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Sirasombath v. Waters Corp.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 24, 2015



RICHARD G. STEARNS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Virouna Sirasombath is suing her former employer, Waters Corporation, and her immediate supervisor, Paul Ferreira, alleging that they discriminated against her on the basis of her national origin (Laotian) in violation of state and federal law (Counts VII and VIII). She also alleges that both defendants retaliated against her for bringing the discrimination claim (Counts V and VI). Finally, Sirasombath asserts that Waters failed to pay her regular wages and overtime in violation of the Massachusetts Wage Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151, § 1A (Count I), and ch. 149, §§ 148, 150 (Count II), and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 201 (Counts III and IV). Defendants move for summary judgment on all counts.


The facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Sirasombath as the nonmoving party, are as follows. Sirasombath immigrated to the United States from Laos. Defs.' Stmt. of Facts (DSOF) ¶ 1. She began working at Waters in May of 2006 as a Bulk Synthesis Operator I. DSOF ¶ 2. Waters's Bulk Synthesis Department, which is located in Taunton, Massachusetts, manufactures chemicals. Id. ¶ 6. The Taunton facility is overseen by Ferreira. Id. ¶ 5. It has four work areas: the low volume laboratory where glassware reactions take place; suites 1 and 2 in which "large" reactors (ranging in capacity from 7 to 500 gallons) are located; and suite 3 where a "sizing" process is performed. Id. ¶ 7. Waters values employees with adaptable skills who "can move around and relocate" among the four processing areas. Id. ¶ 9.

Waters subscribes to a "pay for performance" compensation program that rewards employees for their versatility as well as their performance. Id. ¶¶ 13, 15. Salary increases are based on an employee's overall evaluation. Id. ¶ 18. Each year, shift leaders rank the floor operators based on performance level, skills, training, work ethic, and eagerness to learn and help others. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. The rankings are then submitted to a supervisor who, after preparing a written performance review, decides whether or not to award the employee a salary increase. Id. ¶ 20.

Sirasombath was hired by Waters in 2006 at an hourly wage of $16.50. She alleges that over time her fellow operators' wages increased "well beyond" hers. Compl. ¶¶ 6-7. Waters has provided an undisputed wage history for the years 2006 to 2013 for the five employees (demarcated A through E and further identified by ethnicity) who began their employment at the same time as Sirasombath with a similar experience level. DSOF ¶ 25. In 2006, the starting hourly wages of the comparators were: $16.00 for A (White); $17.00 for B (White); $16.50 for C (White); $16.00 for D (White); $16.00 for E (African American); and $16.50 for Sirasombath (Asian). Id. In 2007, the respective wages were: $16.93 for A; $17.68 for B; $18.01 for C; $16.97 for D; $16.17 for E; and $17.01 for Sirasombath. Id. ¶ 27. In 2008, employees A through D were promoted to Synthesis Operator II at an increased hourly wage: $19.90 for A; $19.90 for B; $20.31 for C; $19.90 for D; while Sirasombath was paid $17.65 (E was paid $16.78). Id. ¶ 28. In 2009, there were no salary increases.[1] Id. ¶ 29. By 2010, all five employees (including E), but not Sirasombath, had been promoted to Synthesis Operator II. The wage allocations were: $20.84 for A; $20.26 for B; $20.90 for C; $20.88 for D; $18.74 for E; and $17.93 for Sirasombath. Id. ¶ 30. In 2011, Sirasombath was promoted to Synthesis Operator II. The wages for that year were: $21.56 for A; $20.62 for B; $20.90 for C; $23.12 for D; $20.43 for E; and $19.04 for Sirasombath. Id. ¶ 31. In 2012, the wages were: $22.26 for A; $21.14 for B; $22.07 for C; $24.04 for D (who had been promoted to section leader); $20.99 for E; and $19.94 for Sirasombath. Id. ¶ 32. Finally, in 2013, the wages were: $22.59 for A; $21.46 for B; $22.07 for C; $24.88 for D; $22.36 for E; and $19.94 for Sirasombath. Id. ¶ 33.

Sirasombath also alleges that she was "deprived" of overtime and received "far less" in overtime hours than other employees. Compl. ¶ 16. The total number of overtime hours for all employees at Waters was 5, 561.5 in 2010, 4, 273.5 in 2011, 2, 552.5 in 2012, and 3, 073 in 2013. DSOF ¶ 57. Sirasombath worked 123.75 hours of overtime in 2010, 95.25 hours in 2011, 65.75 hours in 2012, and 70 hours in 2013. Susan Bird Aff., Ex. Q. Between February and June of 2012, Sirasombath worked eight days of overtime, and between July and December of 2012, seven days of overtime. Id. ¶ 58. From January 1 to August 31, 2013, Sirasombath worked fifteen days of overtime. Id. ¶ 59.

Ferreira, in evaluating Sirasombath's performance, noted that while she was a "good operator" when it came to low volume glassware processing, she needed to gain experience operating large scale reactors. Id. ¶¶ 8, 34, 37. In 2010, Sirasombath's performance review encouraged her to "[l]earn [to] operate the different pieces of equipment for implementing reactions, filtrations, and drying at the large and glassware-scale." Joan Ackerstein Aff., Ex. M. Ferreira repeated his urgings in 2011 and 2012 that Sirasombath develop more flexible skills. DSOF ¶¶ 38-39. In November of 2012, Sirasombath complained to Human Resources Manager Susan Bird about her wages and dearth of overtime. Id. ¶ 50. Bird suggested that Sirasombath seek opportunities to work in the large scale reactor area to enlarge her skill set. Id. ¶ 51.

On March 7, 2013, Sirasombath was assigned to work with a large scale 300-gallon reactor. Id. ¶ 61-63. She was responsible for "charging" the reactor with ammonium hydroxide. Id. ¶ 66. After successfully charging the reactor twice, the vacuum pump attached to the drum of ammonium malfunctioned. Id. ¶ 67. Sirasombath alerted her section leader, Manuel Pereira, and repaired the pump. Id. ¶ 68. At Pereira's suggestion, Sirasombath removed her respirator to better read the floor scale. Id. ¶ 69. As she did so, she inhaled ammonium vapor. Id. Sirasombath subsequently sought medical treatment at the Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Id. ¶¶ 71, 73. In September of 2013, as a result of the chemical exposure, Sirasombath took medical leave complaining of a memory impairment. Id. ¶ 72. In March of 2014, after being told by her healthcare provider that Sirasombath could no longer work in a chemical manufacturing environment, Waters terminated her. Id. ¶ 3.

Prior to bringing this lawsuit, Sirasombath filed a charge against Waters with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In the charge, which she filed on May 9, 2012, Sirasombath alleged that she had been discriminated against on the basis of race, national origin, age, and gender. The EEOC dismissed the charge on June 19, 2012, and issued Sirasombath a right to sue notice. Bird Aff., Exs. A, B. On January 18, 2013, Sirasombath filed a second charge against Waters alleging retaliation. The EEOC dismissed the charge on May 30, 2013. Bird Aff., Exs. C, D. The instant Complaint was filed in the federal district court on August 27, 2013.


Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when, based upon the pleadings, affidavits, and depositions, "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "To succeed, the moving party must show that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's position." Rogers v. Fair, 902 F.2d 140, 143 (1st Cir. 1990). Although all reasonable inferences are drawn in the nonmovant's favor, the court cannot "draw unreasonable inferences or credit bald assertions, empty conclusions, rank conjecture, or vitriolic invective.'" Pina v. Children's Place, 740 F.3d 785, 795 (1st Cir. 2014), quoting Cabán Hernández v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 486 F.3d 1, 8 (1st Cir. 2007). "Even in cases where elusive concepts such as motive or intent are at issue, summary ...

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