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Circuit Court Affirms Summary Judgment Ruling for Gregory Longworth

February 3, 2022

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a ruling that granted summary judgment in favor of a machining company represented by Grand Rapids Senior Attorney Gregory Longworth. The plaintiff in the case claimed the company had discharged her in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and also violated the Equal Pay Act for paying her a lower commission rate than other positions.

Case Recap

The plaintiff was hired for the business originally as a telemarketer before being promoted to an inside sales position in 2009 and continued in that role until being discharged in Nov. 2015.

On Aug. 19, 2015, the plaintiff announced to her co-workers that she was pregnant, and testified that two of her colleagues had negative reactions to the news. On Oct. 15, the president of the company asked the plaintiff about her plans for maternity leave, and the plaintiff testified that the president was relieved to learn that she planned to return to work full-time. During a Nov. 5 performance review, the plaintiff received a raise and the president suggested they finalize her maternity leave plans.

At the beginning of November, the president announced a new sales promotion that would consume the inside sales department’s time beginning Monday, Nov. 9. But, on Nov. 6, a co-worker of the plaintiff in the same inside sales department quit her job. Also on that day, the plaintiff submitted a last-minute request to take vacation the following week, which became the central focus of her discharge.

Two calls occurred between the plaintiff and president on the subject of her vacation request. The circuit court opinion states that the plaintiff and president had conflicting views on the content of the first call, and the plaintiff asserted that the president approved her vacation and that the office manager approved the vacation request, a point the company disputed. But there was no dispute that the second call resulted in the president threatening to fire the plaintiff if she took the next week off.

“The plaintiff argued that factual disputes about the first call and the supposed vacation request approval precluded summary judgment; we were able to defeat those arguments by focusing the court’s attention on the second call, where any permission that had supposedly been granted earlier was clearly revoked,” Longworth explained.

A second key in disputing the Pregnancy Act Discrimination claim occurred when the plaintiff conceded that she was not aware of anyone (other than herself) whom she thought was “treated unfairly because of a pregnancy or maternity leave,” the circuit court opinion’s said. “This concession allowed us to counter the plaintiff’s assertion that the company had mistreated her,” Longworth said.

On the Equal Pay Act claim, the plaintiff alleged that a male employee in the outside sales department was less qualified or less skilled than her, but the court wrote that the plaintiff’s claim failed to establish a prima facie case under the Equal Pay Act.

“The task is to compare the jobs they performed, ‘showing that those jobs are substantially equal, not by comparing the skills and qualifications of the individual employees holding those jobs,’” the court wrote. Yet, in her deposition testimony, the plaintiff described many differences between the skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions for their jobs. The district court previously summarized numerous differences between the outside and inside sales positions, and the circuit court agreed that the roles were not substantially equal.

“One key to success on the Equal Pay Act claim was being well prepared for the plaintiff’s deposition to draw out the testimony that ultimately led to the dismissal of that claim,” Longworth added.

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