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Reliford v. Bright House Networks, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

May 15, 2017

MARGIE A. RELIFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIGHT HOUSE NETWORKS, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          LARRY J. McKINNEY, JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 33) filed by Defendant Advance/Newhouse Partnership (“ANP”) as to the claims raised by Plaintiff Margie A. Reliford in her Complaint.[1] Dkt. 1. Reliford, who is African American, alleged that during her employment with ANP, ANP engaged in a pattern of disparate treatment based on her race and retaliated against her for reporting the alleged racial abuse. Dkt. 1. Reliford claims that ANP's actions are in violation of both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”), and §1981a of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a (“§ 1981a”). Dkt. 1. In her response to ANP's Motion for Summary Judgment, Reliford abandoned her disparate treatment claims and only her retaliation claims remain. Dkt. 41-2 at 1. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS ANP's Motion for Summary Judgment on Reliford's retaliation claims under Title VII and § 1981a.

         I. BACKGROUND

         ANP hired Reliford on July 28, 2008, as a Collection Rep. Dkt. 34-1 at 44. On October 17, 2009, Reliford transferred to the position of Work Order Resolution Rep (“Order Rep”). In June 2010, ANP reorganized various departments and the Order Rep department and was placed in the Subscriber Accounting department. Dkt. 34-1 at 46-48; Dkt. 34-4 at 12-13. Following the transfer, Kristi Piper, the accounting supervisor, was Reliford's direct supervisor. Dkt. 34-1 at 46-47. Three other Order Reps, who were Caucasian, also transferred to the Subscriber Accounting department at the same time as Reliford. Dkt. 34-1 at 46-49.

         In addition to the two Caucasian Order Reps, Piper supervised the Sub-Billing Reps. Dkt. 34-1 at 49. The Sub-Billing Reps included Diane Howard (Caucasian), Josh Simpson (African American), Latonda Finch (African American), Pagey Pinkston (African American), Annie Scarborough (African American), and C.J. Mitton (African American).[2]Following the consolidation of the departments, Piper integrated the duties of Order and Sub-Billing Reps. Dkt. 34-1 at 49; Dkt. 34-4 at 34. Piper required both Order and Sub-Billing reps to cross-train so that each employee could perform either role. Dkt. 34-4 at 34. In ANP's internal system, Order and Sub-Billing Reps maintained separate job titles, despite their shared duties. Dkt. 34-3, ¶ 6.

         Typically, the Sub-Billing department worked Monday through Friday and rotated work on Saturdays. Dkt. 34-4 at 25. In August 2011, Reliford worked the 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. shift on Monday through Friday, but requested a schedule change to accommodate her part-time employment with Best Buy. Dkt. 34-1 at 101. Piper agreed to allow Reliford to work every Saturday and leave early on Thursdays to accommodate this part-time work. Dkt. 34-1 at 101-02. Reliford was given Sundays and Tuesdays off. Dkt. 34-1 at 101-02.

         Sometime in 2013 or early 2014, Piper became concerned with Reliford's productivity on the Saturdays that she worked. Dkt. 34-5, ¶ 8. Reliford was not completing some of her work items and work orders were not being checked in. Dkt. 34-5, ¶ 8. A report revealed that Reliford checked in far fewer work orders on Saturdays than the rotating Saturday employee. Dkt. 34-1 at 77-78; Dkt. 34-5, ¶ 8. When confronted by Piper about these issues, Reliford told Piper that she had too much to do on Saturdays and could not complete all of her work. Dkt. 34-5, ¶ 9. Piper told Reliford to begin writing down her tasks that she completed on Saturdays, but she only did so once. Dkt. 34-5, ¶ 9.

         In 2014, Piper received a complaint from an ANP customer care employee that no one was in the Sub-Billing department on Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m., which is when the department opened. Dkt. 34-5, ¶ 10. When the complaint was made, Reliford worked every Saturday starting at 7:30 a.m.; the other rotating Saturday employee did not begin work until 9:00 a.m. Dkt. 34-5, ¶ 10; Dkt. 34-1 at 77. Following this complaint, Piper began tracking Reliford's key swipes, which document the time that an employee enters the building, for a period of 60 days. Dkt. 34-5, ¶ 11. The tracking revealed that Reliford was occasionally late to work; thereafter, Piper spoke to Reliford about being to work on time. Dkt. 34-5, ¶ 11. Piper did not, however, take any disciplinary action against Reliford for her tardiness. Dkt. 34-5, ¶ 11.

         On May 2, 2014, Piper issued Reliford a verbal warning about her productivity on Saturdays and mistakes that she made on certain accounts. Dkt. 34-1 at 115-17, Dkt. 35-4 at 33-38.

         Piper never issued Reliford any written discipline during her employment with ANP. Dkt. 34-1 at 65; Dkt. 34-4 at 53.

         In September 2014, Reliford was given additional duties following the departure of two employees in the Sub-Billing department. Dkt. 34-1 at 137-19; Dkt. 34-4 at 17. Piper spread the duties of the former employees amongst all other employees. Dkt. 34-4 at 17. Reliford told Piper that she could not keep up with her workload. Dkt. 34-4 at 17. On January 21, 2015, Piper sat next to and observed Reliford over the course of the work day to determine “what she's working on, how she's doing it, and if there was a reason maybe something was taking longer than what I was expecting it to.” Dkt. 34-1 at 149; Dkt. 34-4 at 23.

         In January 2015, Piper and Reliford met to discuss Reliford's 2014 Performance Review. Dkt. 34-5 at 171; Dkt. 34-2, Ex. 12. Reliford received a “Meets Standard” for her overall rating and a merit-based salary increase. Dkt. 34-5 at 172; Dkt. 34-2, Ex. 12. The 2014 Performance Review had some categories in which Reliford was given a rating of “Needs Improvement, ” which she disagreed with. Dkt. 34-5 at 172-77; Dkt. 34-2, Ex. 12.

         On February 9, 2015, Reliford contacted Angie Mazares, a Senior Director of Human Resources based out of the ANP Florida office. Dkt. 34-1 at 133-34; Dkt. 34-3, ¶ 11. Reliford told Mazares that she was having problems with Piper that dated back several years and she believed it to be racial discrimination. Dkt. 34-1 at 133-34. She also informed Mazares that in January 2015, following her 2014 Performance Review, Piper threatened to fire her. Dkt. 34-1 at 134. After she complained to Mazares, Mazares, Piper, and Reliford met on multiple occasions to discuss Reliford's job duties. Dkt. 34-5, ¶ 13. As a result of the meetings, Piper and Mazares determined that some of Reliford's duties could be transferred to other employees in the department, which occurred in March 2015. Dkt. 34-1 at 137-39; Dkt. 34-5, ¶ 13.

         In April 2014, Reliford told Susie Ehman, a Human Resources Director in ANP's Indianapolis office, that she had been to speak with the EEOC but that the EEOC representatives told Reliford to try and “work it out.” Dkt. 34-1 at 80-81; Dkt. 34-3, ¶ 5. On May 11, 2015, Reliford filed an official charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Dkt. 34-2 at 205; Dkt. 34-2, Ex. 23. Reliford went to the EEOC on four previous occasions, but was told by EEOC representatives that she did not have a case. Dkt. 34-1 at 168-169. Ehman did not notify Piper that Reliford had contacted the EEOC until Reliford filed her official charge in May 2015. Dkt. 34-3, ¶ 12; Dkt. 34-5, ¶ 14. Piper stated that she ...


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