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Barter v. At&T, Inc.

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

February 7, 2019




         This cause is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 46], filed by Defendant Nexlink Communications, Inc. (“Nexlink”) on April 27, 2018. Plaintiff Rachael D. Barter brought this lawsuit against Nexlink and Defendant AT&T, Inc. (“AT&T”), [1] her former employers, alleging that each terminated her in retaliation for having complained of sexual harassment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nexlink has moved for summary judgment on Ms. Barter's retaliation claim. For the reasons detailed below, we DENY Defendant Nexlink's Motion for Summary Judgment.[2]

         Factual Background

         Plaintiff's Employment at AT&T

         Ms. Barter was hired by AT&T in 2008 as a business account manager and was promoted to the position of sales manager in 2009. As sales manager, Ms. Barter oversaw multiple business account managers. Ms. Barter originally worked in Michigan but was transferred to Indianapolis in 2011 where she served as a sales manager for the mobile division. Near the end of 2013, Ms. Barter was laterally transferred to the Indianapolis landline division where she continued to be employed as a sales manager. After her transfer, Ms. Barter was supervised by John Ligon. Vice President of Sales Andrea Messineo served as Mr. Ligon's immediate supervisor.

         In May 2014, Ms. Barter learned that AT&T's Small Business Group was fraudulently inflating its IRU (widget) counts in order to meet its sales goals. Ms. Barter reported this information to Mr. Ligon, who she says told her to begin inflating the landline team's widget count using the same method. According to Ms. Barter, at Mr. Ligon's direction and because she feared termination if she did not follow his instructions, she inflated the landline team's IRU counts for several months in order to meet sales goals by accessing new individual accounts on AT&T's Phoenix system and linking unauthorized business discounts to the individual accounts she accessed so that her department could claim the revenue. She did not earn extra compensation or any commission from inflating the numbers.

         Ms. Barter attended a business trip with Mr. Ligon in September 2014. Ms. Barter testified that Mr. Ligon drank heavily during dinner and then asked her to come to his hotel room to discuss business. Ms. Barter sat on a chair in his hotel room while Mr. Ligon sat on the bed. He patted the bed and told her to sit by him. Ms. Barter contends that when she refused to do so, he exposed himself to her and told her not to act like she did not want it. Ms. Barter then left the room. Upon her return to work, Ms. Barter reported the incident “hypothetically” to Michelle Caniglia in AT&T Human Resources, who, according to Ms. Barter, advised her not to make a formal harassment report because, without evidence, it was likely that nothing would be done beyond moving her to another supervisor and she might then be considered a difficult employee for having made a report.

         In January 2015, AT&T discovered that the landline department's IRU numbers had been inflated for a number of months and advised Ms. Barter that she was being investigated for violating the company's code of conduct in connection with the inflation. As part of the investigation, Ms. Barter was interviewed by Jim Lekse in AT&T's asset protection department. During her interview, she admitted that she had violated AT&T's Code of Conduct by padding the IRU numbers to increase her team's total sales on a monthly basis. Ms. Barter reported that Ms. Ligon had told her to do it and also reported that he had sexually harassed her. Following this interview, she was suspended pending further investigation.

         In March 2015, Ms. Barter returned to AT&T for a second meeting with Mr. Leske after which Ms. Messineo terminated her on March 16, 2015 for violating AT&T's code of business conduct by improperly accessing individual accounts and linking business discounts to those accounts in order to inflate the IRU numbers. Ms. Barter signed a statement on the day she was terminated admitting that she engaged in such conduct.

         Mr. Ligon resigned from AT&T shortly after Ms. Barter made her sexual harassment report in January 2015. AT&T was in the process of investigating Ms. Barter's allegations when Mr. Ligon resigned. AT&T had not formally disciplined him either for sexual harassment or the inflation of the IRU numbers by the time he resigned.

         Plaintiff's Employment at Nexlink Communications

         Defendant Nexlink is a distributor of new and used wireless devices and associated services and serves as a “Solutions Provider” (“SP”) for AT&T. An SP is an independent third party that typically represents multiple companies (so one SP might represent AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, for example) and recommends that customers buy services from the companies it represents based on the customers' needs. Thus, as an AT&T SP, Nexlink acts as a sales agent for AT&T and sells AT&T network services to its business customers. On April 1, 2015, Ms. Barter was hired by Nexlink as its Director of AT&T Channel Sales. Ms. Barter did not disclose before Nexlink hired her that she had been investigated, suspended, and ultimately terminated by AT&T.

         The relationship between AT&T and Nexlink is governed by an AT&T Affiliate Agreement (“the Agreement”). Under the Agreement, Ms. Barter was classified by AT&T as a “Non-Payroll Worker.” The Agreement also provided that “AT&T shall … retain the right to prohibit [Nexlink] from using any Person, or Subcontractor in connection with the Services provided under this Agreement for any reason.” Barter Dep. Exh. 5.

         Ms. Barter's focus as Director of AT&T Channel sales was to develop the AT&T channel for Nexlink. The AT&T sales “channel” included any product or service that could be tied back to AT&T, including Nexlink refurbished equipment activated on the AT&T network. At all times relevant to this litigation, Ms. Barter reported to Nexlink's Jeff Messano and Steve Cosgrove. Her primary contacts at AT&T were Greg Smith and Marty Deschaine, who were both employed in AT&T's Alliance Channel, a group within AT&T that manages its SPs. In her position with Nexlink, Ms. Barter had no contact with Ms. Messineo, the supervisor who had made ...

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