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Steffy v. Ford Motor Co.

March 21, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny United States District Judge



Plaintiff Beverlee Steffy commenced this employment discrimination action by filing a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York. Therein, she alleges several discrimination causes of action related to disparate treatment, unlawful retaliation, and hostile work environment based on her gender (female) and national origin (Native American). Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). Presently before this Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.*fn1 Plaintiff opposes the motion.*fn2 For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.


A. Facts

Plaintiff is a female member of the Umatilla Native American tribe. (Steffy Aff., ¶ 2.) She is one-half Native American from her father's side. (Steffy Aff., ¶ 2.) Defendant hired Plaintiff to serve as the Salary Personnel Supervisor in its Human Resources Department at the Buffalo Stamping Plant on November 27, 2000. (Defendant's Rule 56 Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Defendant's Statement"), ¶ 1; Steffy Aff., ¶ 8.) In April of 2002, Plaintiff became the Labor Relations Supervisor. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 2.) In both of these positions, Plaintiff reported to Mark Chase, the Plant Human Resources Manager. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 3.)

1. Work Environment

Plaintiff openly displayed Native American decorations in her office and Defendant and its employees were aware of her Native American heritage. (Steffy Aff., ¶¶ 14, 15.) Chase was also aware of Plaintiff's Native American heritage. Plaintiff contends that beginning in February or March of 2001, Chase subjected her to comments, name calling, slurs, ridicule, belittlement, embarrassment and harassment because of her Native American heritage. (Steffy Aff., ¶ 16.) Plaintiff chronicled this mistreatment on a daily or weekly basis in her day-planner.*fn3 (Steffy Aff., ¶ 17.) For example, Plaintiff alleges that Chase engaged in the following conduct:

* referred to Plaintiff as "squaw" or "squaw girl" on repeated occasions (Steffy Aff., ¶ 18.);

* would say "How" or chant "ayah ayah" in Plaintiff's presence on repeated occasions (Steffy Aff., ¶ 19.);

* referred to Plaintiff's Native American beliefs, rituals and customs as "voodoo and pagan" (Steffy Aff., ¶ 20.);

* asked Plaintiff if she knew "Tonto" (Steffy Aff., ¶ 20.);

* repeatedly performed "whoop" or "war dances" in Plaintiff's presence (Steffy Aff. ¶ 20.);

* told Plaintiff "there will be too many Indians and not enough chiefs" when she asked if she could bring her daughter to work (Steffy Aff., ¶ 21.);

* told Plaintiff to "put a spell on him and make him better" when discussing an employee's need to improve himself (Steffy Aff., ¶ 21);

* told Plaintiff that he did not want her "to think all white men speak with forked tongues" (Steffy Aff., ¶ 21);

* told Plaintiff that her daughter should "send AAA a smoke signal" when she was involved in a car accident (Steffy Aff. ¶ 21);

* told Plaintiff that the only reason she was getting stock options was because she was a minority woman and that if it was up to him, she would not get the options (Steffy Aff. ¶ 21);

* asked Plaintiff "Didn't you get mice, rats, and snakes in your tepees?" when Plaintiff complained about a mouse in her office (Steffy Aff., ¶ 21);

* on at least two occasions other employees witnessed Chase dancing around in a circle making "whooping" noises while performing a "war dance" (Steffy Aff., ¶ 22).

Plaintiff maintains that Chase's comments and actions were unwelcome and she did not find them to be humorous. (Steffy Aff., ¶ 23.) She advised Chase on several occasions that his comments were inappropriate and she asked him to stop. (Steffy Aff., ¶ 25.) Chase categorically denies engaging in any of this conduct. (Chase Aff., ¶ 3.)

In addition to derogatory comments regarding her national origin, Chase allegedly made disparaging remarks to Plaintiff about being a woman. Again, Plaintiff recorded these comments in her day-planner. (Steffy Aff., ¶ 27.) For example, Chase allegedly engaged in the following conduct:

* called Plaintiff and other female employees "his girls" (Steffy Aff., ¶ 29);

* characterized an investigation that Plaintiff conducted as "women's intuition" (Steffy Aff., ¶ 31);

* told Plaintiff that "a man would work better with the union" and that the union "was a bunch of good old boys, and that they're going to work better under a male" (Steffy Aff., ¶ 33).

Plaintiff maintains that Chase's comments regarding her gender were unwelcome and she did not find them to be humorous. (Steffy Aff., ¶ 39.) She advised Chase on several occasions that his comments were inappropriate and she asked him to stop. (Steffy Aff., ¶ 40.) Chase flatly denies making these statements. (Chase Aff., ¶ 3.)

2. Disparate Treatment

In addition to the conduct described above, Plaintiff maintains that Chase also treated her differently than he did non-Native Americans and men. (Steffy Aff., ¶ 42.) For example, she contends that Chase requested that she make copies, type letters and order coffee and refreshments, but did not make these requests of male employees. (Steffy Aff., ¶ 32.) Plaintiff also maintains that Chase:

* excluded her from union meetings;

* provided her no guidance or support relative to her job duties, but did so for males;

* scrutinized her travel reports more so than he did those of the male employees.

(Steffy Aff., ¶ 43.)

3. Retaliation

Plaintiff maintains that she reported Chase's conduct to Santos Garza, Defendant's Employee Relations Supervisor, on August 30, 2002. (Steffy Aff., ¶ 44.) In response, Garza allegedly told Plaintiff that he did not believe her and that she could be limiting her career opportunities by making such allegations. (Steffy Aff., ¶ 45.) Moreover, he advised her that if other people heard of her complaints, they would not want her to be a part of their organization and she would be seen as a troublemaker. (Steffy Aff., ¶ 45.) Garza allegedly told Plaintiff that her pursuit of a complaint against Chase could be a career-ending decision. (Steffy Aff., ¶ 45.)

Plaintiff reiterated her complaints about Chase to Jim Larese, Defendant's Human Resource Senior Manager, later in September of 2002, and expressed her concern that her complaints were not being addressed. (Steffy Aff., ¶ 46; Steffy Dep., p. 119.) From that point forward, Chase's conduct stopped. (Steffy Aff., ¶ 47.) However, an investigation of Plaintiff's work performance began.

4. Defendant's Investigation of Plaintiff

In the Fall of 2002, Defendant allegedly discovered irregularities in Plaintiff's job performance. On October 29, 2002, Plaintiff instructed Nicole Berri (then Nicole Fisher), a Human Resources Associate, to terminate two temporary part-time hourly employees. (Berri Aff., ¶ 6.) Berri reviewed the employees' evaluations to prepare for the union termination hearing and determined that the evaluations did not support termination for one of the employees. (Berri Aff., ¶ 7.) She advised Plaintiff of her opinion, but Plaintiff directed her to proceed with the terminations and "hide" the positive evaluation for the one employee and to disregard a telephone call from that employee's supervisor indicating that the employee had demonstrated improvement and should not be terminated. (Berri Aff., ¶ 8.) Berri made copies of the employees' evaluations and proceeded with the terminations as directed. (Berri Aff., ¶ 9.) She later provided Chase her copies of the evaluations on October 31, 2002, at his request. (Berri Aff., ¶ 10.)

The union challenged the termination of these two employees, which required Chase to review their evaluations. (Chase Aff., ¶ 5.) He therefore asked Plaintiff to provide him with copies. (Chase Aff., ¶ 5.) Upon examination of the evaluations, Chase noticed dark and inconsistent markings. (Chase Aff., ¶ 6.) He therefore compared his copies of the evaluations with the copies made earlier in the week by Berri. (Berri Aff., ¶ 10; Chase Aff., ¶ 7.) It then became apparent that the copies Plaintiff provided had been changed. (Chase Aff., ¶ 8.)

For example, several ratings were changed from "S" (satisfactory) to "S-" and in one instance the phrase "does not" was inserted before the comment "works hard to conform to Ford standards." (Chase Aff., ¶ 9.) The word "attitude" was also written in the "character" section of one employee's evaluation. (Chase Aff., ¶ 10.) Chase concluded that the evaluations had been materially altered. (Chase Aff., ¶¶ 5-10.) Suspecting Plaintiff, he allegedly requested that Defendant's ...

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