United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Lavender sued her former employer, Protective Life
Corporation, alleging that it discharged her because she is
an African American, in violation of Title VII of the Civil
Rights Acts of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. Doc. 1.
Protective moved for summary judgment, arguing that Lavender
cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination, or,
alternatively, cannot demonstrate that the proffered reason
for her termination is pretextual. Doc. 104. The motion is
fully briefed and ripe for decision. Docs. 108 & 110.
After reading the briefs, viewing the evidence, and
considering the relevant law, the court grants the motion and
dismisses the case in its entirety.
LEGAL STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary
judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56. “Rule 56 mandates the entry of summary judgment,
after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a
party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party's case,
and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at
trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322 (1986) (alteration in original). The moving party
bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine
issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then
shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to “go
beyond the pleadings” to establish that there is a
“genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324
(internal quotations omitted). A dispute about a material
fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
summary judgment, the court must construe the evidence and
all reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S. H. Kress
& Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); see also
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Any factual disputes will be
resolved in the non-moving party's favor when sufficient
competent evidence supports the non-moving party's
version of the disputed facts. See Pace v.
Capobianco, 283 F.3d 1275, 1276, 1278 (11th Cir. 2002)
(a court is not required to resolve disputes in the
non-moving party's favor when that party's version of
events is supported by insufficient evidence). However,
“mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations
are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment
motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326
(11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park,
Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)).
Moreover, “[a] mere ‘scintilla' of evidence
supporting the opposing party's position will not
suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury
could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v.
Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252)).
an African American woman, began her employment with
Protective Life in December 1999 and was eventually assigned
to the Life and Annuities Marketing Department in 2010. Docs.
1; 104 at 4-5; 108 at 2. The relevant events here occurred in
2012 and 2013, beginning in March 2012 with Teri
Schultz's appointment as Vice President of Marketing.
Docs. 1; 104 at 4-5; 108 at 2.
her appointment, Schultz restructured the department, which
entailed, in part, giving many of the employees under her
supervision, including Lavender, new job descriptions. Docs.
104 at 5; 108 at 2. As part of the restructuring, Schultz met
with employees to discuss their new roles. Docs. 104 at 5;
108 at 2. When Schultz met with Lavender, she discussed
Lavender's new position, “Marketing Communications
Specialist, ” which involved the support of both life
insurance and annuities. Docs. 104 at 6; 108 at 2. Schultz
and Lavender also met on other occasions where Lavender had
the opportunity to discuss her ongoing work and interests.
Docs. 104 at 7; 108 at 3.
annual performance reviews reflect that she performed well in
2009, 2010, and 2011. Doc. 105-1 at 108-28. Over time, however,
Protective grew increasingly frustrated with Lavender's
performance. In January 2013, Schultz gave Lavender an
overall rating of “does not meet expectations”
for the 2012 performance review period. Docs. 104 at 9; 108
at 4; 105-1 at 158-61. When Schultz discussed the review with
Lavender, she outlined the specific areas where Lavender
needed to improve and instructed Lavender to create a
development plan. Docs. 104 at 9-10; 108 at 4-5. Despite
Schultz's warning, problems with Lavender's
performance persisted. For example, the accounts team
reported that they found Lavender's marketing monthly
update “more confusing than helpful.” Doc. 105-1
at 162-63. Also, Lavender disregarded specific instructions
from Schultz and worked on the Church Life
project. Doc. 105-1 at 41.
after Schultz initially provided the directive for a
development plan, she reiterated the request that Lavender
build out a plan to “close the gaps in her performance
. . . in order to sufficiently fulfill” her duties.
Doc. 105-1 at 166. When Lavender finally complied, Schultz
expressed her disappointment, explaining that Lavender's
“plan” consisted “simply [of] some generic
goals” and that it failed to address the performance
deficiencies that Schultz had raised. Doc. 105-1 at 167.
the same time, Schultz hired Dan Sheehan as 2nd Vice
President of Marketing Communications. Docs. 104 at 6; 108 at
2. In this capacity, Sheehan directly supervised Lavender.
Docs. 104 at 6, 11; 108 at 2, 6. At Schultz's
instruction, Sheehan began working with Lavender on her
development plan. Docs. 104 at 11; 108 at 6. On April 15,
2013, Schultz had Sheehan deliver to Lavender a written
warning which detailed multiple performance deficiencies and
placed Lavender on notice that failure to improve would
result in further disciplinary action, including termination.
Docs. 104 at 11; 105-1 at 44; 108 at 6; 110 at 4. Lavender
understood after meeting with Sheehan and receiving the
written warning what Protective expected of her and knew that
her job was in jeopardy. Docs. 104 at 12; 108 at 6.
Thereafter, Sheehan met with Lavender weekly until he
resigned in July 2013. Docs. 104 at 12; 108 at 6.
on her belief that Lavender had failed to improve, Schultz
issued Lavender a final warning in late July. Docs. 105-1 at
50-53, 180-92; 105-1 at 193-94. The warning detailed
performance deficiencies, outlining fourteen specific
problems with examples of each. Doc. 105-1 at 193-94. Schultz
gave Lavender a month to improve. Doc. 105-1 at 193-94.
Schultz met with Lavender approximately a week later and
discussed Lavender's performance problems, explaining
that Lavender reverted too easily to administrative tasks,
demonstrated a lack of urgency, did not maintain good office
hours, did not write well, and demonstrated a lack of
critical thinking. Docs. 104 at 13; 108 at 7.
final infraction occurred about a month later when she
falsely informed Select Quote, a major client of Protective,
that Protective no longer sold term insurance policies. Docs.
105-3 at 21; 105-1 at 55-56, 96. When Aaron Seurkamp,
Protective's Senior Vice President of Life Sales,
received Lavender's inaccurate communication from Select
Quote, he forwarded it to Schultz. Docs. 104 at 14; 105-1 at
95; 108 at 7. Schultz, in turn, reported the incident to Mark
Huffman, one of Protective's human resources partners,
stating that “[t]his is a situation where [Lavender]
used very poor judgment that could impact this relationship
and our business.” Docs. 104 at 14; 105-1 at 95; 108 at
7; 105-2 at 3-5. Based on this incident and the issues
outlined in the final warning, Schultz and Huffman discharged
Lavender. The termination resulted in this lawsuit, in which
Lavender asserts a single claim of race
discrimination. Doc. 1.