United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
an employment discrimination case in which Plaintiff Melissa
Edwards claims that Defendant Compass Bank discriminated
against her because of her race (Caucasian) and retaliated
against her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
of 1964, as amended, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (Doc. # 14).
Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendant failed to
promote her because of her race and, after she filed a charge
of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (“EEOC”), it retaliated against her by
continuing to refuse to promote her, by disciplining her, and
terminating her employment. (Doc. # 14).
case is before the court on Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment. (Doc. # 20). The Motion has been fully
briefed (see Docs. # 21, 24, 26) and is ripe for
review. After careful review, and for the reasons explained
below, the court concludes that Defendant's Motion is due
to be granted.
2004, Plaintiff began her employment with Defendant as a
“Talent Partner II” at a “salary
grade” of 18. (Doc. # 14 at 3, ¶ 12).
Plaintiff started out working in the East Retail line of
business. (Doc. # 22-1 at 16). At that time, Linda McQueen was
the Director of Talent and Culture Solutions for Defendant.
(Doc. # 14 at 6, ¶ 31; Doc. # 22-17 at 3, ¶ 1).
McQueen later asked Plaintiff to move to the Risk line of
business, which Plaintiff preferred. (Doc. # 22-1 at 16).
Thereafter, Plaintiff received high praise for her work with
Risk: “[Plaintiff] is precise; she always returns [our]
phone calls and emails; she is professional; she is
knowledgeable . . .; she appears to have good working
relationships with other departments. Bottom line . . . we
are very pleased with her involvement.” (Doc. # 22-10
March 2016, McQueen was replaced as Director of Talent and
Culture Solutions by Janel Taylor, a young, African-American
female. (Doc. # 14 at 6, ¶ 31; Doc. # 22-17 at 3, ¶
1). When Taylor took over the position, Plaintiff informed
her that she was seeking a same-seat promotion. (Doc. # 22-1 at
23). Same-seat promotions typically occur in the months of
May and November. (Doc. # 22-12 at 17; Doc. # 22-17, at 3).
Taylor denied Plaintiff's 2016 request for a same seat
promotion because she had just assumed the job, she was still
assessing the team, she was not familiar with the budget, and
she had not had time to assess anyone's performance.
(Doc. # 22-11 at 13; Doc. # 22-17 at 2-3, ¶¶ 2-7).
2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission conducted a
cyber-security audit of Defendant that uncovered the failure
by employees to timely “key” (i.e.,
input) employee terminations in Defendant's
“NETprofile” system, which opened Defendant up to
a security risk. (Doc. # 22-18 at ¶ 5; Doc. # 22-17 at
¶ 14). Those individuals continued to have access to the
bank's confidential data, including customer data,
following the termination of their employment.
(Id.). Therefore, Taylor began emphasizing to Talent
Partners the need to key in terminations as soon as possible.
(Doc. # 22-17 at ¶ 14).
about November 3, 2016, Defendant posted a job for which
Plaintiff applied. (Doc. # 22-1 at 24-25; Doc. 23-3 at 24).
However, because the position was initially incorrectly
posted, it was taken down and reposted. (Doc. # 22-3 at 24).
Taylor informed Plaintiff that, to be considered for this
position, she would need to reapply and interview for the
position with her (Taylor) and a panel. (Doc. # 22-1 at
30-31). Not every candidate who applied for this position was
interviewed. (Doc. # 25-8 at 14). As Taylor testified,
“[i]f they were an HR candidate who possessed the
minimum years of experience, there would have been an
interview with me. And if they were passed -- if they got
past that round with me, they would have done a panel
interview with their peers, and then I would have chosen
someone based on the panel interview.” (Doc. # 25-8 at
14). Plaintiff points out that when employees received same
seat promotions or changed lines of business, they were not
required to interview. (Doc. # 22-1 at 31).
2016, Taylor promoted Tasha Hardy, a Caucasian female, to a
grade 20 salary level because the line of business Ms. Hardy
was in -- mortgages -- was restructured. (Doc. # 22-11 at
15; Doc. # 22-17 at 4, ¶ 11; Doc. # 25-8 at 7, 15). This
move did not implicate incentives which would have impacted
the budget. (Doc. # 22-17 at 4, ¶ 11).
March 20, 2017, Defendant announced the creation of the U.S.
Talent & Culture Project-Based Organization
(“PBO”). (Doc. # 22-3 at 26-27). Adrianna
Quevedo-Price became the manager of the PBO. (Doc. # 22-17 at
4, ¶ 8). Plaintiff and two other Talent and Culture
employees, including Orazio Mancarella, were selected for the
PBO. (Doc. # 22-3 at 26-27). Quevedo-Price and Rosilyn
Houston, an African-American who is the Chief Talent and
Culture Officer, were involved in making that decision. (Doc.
# 22-1 at 17). David Keith served as the project manager for
Plaintiff's first “long-term incentive
program” in the PBO (see id.), and
Quevedo-Price became Plaintiff's direct supervisor. (Doc.
# 22-17 at 4, ¶ 8).
Plaintiff was with the PBO, her pay grade stayed the same
(18), and she received variable compensation, including
bonuses and benefits. (Doc. # 22-1 at 20). This occurred even
though an employee at pay grade 18 generally does not receive
variable compensation. (Id.).
around May 2017, Adriana Quevedo-Price promoted Orazio
Mancarella, who worked in the PBO with Plaintiff, to a grade
20 salary level. (Doc. # 22-17 at 4, ¶ 10). Mancarella
received this promotion because he was the “Scrum
Master” (the leader who defined the methodology) for
his project. (Id.).
2017, a vacant Talent Partner position was posted. (Doc. #
22-17 at 5, ¶ 13). Candidates were required to apply for
this position, which also required an interview.
(Id.). Taylor promoted Brittany Hatcher, an
African-American female, to this grade 20 position that had
been previously held by Robyn Black. (Doc. # 22-11 at 15;
Doc. # 22-17 at 5, ¶ 13). This was not a same-seat
promotion, and Plaintiff did not apply for the position.
(Doc. # 22-17 at 5, ¶ 13). Additionally, Plaintiff was
ineligible for the position because it was in the engineering
line of business, and Plaintiff did not work in that area.
(Doc. # 25-8 at 15; Doc. # 22-17 at 5, ¶ 13).
3, 2017, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the
EEOC alleging race and age discrimination with respect to
Plaintiff's consistent expressions of interest in
“advancing her career with [Defendant]” by
“repeatedly express[ing] a desire to be considered for
promotion or same-seat promotion to a higher pay
grade.” (Doc. # 14-1 at 2). Specifically, Plaintiff
asserted that the African-American candidates with less
experience than she had received the promotions. (Doc. # 14-1
2017, a vacant grade 20 salary level position whose client
base included corporate clients, such as the Legal and
Compliance Departments, was posted. (Doc. # 22-17 at 4,
¶ 12). Candidates were required to apply for this
position. (Id.). Tammy Fincher, an external
African-American candidate was hired. (Doc. # 22-1 at 30;
Doc. # 22-17 at 4, ¶ 12). Fincher had prior experience
in human resources with corporate clients. (Doc. # 22-17 at
4, ¶ 12). Plaintiff did not apply for this position.
(Doc. # 22-17 at 4, ¶ 12).
approximately September 2017, Plaintiff was moved from the
PBO back to East Retail. (Doc. # 25-10 at 35). On September
17, 2017, Taylor's employment with Defendant ended. (Doc.
# 14 at 6, ¶ 31; Doc. # 25-8 at 11).
November 7, 2017, Reba Simmons, an African-American hiring
manager for Defendant, selected Patricia Osborne, an
African-American female, as the new Director of Talent and
Culture Solutions. (Doc. # 14 at 6, ¶¶ 32-33).
Before replacing Taylor, Osborne had been a Talent Partner
who worked with Plaintiff in Human Resources. (Doc. # 25-6 at
about November 15, 2017, Defendant posted Osborne's prior
position. (Doc. # 14 at 7, ¶ 41; Doc. # 25-10 at 37).
Plaintiff applied. (Id.). At around this time, David
Keith, a Caucasian male who had moved to PBO with Plaintiff,
approached Simmons and asked to get back his job supporting
retail and commercial. (Doc. # 25-10 at 37). On December 18,
2017, Simmons selected Keith to fill the position. (Doc. # 14
at 7, ¶¶ 41, 44-45; Doc. # 25-10 at 37-38). Simmons
chose Keith because “Keith had done the job before, he
was knowledgeable, [and] it made good sense to transition him
back into the role.” (Doc. # 25-10 at 38).
January 2018, Plaintiff was promoted to salary grade 20
through a same-seat promotion. (Doc. # 22-10 at 6-7). Krista
Pettus -- an African-American who was also at grade 18 salary
level -- was also promoted to grade 20. (Doc. # 22-1 at 19;
Doc.# 22-10 at 7; Doc. # 25-8 at 9). Osborne requested a same
seat promotion for both Pettus and Plaintiff. (Doc. # 22-10
at 7). Plaintiff became the Talent & Culture Partner over
the East region of the Retail line of business. (Doc. # 22-18
at 4, ¶ 9).
January 22, 2018, Krista Pettus received an e-mail from
Jennifer Polnett regarding an employee, Laurie Little, who
was to be terminated from the system because she had been out
on leave for 180 days. (Doc. # 22-5 at 30; Doc. # 22-6 at 8;
Doc. # 22-1 at 47). Pettus replied to the e-mail and copied
Plaintiff. (Doc. # 22-6 at 8). Pettus wrote “I have
copied [Plaintiff] on this email now that she is the new
partner. Melissa, I have notes in Felix.” (Doc. # 22-6
at 8; Doc. # 22-18 at 4, ¶ 10). Polnett then e-mailed
Plaintiff directly informing Plaintiff that “Laurie
Little would have to be processed out of the system in
netprofile. She reached  180 days being out on
leave.” (Doc. 22-6 at 10; 22-18 at 4, ¶ 11).
February 13, 2018, Osborne e-mailed several Talent Partners,
including Plaintiff, regarding untimely keying of
terminations into Defendant's computer system,
emphasizing that it was a “top priority.” (Doc. #
21 at 10, ¶ 51; Doc. # 22-5 at 9).
February 22, 2018, Plaintiff was notified that Ms. Little,
the subject of the January 22, 2018 e-mail correspondence,
had passed away. (Doc. # 22-5 at 30; Doc. # 22-18 at 4,
March 22, 2018, after Plaintiff was notified a second time
that Ms. Little should have be terminated from the system,
Plaintiff finally terminated Ms. Little from the system.
(Doc. # 22-5 at 30; Doc. # 22-10 at 14-15; Doc. # 22-18 at 4,
¶ 13). However, because Plaintiff had not timely keyed
Ms. Little's termination, “her beneficiaries were
not sent the appropriate paperwork to properly convert her
life insurance policy, [resulting] in a loss of life
insurance benefits in the amount of $89, 000.” (Doc. #
22-5 at 30; Doc. # 22-10 at 14-15; Doc. # 22-18 at 4, ¶
14). Defendant bore the $89, 000 loss. (Doc. # 22-5 at 30;
Doc. # 22-18 at 4, ¶ 14).
2018, Plaintiff was recognized for her good performance and
kindness. On February 16, 2018, Plaintiff received a Special
Thanks and Recognition (“STAR”) award (which
included a $3, 000 payment). The award was initiated and
approved by Osborne. (Doc. # 22-10 at 9; Doc. # 22-5 at 9).
On April 11, 2018, Plaintiff received an Aspire card (a sort
of “kudos”) from another employee whom Plaintiff
had helped through a challenging situation. (Doc. # 22-10 at
60-61; Doc. # 25-6 at 8).
14, 2018, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit. (Doc. # 1). She
continued her employment with Defendant after that filing.
19, 2018, Osborne reached out to Plaintiff because Osborne
was responding to an audit inquiry about Ms. Little's
insurance benefits. (Doc. # 22-1 at 47). Osborne was required
to explain why Ms. Little's termination was not keyed in
until March 2018, even though Defendant had been notified on
February 22, 2018 that Little was deceased. (Doc. # 22-18 at
¶ 15). Osborne and Plaintiff met to discuss the matter.
(Doc. # 22-5 at 28; Doc. # 22-18 at 5, ¶ 16). Osborne
informed Plaintiff that legal counsel had been engaged to
determine if there was any insurance coverage for the $89,
000 loss. (Id.).
also reached out to Pettus regarding Little's situation.
(Doc. # 22-10 at 15). Pettus supplied Osborne with the e-mail
correspondence (on which Plaintiff was copied) regarding the
situation. (Doc. # 22-10 at 15-16). Pettus confirmed that the
Little matter had been passed on to Plaintiff in light of the
change in their responsibilities. (Doc. # 22-18 at ¶
Osborne met with Reba Simmons about the appropriate
discipline for Plaintiff. (Doc. # 22-18 at ¶¶
19-20). In light of the financial loss, Osborne viewed only
two options: a “probation exception to
termination” or termination. (Id.). Simmons
thought Plaintiff should be terminated. (Id.).
Osborne recommended a “probation exception to
termination” because she did not want to terminate
August 1, 2018, Osborne issued Plaintiff a “Probation
Exception to Termination” which placed Plaintiff on a
90-day probationary period. (Doc. # 22-18 at ¶ 21; Doc.
# 22-5 at 30). The Memorandum notifying Plaintiff of her
probation exception explains that “[t]he $89, 000 loss
is excessive and typically warrants termination of 
employment.” (Doc. # 22-5 at 30). Plaintiff signed the
Memorandum, but noted that she would “submit a
statement of events  by close of business.”
(Id.). On August 7, 2018, Plaintiff provided Osborne
with various e-mail correspondence regarding Little's
FMLA/LTD status. (Doc. # 22-6 at 3-24; Doc. # 22-5 at 30;
Doc. # 22-1 at 47).
August 9, 2018, Plaintiff received an e-mail from one of the
managers to whom she provided human resources support. The
e-mail indicated that an employee, Alondra Espinosa, had
given her two-weeks notice. (Doc. # 22-18 at 4, ¶ 14).
Shortly afterward, Plaintiff received another e-mail
informing her that Espinosa changed her mind and decided to
quit immediately. (Doc. 22-1 at 59-60). That e-mail asked
Plaintiff to “key in her resignation for today.”
testified that she thought that there was “no
rush” to terminate Espinosa from the system and waited
to get further information before processing the termination.
(Doc. # 22-1 at 60). Plaintiff testified at her deposition
that, at that time, she was not aware that employees were not
removed from data access until their termination was keyed in
the system. (Id.). Plaintiff did not key
Espinosa's termination in the system until August 23,
August 22, 2018, Osborne was notified by the Data Security
Department that Espinosa had not been terminated from the
system. (Doc. # 22-18 at 6, ¶ 25; Doc. # 22-10 at
21-22). Osborne looked in the Felix system and determined
that Plaintiff was the responsible Talent Partner and
directed her to terminate Espinosa from the system. (Doc. #
22-10 at 22; Doc. # 22-18 at 6, ¶ 25).
was planning to terminate Espinosa on August 23, 2018, the
end date of the original two-weeks' notice. (Doc. # 22-1
at 61). At 9:56 that morning, Plaintiff received an e-mail
from Data Security asking why Espinosa's termination had
not been entered. (Doc. # 22-10 at 22; Doc. # 22-1 at 61). By
that time, Plaintiff had already entered Espinosa's
termination. (Doc. # 22-1 at 61).
met with Plaintiff on August 23, 2018, to discuss why
Espinosa's termination had not been keyed into the system
in a timely manner. (Doc. # 22-18 at 6, ¶ 26; Doc. #
22-7 at 34-35). Osborne told Plaintiff that workload was not
an excuse, but allowed Plaintiff an opportunity to explain
why she had not terminated Espinosa earlier. (Doc. # 22-1 at
62; Doc. # 22-10 at 22; Doc. # 22-18 at 6, ¶ 26). At
4:53 p.m. on August 23, 2018, Plaintiff sent Osborne an
You asked for a follow up email with my justification as to
why the Alondra Espinosa resignation on 08/09/18 was not
You communicated that the work load is not an excuse that you
could accept because you were doing the job of 3 people
currently, at this time I do not feel any reason that I
provide you would be acceptable.
Again, I want to communicate that I am not the only T&C
employee what is guilty of this type of error or other
administrative errors within T&C.
(Doc. # 22-7 at 32).
asked Osborne to terminate Plaintiff's employment because
Plaintiff committed an offense similar to that for which she
had just recently been placed on probation. (Doc. # 22-18 at
6, ¶ 27). On August 1, 2018, Plaintiff had been placed
on Probation as an exception to termination for failing to
terminate an employee in a timely fashion which resulted in
an $89, 000 loss to the bank. (Doc. # 22-10 at 99). At that
time she was warned to “comply with the standards in
place to terminate employees in a timely fashion.”
(Id.). Within nine (9) days of being placed on
Probation, Plaintiff again failed to timely ...