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Wells v. Crst Malone Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

December 28, 2017

BARBARA J. WELLS, Plaintiff,
CRST MALONE, INC., Defendant.



         This case is before the court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 25). The parties have fully briefed the motion (Docs. # 27, 32-34), and it is under submission. After careful review, and for the reasons explained below, the court concludes Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 25) is due to be granted.

         I. Factual Background[1]

         Plaintiff worked for Defendant, a flat-bed trucking company, from 1980 to 2013. (See Docs. # 26-1 at 64; 26-2 at 1).[2] In 2012, Defendant employed Plaintiff as a driver recruiter in its Recruiting Department. (Doc. # 26-7 at 2). Plaintiff has testified that she was the senior recruiter in the Recruiting Department. (Wells Deposition at 47). Defendant's recruiters used several sources to find new truck drivers, including online applications, purchased leads, Internet advertisements, referral networks, and personal referrals. (See Wells Deposition at 92-102, 117-19). Defendant classified drivers into three categories. (Doc. # 26-2 at 2). First, “New Lease drivers, ” or owner operators, owned their own equipment, leased the equipment to Defendant, and drove the leased truck for Defendant. (Id.). Second, “Lease Purchase drivers” signed installment leases with Defendant to purchase equipment and drove the leased truck for Defendant. (Id.). Finally, truck owners could supply drivers to Defendant through a “Driver for Owner arrangement” if they owned several trucks, leased them to Defendant, and provided drivers for Defendant to use. (Id.).

         Prior to 2012, Defendant's recruiters typically recruited all three types of drivers (id.), and Defendant expected each recruiter to find, on average, four owner operators per week. (Id.). By 2011, most of Defendant's recruiters were failing to meet that goal. (Id.). Plaintiff has testified that this reflected a general decline in the number of owner operators in the labor market, as truck drivers “had gotten out of that industry.” (Wells Deposition at 24-25). In 2012, Hadley hired Dennis Frey as Defendant's director of recruiting. (Doc. # 26-2 at 2). Hadley assigned specific recruiters to focus on New Lease and Lease Purchase prospects respectively, but expected all recruiters to handle Driver for Owner prospects. (Id.). He modified the New Lease recruitment goal to two new owner operators per week. (Id.).

         Plaintiff's June 2012 annual review stated that she met some, but not all, expectations. (Doc. # 26-7 at 2-6). Specifically, it explained that Plaintiff had failed to meet her “New Lease” recruitment goal. (Id. at 3). It further noted that Plaintiff had failed to meet the modified two-per-week goal instituted on June 1, 2012, in the five weeks before her annual review. (Id.). The review expressed doubt as to whether Plaintiff was well-placed in the recruiter position because her recruitment rate was at 28% of the company's annual goal. (Id. at 4). Plaintiff's reviewer rated her performance as not meeting expectations in the categories of flexibility/change, judgment/initiative, and volume of work. (Id. at 5). Plaintiff's supervisor cautioned that, “[w]ith the new guidelines in place, which are reduced from recent years, [Plaintiff] must be able to meet expectations on a regular basis.” (Id. at 6). Defendant placed Plaintiff on a performance plan, which directed her to (1) meet her weekly and quarterly recruitment goals and (2) achieve a show-to-hire ratio of at least seventy percent. (Id. at 7). The show-to-hire ratio measured the percentage of prospects that successfully completed orientation. (Wells Deposition at 110-11).

         On October 26, 2012, Frey issued Plaintiff a written warning because of her failure to meet the weekly recruitment goal and her low show-to-hire ratio. (Doc. # 26-7 at 15). Frey explained in the warning that Plaintiff had not completed training on free media advertisement that was offered to her. (Id.). Moreover, Defendant had provided Plaintiff exclusive access to half of its rehire list, but Plaintiff still failed to meet her recruitment goal. (Id.). Frey stated that he expected Plaintiff would meet the recruitment goal of two “New Leases” per week on a consistent basis. (Id.). On December 4, 2012, Frey issued Plaintiff another written warning for failing to meet the recruitment goal. (Id. at 17).

         It is undisputed that almost all of Defendant's New Lease recruiters failed to meet their respective recruiting goals. (Docs. # 32 at 4, 34 at 1). During Frey's tenure as recruiting director, he terminated three recruiters for poor performance: (1) Myron Clinton, a 47-year-old African-American male, (2) Dustin Knowles, a 28-year-old white male, and (3) Pamela Gasnik, a 51-year-old white female.[3] (Doc. # 26-6 at 2) (listing recruiter terminations in 2012 and early 2013). Frey left his position in May 2013. (Doc. # 26-2 at 2).

         In April 2013, Plaintiff transitioned from working as a recruiter to working as a recruiting specialist.[4] (Doc. # 26-6 at 2-3). As a recruiting specialist, Plaintiff tracked the progress of prospects sent to Defendant by third-party recruiters and was dedicated to processing their applicants. (Wells Deposition at 109, 112-13). The recruiters forwarded applications from drivers to Plaintiff, and, in turn, she screened the drivers and contacted the recruiters to inform them whether the driver was approved. (Id. at 128). Defendant cut Plaintiff's yearly salary by approximately $10, 000 when it reassigned her to recruiting specialist. (Id. at 54). The parties dispute whether Defendant created recruitment goals for the recruiting specialist position. (See Docs. # 26-2 at 3; 32 at 3). Hadley has averred that the recruiting specialist had no production goals. (Doc. # 26-2 at 3). To the contrary, Plaintiff has pointed out that her June 2013 performance plan required her to properly qualify and schedule “at a minimum 2 New Lease and 4 Lease Purchase commission recruits . . . weekly.” (Doc. # 26-7 at 13). In addition, Defendant continued to track Plaintiff's recruitment of New Lease drivers in the third and fourth quarters of 2013, after she had transitioned to recruiting specialist. (Doc. # 26-5 at 3-4) (stating that Plaintiff recruited three New Lease drivers in the third quarter and three New Lease drivers in the fourth quarter). Ultimately, when viewed in Plaintiff's favor, the Rule 56 record shows that the recruiting specialist position had production goals based on Plaintiff's processing of prospects presented by third-party recruiters. (See Doc. # 26-7 at 9, 13).

         Like her 2012 annual review, Plaintiff's 2013 annual review stated that she met some, but not all, expectations. (Id. at 8-12). It described her job title as “Recruiting” (id. at 8), and explained that Plaintiff had failed to meet her production goal of two New Lease drivers per week in the third quarter of 2012, the fourth quarter of 2012, and the first quarter of 2013. (Id. at 9). Plaintiff's numbers declined in three straight quarters. (Id.). She recruited an average of 1.15 drivers per week in the third quarter of 2012, 1.08 drivers per week in the fourth quarter of 2012, and 0.54 drivers per week in the first quarter of 2013. (Id.). The annual review stated, though, that the recruiting goal mentioned in Plaintiff's 2012 annual report was no longer applicable because she had transitioned to “a position that was accountable for the processing of all outside commission recruits and agent contractor processing.” (Id.). Plaintiff's reviewer reported concerns that she was failing to process paperwork in a timely manner and that recruiters had to call her several times to receive necessary information. (Id. at 11).

         In June 2013, Defendant again placed Plaintiff on a performance plan for the upcoming year. (Id. at 13). First, it required Plaintiff to “[c]ontact and review with all of the outside recruiters at a minimum monthly all of the program, qualification guidelines, bonus programs and needs for [Defendant's] recruiting.” (Id.). Second, it instructed Plaintiff to process prospects' paperwork as soon as it was received and to communicate quickly with third-party recruiters. (Id.). In addition to the weekly production report, the performance plan stated that Plaintiff's performance would be measured by “[n]otification of any issue[s] that are not being addressed in a time sensitive manner from the outside commission recruiters.” (Id.). Finally, the performance plan directed Plaintiff to work with the New Lease recruiters to find additional Driver for Owner contractors. (Id.).

         Hadley recalls that he received complaints from two third-party recruiters, Pro Drivers and Hall of Fame, about delays in processing applications and a lack of communication by Plaintiff. (Doc. # 26-2 at 3). Plaintiff does not contest this fact but testified that employees at Hall of Fame were very rude to her. (Wells Deposition at 127-28). In response to the complaints, Hadley issued Plaintiff a final written warning in August 2013. (Doc. # 26-7 at 18). In the warning, Hadley directed Plaintiff to immediately inform recruiters when she had received an application and to tell the recruiters within 24 hours whether the applicant was qualified to work for Defendant. (Id.). He warned Plaintiff that he wanted no more complaints about her failure to communicate or her slow processing of applications, and he indicated that he would discipline Plaintiff further if he received such complaints.[5] (Id.).

         In August 2013, Plaintiff received a service award acknowledging her 30 years of service for Defendant.[6] (Doc. # 33-1 at 2-3). In an associated letter, Defendant's president and chief executive officer (“CEO”) congratulated Plaintiff for her service to Defendant and thanked her for her loyalty to the company. (Id. at 2). In November 2013, Hadley terminated Plaintiff because her performance had not improved. (Doc. # 26-2 at 3-4). He assigned her duties to administrative assistants and did not fill the recruiting specialist role. (Id. at 4). No Rule 56 record evidence identifies the administrative assistants who took on these duties and no evidence identifies their gender, race, or age.

         During her deposition, Plaintiff acknowledged that neither Frey, nor Hadley, nor any other supervisor made a derogatory comment to her based on her race or gender. (Wells Deposition at 37-39, 42-43). And, she stated that Frey never made a derogatory comment about her age. (Id. at 37-38). She recalled that Hadley once asked her about when she would retire because he was older than her at the time. (Id. at 38). But, she admitted that this statement might not have been derogatory. (Id. at 42-43).

         II. ...

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