, in a subsequent meeting with various company actors, in fact expressly denied that Robinson or any other employee had harassed her and then walked out of the meeting.*fn2 Over the course of the next several days, Davidson interviewed ten other employees who worked on the same line as Hill and Robinson. None confirmed any harassment of Hill by Robinson.

On December 9, 2000, someone allegedly set fire to Hill's vehicle while it was parked outside her home. Hill told the fire investigator that she suspected Robinson, but this was based on her "gut feeling" and she had no evidence linking Defendant to the arson.*fn3 No arrest was ever made.

In a January 26, 2001 letter, Davidson informed Hill that "the charges of harassment cannot be substantiated." (Doc. # 42, Ex. A-2, at 31.) The letter expressly stated that the company's policies opposed any form of retaliation. Davidson also met with Robinson to discuss the company's policy on harassment and to make clear that any violation would result in discipline that could include termination of employment. Defendant kept Hill and Robinson assigned to different shifts, and Hill had no further problems with Robinson. Defendant eventually terminated Hill's employment, however, after she falsified a doctor's certification to obtain leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Hill admits that she falsified the document and testified at her deposition that she does not contest the reasons for her termination.

Issues with Robinson again arose several years later. In 2002, Plaintiff Hawkins was working the midnight shift on assembly line 75. Robinson also worked on this line, and the two co-workers were friends. This friendship allegedly took an unusual turn on May 16, 2003, however. Robinson and Hawkins were working on the line on that date when Robinson purportedly poked Hawkins' right breast. Hawkins reported the incident to her supervisor, Jim Gress, on May 20, 2003 and requested that either she or Robinson be moved to a different line. Hawkins asked that Gress keep the conversation confidential and stated that she did not want any other action taken against Robinson. Gress in turn informed Hawkins that she would have to make a formal complaint against Robinson.

Assistant Human Resources Manager Shirley Boyd met with Hawkins and Gress on May 23, 2003. Hawkins informed them that she did not want to make a formal complaint and that she would not provide additional information about the incident other than that Plaintiff Jackson was a witness. Two days later, Boyd spoke with Jackson. Jackson confirmed that Robinson had been poking at Hawkins but stated that Hawkins and Robinson were joking around and that she did not believe that the touching was serious.*fn4

Boyd spoke with Hawkins again on May 27, 2003. After Hawkins provided more details of the incident with Robinson, Boyd then met with Robinson and informed him of the investigation. The investigation led to another brewery employee, LaFawn Hudson, whom Hawkins had indicated Robinson had also harassed. When Boyd spoke with Hudson, Hudson declined to make a formal complaint against Robinson and stated that she did not want to participate in any investigation. Hudson eventually told Boyd that Robinson had called her a name and threatened to strike her in the face in October 2002.

The next day--May 28, 2003--Boyd and various management officials met with Robinson. Robinson denied poking Hawkins' breast and denied threatening Hudson. He also stated that he and Hawkins had been playing around and that they had smoked a cigarette together after the alleged incident took place. Boyd informed Robinson that he was on suspension and could not return to Defendant's premises. An off-duty police officer then ...

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