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Wilkins v. International Paper Co.

December 18, 2006

DORIS WILKINS PLAINTIFF
v.
INTERNATIONAL PAPER COMPANY DEFENDANT



ORDER

Pending is Defendant International Paper Company's Motion for Summary Judgment,*fn1 to which Plaintiff Doris Wilkins responded.*fn2 Also pending are Defendant's Motion to Strike*fn3 and Plaintiff's attorney's Motion to Withdraw, and Motion for a Continuance.*fn4

This is a race, sex, and age discrimination case brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"); 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq. ("Title VII");and, 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Plaintiff Doris Wilkins ("Wilkins") is a 44 year old African-American female who worked for Defendant International Paper Company ("International Paper") from 1986 to September 2003, when her job was eliminated. Wilkins alleges that she was subjected to a racially hostile work environment beginning in 2000 through 2003. Wilkins also alleges that she was terminated because of her age, sex, and race.

In its Motion, International Paper argues that Wilkins's age discrimination claim was untimely; she failed to exhaust her Title VII claim; and she cannot make out a prima facie case of age or race discrimination. In her response, Wilkins concedes that she did not exhaust the gender claim.

I. Background

Wilkins worked for International Paper for over 18 years and preformed "virtually every job in the quality control area."*fn5 In February 1995, Wilkins went into the engineering program at International Paper,*fn6 and was promoted to supervisor in the quality assurance laboratory. George Wiley was one of Wilkins's supervisors during the time she worked in the lab. In 2002, Wilkins was transferred to another position as a quality engineer for coated papers.*fn7 In September 2003, as part of a reduction in force, Wilkins's quality engineer job was eliminated, and she was terminated.

At the time of Wilkins's termination, Gary Castel was the most senior person in the quality assurance department, she was second, and Glen Brand was third. Castel was the only employee, of the three quality engineers, whose job was not eliminated.*fn8 Glen Brand was also a quality engineer, and, despite his seniority, he was terminated. Wilkins alleges that it is unwritten company policy to consider seniority within a department as a whole, before selecting employees for elimination. In this case, Wilkins's seniority was ignored and she was terminated based on her job category.*fn9 Wilkins states that she was told by human resources that her termination violated company policy when her seniority was overlooked.*fn10 She believes that she was moved out of the quality assurance lab and made a quality engineer so that she could be terminated, but she admits that she has no evidence to support this belief.*fn11

Wilkins maintains that she had more experience and more seniority than two employees who remained in the quality assurance department: Eric Kincaid, a 31 year old white male, who was managing the department; and Sarah Pates, a 35 year old black female, who was supervising the lab.

International Paper counters that it does not have policies which require the termination of the most junior employees in each department. Instead, International Paper considers seniority when it reduces the number of employees who are preforming the same or similar jobs.*fn12

In addition to alleging discriminatory termination, Wilkins asserts that she was harassed, between 2000 and 2003, because of her race. She alleges that, during this time period, she was subjected to a hostile work environment by George Wiley ("Wiley"), Tarsha Montgomery ("Montgomery"), John Jordan ("Jordan"), and John Marler ("Marler").

Wilkins believes that Wiley created a hostile work environment when he: (1) threatened to find some "dirt"on her;*fn13 (2) gave her an unfair performance evaluation;*fn14 (3) refused to give her supplies or other assistance;*fn15 (4) assigned her a greater workload;*fn16 and, (5) when he undermined her relationship with her subordinates and co-employees.*fn17 Jordan allegedly harassed Wilkins by mumbling that, "she was messing with the big dogs," and that she "must be on drugs." Wilkins alleges that Montgomery engaged in harassing conduct by directing an employee to ignore Wilkins's instructions during a testing procedure, which compromised the results.*fn18 Wilkins believes that Marler took part in the harassment when he allegedly conspired with Montgomery to interfere with the testing process. Wilkins also believes that Marler has a problem with African-American women which was apparent when Marler edited her reports. According to Wilkins, Marler also conspired with Wiley to deprive her of work supplies.*fn19

There is no evidence that these individuals made racially derogatory remarks to Wilkins.

Wilkins was terminated on September 26, 2003, and she filed a charge with the EEOC on October 21, 2004 -- over a year later. Her charge alleged age discrimination and did not mention gender or race. Wilkins argues that International Paper led her to believe that her termination was being investigated, and, because of this, she waited to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue of material fact, so that the dispute may be decided on purely legal grounds.*fn20 The Supreme Court has established guidelines to assist trial courts in determining whether this standard has been met:

The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial -- whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because ...


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