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Boyd v. Medtronic PLC

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

June 12, 2019

JOSHUA H. BOYD Plaintiff,
v.
MEDTRONIC, PLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

          L. SCOTT COOGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant, Medtronic, PLC (“Medtronic's”), motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 46.) For the reasons stated below, Medtronic's motion for summary judgment (doc. 46) is due to be denied.

         I. Background [1]

         A. CEO Ishrak's Initiative and Complaints about Gaulding

         Plaintiff, Joshua H. Boyd (“Boyd”), a man, brings this action against Medtronic, PLC (“Medtronic”), alleging claims for sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”). On November 24, 2014, Medtronic's CEO Omar Ishrak (“Ishrak”) spoke to Medtronic's women's resource group “Aspire” where he announced that Medtronic's goal was to achieve fifty-percent female representation in management. Around six months later, Medtronic reorganized and created twelve new regional vice president positions. Medtronic filled five of the twelve positions with women. Two of the new regional vice presidents were Michelle Gaulding (“Gaulding”) and Kelley Nicholas (“Nicholas”). Ishrak further reiterated his goal of having more female representation in management during a September 30, 2016 Aspire presentation.

         Boyd contends that in September 2015, soon after she had been named a regional vice president, Gaulding falsified an email chain between herself and another Medtronic employee, Jeff Dortch (“Dortch”), to make it appear as though she had sent an email on August 11, 2015 rather than September 10, 2015. Dortch filed multiple complaints about this incident with Medtronic. On January 31, 2017, Medtronic disciplined Gaulding for the email falsification by issuing her a final written warning.

         After Medtronic's April 2015 reorganization, Chuck Grose (“Grose”) assumed the position of navigation manager and reported directly to Gaulding. A Medtronic sales representative, Angela Holley (“Holley”), testified that at an Aspire meeting on September 8, 2015, Gaulding approached her to inquire into her interest in the position of Regional Navigation Manager South Central. At the time, this was the position occupied by Grose.

         In November 2015, Mark Eller (“Eller”), a member of Medtronic's Human Resources Department, sent multiple emails to Christian LaBarbera (“LaBarbera”), a high-ranking member of the Human Resources Department, expressing concerns regarding Gaulding. This included describing an incident where Gaulding told Kristy Roberts, Medtronic's Regional Sales Director for the South-Eastern Gastro Urology Division, that she should have hired an African American female interviewee instead of a more qualified white male interviewee. On November 23, 2015, Grose called Medtronic's “Voice Your Concern Line” and complained that he felt as though Gaulding was discriminating against him due to his gender. In response to these concerns, LaBarbera ordered that a Speed of Trust Workshop be conducted for Gaulding and her team.

         B. Boyd's Employment

         Boyd began his employment with Medtronic in January 2013.[2] After Medtronic's reorganization, Boyd was assigned to work as a navigation manager in Medtronic's Midwest Region. In this position, his job was to sell Medtronic surgical equipment. Boyd's supervisor was Nicholas, the Midwest's regional vice president. On April 5, 2016, Nicholas placed Boyd on a performance improvement plan, which Boyd challenged. Ultimately, Medtronic removed the performance improvement plan. In June 2016, Boyd met with LaBarbera and expressed frustration with how he had been treated by Nicholas.

         Later that summer, Gaulding became Boyd's supervisor, and he became the Navigation Manager for the South-Central Region. However, Boyd was not officially transferred to the South-Central Region in Medtronic's internal system until October 1, 2016. On July 18, 2016, Boyd informed Eller that he would be filing an EEOC complaint the next day. Eller forwarded this email to LaBarbera who told another Medtronic employee that Boyd should remain an employee during the complaint process. On August 8, 2016, Boyd filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, alleging that he had been subjected to gender discrimination and retaliation by Nicholas.

         During this same time period, Medtronic was in negotiations with Memorial Hospital (“Memorial”) to purchase a piece of surgical equipment known as an “O-arm.” However, Boyd was not involved in these negotiations. On September 6, 2016, Gaulding's superiors informed her that Memorial had expressed frustration about how the negotiations had been progressing. On September 9, 2016, Gaulding contacted Sherry Fusco (“Fusco”) at Memorial regarding the negotiations over the purchase of the O-arm. Gaulding also discussed the Memorial account with Dortch. Dortch told Gaulding that Boyd should not be inserted into the Memorial discussions at that time and mentioned that Boyd had some negative history with the account. Following her conversation with Dortch, Gaulding emailed Boyd and instructed him to “hold off on proactively contacting the customer(s) until I've given you the all clear.” (See Doc. 47-1 at 34.)

         On September 14, 2016, Gaulding and Boyd discussed the Memorial account during a telephone call. Following this call, Gaulding emailed Eller and LaBarbera to inform them that Boyd had complained that she was discriminating against him due to his gender. On September 20, 2016, Dortch emailed Eller and Lisa Jones (“Jones”), another member of Medtronic's Human Resources Department, about concerns he had with Gaulding's handling of the Memorial account.

         Medtronic then completed the sale of an O-arm to Memorial. On September 27, 2019, Gaulding emailed Dortch and Christopher Farr to discuss the best delivery date for Memorial's new O-arm. Gaulding copied Boyd, among others, on the email. Dortch testified that during a phone call with Gaulding she gave him full authority to go in and quarterback the Memorial deal. According to Dortch, Fusco wanted “as many Medtronic people as possible to get [the O-arm] ready to go.” (See Doc. 57-15 at 4.) On September 29, 2016, when the purchased O-arm was being installed, Boyd went to Memorial after Dortch asked him to be there. Dortch testified that due to his previous phone call with Gaulding he felt that he was “fully authorized to engage the customer with . . . whoever I felt was necessary to engage the customer.” (See Doc. 59-1 at 28.) Boyd did not inform Gaulding that he would be going to Memorial. While at Memorial, Boyd spoke with Fusco about options available to Memorial for the purchase of a second O-arm. Boyd contends that he only discussed the purchase of this second O-arm because one of Memorial's other O-arms had failed and Fusco asked him what her options were.

         The next day, on September 30, 2016, Fusco informed Gaulding about her conversation with Boyd. Gaulding testified that she believed Boyd's actions contradicted her instruction that he not contact Memorial. Gaulding then called Boyd and told him that by going to Memorial he had disobeyed her previous instructions. Gaulding also contacted several Medtronic officials and asked for guidance on how to respond to what she alleged was Boyd's failure to follow her instructions. Approximately twenty minutes later, LaBarbera responded to Gaulding's email and asked two other Medtronic officials copied on the email to “[p]lease liase with [Gaulding] on terminating [Boyd] for cause with immediate effect.” (See Doc. 47-3 at 52.)

         Nancy Beck (“Beck”) and Lisa Jones (“Jones”), members of Medtronic's Human Resources Department, then conducted an investigation into Boyd's interactions with Memorial. Gaulding did not participate in this investigation into Boyd's employment. On October 10, 2016, Medtronic informed Boyd that his employment had been terminated. The parties dispute whether Boyd's employment was terminated on September 30, 2016 when LaBarbera responded to Gaulding's email or if it was terminated on October 10, 2016 after Medtronic had conducted the investigation into Boyd's interactions with Memorial. However, the parties agree that LaBarbera was a final decision-maker with respect to Boyd's termination. Holley testified that just weeks after Boyd's termination Gaulding again approached her to inquire about her interest in the Navigation Manager position.

         II. Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact[3] and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute is genuine if “the record taken as a whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party.” Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., Inc., 357 F.3d 1256, 1260 (11th Cir. 2004). A genuine dispute as to a material fact exists “if the nonmoving party has produced evidence such that a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict in its favor.” Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001)). The trial judge should not weigh the evidence, but determine whether there are any genuine issues of fact that should be resolved at trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, trial courts must give deference to the non-moving party by “view[ing] the materials presented and all factual inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Animal Legal Def. Fund v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 789 F.3d 1206, 1213-14 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970)). However, “unsubstantiated assertions alone are not enough to withstand a motion for summary judgment.” Rollins v. TechSouth, Inc., 833 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1987). Conclusory allegations and “mere scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party will not suffice to overcome a motion for summary judgment.” Melton v. Abston, 841 F.3d 1207, 1219 (11th Cir. 2016) (per curiam) (quoting Young v. City of Palm Bay, Fla., 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th Cir. 2004)). In making a motion for summary judgment, “the moving party has the burden of either negating an essential element of the nonmoving party's case or showing that there is no evidence to prove a fact necessary to the nonmoving party's case.” McGee v. Sentinel Offender Servs., LLC, 719 F.3d 1236, 1242 (11th Cir. ...


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