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Stewart v. Securatex Ltd

United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 30, 2014



SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE United States District Court

This cause is before the Court on Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket Nos. 24, 25], filed on December 06, 2013, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff Jennifer Stewart (“Ms. Stewart”) brought her claim against Defendant Securatex, Inc. (“Securatex”), her former employer, based on her allegedly retaliatory termination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and under 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

For the reasons set forth in detail below, Securatex's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

Factual Background

Ms. Stewart was employed by Securatex, a security firm, for more than seven years prior to her termination on October 6, 2011. She bases her claim for unlawful termination on an email she sent to the Securatex human resources director describing the unequal treatment of a fellow employee, an African-American security guard. Securatex denies that Ms. Stewart was terminated for having sent that email. Rather, it was due to her lagging performance and failure to meet the expectations of her employment.

A. Ms. Stewart’s Work History

Securatex provides private security services for Indiana and Illinois businesses who engage the company for that purpose. Securatex has also previously contracted with companies located in Michigan. Stewart Dep. at 15:22-16:4. In October 2004, Ms. Stewart commenced her employment with Securatex on a full time basis as the operations manager. Id. at 14, 17. Three years later, in July 2007, Securatex promoted Ms. Stewart to regional manager, a position which reported directly to the owner of Securatex, Patricia DuCanto. Id. at 17. In addition to owning Securatex, Ms. DuCanto oversees the day-to-day operations of the company including supervising and dismissing employees as needed. Pl.’s Resp., Ex. K, at 3; Def’s Interr. Resp. ¶ ¶ 5, 16-18; Def’s Br. at 1-2; Schenk Dep. at 15.

On January 1, 2008, Ms. Stewart was promoted to regional vice president of operations. Pl.’s Resp., Ex. G, Def’s Interr. Resp. ¶ 2. Two years later, in 2010, Securatex hired Bill Heiman as managing director of operations, and Ms. Stewart began reporting to him. The following year, in July 2011, Ms. Stewart moved into the sales department to assume the role of business development manager. During this same time period, Defendant’s senior management was re-structured resulting in Jack Schenk’s becoming the vice president of sales and chief operating officer; Mr. Schenk had come to Securatex from Securitas, a competing security company. Pl.’s Resp. at 8; Stewart Dep. at 20. After joining the company, Mr. Schenk terminated the employment of several managerial-level employees. Landman Dep. at 50:5-11, 98:3-8. Nathan Wolfe was hired to take over as regional vice president of operations, the position previously filled by Ms. Stewart. Landman Dep. at 20:9-24. The hiring of Mr. Wolfe, who had formerly worked with Mr. Schenk at Securitas, and was recommended by Mr. Schenk. Schenk Dep. at 84:11-85:12. In her new sales position, Ms. Stewart provided customer service as well as managed relationships with various clients and employees. Stewart Dep. at 21:18-21. Despite some uncertainty as to the reason she was reassigned to her new role, she performed those responsibilities at the same level of pay she had received in her prior position. Id. at 36:5-37:4; Landman Dep. at 24:9-16.

In late September 2011, Mr. Schenk was informed that Ms. Stewart had behaved inappropriately at a trade conference she had attended on behalf of Securatex. Stewart Dep. at 89:25-91:11. A few days thereafter, specifically on October 5, 2011, Mr. Schenk was informed that during a meeting with a customer, Mike Turk, Ms. Stewart had expressed her concern that Securatex was becoming more “corporate, ” which Defendant interpreted as a criticism of its new structure. Id. at 96:21-97:5. On October 6, 2011, Securatex terminated Ms. Stewart’s employment, neither formally nor progressively disciplining her beforehand. Pl.’s Resp., Ex. H, ¶ 25. In the years prior to her termination, Ms. Stewart’s performance had earned her various recognitions, awards, and pay bonuses. Stewart Dep. at 164. Mr. Schenk, Ms. Stewart’s supervisor at the time of termination, did not place her on a performance improvement plan. In fact, Securatex had not issued a negative performance evaluation of her prior to her termination. Id.; Pl.’s Resp., Ex. H, ¶ 15, ¶ 17.

B. Ms. Stewart’s Communication with Human Resources on September 29, 2011

A few days prior to Ms. Stewart’s termination, on September 29, 2011, Leila Gershanoff, a human resource specialist with Securatex, mentioned to Ms. Stewart her perceptions of disparate treatment by Securatex of Julius Farmer, an African-American security officer, compared to the treatment accorded to Curtis Babb, a Caucasian security officer. Stewart Dep. at 117. Ms. Gershanoff’s duties included reviewing the personnel decisions of manager, Nathan Wolfe, with respect to the discipline meted out to Mr. Farmer and Mr. Babb. After learning of Ms. Gershanoff’s concerns, Ms. Stewart sent the following email to Deborah Landman, Securatex’s human resources director:

Hello. It has been brought to my attention that we are not treating all of the officers fairly. There is a black officer that was a Sgt. at Wishard fired for timecard falsification. The white officer, also a Sgt. that did the same thing was only removed from the site and received a final warning. There are some other issues too. One of the officers was suspended for calling me about finding a replacement to work for him. It is becoming very concerning to me at this point. I know how important it is to be consistent and to treat all officers the same and we’re not anymore. Email Sept. 29, 2011.

In a follow-up email, Ms. Stewart conveyed the names of the security officers she had only generally referenced in her initial email, explaining her reason for not providing those names previously. Stewart Dep. at 149. According to Securatex, Ms. Stewart’s September 29th email was neither shared with Ms. DuCanto nor Mr. Schenk, the senior managers who were involved in making the decision to terminate Ms. Stewart’s employment.[1]

C. Ms. DuCanto’s Knowledge of Ms. Stewart’s September 29, 2011 Email

Ms. Stewart disputes Defendant’s assertion that Ms. DuCanto lacked knowledge of Ms. Stewart’s September 29, 2011, email prior to making the decision to terminate her employment. Noting that only one week separated Ms. Stewart’s email from the decision to terminate her employment, Ms. Stewart contends that this short time interval constitutes convincing evidence of causation. Landman Dep. at 130. Ms. Stewart also cites as evidence of causation the statement made by Rich Ross, Securatex’s past chief information officer, to Ms. Landman and Ms. Stewart to the effect that in 2004 Ms. DuCanto routinely received copies of all Securatex emails. Id. at 103; Stewart Dep. p. 163. According to Plaintiff, Ms. Landman could not recall with 100 percent accuracy that she had not forwarded Stewart’s email to Ms. DuCanto, or that she had not spoken with Ms. DuCanto about Ms. Stewart’s allegation of race discrimination prior to her termination on October 6th. Landman Dep. at 101-03. Ms. Stewart maintains that Ms. Landman, to whom the email was directed, did in fact have discussions with Ms. DuCanto about the email prior to Ms. Stewart’s termination based on these circumstantial facts, including that in the past complaints against management were routinely forwarded to ...

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