United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
MARGARET L. WHITE, Plaintiff,
BUCKEYE FIRE EQUIPMENT COMPANY, Defendant.
Cogburn Jr. United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the court on defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment. Having considered this motion and
reviewed the pleadings, the court enters the following Order.
develops and manufactures fire protection products. Plaintiff
is a former employee of defendant's. Plaintiff obtained
her welding certification while in prison, but does not have
any certifications allowing her to weld on tanks graded by
the American Society of Mechanical Engineers
(“ASME”). In July 2014, plaintiff began working
for defendant as a welder through a temporary agency. On
October 13, 2014, defendant hired plaintiff as an at-will
welder in its wheeled engine department, with a pay rate of
$12.00 per hour.
February 3, 2015, defendant hired Carolyn Lanier as its Human
Resources Manager. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff asked Lanier
for a raise, expressing displeasure and a belief that others
were receiving raises but she was not. Plaintiff thought that
employees received a raise after 90 days of employment, but
Lanier told plaintiff that defendant only issued pay
increases based on merit. However, after Lanier heard from
more employees expecting raises after 90 days, she discussed
providing merit raises with Plant Manager Gerald Culp. As a
result, defendant issued merit raises. On June 15, 2015,
plaintiff's hourly rate was increased from $12.00 to
September 16, 2015, plaintiff was using a disc grinder to
grind a piece of rod stock and the machine caught the gloves
she was wearing, pulling her hand into the machine and
partially amputating her finger. Lanier proceeded to initiate
a workers' compensation claim for plaintiff. Plaintiff
was out of work due to her finger injury until October 12,
2015, when she returned with lifting restrictions. Lanier
told Culp about the restrictions and asked if any
accommodations or open positions were available, since
plaintiff's welding position required regular and
repeated lifting of at least 25 pounds. Defendant lacked the
staff to provide plaintiff with the frequent lifting
assistance required for her to remain in her welding
position, so Culp placed plaintiff in the CO2 department to
accommodate her, since that role only required lifting up to
ten pounds. Plaintiff continued to be paid $13.00 per hour.
On December 17, 2015, plaintiff's lifting restriction
remained at ten pounds, so she remained in the CO2
first year of employment with defendant was rife with
disciplinary problems, with six disciplinary actions ranging
from written verbal warnings to a 3-day suspension. Much of
plaintiff's discipline resulted from her poor
cooperation, the creation of a hostile work environment, and
arguments with co-workers. Plaintiff's disciplinary
problems continued into the CO2 department. On November 10,
2015, plaintiff received a written warning following a verbal
altercation with co-worker Danny Weaver. The same day,
plaintiff received a second written warning after she left
defendant's facility without clocking out.
the investigation into the Weaver incident, plaintiff
reported to Lanier that she felt she had been targeted by
other welders because she was the only female welder in the
wheeled engine department. Lanier promptly investigated
plaintiff's report. Although Lanier could not
substantiate plaintiff's claim, Lanier discovered that
much of plaintiff's prior discipline resulted from
reports made by employees who had since been terminated, and
Lanier decided to remove the prior discipline in the wheeled
engine department from plaintiff's personnel file. The
discipline from the CO2 department, for the Weaver incident
and failing to clock out, remained.
January 26, 2016, plaintiff slipped and fell on ice in the
parking lot. Plaintiff was written out of work until January
29, 2016. Plaintiff was already scheduled to undergo a second
surgery on her injured finger on February 2, 2016. Defendant
gave plaintiff time off between her January 29 release and
the February 2 surgery.
February 18, 2016, plaintiff was released to return to work
with a lifting restriction of no more than 5 pounds. Upon
receiving the restriction, Lanier immediately asked Culp
whether any accommodations or open positions were available.
Culp informed Lanier that all positions require employees to
lift at least ten pounds, and that defendant lacked
sufficient personnel to provide White with lifting
assistance. Lanier then informed plaintiff's workers'
compensation case manager, and plaintiff received full
workers' compensation benefits while out of work.
March 1, 2016, plaintiff filed suit with the EEOC, alleging
sex discrimination, disability discrimination, retaliation
for engaging in protected activity, and Equal Pay Act
(“EPA”) violations. On March 14, 2016, White also
filed North Carolina Department of Labor
(“NCDOL”) Complaint No. 148-16, alleging a
violation of the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act
April 4, 2016, White provided a doctor's note increasing
her lifting restriction to 7 pounds. Lanier asked Culp
whether any accommodations or open positions were available.
Culp again informed Lanier that all positions require lifting
of at least ten pounds, and that defendant lacked sufficient
personnel to provide White with regular lifting assistance.
On April 6, 2016, Lanier told plaintiff that defendant could
not accommodate her lifting restriction, and assured her that
she would continue to receive full workers' compensation
amended her charge with the EEOC on April 18, 2016, now
claiming additional acts of disability discrimination based
on defendant's alleged failure to accommodate her
disability and retaliation for filing with the EEOC and
7-pound lifting restriction continued until June 28, 2016,
when plaintiff emailed Lanier a doctor's note releasing
her to full duty. Lanier instructed plaintiff to report to
work on July 5, 2016, at 6:00 A.M., after the Fourth of July
holiday. Plaintiff then emailed Lanier a new doctor's
note, dated June 30, 2016, stating that she was to remain out
of work until her Functional Capacity Evaluation. Plaintiff
admitted in her ...