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Rivera v. U.S. Tsubaki, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 5, 2015

U.S. TSUBAKI, INC., Defendant

For Leslie Rivera, Plaintiff: Michael O. Shea, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of Michael O. Shea, P.C., Wilbraham, MA.

For U.S. Tsubaki, Inc., Defendant: Jay M. Presser, Skoler, Abbott & Presser, Springfield, MA; Kimberly A. Klimczuk, Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., Springfield, MA.


(Dkt. No. 6)

MARK G. MASTROIANNI, United States District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff, Leslie Rivera, filed a two-count complaint in state court alleging Defendant, U.S. Tsubaki, Inc., her former employer discriminated and retaliated against her on the basis of her gender or sexual orientation in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B. Defendant, an Illinois corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois, removed the case from state court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, asserting this court has original jurisdiction in the action under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.[1] Less than two weeks after removing this action to federal court, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 6). For the following reasons, that motion will be denied.

II. Factual Background[2]

On July 9, 2001, Defendant hired Plaintiff as a Guide Assembler. (Dkt. No. 16, First Amended Complaint (hereinafter F.A.C.) ¶ 3.) She became a member of the United Steel Workers of America, Local 7912 Union (the " Union" ) and the terms of her employment were governed by a collective bargaining agreement (the " CBA" ). (F.A.C. ¶ ¶ 4, 9.) In September 2001 she was promoted to the position of Group Leader. (F.A.C. ¶ 4.) At the time of her promotion, Group Leader was a labor grade six; in May 2007 the position was changed to a labor grade seven. (F.A.C. ¶ ¶ 4-5.)

A. Plaintiff's First MCAD Complaint

In November 2008, following her April 2008 marriage to her spouse, Marilyn Kent, Plaintiff requested Defendant add her spouse to her health insurance policy. (F.A.C. ¶ ¶ 7.) The request was initially granted, but, approximately six months later, Plaintiff was informed that her spouse would no longer receive health insurance benefits because individuals at Defendant's corporate headquarters in Illinois had decided not to provide benefits to same-sex spouses. (F.A.C. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff filed a grievance with the Union, asserting Defendant's action violated Article Thirty-Three of the CBA.[3] (F.A.C. ¶ 10.) The Union forwarded the grievance to arbitration. (F.A.C. ¶ 12.) Several weeks later, on or about June 30, 2009, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (" MCAD" ), alleging discrimination based on her sexual orientation. (F.A.C. ¶ 11.)

The arbitrator found that Defendant's decision not to provide health benefits to Plaintiff's spouse had violated the CBA's non-discrimination clause. Defendant was ordered to restore coverage to Plaintiff's spouse and to compensate Plaintiff for any covered costs incurred as a result of the denial of health insurance benefits. (F.A.C. ¶ 12.) When Defendant reinstated Plaintiff's spouse's health insurance coverage, it charged Plaintiff more for the coverage than it charged employees with opposite-sex spouses. (F.A.C. ¶ 13.)

In October 2011, MCAD issued a finding of probable cause against Defendant, having found the denial of spousal health insurance benefits was directly related to Plaintiff's sexual orientation. (F.A.C. ¶ 14.) Six months later, MCAD entered an order allowing for post-determination discovery. (F.A.C. ¶ 22.) About two weeks later, Defendant sent Plaintiff correspondence stating a " system error" had caused Plaintiff to be overcharged for medical benefits during 2011 and 2012. (F.A.C. ¶ 23.) Defendant later sought to enjoin MCAD from adjudicating the discrimination claim. (F.A.C. ¶ 31.) In 2013 the parties agreed to a stipulation of dismissal in that case, with Plaintiff reserving her right to file this action. (F.A.C. ¶ 33.)

B. Plaintiff's Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation Claims

Around October 2011, when MCAD issued its finding of probable cause, Plaintiff began applying for other positions within Defendant. (F.A.C. ¶ 16.) Article Eight of the CBA, entitled Job Posting (Bidding), provided that open positions in Grades 6-12 were to be awarded " to the qualified applicant with the greatest seniority" and a process for identifying qualified applicants was to be developed by Defendant and the Union pursuant to a referenced Letter of Understanding.[4] No. 13-1, CBA, Ex. A to Pl.'s Opp. to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss 7.) Consistent with the process developed by Defendant and the Union, Defendant used a Job Posting Evaluation Chart (the " Chart" ) to fill certain positions.[5] (F.A.C. ¶ 17.) Points are recorded on the Chart in eight categories and the applicant with the most points is to be awarded the position.[6] (F.A.C. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff asserts that when she applied for open positions she was not always assigned the correct number of points on the Chart to reflect her current labor grade, attendance, or years of service. (F.A.C. ¶ 19.) These errors caused her to be passed over for open positions when, had her points ...

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