Witherspoon v. General Electric Company
Memorandum Opinion: Defendant's motion for summary judgment on all counts of plaintiff's complaint is granted. (Related Doc. No. 21 ). Judge Sara Lioi on 4/14/2017. (P,J)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY,
CASE NO. 5:16-cv-978
JUDGE SARA LIOI
This matter is before the Court on the motion of defendant General Electric
Company (“defendant” or “GE”) for summary judgment on plaintiff’s complaint. (Doc.
No. 21 [“Mot.”].) Plaintiff Isell Witherspoon1 (“plaintiff” or “Witherspoon”) opposed the
motion (Doc. No. 25 [“Opp’n]), to which defendant replied (Doc. No. 28 [“Reply”]). For
the reasons that follow, defendant’s motion is granted.
This case was removed by the defendant from the Portage County Court of
Common Pleas on the basis of this Court’s diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1332. (Doc. No. 1 (Notice of Removal).) The basic factual background of this case is not
Plaintiff is sometimes referred to as “Shawn” in the evidentiary materials submitted by the parties in support
of their respective positions on summary judgment.
A. Witherspoon’s Employment History
GE hired Witherspoon as a finishing operator in its Ravenna Lamp Plant in 1995.
In 2004, he was terminated for poor performance, violation of safety rules, disruptive
behavior, and inappropriate behavior involving female co-workers. (Doc. No. 21-2
(Affidavit of Robert Mullins [“Mullins Aff.”]) ¶ 16 and Ex. B-1 (2004 Letter of
Termination); Doc. No. 17-1 (Deposition of Isell Witherspoon [“Witherspoon Dep.”] at
179-812 (105-163).) GE later changed Witherspoon’s termination to a suspension,
permitted him to return to work, and issued a written letter of reprimand on November 8,
2004. (Mullins Aff. ¶ 16 and Ex. B-2 [“2004 Letter of Reprimand”]; Witherspoon Dep. at
183-86 (121-36).) GE’s letter of reprimand imposed a number of conditions related to
Witherspoon’s return to work and informed him that:
any future occurrences of similar actions or other acts of a serious nature
will subject you to further disciplinary action up to and including discharge.
If you receive another letter of reprimand during your employment with GE,
you will be immediately terminated.
(2004 Letter of Reprimand.)
Witherspoon does not recall every detail of the events of 2004. He does not dispute,
however, that he was terminated by GE for various reasons and then permitted to return to
work in 2004 subject to certain conditions. (See Witherspoon Dep. at 179-86 (105-36).)
All references to page numbers are to the page identification numbers generated by the Court’s electronic
The deposition transcripts have been filed such that each page identification number generated by the
Court’s electronic filing system contains four transcript pages. The parenthetical references to page numbers
for deposition citations refer to the deposition transcript page number.
In January 2014, the Ravenna Lamp Plant closed, and GE offered those employees
placement at another GE facility. Witherspoon began working at GE’s Ravenna Master
Distribution Center (“Ravenna MDC”) as a warehouse worker in September 2014.
(Mullins Aff. ¶ 6.) Employees at the Ravenna MDC are represented by the Industrial
Division of the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO (the “IUE-CWA” or
“union”). (Id. ¶ 8.)
B. Kline’s Allegations against Witherspoon
Michelle Kline (“Kline”) began working at the Ravenna MDC in October 2014.
(Doc. No. 19-1 (Deposition of Michelle Kline [“Kline Dep.”]) at 428 (9-10).) Kline and
Witherspoon voluntarily agreed to work together as partners in the warehouse at the
Ravenna MDC. (Id. at 430 (18-19).) They took work breaks together, but did not socialize
outside of work. (Id. at 431 (23-24); Witherspoon Dep. at 189-90 (148-50).)
Kline alleges that in late March 2015, Witherspoon made statements to her about
suffocating her in plastic, kissing her, attacking her, slicing her throat with a piece of
cardboard, and following her home to strangle her. A few days later when she complained
of a sore neck, Kline alleges that Witherspoon told her that her neck was sore “because I
followed you home and I strangled you while you were sleeping” and “[y]ou should have
like a smile on your face because I did something else.” (Kline Dep. at 437-38 (45-49).)
Kline texted a friend who also worked at the Ravenna MDC, April Lombardo
(“Lombardo”), that “[Witherspoon’s] creeping me out right now. Come over and say you
need me to work in another area, you want me to work with you.” (Id. at 437 (46), Doc.
No. 19-8 (text message).) Lombardo took Kline’s text seriously because the two of them
had not spoken for over a month—“that’s why her text had so much gravity to me because
at the time we weren’t talking, and I knew that if she had – reached out to me, that
something wasn’t right.” (Doc. No. 18-1 (Deposition of April Lombardo [“Lombardo
Dep.”]) at 414 (56).) Kline told multiple about people about Witherspoon’s alleged
statements, and they encouraged her to report the statements to GE management. (Kline
Dep. at 440 (58-59); Lombardo Dep. at 403 (11).)
On March 27, 2015, Kline reported Witherspoon’s statements to the Ravenna MDC
plant manager, Jill Schaade (“Schaade”). (Kline Dep. at 449 (59); Doc. No. 21-5 (Affidavit
of Jill Schaade [“Schaade Aff.”]) ¶¶ 5-6.) GE security contacted the local police department
and suggested that Kline file a police report, which she did on March 28, 2015. (See Kline
Dep. at 440 (59-60) and 447 (86); Doc. No. 19-11 (Police Report).)
The same day that Kline reported Witherspoon’s alleged comments to Schaade,
Schaade met separately with Kline and Witherspoon in the presence of the facilities chief
union steward, Scott Moore. (Schaade Aff. ¶ 5; Kline Dep. at 436 (43-44); Witherspoon
Dep. at 188 (143-44).) When Schaade spoke to Witherspoon, he denied making any of the
statements that Kline said he made, saying that “he always works alone or with ‘some girl,
Michelle.’” (Schaade Aff. ¶ 7 and Exhibit E-1.) Schaade instructed Witherspoon to go
home and not return to work until he was contacted by GE. (Id.; Witherspoon Dep. at 188
C. GE’s Investigation and Disciplinary Action
In response to Kline’s allegations, GE conducted an investigation. (Schaade Aff. ¶
8.) There were no eye witnesses to the alleged exchanges between Witherspoon and Kline.
Schaade examined the facility’s security footage for the days March 24-26, 2013 to
compare Kline’s activities with her statements. Schaade determined that the footage
corroborated Kline’s statements that Kline paired up with Lombardo during the workday,
and did not interact with Witherspoon as a work partner or on breaks, just as Kline has
reported. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) Schaade also spoke with Lombardo and examined the text messages
between Kline and Lombardo to corroborate the information provided by Kline. (Id. ¶ 10.)
Schaade communicated the results of her review to Robert Mullins, who was the acting
manager of human resources. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10 and Exhibits E-2 and E-3; Mullins Aff. ¶ 2.)
Mullins conducted his own investigation. He spoke with Kline on March 30, 2015,
and separately interviewed Kline and Witherspoon on April 6, 2015 in the presence of an
assistant to take notes. (Mullins Aff. ¶ 14.) Witherspoon initially denied familiarity with
Kline and making the statements, but as details of their working and taking breaks together
emerged, Witherspoon’s explanation “shifted to the flat denial that he had made the
statements.” (Id.; Doc. No. 20-1 (Deposition of Robert Mullins [“Mullins Dep.”] at 474
(41).) Witherspoon consistently denied making the alleged statements to Kline. Mullins
met again with Kline on April 13, 2015, to confirm her allegations and impress upon her
the gravity of those allegations. (Mullins Aff. ¶ 15.)
Mullins also reviewed Kline’s and Witherspoon’s work history with GE. In doing
so, he discovered the letter of reprimand GE issued to Witherspoon in 2004. (Id. ¶ 16.)
Witherspoon recalled that he had been terminated by GE in 2004 and then permitted to
return to work. He understood that he had to meet certain conditions to maintain his
employment after returning to work in 2004, but was not aware of a letter of reprimand in
his file and believed that the issues in 2004 were no longer part of his record upon his
transfer to Ravenna MDC. (Id. ¶ 17; Mullins Dep. at 468 (20); Witherspoon Dep. at 186
(135-36).) With respect to Kline, Mullins was aware that a number of years ago at a
different GE facility, it was rumored that Kline had been involved in a “sexual episode.”
(Mullins Dep. at 477-78 (56-57).) There is no evidence in the record that Kline was
disciplined for the rumored conduct.
Mullins did not meet with Lombardi or Candace (Candy) Brunswick (“Brunswick”)
as part of his investigation. (Mullins Dep. at 475 (48).) Brunswick, an employee at the
Ravenna MDC, told Schaade (who shared the information with Mullins) that, in her view,
“Michelle is ‘loose’” and “has come on to Shawn for many weeks[,]” and “Shawn is getting
a raw deal.” (Id. at 476-77 (52-53); Doc. No. 20-6; Doc. No. 24-1 (Deposition of Candace
Brunswick [“Brunswick Dep.”] at 752 (15-16).)
After completing his investigation, Mullins determined that Kline’s allegations
were credible and, by threatening Kline, Witherspoon had violated the Ravenna MDC’s
work rules, which warranted a letter of reprimand. (Mullins Aff. ¶ 18; Mullins Dep. at 475
(45-46); Witherspoon Dep. at 308-09 (223-25); Doc. No. 17-6 [“2015 Letter of Reprimand
& Termination”]; and Doc. No. 17-16 [“Ravenna MDC Work Rules”] work rules number
11, 27(C)(8), and 27(D)(6)).). Witherspoon’s letter of reprimand in 2004 specifically stated
that he would be terminated if he received another letter of reprimand, and GE’s practice
at the Ravenna MDC is to discharge employees who receive two letters of reprimand unless
the union and GE negotiate a different resolution. (Mullins Aff. ¶¶ 17-18; Witherspoon
Dep. at 195-96 (172-73); 2014 Letter of Reprimand; 2015 Letter of Reprimand and
Termination.) As a consequence, Witherspoon was terminated.
The union grieved the letter of reprimand and termination of Witherspoon’s
employment, but GE denied the grievances and the union did not pursue arbitration.
(Mullins Aff. ¶ 19.) The union sought to have GE reinstate Witherspoon under a “last
chance” agreement, but GE declined to do so when they learned that Witherspoon provided
false information on his application for income extension by saying that he was “laid off”
instead of terminated. (Id. ¶ 19; Doc. No. 21-7 (Affidavit of Alex Asiago [“Asiago Aff.”])
¶ 6 and Exhibit G-2.)
D. Witherspoon’s Complaint
Plaintiff, who is African American, asserts three state law claims in his complaint:
(1) race discrimination in violation of Ohio Rev. Code § 4112.02; (2) defamation; and (3)
intentional infliction of emotional distress. Witherspoon alleges that GE terminated his
employment following a “minimal and insufficient investigation into the veracity of the
claims against him[,]” and “treated similarly situated employees differently than Plaintiff
due to Plaintiff’s race.” (Doc. No. 1-1 (Complaint [“Compl.”]) ¶¶ 21-22.) Witherspoon
further alleges that he did not make any of the threatening statements that Kline reported
to Schaade, that GE ignored his denials and conducted an inadequate and reckless
investigation into the veracity of Kline’s allegations before terminating him, and the
resulting “public knowledge” regarding the alleged threats and termination was
defamatory. (Id. ¶¶ 28-32.) Finally, plaintiff alleges that GE’s termination based on Kline’s
allegations without an adequate investigation was outrageous and intentional, causing him
severe emotional distress. (Id. ¶¶ 35-36.) GE contends that it is entitled to summary
judgment on all of plaintiff’s claims.
A. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate where “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).4 A fact is material if its resolution affects the outcome of the lawsuit under the
governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L.
Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. If a reasonable jury could return a verdict for
the nonmoving party, then summary judgment is not appropriate. Id.
The moving party must provide evidence to the court that demonstrates the absence
of a genuine dispute as to any material fact. Once the moving party meets this initial burden,
the opposing party must come forward with specific evidence showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L.
Ed. 2d 265 (1986); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. The nonmoving party may oppose a
summary judgment motion “by any of the kinds of evidentiary material listed in Rule 56(c),
except the mere pleadings themselves[.]” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The Court must view
all facts and evidence, and inferences that may be reasonably drawn therefrom, in favor of
the nonmoving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S. Ct. 993, 8 L.
Ed. 2d 176 (1962).
General averments or conclusory allegations of an affidavit do not create specific
fact disputes for summary judgment purposes. See Lujan v. Nat’l Wildlife Fed’n, 497 U.S.
871, 888-89, 110 S. Ct. 3177, 111 L. Ed. 2d 695 (1990). “Summary judgment requires that
a plaintiff present more than a scintilla of evidence to demonstrate each element of a prima
facie case.” Garza v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co. 536 F. App’x 517, 519 (6th Cir. 2013) (citing Van
Because this matter is before the court pursuant to diversity jurisdiction, the Court applies federal procedural
law with respect to defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and state substantive law to plaintiff’s claims
of race discrimination, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. See Erie R. Co. v.
Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S. Ct. 817, 82 L. Ed. 1188 (1938).
Gorder v. Grand Trunk W. R.R., 509 F.3d 265, 268 (6th Cir. 2007)). “‘The mere existence
of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmoving party’s] position will be insufficient;
there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmoving
party].’” Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1477 (6th Cir. 1989) (quoting
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).
The district court’s review on summary judgment is a threshold inquiry to
determine whether there is the need for a trial due to a genuine factual dispute that must be
resolved by a finder of fact because those issues may reasonably be resolved in favor of
either party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. Put another way, this Court must determine
“whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or
whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 251-52;
Wexler v. White’s Fine Furniture, Inc., 317 F.3d 564, 578 (6th Cir. 2003).
Summary judgment is required:
against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that
party bears the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be no
genuine issue as to any material fact, since a complete failure of proof
concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party’s case necessarily
renders all other facts immaterial. The moving party is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law because the nonmoving party has failed to make a
sufficient showing of an essential element of [his] case with respect to
which [he] has the burden of proof.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
B. Count one—Race discrimination in violation of Ohio Rev. Code § 4112.02
Ohio Rev. Code § 4112.02(A) provides that:
It shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice:
For any employer, because of the race, color, religion, sex, military
status, national origin, disability, age, or ancestry of any person, to
discharge without just cause, to refuse to hire, or otherwise to
discriminate against that person with respect to hire, tenure, terms,
conditions, or privileges of employment, or any matter directly or
indirectly related to employment.
Ohio courts apply federal case law interpreting Title VII to state employment
discrimination claims. Mitchell v. Toledo Hosp., 964 F.2d 577, 582 (6th Cir. 1992)
(applying the burden shifting framework from McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792,
93 S. Ct. 1817, 3 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973)); Bucher v. Sibcy Cline, Inc., 738 N.E.2d 435, 442
(Ohio Ct. App. 2000) (citing Plumbers & Steamfitters Jt. Apprenticeship Comm. v. Ohio
Civ. Rights Comm’n, 421 N.E.2d 128, 131 (Ohio 1981)). Witherspoon has alleged no direct
evidence of race discrimination,5 thus his race discrimination claim is analyzed under the
burden shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas. Mitchell, 964 F.2d at 582 n.4.
Under this burden shifting analysis, the employee has the initial burden of
producing evidence of a prima facie case of discrimination. Texas Dep’t of Cmty. Affairs
v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-53, 101 S. Ct. 1089, 67 L. Ed. 2d 207 (1981) (citations
omitted); McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. If the employee succeeds, the burden shifts
to the employer to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse
employment action. Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253 (citing McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802).
If the defendant offers a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason, the burden shifts back to the
“Direct evidence is evidence which, if believed, requires the conclusion that unlawful discrimination was
a motivating factor in the employer’s action. ‘[D]irect evidence proves the existence of a fact without any
inferences or presumptions.’” Pittman v. Cuyahoga Valley Career Ctr., 451 F. Supp. 2d 905, 916 (N.D. Ohio
2006) (emphasis and alteration in original) (quoting Abbott v. Crown Motor Co., Inc., 348 F.3d 537, 542 (6th
Cir. 2003) (internal citations omitted)).
employee to prove that the employer’s justification is merely a pretext for unlawful
discrimination. Id. at 253 (citing McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 804).
It is important to remember, however, that “at the summary judgment stage of
litigation, courts should not allow ‘th[is] burden-shifting analysis [to] obfuscate the
appropriate question—whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact.’” Jackson v.
VHS Detroit Receiving Hosp., Inc., 814 F.3d 769, 776 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting Provenzano
v. LCI Holdings, Inc., 663 F.3d 806, 813 (6th Cir. 2011)). On a motion for summary
judgment in an employment discrimination case, the Court must consider whether there is
sufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute of material fact at each stage of the
McDonnell Douglas burden shifting inquiry. Cline v. Catholic Diocese of Toledo, 206 F.3d
651, 661 (6th Cir. 2000); Rachells v. Cingular Wireless Emp. Servs., LLC, 732 F.3d 652,
661 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Macy v. Hopkins Cnty. Sch. Bd. of Educ., 484 F.3d 357, 364
(6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Cline, 206 F.3d at 661)).
1. Plaintiff’s prima facie case of discrimination
Plaintiff can establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that: (1) he
was a member of a protected class; (2) he was discharged; (3) he was qualified for the
position; and (4) that he received different treatment than a comparable (similarly situated),
non-protected person, or, that he was replaced by a person outside the class. Mitchell, 964
F.2d at 582; Alexander v. Local 496, Laborers’ Int’l Union of N. Am., 177 F.3d 394, 40203 (6th Cir. 1999) (citing Mitchell, 964 F.2d at 582-83). The parties do not dispute, at least
for the purpose of summary judgment, that the first three elements of a prima facie case
are satisfied here. Thus, the issue on summary judgment is whether plaintiff has presented
sufficient evidence in response to defendant’s motion from which a reasonable jury could
conclude that plaintiff has established a prima facie case with respect to the fourth element.
The fourth element can be established by “‘showing either that the plaintiff was replaced
by a person outside of the protected class or that similarly situated non-protected
employees were treated more favorably than the plaintiff’ (emphasis in original).” Vincent
v. Brewer Co., 514 F.3d 489, 496 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Talley v. Bravo Pitino Rest.,
Ltd., 61 F.3d 1241, 1247 (6th Cir. 1995)).
Defendant maintains that plaintiff cannot establish the fourth element of a prima
facie case because he cannot identify an employee outside of his protected class that was
treated differently for the same or similar conduct. GE further contends that Witherspoon
was not replaced with a person outside of his protected class.
Plaintiff has failed to establish a genuine dispute of material fact that he
received treatment different than a similarly situated person who was not
Plaintiff argues that Kline, who is Caucasian, is comparable to Witherspoon
because they have the same supervisor and held similar positions at GE. (Opp’n at 766
(citing Mitchell, 964 F.3d at 583).) Plaintiff reasons that both Kline and Witherspoon
engaged in the same conduct—communicating to GE their own versions of what transpired
between them where there were no other witnesses to the events at issue. Plaintiff contends
that “[t]here was considerably more evidence supporting Witherspoon’s position,”
however, Kline was treated more favorably than he was because GE believed Kline and
not Witherspoon. (Opp’n at 766.)
Plaintiff does not apply the appropriate standard for determining a comparable
employee. “It is fundamental that to make a comparison of a discrimination plaintiff’s
treatment to that of non-minority employees, the plaintiff must show that the ‘comparables’
are similarly-situated in all respects.” Mitchell, 964 F.2d at 583 (emphasis in original)
(citing Stotts v. Memphis Fire Dep’t, 858 F.2d 289 (6th Cir. 1988)). “In the disciplinary
context, the Sixth Circuit has held that to be found similarly situated, a plaintiff and his
proposed comparator must have engaged in acts of comparable seriousness.” Moore v.
Ohio Edison Co., Inc., No. 4:15-CV-1424, 2016 WL 7097631, at *6 (N.D. Ohio Dec. 6,
2016) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Ortiz v. Hershey Co., 580 F. App’x 352,
357 (6th Cir. 2014) (further citation omitted)). “‘To make this assessment, a court must
look to certain factors, such as whether the individuals . . . have been subject to the same
standards and have engaged in the same conduct without such differentiating or mitigating
circumstances that would distinguish their conduct or the employer’s treatment of them for
GE reprimanded Witherspoon for violating work rules by threatening and
intimidating Kline, and terminated him because that reprimand was his second.
Witherspoon does not contend that Kline made similar threats or statements against him or
anyone else, or that Kline was not terminated after receiving two letters of reprimand.
Witherspoon has produced no facts from which a reasonable jury could conclude that Kline
was similarly situated to him in all respects. Indeed, plaintiff has not identified any GE
employee who allegedly made threatening statements but did not receive a letter of
reprimand, or who was not terminated after receiving a second letter of reprimand. Thus,
Witherspoon has advanced no evidence at all from which a reasonable jury could conclude
that he has established a prima facie case of race discrimination on the basis that similarly
situated individuals who were not African American received more favorable treatment
than he did.
Plaintiff has failed to establish a genuine dispute of material fact as to
whether GE replaced Witherspoon with a person who was not African
With respect to the alternative manner by which plaintiff may establish the fourth
element of a prima facie case, GE denies that it hired a “specific replacement” for plaintiff,
and advances the affidavits of Mullins and Schaade in support of its argument that GE hires
on an “ongoing basis” and no “direct replacement” for Witherspoon was hired when he
was terminated. (Mot. at 504-05 (citing Mullins Aff. ¶ 7; Schaade Aff. ¶ 3).) In opposition,
plaintiff advances GE’s interrogatory response number 18, which denies that a specific
replacement for Witherspoon was hired, but states that six warehouse workers were hired
between April 13, 2015 and April 25, 2016. Five of the six are identified as Caucasian.
(See Opp’n at 763-64 (citing Doc. No. 25-13 (Defendant’s response to plaintiff’s
interrogatory no. 18)).6)
The burden of establishing that there is no genuine dispute of material fact always
rests with the movant, but after the defendant advances evidence that it believes entitles it
to judgment as a matter of law, plaintiff must advance some specific evidence in response
to show that there is at least a genuine issue for trial Celotex, 477 at 323; Anderson 477
U.S. at 250. Plaintiff may do so using any of the evidentiary materials listed in Rule 56(c),
According to GE’s interrogatory response, the following “warehousers” were hired on or after April 13,
04/13/15: Eric James (White)
04/13/15: Jeff Gaskill (White)
11/23/15: Margaret Medina (White)
11/23/15: Fred Parrott (Two or more races)
04/25/16: Lori Gibson (White)
(Doc. No. 25-13 at 815.)
and the Court must view all the facts and evidence in favor of the non-moving party.
Diebold, 369 U.S. at 655.
Applying that standard, the Court finds that GE’s interrogatory response, without
more, does not create a genuine dispute of material fact on the issue of whether GE hires
on an “ongoing basis,” or whether GE hired a “direct replacement” for Witherspoon. The
fact that five of six employees hired during the year following Witherspoon’s termination
were Caucasian does not address the evidence advanced by GE on the issue of whether GE
replaced Witherspoon with a Caucasian. Even drawing all reasonable inferences in
plaintiff’s favor, GE’s interrogatory response constitutes no more than a scintilla of
evidence and is insufficient to show that there is a genuine dispute that must be resolved
by a factfinder on the issues of whether GE hires on an “ongoing basis” and did not hire a
“direct replacement” for Witherspoon. Garza, 536 F. App’x at 519.
For all of the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that GE is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law on count one because Witherspoon has failed to make a sufficient showing
on summary judgment from which a reasonable jury could conclude that he has established
a prima facie case of race discrimination. But even if plaintiff had succeeded in making
this showing, defendant would still be entitled to judgment on plaintiff’s claim for
intentional race discrimination for the reasons that follow.
2. Defendant has articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for
Assuming, arguendo, that Witherspoon had succeeded in demonstrating a genuine
issue of material fact with respect to his prima facie case, under McDonnell Douglas, the
burden shifts to GE to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for reprimanding
and terminating Witherspoon. GE asserts that it reprimanded Witherspoon because his
threatening statements to Kline violated its work rules, and terminated him because
plaintiff had previously received a letter of reprimand in 2004. (Mullins Aff. ¶¶ 17-18.)
GE’s burden is not onerous, and is simply one of production and not persuasion.
Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 142, 120 S. Ct. 2097, 147 L. Ed.
2d 105 (2000) (citing St. Mary’s Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 509, 113 S. Ct. 2742,
125 L. Ed. 2d 407 (1993)). GE’s stated reason for reprimanding and terminating
Witherspoon satisfies its burden of production. Under McDonnell Douglas, the burden
shifts back to plaintiff to show that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether
GE’s stated reason for reprimanding and terminating Witherspoon is a pretext for
3. Defendant’s reason is not a pretext for discrimination
“Pretext is a commonsense inquiry: did the employer fire the employee for the
stated reason or not? This requires a court to ask whether the plaintiff has produced
evidence that casts doubt on the employer’s explanation . . . at bottom the question is
always whether the employer made up its stated reason to conceal intentional
discrimination.” Chen v. Dow Chem. Co., 580 F.3d 394, 400 n.4 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing St.
Mary’s Honor Ctr., 509 U.S. at 515 (“[A] reason cannot be proved to be ‘a pretext for
discrimination’ unless it is shown both that the reason was false, and that discrimination
was the real reason.”)).
Defendant maintains that plaintiff cannot show there is a genuine dispute of fact
that GE’s non-discriminatory reason for terminating plaintiff is pretextual because GE
conducted an investigation of Kline’s allegations, determined the allegations were credible,
issued a reprimand to Witherspoon pursuant to the Ravenna MDC’s work rules 27(C)(8)
and (D)(6), and terminated Witherspoon as a consequence because of a prior reprimand. In
opposition, plaintiff argues that GE’s deficient investigation, and racial bias at its facilities,
are sufficient on summary judgment to establish that a reasonably jury could find that GE’s
stated reasons for terminating him are a pretext for intentional discrimination.
Plaintiff’s evidence of race discrimination at GE
Plaintiff believes race was the real reason for his termination. In Witherspoon’s
opinion, if similar allegations were made by an African American woman, they would have
been given less weight by GE than Kline’s allegations and he would not have been
terminated. Yet, Witherspoon is not aware of any African American woman who
complained that someone had made violent or threatening remarks against her.
(Witherspoon Dep. at 165 (49), 168 (62-64).)
As another example of alleged race discrimination at GE, Witherspoon testified that
an African American woman who worked at a GE facility other than the Ravenna MDC,
Stacy Davis, was passed over for a promotion in favor of a Caucasian woman. Plaintiff
admits, however, that he knows nothing about the credentials of the Caucasian woman who
received the promotion. (Id. 165 (50-51).) Witherspoon also testified regarding an incident
he heard about secondhand concerning a confrontation between a Mexican woman and
African American man where neither employee was terminated as a result. Witherspoon
acknowledges, however, that he was told neither individual had prior letters of reprimand
in their files. (Id. at 167 (58-60).)
As further evidence of alleged race discrimination at GE, Witherspoon testified
about an African American man named “Robinson” who was allegedly treated less
favorably by GE than a Caucasian woman for the same conduct related to “some sick role
thing” that Robinson “was trying to do on this Disability Act thing.” But plaintiff admitted
that “in plants they gossip” and “those are just things that go past you, you hear them.” (Id.
at 174 (86-87).)
Notwithstanding a lack of any examples of race discrimination at GE consisting of
more than rumor, speculation, and second-hand information, plaintiff testified that it was
“common knowledge” that there was race discrimination at GE’s facilities. (Id. at 174
(85).) None of the alleged incidents of race discrimination identified by plaintiff took place
at the Ravenna MDC. With respect to that facility, Witherspoon testified that he was not
there long enough to know of anyone being treated less favorably because their race. (Id.
at 166 (56).)
The only incident involving plaintiff where a “black person lost” took place at the
Ravenna Lamp Plant. Plaintiff describes the incident as follows:
Q. Okay. Tell me about that. We’re talking about the Ravenna Lamp Plant,
A. I was doing my job and the machine adjuster hollered at me and
went in the office. And I was questioned on what I was doing.
Q. Who was the machine adjuster who hollered at you?
Q. Do you know Ernie’s last name?
Q. What was Ernie’s race?
Q. Were you disciplined?
Q. Were you terminated?
Q. Were you demoted?
Q. Are there any other situations at the Ravenna Lamp Plant where you
think, quote, the black person lost or was treated badly or differently
because of their race?
Plaintiff’s perception of racial bias at GE facilities based on incomplete information
and hearsay is not competent evidence on summary judgment. See Jacklyn v. ScheringPlough Healthcare Prods. Sales Corp., 176 F.3d 921, 927 (6th Cir. 1999) (citation
omitted). With respect to the incident described by plaintiff at the Ravenna Lamp Plant
involving Ernie, there is no evidence that race played any role, and even if it did, there is
no evidence that Ernie was involved in the decision to reprimand and terminate plaintiff at
the Ravenna MDC in 2015. See McDonald v. Union Camp Corp., 898 F.2d 1155, 1161-62
(6th Cir. 1990) (statements of intermediate level management officials are not probative of
discrimination where the ultimate termination decision was made by an upper-level
official) (citation omitted).
Alleged deficiencies in GE’s investigation
After GE’s investigation, Mullins determined that Kline’s allegations were credible
because her account of the incident was consistent and Schaade had corroborated
surrounding events, while there were inconsistencies in Witherspoon’s account with
respect to his familiarity with Kline, although he always denied making the statements.
(Mullins Dep. at 467 (13-14), 469-70 (23-28), 474 (41).) Plaintiff does not dispute that
there were no eye witnesses to this “he said—she said” matter.
Plaintiff argues that GE’s reasons for believing Kline over plaintiff are not
convincing because Mullins admitted that he could not determine a motive for Witherspoon
to make the alleged statements to Kline, and Mullins was aware of rumored sexual
misconduct by Kline at another GE facility a number of years earlier. (Id. at 477-78 (5657).) At the time of GE’s decision, Mullins was also aware that Kline had asked
Witherspoon to be her work partner and they took work breaks together, that Kline had
asked Witherspoon to go to church with her, and that Kline had given him her phone
number. (Id. at 470 (25-28).) Plaintiff also points out that GE’s investigation did not include
the opinion of former co-workers, who described Witherspoon as peaceful, respectful, and
kind, and who had never heard Witherspoon speak in the manner described by Kline.7
According to plaintiff, defendant cannot justify its decision to believe Kline’s version of
events while ignoring and/or not seeking exculpatory evidence concerning those
allegations. Given the deficiencies in GE’s investigation, and race discrimination at GE
facilities, Witherspoon argues that a jury could reasonably doubt GE’s non-discriminatory
explanation for termination, and his prima facie case is sufficient to support an inference
of discrimination at trial. (Opp’n at 767 (citing Jones v. Honda of Am. Mfg., Inc., No. 3:13CV-167, 2015 WL 1036382, at *13 (S.D. Ohio Mar. 9, 2015).)
Plaintiff’s perceived deficiencies regarding GE’s investigation are insufficient to
create a genuine dispute of material fact on the issue of pretext. The “honest belief” rule
protects employers from a finding of pretext when they have a reasonable basis for taking
the adverse employment action at issue. Moore, 2016 WL 7097631, at *9 (citing Mulvin v.
City of Sandusky, 320 F. Supp. 2d 627, 636 (N.D. Ohio 2004) (quoting Smith v. Chrysler
Corp., 155 F.3d 799, 807 (6th Cir. 1998))). “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.’” Chen, 580 F.3d at 401 (quoting Clay v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 501 F.3d
695, 713-15 (6th Cir. 2007)). “When ‘deciding whether an employer reasonably relied on
See Opp’n at 763 (citing Doc. No. 25-12 (Affidavit of Marcia Lee) (laid off in April 2009 prior to the events
in question); Doc. No. 25-11 (Affidavit of Gail Johnson) (a former GE employee who knew plaintiff); Doc.
No. 25-10 (Deposition of David Collier, Jr.).)
the particularized facts then before it, we do not require that the decisional process used by
the employer be optimal or that it left no stone unturned. Rather, the key inquiry is whether
the employer made a reasonably informed and considered decision before taking an
adverse employment action.’” Lasher v. Medina Hosp., No. 1:15CV00005, 2016 WL
455642, at *6 (N.D. Ohio Feb. 5, 2016), appeal dismissed (May 4, 2016) (quoting Smith,
155 F.3d at 807). The role of the Court is to prevent unlawful hiring practices, not to act as
a “super personnel department” or to substitute the Court’s judgment for that of
management. Corell v. CSX Transp., Inc., 378 F. App’x 496, 505 (6th Cir. 2010) (citation
omitted); Hedrick v. W. Reserve Care Sys., 355 F.3d 444, 462 (6th Cir. 2004) (citations
Where an employee is unable to point to a material dispute as to whether the
“employer made a ‘reasonably informed and considered decision’ that demonstrates an
‘honest belief’ in the proffered reason for the adverse employment action, the case should
be dismissed since no reasonable juror could find that the employer’s adverse employment
action was pretextual.” Braithwaite v. Timken Co., 258 F.3d 488, 494 (6th Cir. 2001). In
order to raise a material dispute regarding GE’s honest belief, Witherspoon “is required to
show ‘more than a dispute over the facts upon which the discharge was based.’” Seeger v.
Cincinnati Bell Tel. Co., LLC, 681 F.3d 274, 285 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Braithwaite, 258
F.3d at 493-94). It is not even enough for plaintiff to show that GE was wrong about the
truth of the facts upon which it based its decision—he must come forward with evidence
showing that GE’s error was “‘too obvious to be unintentional.’” Id. at 286 (quoting Smith,
155 F.3d at 807).
The crux of plaintiff’s pretext argument is that if GE had conducted a more
thorough investigation, it would have found Witherspoon to be credible, not Kline. But the
“honest belief” rule does not require that GE interview every witness that plaintiff believes
it should have interviewed or to conduct a perfect investigation. Moore, 2016 WL
7097631, at *11 (citing Seegar, 681 F.3d at 286). Nor does the rule require GE’s decision
to be correct or free of error. Chen, 580 F.3d at 401. Plaintiff’s view that GE made an
incorrect credibility determination is not relevant to the analysis. Stockman v. Oakcrest
Dental Ctr., P.C., 480 F.3d 791, 802 (6th Cir. 2007) (“An employee’s opinion that he did
not perform poorly is irrelevant to establishing pretext where the employer reasonably
relied on specific facts before it indicating that the employee’s performance was poor.”);
Hedrick, 355 F.3d at 462 (citations omitted).
The Court’s inquiry is limited to determining whether GE gave an honest
explanation of its decision to reprimand Witherspoon. Hedrick, 355 F.3d at 462.
Witherspoon’s arguments that Kline’s allegations are false, that GE’s investigation was
one-sided and flawed, and that GE should have determined that he was more credible than
Kline, are insufficient under the “honest belief” rule to create a triable issue of fact on the
issue of pretext. See Larocque v. City of Eastpointe, 245 F. App’x 531, 537 (6th Cir. 2007)
(Plaintiff’s argument that defendant’s investigation was untimely, one-sided, and a coverup for retaliation does not demonstrate that the employer did not “honestly believe” the
non-discriminatory reason for its adverse employment action.) (citing Balmer v. HCA, Inc.,
423 F.3d 606 (6th Cir. 2005)). Witherspoon has put forth no evidence that creates a genuine
dispute of fact that GE did not “honestly believe” the non-discriminatory reason for its
decision to reprimand and terminate plaintiff, or upon which a jury could reasonably reject
GE’s non-discriminatory explanation for its actions. Braithwaite, 258 F.3d at 494.
Accordingly, even if plaintiff had successfully established an issue of fact with
respect to his prima facie case, defendant would still be entitled to summary judgment on
count one because plaintiff has failed to advance evidence from which a reasonable jury
could conclude that GE’s legitimate non-discriminatory reason for termination was a
pretext for race discrimination.
C. Count two—Defamation
“The essential elements of a defamation claim are as follows: (1) the defendant
made a false statement; (2) that was defamatory in nature; (3) and published to a third party;
(4) the unprivileged publication of that statement caused injury to the plaintiff; and (5) the
defendant acted with the requisite degree of fault.” Badri v. Huron Hosp., 691 F. Supp. 2d
744, 769 (N.D. Ohio 2010) (citing Akron–Canton Waste Oil v. Safety–Kleen Oil Servs.,
611 N.E.2d 955, 962 (Ohio Ct. App. 1992)). In count two, plaintiff alleges that, as a result
of GE’s “reckless and insufficient investigation and termination of Plaintiff, the defamatory
materials and statements regarding Plaintiff’s termination became public knowledge. The
defamatory materials will also become knowledge to any future employer through whom
Plaintiff seeks to achieve employment.” (Compl. ¶ 32.)
Defendant seeks summary judgment on plaintiff’s defamation claim on the grounds
that the allegedly false statements were made by Kline, who is not a party to this litigation.
In the absence of evidence that GE made a false and defamatory statements, defendant
argues that plaintiff cannot establish the essential elements of his defamation claim and GE
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In support, defendant offers plaintiff’s deposition
Q. You have claimed in your lawsuit that you have a claim for defamation
alleging that GE defamed you. Do you know what the basis is for that claim?
A. The defamation came from Michelle Kline which led to my
termination from General Electric.
Q. So your allegation is that Michelle Kline defamed you?
Q. How did Michelle Kline defame you?
A. By the false allegations.
Q. Are you alleging that GE defamed you? Or only Michelle Kline?
A. Michelle Kline said it. GE believed it or did not believe it, but I know
the end result was my termination from her defamation.
Q. What did GE say that was defamatory about you?
A. The letters from her. Her statements that they kept.
Q. So the letters from Michelle Kline – or the statements from Michelle
Kline making the allegation she did against you, that’s what you think are
Q. Did GE write anything that you believe is defamatory?
A. I didn’t really get much letters -- well, I got letters from GE through
my attorney, but the basis of it is Michelle Kline’s accusations, is what
led to my termination. Had she not defamed me, I would still be
Q. Are you aware of GE making any false statements about you?
A. GE kept me in the dark about the whole situation.
Q. So is the answer to my question no?
(Witherspoon Dep. at 170 (70-72) (bold text in original).)
In opposition, plaintiff contends that GE defamed him by negligently failing to
determine the truth or falsity of Kline’s allegations, and by adopting those allegations and
publishing the defamatory 2015 letter of reprimand and termination for “threatening and
intimidating a co-worker,” which became known by other individuals at the Ravenna MDC
“who had no need to know of that information.” (Opp’n at 770-71.) In support of the
publication element of a defamation claim, plaintiff advances the deposition testimony of
Q: What kind of things was assumed or did you hear at the plant?
A: Well, we heard that there was a confrontation of some sort and that
she—I mean this is the story that I got.
* * *Q: And what was it that you brought to Jill Schaade’s attention?
A: I told her that I did not see any wrong activity on his part. I—I had—
I told her that I had worked with him before in the plant as well as the
warehouse and that I was totally shocked by everything that I did hear
and that I believe he was getting the raw end of the deal. I just—I had
told her that, with his character that I knew of him to be, that I didn’t
think that it should have happened the way it did.
(Brunswick Dep. at 751(10-11) (bold text in original).)
Even assuming that Kline’s allegations were false and they were adopted by GE,
Witherspoon has failed to advance evidence that creates a genuine dispute of fact with
respect to an essential element of defamation under Ohio law—unprivileged publication to
a third party. The testimony of Brunswick cited by plaintiff does not establish that GE
published Kline’s allegations to individuals “who had no need to know” of Witherspoon’s
alleged threats to Kline. Indeed, Brunswick’s testimony actually shows that GE kept the
matter “very quiet.”
Q. Okay. After Shawn was terminated -- well, first of all, did you come to
learn why he was terminated?
A. I can’t really say that I heard exactly what happened because it
seemed like the situation was kept very quiet. There was not very much
discussion about it amongst, I would say, the people who knew what
happened, so I only know what was assumed, I would say, what we
Q. And you knew it was important, if you had any information, that that
was the time to share it, correct?
A. I didn’t have any specifics. I was not a witness and I did not have
Q. So you were generally -- you were just talking to Ms. Schaade about
your knowledge of Mr. Witherspoon and your work with him and your
knowledge of his character?
A. Right. Right.
Q. Okay. At that time, when you spoke to Jill Schaade, did you know what
the allegations were that Michelle Kline made against Mr. Witherspoon?
A. The actual allegations? I -- I don’t know that anybody knew the
actual allegations. I mean, like I said, I believe that they kept everything
so quiet. The only thing we talked about was, you know, whatever we
thought had happened.
(Id. at 751(10) and 753 (19-20) (bold text in original).)
To the extent that plaintiff contends GE’s 2015 letter of reprimand and termination
constitutes publication of a defamatory statement, the letter was addressed only to
Witherspoon from Schaade with a copy to Mullins. Plaintiff has advanced no evidence that
the letter was published to anyone else.
Moreover, the letter from Schaade to Witherspoon regarding the reasons for his
reprimand and termination constitutes a communication between an employer and
employee protected by a qualified privilege. Dean v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., No. 4:13-CV2622, 2015 WL 1423456, at *6 (N.D. Ohio Mar. 27, 2015), aff’d (Apr. 6, 2016) (a
communication made in good faith on a matter of common interest between an employer
and an employee is generally protected by qualified privilege) (citations omitted); Lane v.
City of Pickerington, 588 F. App’x 456, 468 (6th Cir. 2014) (defamation claim based on
false information in defendant’s letter terminating plaintiff’s employment protected by
qualified privilege). For reasons previously discussed, there is no evidence in the record
from which a reasonable jury could conclude that GE’s letter to Witherspoon was not made
in good faith, or was made with actual malice, either of which would constitute an
exception to qualified privilege. Lane, 588 F. App’x at 468-69 (“In a qualified privilege
case, ‘actual malice’ is defined as acting with knowledge that the statements are false or
acting with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity. . . . The phrase ‘reckless disregard’
applies when the publisher of defamatory statements acts with “a high degree of awareness
of their probable falsity” or when the publisher in fact entertained serious doubts as to the
truth of his publication.”) (citing Jackson v. City of Columbus, 883 N.E.2d 1060 (Ohio
2008)); Dean, 2015 WL 1423456, at *6 (same).
Plaintiff has advanced no evidence that creates a genuine dispute of fact that GE
defamed him, or published any defamatory statement about him in an unprivileged manner.
Thus, plaintiff cannot establish all of the essential elements of his defamation claim and
summary judgment is appropriate on count two of plaintiff’s complaint. See Celotex, 477
U.S. at 322-23.
D. Count three—Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Plaintiff claims that GE’s actions of communicating Kline’s allegations that
plaintiff made threatening and intimidating remarks, and terminating his employment
without an adequate investigation into the truth of those allegations, constituted extreme
and outrageous conduct that was intended to cause, and did cause, plaintiff severe
emotional distress. (Compl. ¶¶ 35-38.)
To prove intentional infliction of emotional distress in Ohio, plaintiff must show
that: (1) GE intended, or should have known, that its actions would result in serious
emotional distress; (2) GE’s conduct was so extreme and outrageous as to be “beyond all
possible bounds of decency” and “utterly intolerable in a civilized community”; (3) the
conduct was the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries; and (4) the mental anguish suffered
by plaintiff is of such a serious nature that “no reasonable man could be expected to endure
it.” Pyle v. Pyle, 463 N.E.2d 98, 103 (Ohio Ct. App. 1983) (internal quotation marks and
citations omitted). “Ohio courts have held that a party must act in an extreme and
outrageous manner, a manner in which if the story is told would extract the exclamation of
‘outrageous!’ from a reasonable person.” Hall v. United Labs, Inc., 31 F.Supp.2d 1039,
1044 (N.D. Ohio 1998) (citing Pyle, 463 N.E.2d at 103).
In opposing GE’s motion on count three, plaintiff argues that this claim is not based
only on his termination from GE, but also on GE’s adoption and publication of Kline’s
false and defamatory statements about his character following a “recklessly scarce
investigation” into the truth of the statements, which were conveyed to other individuals at
the Ravenna MDC and, with “reasonable certainty” to future employers that he had a
violent character. (Opp’n at 772.) GE argues that plaintiff’s intentional infliction of
emotional distress claim consists entirely of the same allegations upon which plaintiff
asserts his discrimination and defamation claims and, thus, is insufficient to support a claim
for intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Mot. at 511-12; Reply at 827-28.)
Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on count three of plaintiff’s
complaint because plaintiff has not established on summary judgment that there is a
genuine dispute of material fact with respect to all of the elements of his claim. As an initial
matter, “an employee’s termination, even if based upon discrimination, does not rise to the
level of ‘extreme and outrageous conduct’ without proof of something more. If such were
not true, then every discrimination claim would simultaneously become a cause of action
for the intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Godfredson v. Hess & Clark, Inc., 173
F.3d 365, 376 (6th Cir. 1999).
Second, even if GE knew that its investigation, and subsequent reprimand and
termination of Witherspoon, would cause plaintiff distress, GE is entitled to investigate
alleged violations of its work rules and impose discipline in accordance with those rules,
and it is not outrageous for GE to do so. See Johnson v. Gen. Motors Corp., No. 01-CA222, 2001 WL 1913820, at *9 (Ohio Ct. App. Oct. 17, 2001) (labor relations analyst’s actions
in interviewing an employee and investigating allegations against him by another employee
“as a matter of law, was not ‘outrageous’ or [‘]beyond all possible bounds of decency’”
because those actions were within analyst’s authority and part of his duties to resolve
problems in the plant and investigate complaints); Vitanza v. First Nat’l Supermarkets,
Inc., No. 62906, 1993 WL 226576, at *8 (Ohio Ct. App. June 24, 1993) (“[A]n employer
is not liable for an employee’s emotional distress if the employer does no more than ‘insist
upon his legal rights in a permissible way, even though he is well aware that such insistence
is certain to cause emotional distress[.]’”) (quoting Hanley v. Riverside Methodist Hosp.,
603 N.E.2d 1126, 1132 (Ohio Ct. App. 1991)); Neal v. Hamilton Cnty., 622 N.E.2d 1130,
1137 (Ohio Ct. App. 1993) (employer’s actions
concerning written reprimand,
reassignment of duties, and delivery of pre-disciplinary conference notice were taken in
accordance with personnel manual for purpose of assuring payroll office ran efficiently,
and were not outrageous or intended to cause emotional distress). Plaintiff does not claim,
or offer any evidence, that GE’s investigation of the alleged violations of its work rules
and subsequent disciplinary action was not conducted in compliance with those rules and
the collective bargaining agreement; indeed, Witherspoon’s union unsuccessfully grieved
GE’s disciplinary action but did not pursue the matter to arbitration.
Finally, with respect to the last element of an intentional infliction of emotional
distress claim, plaintiff alleges that he has experienced severe and permanent emotional
distress and serious psychological injuries as a consequence of GE’s conduct. (Compl. ¶¶
37-38.) For purposes of an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, the mental
anguish suffered must be very serious—“beyond trifling mental disturbance, mere upset or
hurt feelings.” Paugh v. Hanks, 451 N.E.2d 759, 765 (Ohio 1983). The emotional injury
must be “both severe and debilitating[ ]” such that a reasonable person “would be unable
to cope adequately with the mental distress engendered by the circumstances of the case.”
Id. (citations omitted). “[S]ome examples of serious emotional distress . . . include
traumatically induced neurosis, psychosis, chronic depression, or phobia.” Id. (citation
At his deposition, Witherspoon testified that he was diagnosed with anxiety in 2012
and prescribed alprazolam. (Witherspoon Dep. at 157 (18-19).) Plaintiff testified that the
amount of alprazolam he takes has been increased as a consequence of the emotional
distress caused by defendant in 2015. (Id. at 171 (74-75).) That said, plaintiff does not take
alprazolam every day—just during stressful times. (Id. at 198 (181), 217 (257-58).) Since
being terminated from GE, Witherspoon has worked at various assignments through
temporary staffing agencies, and continues to attend church regularly. (Id. at 171 (75-76)
and 218 (261-63.) The record is devoid of any evidence that plaintiff has suffered the kind
of severe and debilitating emotional distress as a consequence of the events surrounding
his termination from GE that is required to support an intentional infliction of emotional
Based on the undisputed record, no reasonable jury could conclude that GE’s
conduct rose to the level of extreme and outrageous conduct that went beyond all bounds
of human decency so as to be utterly intolerable in a civilized society, or that plaintiff
suffered the kind of emotional distress that made him unable to cope or function as a
consequence. Accordingly, defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on
plaintiff's claim in count three for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
For all of the foregoing reasons, defendant’s motion for summary judgment on all
counts of plaintiff’s complaint is granted.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: April 14, 2017
HONORABLE SARA LIOI
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?