McDaniels v. Plymouth-Canton Community Schools
ORDER GRANTING 18 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by District Judge Avern Cohn. (MVer)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 15-13136
HON. AVERN COHN
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER GRANTING
DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. 18)
This is an employment case. Plaintiff Paula McDaniels (McDaniels) is suing
defendant Plymouth-Canton Community Schools (PCCS) contending that she suffered
discrimination based on her gender under Title VII and Michigan’s Elliot Larsen Civil
Rights Act1 when she was passed over for a promotion from an Assistant Head
McDaniels also asserted a claim for retaliation under the Family Medical Leave
Act (FMLA) based on her July 2012 FMLA leave and a statement appearing in her
evaluation which referred to her “medical issues” but did not reference the FMLA. PCCS
contends that the claim is time barred and lacks merit because the record shows that
PCCS hired two individuals in the position she desired who had taken more FMLA
leave. McDaniels’ response addresses her FMLA claim in a single paragraph and fails
to respond to PCCS’s arguments. Under these circumstances, McDaniels’ FMLA claim
is DISMISSED. See McPherson v. Kelsey, 125 F.3d 989, 995–96 (6th Cir. 1997)
(“[I]ssues adverted to in a perfunctory manner, unaccompanied by some effort at
developed argumentation, are deemed waived. It is not sufficient for a party to mention
a possible argument in the most skeletal way, leaving the court to ... put flesh on its
bones.” citation and internal quotations omitted).
Maintenance Custodian to Plant Engineer on three occasions.2
Before the Court is PCCS’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that
there is no genuine issue of material fact that McDaniels’ failure to be selected for the
Plant Engineer positions was not due to her gender. For the reasons that follow, the
motion will be granted.
The relevant facts as gleaned from the parties’ papers follow:3
A. Maintenance Positions at PCCS
The Maintenance Department at PCCS has three levels of maintenance
employees: 1) Plant Engineers; 2) Assistant Head Maintenance Custodians (AHM);
and; 3) Custodians. Plant Engineers are the highest-level employees in the
Maintenance Department, followed by AHMs, then Custodians.
AHM Custodians are further divided into three groups: AHM-A, who work at the
high school; AHM-B, who work at the middle school; and AHM-C, who work at the
elementary school level. AHM-A’s are considered the highest-level employees in this
group because they work in a larger school building, and confront the largest number of
maintenance issues. This hierarchy is reflected in AHM’s collective bargaining
McDaniels filed a charge of discrimination regarding only one of the three
positions. While PCCS argues that McDaniels cannot challenge the other two positions
under Title VII, it has addressed all the positions. Thus, the Court assumes, without
deciding, that McDaniels’ failure to be hired for any of the three positions is properly at
Neither party fully complied with the Court’s motion practice guidelines for
motions for summary judgment. Notably, neither party highlighted the relevant portions
of their exhibits and PCCS did not separately tab its exhibits.
agreement (CBA). Under the CBA, AHM-As are paid more per hour than the other
levels of AHMs.
The Plant Engineers, the position at issue, are “responsible for the operation,
care and maintenance of the heating, ventilating, lighting and plumbing systems in the
building.” They are also required to “[s]upervise the care, maintenance and repairs of
the building, equipment and grounds,” and to “[c]heck that mechanical systems are
operating properly.” “It is [also] expected that a Plant Engineer, in addition to the
supervisory and training duties, will also actively participate in the . . . maintenance
operation of the building. . .” (PCCS Ex. 2 Plant Engineer Job Description).
As explained in the affidavit of Joe West (West), a Plant Engineer with PCCS
since 1994 and a Union Representative for Plant Engineers, the duties include
maintaining and repairing the building, equipment and grounds. To this end, Plant
Engineers were required to perform tasks such as the following; stripping the wood
gym floors, changing light ballasts, light switches and plugs; doing necessary
maintenance to repair supply fan motors, including replacing wiring; changing Sloane
valves and faucets; fixing plumbing leaks; repairing toilets, including changing flush
valves, gaskets, and diaphragms; repairing and rewiring GFI outlets that extend
downward from classroom ceilings; and repairing motors on small and mid-size
equipment. (PCCS Ex. 5 Joe West affidavit).
The AHMs and Custodians were responsible for cleaning the buildings and
assisting Plant Engineers with the above duties. (PCCS Ex. 3 AHM Job Description).
Each school building has one Plant Engineer, and a varying number of AHMs
and Custodians. (PCCS Ex. 1 McDaniels’ deposition at p. 34-35). There were
approximately 20 Plant Engineer positions and 70 custodial positions at PCCS. Id.
The Director of Maintenance for PCCS from 2004 until January 2014 was Harry
Lau (Lau). Two females held Plant Engineer positions for PCCS under Harry Lau: Barb
Bartel and June Rorabacher.
B. McDaniels’ Employment with PCCS
McDaniels began her employment at PCCS in the Maintenance Department in
1997. She worked as an AHM-C at Hoben Elementary School (Hoben) starting in 2005.
McDaniels’ supervisor for the entire time she worked at Hoben was Plant Engineer Mike
Hartline (Hartline). McDaniels and Hartline were close friends, and remain close friends
today. (PCCS Ex. 1, McDaniels’ deposition, at p. 42, 83). McDaniels admitted she had
very limited experience and knowledge regarding mechanical, electrical, or plumbing
systems. (PCCS Ex. 1 McDaniels’ deposition at p. 13-15).
C. The Gallimore Elementary Plant Engineer Position
In March 2013, PCCS posted an opening for a Plant Engineer position at
Gallimore Elementary School (Gallimore). When posting the Plant Engineer positions,
consistent with the job description, the school district wanted to hire someone who had
demonstrated experience dealing with mechanical, electrical, and plumbing issues. (Ex.
5 West affidavit). The school district gave preference to actual experience in these
areas over attendance at instructional classes. (PCCS Ex. 5 West affidavit).
In early April 2013, McDaniels applied for the Plant Engineer opening at
Gallimore. She was one of 23 total applicants for the position. After submitting her
application, McDaniels was selected as one of six finalists for the position, along with
two other female applicants, Kathy Ladenberger and Judy Spehar. These three
females were selected as finalists over twelve other male applicants for the position.
The finalists for the Gallimore position were required to take a test and participate
in interviews with the hiring committee. The hiring committee consisted of Gallimore
Principal Kimberly May, who is female, Maintenance Director Harry Lau (Lau), Plant
Engineers Bruce Haarala, and Union Representative West.
After the first round of interviews were completed, on April 19, 2013, the hiring
committee (including Kimberly May) unanimously agreed that Dan Wolff (Wolff) should
receive the position.
According to West, Wolff received the position because the committee believed
that he had a superior understanding of, and greater experience in, handling
maintenance issues than McDaniels. (Ex. 5 West affidavit). As for his background,
Wolff was originally hired by PCCS on March 26, 1996, approximately one year before
McDaniels. Wolff had consistently received excellent evaluations since his hire. He
was also identified by his supervisor as being “very bright and ready for a leadership
role.” (PCCS Ex. 9 Wolff Evaluation). Wolff had been an AHM-A at Canton High
School since 2003, and therefore was a higher-level maintenance employee than
McDaniels. And by virtue of working in a building more than three times larger than the
elementary building where McDaniels worked, Wolff confronted more building issues on
a daily basis, and, according to PCCS, received more relevant job training.
Moreover, Lau (who was on the committee) had prior experience with Wolff.
During their time together, Lau testified at deposition that he had seen Wolff
successfully complete many “preventative maintenance” projects:
I had actually witnessed Dan performing duties in all these, less the heavy
equipment. He had performed duties in plumbing, changing a P-trap, fixing a
valve, carpentry. He would work in a door hardware. Electrical, may be changed
a plug or a switch. HVAC, he would change filters, grease motors, do things in
the boiler room. He was curious and asked questions and he stuck to people that
were doing these things and he learned it.
(PCCS Ex. 10 Lau deposition at p. 40). Lau further testified that he encouraged Wolff to
apply for the open position at Gallimore. (PCCS Ex. 10 Lau deposition at p. 43).
In contrast to Wolff, Lau testified that McDaniels had not demonstrated the same
skill set to Lau. (Ex. 10 Lau deposition at p. 41, 72). Lau testified as follows:
Q. Do you have reason to believe that Paula was not performing any of those
functions that you just listed for Dan?
A. Yes. I had not witnessed her perform these duties, and as a matter of fact, she
would lean on her plant engineer to perform them, even in an instance where she
would perform their jobs for any amount of time, whether it be a day or a week,
she would leave notes for Mike that certain things needed to be completed. (Ex.
10 Lau p. 41).
A. I’m suggesting that she would not do tasks and leave it for another employee
while she was performing that job.
Q. What tasks do you specifically recall her leaving for another employee?
A. Ballast, for sure, changing ballast.
Q. Anything else?
A. In an electrical end mainly. I recall some plumbing issues that she had to call
to central maintenance and have a plumber come down and help her with.
(PCCS Ex. 10 Lau deposition at p. 72).
When comparing McDaniels’ and Wolff’s demonstrated skills, Lau believed that
Wolff was more qualified:
I know that she didn’t practice a lot of the preventative maintenance issues. She
left that to Mike Hartline, Plant engineer. And Dan actually was engaged in
performing these PM’s on the HVAC, on motors, on different mechanical
systems, repairing custodial equipment, vacuum cleaners, what vacuums in
these types of things. So he was more confident in the day-to-day actually using
tools and fixing things.
(Id. at p. 38).
McDaniels agreed that she did not have much practical experience in these
areas, and further admitted that her knowledge of these areas was limited. (PCCS Ex.
1 McDaniels’s deposition at p. 13-15). McDaniels testified she had “very little”
experience with plumbing, Id. at p.13, and even “less” experience with electrical work.
Id. at 14.
West, who was on the committee, also did not believe McDaniels was the best
qualified for the Plant Engineer position. West had supervised McDaniels in the past.
According to his affidavit, when they worked together, McDaniels submitted work orders
to central maintenance to address issues she should have completed, such as handle
lunch trash. McDaniels also never performed any of the “maintenance” work in the
building, and instead left most of that type of work for West.
Lau also testified that during the interviews, Wolff effectively communicated to
the panel that he understood how to address preventative maintenance issues. Lau
further explained that McDaniels, conversely, did not demonstrate the ability to perform
this type of work while on the job, and did not appear confident answering questions
regarding mechanical, electrical, or plumbing systems during the interview.
As to why Wolff was hired over McDaniels, McDaniels testified that she believed
Wolff was selected for the position because Lau already knew that he wanted Wolff for
the position before interviews took place. (PCCS Ex. 1 McDaniels’s deposition at p.
47-48). Thus, McDaniels testified that because Lau already knew who he wanted, no
other candidates—male or female—were given consideration for the position. (Id. at p.
McDaniels further testified that another male candidate, Jeff Maloney, was the
most likely to receive the Gallimore position. (PCCS Ex. 1 McDaniels’s deposition at p.
57-58, 62). McDaniels testified that Maloney had more qualifications for the position
than she did. Maloney had been an AHM-B at the middle school, which was a higher
level than what McDaniels held. And unlike McDaniels, Maloney had completed all of
the maintenance sessions. See PCCS Ex. 1 McDaniels’s deposition at p. 58:
“[Maloney] was the middle school assistant head maintenance, been there a few years,
had all of his classes.”). McDaniels further testified that Jeff Maloney was not chosen
for the position for the same reason she was not chosen, i.e. Wolff’s close relationship
Q: Well, other than that, do you know the specific reason why Jeff wasn’t
chosen? A: Probably the same reason I wasn’t.
(PCCS Ex. 1 McDaniels’s deposition at p. 58). McDaniels also testified that she did not
believe gender played a role in denying Maloney the position. Id. at p. 70.
D. Hulsing Elementary Plant Engineer Position
In September 2013, a Plant Engineer position opened at Hulsing Elementary
School (Hulsing). McDaniels applied for the Hulsing position. She was one of fifteen
total applicants for the job; eleven males and four females. (PCCS Ex. 12 Hulsing
Interview List). The hiring process for the Hulsing position was similar to the process for
the Gallimore position. After submitting applications, the hiring committee selected five
finalists for the position. The finalists were then required to complete a written
examination and participate in in-person interviews.
The hiring committee for the opening at Hulsing Elementary consisted of Lau,
Hulsing Principal James Johnson (Johnson), and Plant Engineer Union Representatives
Kevin Jantovsky and West. Principal Johnson was on the hiring committee because the
Plant Engineer would work in his building, and therefore, he wanted a say as to who
would be Plant Engineer. McDaniels was selected as one of two finalists for the
position, along with Derek Leright (Leright). The two finalists then completed interviews.
The interviews were conducted by Lau, Bruce Haarala, and Johnson. Derek Leright
was chosen to be the Plant Engineer at Hulsing.
Leright had been working for the past year as an AHM at Hulsing when the
position was posted. As a result, Leright was familiar with the Hulsing building, and
knew the Hulsing administration and staff well—including the principal, Johnson.
Indeed, Johnson testified about his relationship with Leright while he worked as an AHM
at Hulsing before the posting:
I knew Mr. Leright well before the position opened in September 2013 because
Mr. Leright had worked in my building as an AHM the previous school year under
Scott Reid. While Mr. Leright worked as an AHM, I got to know him well, and
thought that he was a great person. Mr. Leright got along well with everyone in
our building. While he was an AHM at Hulsing, Mr. Leright constantly asked staff
member, “what can I do to help you?” I really appreciated his attitude. I also
thought Mr. Leright did a great job as an AHM.
(PCCS Ex. 13, Johnson’s affidavit).
Johnson also stated that he had witnessed Leright complete multiple
maintenance projects at Hulsing:
During the course of his duties as an AHM, Mr. Leright demonstrated he had
advanced skills in plumbing, electrical, and heating/ventilation/air-conditioning
(HVAC). On multiple occasions while he was an AHM, Mr. Leright spotted
plumbing, electrical and HVAC issues, and fixed those issues. This eliminated
the need to pay for skilled tradesmen to address these issues on multiple
occasions. This was a significant benefit to the school district, especially because
the school district was facing a budget deficit and trying to cut costs. For
example, I can recall Mr. Leright replacing a number of light ballasts, replacing
multiple light switches in various locations, making repairs to plumbing
connections, and multiple repairs to the HVAC units located on the roof.”
Johnson also explained that he received a recommendation for Leright from
Scott Reid, the former Plant Engineer Leright worked under at Hulsing. Id.
West also stated that he was familiar with Leright in another building, and agreed
with Principal Johnson’s assessment of Leright’s skills. (PCCS Ex. 5 West affidavit).
As to why she was not selected for the position, McDaniels testified that although
she believed that Leright was qualified for the position and it would be appropriate for
the building principal to want Leright to continue in the building as the Plant Engineer
because of his familiarity, the hiring decision was based on gender discrimination
because Leright is male and she is female. (PCCS Ex 1 McDaniels’s deposition at p.
E. Budget Cuts at PCCS and McDaniels Leaves PCCS
In approximately 2010, to correct a multimillion dollar budget deficit, PCCS
maintenance employees’ and teachers’ health benefits were eliminated. Also, the
maintenance staff was reduced from 90 employees to 70. During the 2013-2014 school
year, PCCS learned it once again faced a significant budget deficit. On June 10, 2014,
PCCS instituted multiple budget reductions, including laying-off 44 teachers and
privatizing the Assistant Head Maintenance and custodial employees. See PCCS Ex.
16 June 10, 2014 school board meeting minutes.
As a result of the privatization, all 70 AHM and custodial employees received
layoff notices in June 2014. Following the layoffs, PCCS contracted with Grand Rapids
Building Services (GRBS) to provide maintenance services for the District. All 70 AHMs
and Custodians were offered an opportunity to continue working at PCCS in their same
position, but as employees of GRBS. GRBS offered all 70 AHMs and Custodians a
raise in their hourly wage over what they were paid by PCCS to continue working at
PCCS. Nearly all of the affected individuals accepted the offer.
McDaniels, however, did not accept the offer. Her employment ended with
PCCS on June 18, 2014. (Ex. 1 Pl. p. 110).
F. Events After McDaniels Leave PCCS
1. Workman Elementary Position
At about the time McDaniels ended her employment in June of 2014, PCCS
posted an opening for a Plant Engineer position at Workman Elementary school. When
this position was posted, Director Lau was no longer at PCCS. Richard Peterson was
the new Director of Maintenance and Operations. The hiring committee for this posting
consisted of Human Resources Director Kurt Tszykiewicz, West, and Bruce Haarla.
McDaniels did not apply for the position.
Following the interview process, the hiring committee selected Michael Oakes,
Sr. (Oakes) for the position. Oakes was hired by the district as a custodian in 2009.
Since his hire, Oakes worked in multiple buildings, including Central Maintenance. (Ex.
20 Tyszkiewicz Affidavit; Ex. 18 Oakes, Sr., Application). McDaniels admitted at
deposition that Oakes was qualified to be the Plant Engineer at Workman Elementary.
(PCCS Ex. 1 McDaniels’s deposition at p. 111-112).
2. PCCS Hiring and Elimination of Plant Engineer Positions
Shortly after McDaniels left PCCS, PCCS posted an opening for a Plant Engineer
position at Allen Elementary School. Katherine Ladenberger, a female, received the
Thereafter, in 2015, all of the Plant Engineer positions McDaniels challenges
were eliminated as part of a budget cut. Accordingly, Wolff, Leright, Oakes, and
Ladenberger are no longer Plant Engineers at PCCS.
III. Summary Judgment
"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A moving party may meet that burden "by
'showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to
support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325
(1986). Rule 56 provides that:
A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the
(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions,
documents, electronically stored information, affidavits, or declarations,
stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions,
interrogatory answers, or other materials; or
(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of
a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence
to support a fact.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1).
The Court must decide “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement
to require submission to a [trier of fact] or whether it is so one-sided that one party must
prevail as a matter of law.” In re Dollar Corp., 25 F.3d 1320, 1323 (6th Cir. 1994) (quoting
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)). In so doing, the Court
“must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Employers
Ins. of Wausau v. Petroleum Specialties, Inc., 69 F.3d 98, 101 (6th Cir. 1995).
A. Legal Standard for Gender Discrimination
Because McDaniels does not have direct evidence that she was denied the Plant
Engineer positions because of her gender, she must proceed under the burden-shifting
framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct.
1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973), to analyze her claims.4 Hopson v DaimlerChrysler Corp.,
306 F.3d 427 (2002). McDaniels must first make out a prima facie case of
discrimination in failing to hire by showing that: “(1) she was a member of a protected
class; (2) she applied for and was qualified for the position ...; (3)she was considered for
and denied the position; and (4) she was rejected in favor of another person with similar
qualifications who was not a member of [the] protected class.” Mayhue v. Cherry St.
Services, Inc., 598 F. App’x 392, 403 (6th Cir. 2015)(quoting Betkerur v. Aultman Hosp.
Ass'n, 78 F.3d 1079, 1095 (6th Cir.1996) (citation omitted)). If McDaniels succeeds in
establishing a prima facie case, the burden then shifts to PCCS to articulate a
legitimate, non-discriminatory rationale for the adverse employment action. Id. If PCCS
does so, the burden shifts back to McDaniels to demonstrate that the articulated reason
is a mere pretext for discrimination. Id.
B. Prima Facie Case
PCCS says that McDaniels cannot meet the fourth element of a prima facie case,
i.e. that “she was rejected in favor of another person with similar qualifications who was
not a member of [the] protected class.” Mayhue, 598 F. App’x at 403. PCCS says that
McDaniels’ claims under Title VII and Elliot Larsen are subject to the same
analysis. Sutherland v. Michigan Dept. of Treasury, 344 F.3d 603, 614 (6th Cir. 2003).
it wanted to hire someone who had experience dealing with mechanical, electrical, and
plumbing issues to reduce its reliance on expensive outsourcing. PCCS says that the
three candidates who were chosen for the position had a demonstrated ability in these
areas and McDaniels admittedly did not have that experience or skill.
PCCS’s argument that the three males chosen for the Plant Engineer positions
had more experience than McDaniels goes more to whether McDaniels can show a
pretext for gender discrimination than whether she has made out a prima facie case.
Rather, there appears no dispute that McDaniels was qualified for the Plant Engineer
position. Indeed, she was a finalist for the position on two occasions. There is also no
dispute that McDaniels and her two male counterparts, Wolff, Leright, and Oakes had
similar qualifications. PCCS’s defense is that those selected had qualifications that
made them more suitable candidates for the Plant Engineer position. It is those
qualifications that play into whether PCCS’s decision was a prextext for gender
discrimination. Thus, the Court finds McDaniels has made out a prima facie case for
C. Legitimate Non-Discriminatory Reason
PCCS’s burden of production of a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for not
promoting McDaniels requires that it “articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory
reason for the employee’s rejection.” Furnco Constr. Corp. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567
(1978). The articulation requirement does not mean that the employer must prove the
absence of a discriminatory motive. Bd. of Trs. of Keene State Coll. v Sweeney, 439
U.S. 24 (1978).
Here, PCCS says that it chose candidates who had demonstrated an ability to
address preventative maintenance issues which are part of the Plant Engineer position.
PCCS also says McDaniels admitted she was not as experienced in these areas as the
candidates who were chosen. These articulate reasons are non-discriminatory. Thus,
PCCS has met its burden.
McDaniels may establish pretext by showing that (a) the stated reasons had no
basis in fact; (b) the stated reasons were not the actual reasons; or (c) that the stated
reasons were insufficient to explain the defendant’s action. Manzer v. Diamond
Shamrock Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 1078, 1084 (6th Cir.1 994) (overruled on other grounds,
Geiger v. Tower Automotive, 579 F.3d 614 (6th Cir. 2009)). The third prong "consists of
evidence that other employees, particularly employees not in the protected class, were
not fired even though they engaged in substantially identical conduct to that which the
employer contends motivated its discharge of the plaintiff." Manzer, 29 F.3d at 1084. It
is McDaniels’ burden to establish that similarly situated employees were treated
differently than McDaniels under this part of the pretext test. Macy v. Hopkins Cty. Sch.
Bd. of Educ., 484 F.3d 357 (6th Cir. 2006).
The Sixth Circuit has found that an employer’s business judgment should not be
questioned as a means of establishing pretext because the issue is not whether the
decision was wrong or mistaken, but whether the decision was discriminatory. Hartsel
v. Keys, 87 F.3d 795, 801 (6th Cir. 1996), cert denied, 519 U.S. 1055 (1997). Courts
should instead defer to sound business judgment to avoid “the illegitimate role of acting
as a ‘super personnel department,’ overseeing and second guessing employers'
business decisions.” Bender v. Hecht’s Dep’t Stores, 455 F.3d 612, 628 (6th Cir. 2006);
see also Skelton v. Sara Lee Corp., 249 F. App’x 450, 460–61 (6th Cir. 2007) (although
plaintiff proffered evidence that the retained employees were less qualified, he “proffers
no evidence that the retained [employees] were deficient with regard to Defendant's
asserted non-discriminatory reason for the employees' termination.”). As to an
employer’s business judgment in the context of hiring decisions, the Sixth Circuit has
recognized “that employers are generally ‘free to choose among qualified candidates,’
Wren v. Gould, 808 F.2d 493, 502 (6th Cir. 1987), and that ‘[t]he law does not require
employers to make perfect decisions, nor forbid them from making decisions that others
may disagree with,’ Hartsel, 87 F.3d at 801.” Bender, 455 F.3d at 626.
The crux of this case lies in whether McDaniels has established pretext sufficient
to survive summary judgment. PCCS says McDaniels has not shown that it did not
really prefer candidates who had a demonstrated ability to perform plumbing,
mechanical, and electrical work, which PCCS refers to as “preventative maintenance.”
McDaniels contends that the ability to perform “preventative maintenance” is not part of
the job description of a Plant Engineer.
PCCS has the better view. The job description for Plant Engineer states that
they are “[r]esponsible for the operation, care, and maintenance of the heating,
ventilating, lighting and plumbing, and electrical systems in the building.” (PCCS Ex. 2,
Doc. 18-3, Job Description). McDaniels makes too much out of PCCS’ use of the
phrase “preventative maintenance.” While admittedly the phrase does not appear in the
job description, it is clear that Plant Engineers are responsible for maintaining the
building systems, which necessarily includes being knowledgeable about and
experienced in working on those systems. “Preventative maintenance” is simply
another way to describe the ability to operate, care for, and maintain the several
building systems. It is not, as McDaniels contends, an unstated job requirement.
McDaniels admits that the males chosen for the Plant Engineer positions were
qualified but says she was better qualified because in approximately 1999, 14 years
before the first posting, McDaniels attended informational sessions in plumbing,
carpentry, woodwork, and electrical. She notes that Wolff did not attend any training
session. Each session lasted approximately a half day, so McDaniels attended a total
of approximately two days in sessions. Also in approximately 2009, she completed
most of an at-home course in heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC). The athome course required McDaniels to read a 400-page book and take a series of at-home
tests at her leisure. (Ex. 1). Despite this training, McDaniels admitted that her practical
experience and knowledge of these areas was limited. (PCCS Ex. 1 McDaniels’s
Deposition at p. 13-15, “very little” plumbing experience, even “less” electrical).
Training aside, Lau and West also testified that PCCS valued actual experience
performing maintenance projects over attending these classes. (Ex. 5 West affidavit).
Thus, McDaniels’ training does not necessarily make her a better candidate than those
who were selected.
McDaniels says that when making its hiring decisions, PCCS placed greater
emphasis on actual experience in certain areas such as plumbing, electric, and
woodworking, over attending brief training sessions. This argument is not evidence of
pretext as a matter of law.
When making a hiring a decision, an employer may give greater weight to certain
qualifications or experiences over others. In Browning v. Dep't of the Army, 436 F.3d
692 (6th Cir. 2006), the Sixth Circuit found that it is not evidence of discriminatory
pretext for an employer to place subjective emphasis on specific qualifications not listed
in the job posting. The court also found that it is not evidence of discriminatory pretext
for an employer to consider attributes other than those stated in the strict language of a
job description when making a hiring decision:
[T]his court has held that employers are not rigidly bound by the language in a
job description. Wrenn v. Gould, 808 F.2d 493 (6th Cir. 1987). As explained in
Wrenn, employment-discrimination laws do "not diminish lawful traditional
management prerogatives in choosing among qualified candidates," . . . Id. at
502 (holding that an employer can consider factors external to a job description
when selecting among qualified candidates) (citation and quotation marks
Id. at 696-697. See also Cline v. BWXT Y-12, LLC, 521 F.3d 507 (6th Cir. 2008) (“That
the job description itself did not express an interest in college program candidates does
not prevent the company from including such candidates in its mix of interviewees.”);
Young v. Oakland County, 176 F. App’x 644 (6th Cir. 2006).
Here, as an employer exercising its business judgment, PCCS placed greater
emphasis on actual hands-on experience in completing projects over attending limited
training sessions. McDaniels has not introduced any evidence that Plant Engineers do
not perform that type of work regularly. It is not evidence of pretext that PCCS prefers
to hire candidates who had shown an ability to perform that work.
Rather, a review of the record shows that the candidates who were selected
were those that not only had hands-on experience but were familiar with the building
and key personnel at the building where the position was open. In other words, the
positions were filled based on familarity, even favoritism. A decision based on
favoritism does not equate to a pretext for discrimination. Indeed, McDaniels said that
the reason she believed she did not receive the Plant Engineer position at Gallimore
was because Lau already knew he wanted Wolff for the position based on his personal
relationship with the candidates. McDaniels also said that Jeff Maloney was the biggest
threat to receive the first Plant Engineer position because he was more qualified than
she was. McDaniels testified that Maloney was not selected for the position for the
same reason she was not, and admitted that it was not due to gender discrimination.
Courts have uniformly recognized that, “as a matter of law, a supervisor's
favoritism towards someone based on their personal relationship, even if the
relationship consists of a romantic affair, ‘is not sex-based discrimination, as the
favoritism, while unfair, disadvantages both sexes alike for reasons other than gender....
[S]uch ‘paramour favoritism’ is not an unlawful employment practice under Title VII....’ ”
Rowe v. Jewell, 88 F.Supp.3d 647, 666 (E.D. La. 2015) (citing Wilson v. Delta State
Univ., 143 F. App’x 611, 613–14 (5th Cir. 2005) (quotation omitted)). See also Briggs v.
Univ. of Detroit-Mercy, 22 F. Supp. 3d 798, 809-10 (E.D. Mich. 2014) (explaining that
“when a supervisor gives favorable treatment to her paramour, every other employee
‘with whom she is not having sex’ experiences the resultant discrimination or
harassment, regardless of their gender.” ) citing Sherk v. Adesa Atlanta, LLC, 432 F.
Supp. 2d 1358, 1371 (N.D. Ga. 2006)).
In light of the above, it was not discriminatory for Lau to prefer Wolff because he
knew Wolff well. Nor was it discriminatory for Principal Johnson to want Leright to
continue working at Hulsing because he was familiar with Leright and his work. Lau and
Johnson did not have that same familiarity with McDaniels. To the extent Wolff and
Leright were given “preference” and hired over both males and females, it does not
show pretext for gender discrimination.
Even if PCCS were somehow mistaken about the qualifications of the
candidates, that is not evidence of pretext. “Under the ‘honest belief’ rule ‘as long as an
employer holds an honest belief in its proffered nondiscriminatory reason for
discharging an employee, the employee cannot establish that the reason was pretextual
simply because it is ultimately shown to be incorrect.’” Todd v. RBS Citizens, N.A., 483
F. App’x 76, 83 (6th Cir. 2012). See also Chen v. Dow Chem. Co., 580 F.3d 394, 401
(6th Cir. 2009) (“When an employer reasonably and honestly relies on particularized
facts in making an employment decision, it is entitled to summary judgment on pretext
even if its conclusion is later shown to be mistaken, foolish, trivial, or baseless.”).
Here, McDaniels has not shown a genuine issue of material fact that PCCS
honestly believed that Wolff, Leright, and Oakes all had greater maintenance skills than
McDaniels. Also, McDaniels has not established a genuine issue of material fact over
whether the selection of Wolff, Leright, or Oakes amounted to a prextext for gender
For the reasons stated above, PCCS’s motion for summary judgment is
GRANTED. This case is DISMISSED.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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