United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
M. Parker United States Magistrate Judge.
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER
2014, Eugene Cole resigned from Swagelok Corporation after
working at the company for 14 years. Cole became a supervisor
at the company in 2007 or 2008, but by 2009 Swagelok demoted
him for failing to complete a performance improvement plan
related to problems with his communication skills. Cole
claims that the demotion and Swagelok's refusal to
interview or hire him for subsequent supervisory roles was
discrimination based on his religion (Christianity), his
disability (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder), and his
military status (retired from the United States Marine
Corps.). Because Swagelok has presented evidence of
legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for the adverse
employment actions taken against Cole, and Cole has not
submitted any evidence that these reasons were pretextual,
and because Cole has failed to show severe or pervasive
conduct constituting a hostile work environment, the court
GRANTS summary judgment to Swagelok on all
parties' Rule 56 evidence contains the following facts.
Cole worked for Swagelok from August 2000 through August 2014
when he resigned. Eugene Cole Deposition, ECF Doc. No. 18-1
at pp. 22-23, 32. Around 2007, Cole moved to his first
supervisory position with the company. Id. at 34-35.
In a 2008 performance review his supervisor Ross Cosentino
Eugene and I have worked to temper down some of his
communications. At times he has written emails that others
could have felt were negative although his intentions were
not that…Eugene's body language and tone of voice
sometimes leads others to perceive that he is angry or upset
and he is not. We have discussed this on a couple of
occasions and he is trying to adjust this.
ECF Doc. No. 18-1, Ex. C, Page ID# 251.
2009, Swagelok eliminated Cole's shift, and he was
transferred to an assembly supervisor position in
Swagelok's Order Fulfillment Center (“OFC”).
Id. at 44. In that role, he reported to Malcom
Conner. Id. at 44. Conner received complaints from
several employees regarding Cole's communication style.
Conner Affidavit, ECF Doc. No, .17-2, Page ID# 143, ¶ 3.
In his 2009 mid-year review of Cole, Conner stated:
Gene has a tell-directed leadership style and frequently
speaks in a loud authoritative manner. While this style may
have served him well in Highland's machining environment,
which is structured and paced differently from the SSSC OFC
assembly environment, Gene needs to be mindful of how he is
perceived. A number of Gene's direct reports have come to
me concerned with how they perceive Gene's treatment of
them. Some perceive him to be angry or that he yells at them
all the time. In April Gene and I discussed the opportunity
for him to develop a more moderate approach when interacting
with this group. Gene was open to the feedback and had
concerns of his own regarding the sensitivity level his group
was displaying. Gene quickly ascertained that this group was
different from the group he supervised at Highland and was
willing to try to make the necessary adjustments for the
Gene has worked to address these concerns that have been
raised but has not demonstrated consistency in this area. I
still receive unsolicited feedback that Gene has not done a
good job of connecting with his associates…
Gene's overall performance needs improvement. As a result
the following action plans will be implemented to help Gene
improve: Performance Improvement Process… Cole Depo,
Ex. G., Page ID# 276. As a result of the mid-year review, in
September 2009, Conner placed Cole on a Performance
Improvement Plan (“PIP”). Id. at 69; See
also Conner Aff., ¶ 4.
Cole's PIP stated that he needed to “develop and
demonstrate good team work and collaboration skills when it
comes to his associate interactions.” ECF Doc. 18-1,
Page ID# 253. The PIP required Cole to refrain from
“accusatory statements and tones that may create an
intimidating environment” and keeping a log for when he
demonstrated empathy, and “[c]reat[ing] time to speak
one on one” with his associates “about their
career goals, personal interests, or things they would like
to try.” Id. The PIP indicated that failure to
meet any of the requirements could result in “further
disciplinary action up to and including job reassignment or
termination.” Id. at Page ID# 254.
stated that he understood that Conner felt he was
“intimidating people…yelling on the shop floor,
and…telling instead of discussing.” Cole depo.
at 70. Conner had expressed to Cole several times that his
feedback to Cole was based on complaints from other
associates. Id. at 70-71, Conner Aff. ¶3. For
example, two of Cole's employees complained to Conner
about Cole's communication style during a startup
meeting. Id. at 75-77. One of the employees told
Conner she felt humiliated by Cole. Id. at 77. Cole
apologized to the employee. Id. In June 2009, Conner
received another complaint about Cole's communication.
Id. at 99-100. Someone complained that Cole was
“shutting people down” during a plant management
team meeting. Id. at 100. During a subsequent
conversation about the meeting Cole complained that he did
not feel like a part of the team because if people made a
complaint about him he was “guilty.” Id.
Cole informed Conner and an employee in human resources (Judy
Siegrist) that he finished PIP and wanted out. Id.
at 81-82. Conner asked if Cole had completed all the PIP
requirements. Id. at 82. Cole stated that he had,
however, Conner believed that Cole had not completed the
requirements. Id. The PIP required Cole speak to
each of his associates one-on-one. Id. Conner
interpreted this condition to require Cole to take each
employee off the shop floor to talk to them. Id.
Cole protested Conner's interpretation. Id. In
his end of the year review (for year 2009), Cole received a
needs improvement rating for self-confidence and an
unsatisfactory rating for the following competencies: (1)
people development and (2) empathy. ECF Doc. 18-1, Ex. G,
Page ID# 272-73, 275.
people development, Conner stated that Cole has “high
integrity and is very well disciplined which is a strength
for him. However, his direct reports have had a number of
integrity and discipline concerns…Gene has not
demonstrated the ability to get his associates to understand
why things need to be done a certain way, and get their buy
in. Associate development and effective interactions with
this team has been an ongoing topic for Gene and I during his
PI discussions.” Id. at 272. Under empathy,
…Gene has not developed a comfort level for having
personal conversations particularly one on one off the floor
sit-downs with his associates. As a result his associates and
peers alike have difficulty relating to him. He is recognized
by position (supervisor) but has not connected beyond that.
This leaves his direct reports with the sense “it's
all about the job or task” and not about them as
people. The disconnect hinders associate development and
minimizes participation. As a result, interactions between
Gene, his peers and associates become tense and less involved
as each party is seeking to end the interaction as quickly as
possible…As a supervisor Gene has not yet consistently
performed to expectations in this area.
Id. at 275.
weeks after being presented with this review, in February
2010, Swagelok demoted Cole from his supervisory role. Cole
depo. at 82, 107, 121, 136. Cole returned to a Tool Crib
Operator - 4 position in March 2010. Id. at 48-19;
Conner Aff., ¶6. In that position, Cole received
positive performance reviews and salary increases for the
next few years. See Cole Depo., Exs. P-S.
pursued other supervisory roles, but was not selected for
these jobs. He applied to be a Tool Crib Supervisor in
May 16, 2013, and a Senior Production Manager in October 13,
2013. Id. at 164; ECF Doc. 17-4, Page ID# 164-67.
The hiring managers for both of these positions (Christopher
Gravius and Behram Ginwalla, respectively) stated that they
were unaware of any complaints of harassment or
discrimination by Cole. ECF Doc. 17-4, Page ID# 164, ¶5;
Page ID# 166, ¶5. Mr. Gravius stated that he selected
another individual (a disabled veteran) for the role and did
not believe that Cole's “performance or leadership
style would lend itself to a Supervisor role.”
Id. at Page ID# 164, ¶3. Mr. Ginwalla stated
that he hired Holly Colson the position based on his first
hand observations of her performance. Id. at Page
ID# 166, ¶4. On August 8, 2014, Cole ...