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Grubbs v. Delphi Automotive Systems, LLC

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Trumbull

June 18, 2018

RONNIE GRUBBS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
DELPHI AUTOMOTIVE SYSTEMS, LLC, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Civil Appeal from the Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2015 CV 01882.

          Brian D. Spitz and Fred M. Bean, The Spitz Law Firm, LLC, (For Plaintiff-Appellant).

          Patrick O. Peters and Michael Joseph Kozimor, Jackson Lewis, (For Defendants-Appellees).


          DIANE V. GRENDELL, J.

         {¶1} Plaintiff-appellant, Ronnie Grubbs, appeals the judgment of the Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas, granting summary judgment in favor of defendants-appellees, Delphi Automotive Systems, LLC, Thomas E. Flak, George (Geoffrey) Svirbely, and Dominic Amato. The issue before this court is whether evidence that a minority employee was treated less favorably than nonminority employees, received disciplines that were either not merited or not proportionate to the alleged misconduct, and was recalled to work after nonminority employees with less seniority, is sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact with respect to claims of racial discrimination and retaliation. For the following reasons, we reverse the decision of the court below and remand this matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         {¶2} On October 19, 2015, Grubbs filed a Complaint for Damages and Injunctive Relief in the Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas against Delphi, Flak, Svirbely, and Amato. Grubbs raised claims of Race Discrimination (Count I), Wrongful Termination based on Race Discrimination (Count II), Retaliation (Count III), and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (Count IV).

         {¶3} On December 18, 2015, the defendants collectively filed an Answer and Affirmative Defenses to Plaintiffs Complaint.

         {¶4} On August 18, 2017, the defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment.

         {¶5} On September 7, 2017, Grubbs filed a Brief in Opposition.

         {¶6} On September 11, 2017, the defendants with leave of court filed a Reply.

         {¶7} The following pertinent evidence was presented by the parties:

         {¶8} Grubbs is an African-American. In 1997, he began work as a tool and die maker at Delphi's Plant 11 in Warren and became a member of the Industrial Division of the Communications Workers of America Local 717. He was discharged in 2014. Between 2007 and 2014, Grubbs was disciplined sixteen times. Ten of these disciplines were ultimately removed from his record generally through the union's grievance procedure. Grubbs returned to work in December 2015 as the result of an agreement negotiated between the union and Delphi.

         {¶9} Defendant Flak was the general supervisor at Plant 11 from 2006 through 2013. According to Grubbs, Flak "always had it in for me and my race." Grubbs also claimed that several plant supervisors, including Amato and Paulette Clay, advised him that Flak had a personal bias against him and sought opportunities to discipline him.

         {¶10} Defendant Svirbely was a labor relations representative at Plant 11 between 1995 and 2009 and again after 2011. Grubbs alleges that Svirbely has failed to represent him impartially as a labor relations representative.

         {¶11} Defendant Amato was a supervisor at Plant 11 since 1999. Grubbs complains that Amato would address him as "bro" and "brother" rather than a proper name. Grubbs alleges that Amato began to show bias towards him after he recorded Amato being verbally abusive toward another Delphi employee.

         {¶12} In November 2008, Grubbs was disciplined by supervisor Bob Poweski for violating Shop Rule 20 ("wasting time or loitering in toilets or on any company property during work hours") and sent home for the balance of his shift. On this occasion, Grubbs explained that Flak had instructed another employee (Mike Long) to operate his press while he was at lunch, although he was not authorized to have Long start a press assigned to another employee. When the press produced bad parts, "they didn't want to admit that they ran the machine for 40 minutes without [him] signing off on it" so they lied and claimed Grubbs had run the press. When the lie was exposed, Flak instructed Poweski to write Grubbs up so that he would get "some kind of discipline."

         {¶13} In January 2009, Grubbs was disciplined by Flak for violating Shop Rule 22 ("threatening, intimidating, coercing, or interfering with fellow employees on the premises at any time") and sent home for the balance of his shift plus fourteen days. Grubbs explained that a supervisor from another area who was covering in Grubbs' department had instructed some employees to operate a machine that was not safe and/or functioning properly. Grubbs advised the operators about the condition of the machine and suggested that they contact a union representative. When Grubbs protested to Flak that the supervisor ...

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