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Banks v. John Deere and Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 14, 2016

Lovelle Banks Plaintiff- Appellant
John Deere and Company; John Deere Waterloo Works Defendants-Appellees

          Submitted: April 13, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa - Waterloo

          Before RILEY, Chief Judge, LOKEN and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          RILEY, Chief Judge.

         Lovelle Banks, an African American man, sued John Deere & Company and John Deere Waterloo Works (collectively, Deere), alleging race discrimination and harassment in employment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965 (ICRA), Iowa Code § 216.1 et seq. The district court[1] granted summary judgment to Deere, finding Banks failed to produce sufficient evidence to support his claims. Banks appeals, [2] and we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts

         Banks joined Deere in 2004 and by December 2007 worked his way up to his current position of machinist. Banks operates a grinder on second shift in Department 524 of Deere's Waterloo Works plant, which manufactures tractors. Dean Mullen operates the grinder on first shift, and Sharm Loy operates the grinder on third shift. Both Mullen and Loy are white. Diane Kofron, a white woman, supervised Banks at the relevant time.

         Banks is a member of the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (union) and is subject to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the union and Deere. The CBA provided for progressive discipline administered by Deere's Labor Relations Department.

         The CBA permitted Deere to impose a three-day suspension if an employee failed to work a scheduled shift. Banks received such a suspension in June 2011. The suspension was "paper only, " meaning Banks never actually served the suspension, but it remained on his disciplinary record for purposes of progressive discipline.

         On February 14, 2012, Banks received the next step of discipline-a two-week paper-only suspension for failing to work scheduled overtime. The next step in the disciplinary process would be a thirty-day suspension. On February 28, 2013, Deere and the union agreed that employees who failed to work scheduled overtime would receive the equivalent of a written warning rather than a three-day suspension. Although the change was retroactive, Deere did not initially correct Banks's disciplinary record, leaving the false impression Banks was subject to a thirty-day suspension for any further infraction.

         On January 15, 2013, Loy, whom Banks accuses of repeatedly using racial epithets, called Deere's compliance hotline and complained Kofron was failing to address Banks's deficient performance and insubordination. In particular, Loy complained Kofron was not managing Banks's failure to set up the grinder and process parts properly. Loy also reported Banks called Kofron a "bitch" in front of her and told her to "shut the fuck up."

         Deere assigned Brad Thomas from the Labor Relations Department to investigate. After speaking with Banks's co-workers, Thomas concluded Kofron was not effectively managing Banks and gave Kofron some coaching. Thomas, Kofron, and a member of Deere's human resources department also met with Banks to advise him he would face consequences if he failed to improve his performance and his attitude. Banks did not receive any progressive discipline as a result of Loy's complaint.

         In March 2013, Rizah Sarajlija, a manufacturing engineer in Department 524, determined the department was "running scrap"-producing parts out of compliance with Deere's manufacturing specifications. Inspection reports indicated the problem could be caused by "swarf"-grind residue consisting of fine metal shavings-getting between the grinder and the work piece. Sarajlija concluded the part defects were consistent with a grinder operator failing to blow the swarf off the grinder fixture between parts as required by Deere procedure. Although Banks assured Kofron and Sarajlija he was blowing off his grinder between parts, Deere inspectors tested twenty-four parts Banks produced and determined eight were defective.

         On March 11, 2013, Kofron received a photograph from an inspector depicting Banks's grinder, allegedly after Banks had operated it.[3] The picture showed excessive swarf on the grinder-far more than that left by one part. Mullen reported he found the grinder in that condition before his shift. Based on the work schedule that day, Kofron determined Banks had used the grinder on the prior shift. After seeing the photograph, Sarajlija did some testing and determined four parts Banks ran during his last shift were scrap. The part defects were consistent with excessive ...

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