Vickers v. Hyundai Motor Manufacturing of Alabama, L.L.C.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER as follows: 1. Vickers's 36 Objection is OVERRULED. 2. Hyundai's 37 Objection is DENIED as moot. 3. The 35 Recommendation is ADOPTED. 4. Hyundai's 13 Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. 5. Vickers's retaliation claim is DISMISSED with prejudice. A separate judgment will be entered. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 9/30/2015. (dmn, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CASE NO. 2:14-CV-126-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
On February 26, 2014, Plaintiff Regina Vickers filed a single-count complaint
against Defendant Hyundai Motor Manufacturing of Alabama, LLC. (Doc. # 1.) Vickers
alleged that, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–
3(a), Hyundai banned her from working at its automotive manufacturing plant in
retaliation for filing a workplace complaint alleging that she had been subjected to sexual
harassment. (Doc. # 1.) On June 15, 2015, the Magistrate Judge filed a Recommendation
(Doc. # 35) that summary judgment be granted in favor of Hyundai. On June 26, 2015,
Vickers filed objections. (Doc. # 36.) On June 26, 2015, Defendant Hyundai Motor
Manufacturing of Alabama, LLC, filed objections. (Doc. # 37.) The court has conducted
an independent and de novo review of those portions of the Recommendation to which
objection is made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).
In March 2012, Vickers was employed by Aerotek, Inc., a temporary staffing
agency that assigned Vickers to work on an assembly line at Hyundai’s automotive
manufacturing plant in Montgomery, Alabama.1 On May 1, 2012, Vickers submitted a
written complaint alleging that she had been sexually harassed by her supervisor, 2 Mike
Hyundai investigated the complaint and determined that the complaint was
unfounded. (Doc. # 15-2 at 5 ¶ 15.) Further, Hyundai concluded that Vickers had made
two statements that Hyundai determined violated Hyundai’s anti-harassment policy.
First, Hyundai determined that, when a coworker was working on the line and asked
Miller to assist “with the head and put it in the back,” Vickers replied by saying, “Oh[,]
don’t tell Mike to put it in the back.”3
(Doc. # 15-2 at 5, 9.)
determined that, during a dispute over a faulted machine, Vickers told Miller that he
would have treated her differently if she “had gave [him] some p---y.”4 (Doc. # 15-2 at 5,
On May 21, 2012, Hyundai wrote to Aerotek and stated that, in its investigation of
Vickers’s sexual harassment complaint, Hyundai “determined that [Vickers] participated
in the inappropriate conduct and therefore will not be allowed back on [Hyundai’s]
For purposes of the summary judgment motion, the Magistrate Judge assumed, without
deciding, that Hyundai was Vickers’s employer for purposes of her Title VII retaliation claim.
(Doc. # 35 at 6.)
For purposes of the Recommendation on the motion for summary judgment, the
Magistrate Judge construed the disputed facts in favor of Vickers and assumed that Miller was
Vickers’s supervisor. (Doc. # 35 at 6 n.1.) To the extent that Hyundai objects, the objection is
Vickers does not recall and does not dispute that she made the statement about
“put[ting] it in the back.” (Doc. # 15-1 at 37.)
Vickers does not dispute that she made the statement about giving Miller some “p---y,”
although she contends that her statement was an accusation that Miller was harassing her. (Doc.
# 15-1 at 11, 35.)
premises.” (Doc. # 15-2 at 12.)
The Magistrate Judge recommends that summary judgment be granted in favor of
Hyundai on grounds that Vickers failed to raise a genuine dispute that Hyundai’s
legitimate proferred legitimate reasons for banning her from working at its plant were
pretextual, and, alternatively, because Hyundai had produced unrebutted evidence that,
even in the absence of the alleged retaliatory animus, it would have banned Vickers from
the premises because she used language that violated the anti-harassment policy. (Doc. #
35 at 19-20.) See Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 133 S.Ct. 2517, 2533 (2013)
(holding that “Title VII retaliation claims must be proved according to traditional
principles of but-for causation . . . . This requires proof that the unlawful retaliation
would not have occurred in the absence of the alleged wrongful action or actions of the
employer”); Pennington v. City of Huntsville, 261 F.3d 1262, 1268-69 (11th Cir. 2001)
(holding that a mixed-motive defense is available in retaliation cases, and, thus, an
employer who is influenced in part by retaliatory motive may avoid liability if it would
have made the same decision without an illegal motive).
Vickers objects to the Magistrate Judge’s conclusion that she did not offer
evidence to rebut Hyundai’s proffer that it banned her from working at the plant for
violating Hyundai’s anti-harassment policy. (Doc. # 36 at 1.) Vickers argues that the
Magistrate Judge’s finding was erroneous because she offered evidence that (1)
Hyundai’s policy allegedly does not prohibit the statements that Vickers made and (2)
Kelly Rucker, who was head of Hyundai’s human resources department at the time of the
investigation into Vickers’s harassment complaint, allegedly testified that Vickers’s
statements were not the reason for the termination.
Hyundai has a harassment policy that strictly prohibits “[a]ctions, words, jokes, or
comments based on an individual’s sex.” (Doc. # 15-2 at 3; Doc. # 17-9.) Hyundai
submitted evidence that its anti-harassment policy states more specifically that “no Team
Member – male or female – should be subject to unsolicited and unwelcome sexual . . .
conduct, whether verbal, physical, explicit, or implied. This includes verbal innuendoes,
suggestive comments, [and] off-color jokes.”5 (Doc. 20-1; 24-1.) In her objections, as
with her original summary judgment submission, Vickers offered nothing other than her
own subjective conclusion that her comments about “p---y” and “putting it in the back”
did not violate Hyundai’s anti-harassment policy against words or comments based on an
individual’s sex, suggestive comments, innuendoes, and off-color jokes. (Doc. # 36; see
Doc. # 35 at 18.)
Further, the court has read the deposition of Kelly Rucker (Doc. # 15-5) and has
reviewed the evidence, including the Team Relations Memo dated May 10, 2012 (Doc. #
15-2 at 8-10) that was referenced in Ruckers’s deposition (Doc. # 15-5 at 2, 12, 14).
Taken in context, the portion of Ruckers’s deposition that Vickers quotes in her
objections (Doc. # 36 at 3) does not support her assertion that a genuine dispute of
material fact exists as to whether Hyundai banned her from working at its plant because
she made statements that violated the anti-harassment policy. For the reasons stated in
Hyundai submitted a copy of its anti-harassment policy (Doc. # 21-1; Doc. # 24-1), but
did not submit an affidavit authenticating that submission. However, Vickers has not argued that
the material cannot be presented in admissible form, and she does not contest the authenticity of
the document. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. In any event, the Magistrate Judge (Doc. # 35 at 7) did not
rely on Hyundai’s submission of its copy of the anti-harassment policy, and Hyundai’s
submission does not change the outcome of this case.
Hyundai’s objections to the Recommendation (Doc. # 37 at 2-6), the Magistrate Judge
correctly determined that Hyundai had produced unrebutted evidence that, even in the
absence of the alleged retaliatory animus, it would have banned Vickers from the
premises because she used language that violated the anti-harassment policy.
The court notes that, in her summary judgment brief, Vickers argued that
Hyundai’s failure to discipline Miller for making statements in violation of the antiharassment policy6 constitutes evidence that Hyundai did not ban Vickers from working
at the plant because she made statements that violated the policy. (Doc. # 17 at 12-13.)
However, Vickers did not raise this argument in her objection to the Recommendation.
Accordingly, and for the reasons stated in the Recommendation of the Magistrate
Judge (Doc. # 35), it is ORDERED as follows:
Vickers’s objection (Doc. # 36) is OVERRULED.
Hyundai’s objection (Doc. # 37) is DENIED as moot.
The Recommendation (Doc. # 35) is ADOPTED.
Hyundai’s motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 13) is GRANTED.
Vickers’s retaliation claim is DISMISSED with prejudice.
A separate judgment will be entered.
DONE this 30th day of September, 2015.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Hyundai argues that it was entitled to summary judgment on grounds that it determined
in good faith that Miller did not violate the policy and, therefore, banned Vickers from working
at the plant because it determined that she had made an unfounded complaint in bad faith. (Doc.
# 37 at 6-7). The Magistrate Judge did not reach this issue.
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