The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Curtis L. Collier
Before the Court is Defendant Krystal Company's ("Defendant") motion for summary judgment (Court File No. 22) and a supporting memorandum (Court File No. 24). Plaintiff Kristen Madison Day ("Plaintiff") filed a response to Defendant's motion (Court File No. 30). Defendant, in turn, filed a reply to Plaintiff's response (Court File No. 35). For the following reasons, the Court will GRANT Defendant's motion for summary judgment and will DISMISS Plaintiff's wage discrimination claim under the Tennessee Human Rights Act.
Summary judgment is proper where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Initially, the burden is on the moving party to conclusively show no genuine issues of material fact exist, Leary v. Daeschner, 349 F.3d 888, 897 (6th Cir. 2003), and the Court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88, (1986). However, the nonmoving party is not entitled to a trial merely on the basis of allegations, but must come forward with some significant probative evidence to support its claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). If the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Id. at 323.
The Court determines whether sufficient evidence has been presented to make the issue of fact a proper jury question, but does not weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of the matter. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Weaver v. Shadoan, 340 F.3d 398, 405 (6th Cir. 2003). The standard for summary judgment mirrors the standard for directed verdict. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. The Court must decide "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52. There must be some probative evidence from which the jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. If the Court concludes a fair-minded jury could not return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party based on the evidence presented, it may enter a summary judgment. Id.; Lansing Dairy, Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir. 1994).
In the fall of 1998, Plaintiff applied for an employee benefits manager position with Defendant. After interviewing Plaintiff, Larry Reeher ("Reeher"), Defendant's Human Resources Vice President at the time, sent Terry Mathews ("Mathews"), Defendant's Human Resources Director at that time, an e-mail indicating Plaintiff was "light on what we'd ideally want but could grow into the role. . . (She's not a candidate for the HR Manager slot)." (Court File No. 22, Exh. F, Declaration of Roger Rendin ("Rendin Decl."), part (b)). Reeher also described Plaintiff as being "bright eyed, bushy tailed." Id. Plaintiff began working with Defendant as a Employee Benefits Manager in December 1998, at a salary of $30,000 (Court File No. 30, Exh. A, Deposition of Kristen Day ("Day Dep."), pp. 67-68 ). After Plaintiff had been working for Defendant for almost two years, Mathews recommended a pay increase since, in his opinion, she had been "low balled" when hired. (Rendin Decl., part (d)). Mathews recommended a one time increase of $3,500, and it was approved. Id.
As Employee Benefits Manager, Plaintiff performed several duties including: managing benefits for more than 10, 000 employees, managing a budget of $3.5 million; managing vendor relationships with insurance carriers; managing human resource relationships such as worker's compensation, training and orientation, employee statistics, pension and 401k; and providing benefit information to the employees. Id. at 76-78. Plaintiff also directly supervised five employees in Human Resources, provided quarterly reports and updates to the executive committee, and devoted time to the management of the Human Resources Department. Id. During her tenure with Defendant, Plaintiff received praises for her work from her supervisor, Mathews, and Roger Rendin ("Rendin"), Vice President of Human Resources.
On November 23, 2003, Mathews suffered a brain aneurism and was on leave for six months*fn1 . (Day Dep. at 145). Mathews' duties were distributed among Rendin, Plaintiff, outside counsel, and an outside company. Id. at 145-48. While Mathews was on leave, Plaintiff met with him and expressed her desire to obtain his position if he were not able to return to work. Id. at 101.
Mathews told Day she would not be considered for a promotion because she was a woman. Id. Nonetheless, during Plaintiff's May 2004 evaluation, she told Rendin she was interested in obtaining Mathews' position if he did not return. Id. at 150. Rendin told Plaintiff she had been doing a very good job fulfilling some of Mathews' duties in his absence, and this was her chance to move forward in her career with human resources. Id. He also suggested she attend a women in management seminar. Id. at 130-31. Plaintiff found this suggestion to be "demeaning and gender biased," so instead of taking classes pertaining to women in management, she started attending seminars that would help her obtain her senior-level certificate. Id.
Although Mathews returned to his position after six months of leave, he ultimately left his position with Defendant in September 2004. Id. at 150. In January 2005, Plaintiff received a senior certificate in human resources. Id. One month later, during a company presentation to 70 restaurant managers, Steve Caldwell ("Caldwell"), Director of Operations, introduced Plaintiff to the audience as the benefits manager and stated she "was really just kept at The Krystal Company as eye candy." Id. at 93. Plaintiff felt this comment was extremely inappropriate since she was about to make a presentation to the group. Id. at 94.
During Plaintiff's May 2005 performance evaluation, Plaintiff once again told Rendin she was interested in obtaining Mathews' position. (Day Dep. at 150). Rendin made comments Plaintiff interpreted to mean she had to choose between a career in management and being "one of the girls." Id. at 85. During his deposition, Rendin explained he advised Plaintiff if she wanted to advance her career, she should associate with more upper level employees (who were almost exclusively male) rather than lower-level employees (who were mostly females). (Court File No. 22, Deposition of Roger Rendin ("Rendin Dep.") at 29-31).
Although Plaintiff received praises from her two immediate supervisors, Mathews and Rendin, Krystal's Chief Executive Officer, James Fred Exum (" Mr. Exum") was not satisfied with Plaintiff's service to his wife, Karen Exum ("Mrs. Exum"), on issues regarding their benefit plan. On one occasion Ms. Exum called Plaintiff to ask about a cap on coverage for certain procedures and Plaintiff told Ms. Exum she should "get a cheaper doctor." (Court File No. 22, Exh. D, Deposition of Karen Exum ("K. Exum Dep.") at 26). Plaintiff does not recall making this comment. (Day Dep. at 161). Sometime afterwards, one of the Exums' sons was dropped from coverage because he was college-aged and the insurance company did not have a form on file showing he was in fact registered with a college full time. (Court File No. 22, Exh. C, Deposition of James Fred Exum ("F. Exum Dep.") at 21). Ms. Exum contacted Plaintiff, and the issue was resolved. Id. at 23. The next year, the Exums' son was once again dropped from coverage after they had filled out the appropriate form. Id. at 26. Since the same problem had occurred again, Mr. Exum informed Mrs. Exum to contact Mathews rather than Plaintiff regarding issues concerning their benefit plan. Id. at 27. Although Mr. Mathews handled the problem the second time, the Exums had the same problem in subsequent years. Id. at 29.
Once Mathews was no longer employed with Defendant, Mr. Exum told his wife to contact Rendin if she had a benefits question. Id. at 30-31. In May 2005, Mrs. Exum called Mr. Exum's administrative assistant regarding a laboratory procedure she believed was erroneously charged to her. (K. Exum Dep. at 49-50). Mr. Exum's assistant, in turn, contacted Plaintiff, and Plaintiff advised her the charge was correct. (Day Dep. at 168). Plaintiff also stated if Mrs. Exum felt the charge was incorrect, she could contact Kanawha, the insurance company, to inquire about the charge or Mrs. Exum could sign a HIPAA authorization, authorizing Plaintiff to talk to Kanawha on Mrs. Exum's behalf. Id. at 165-66. Mr. Exum's assistant relayed this information to Mrs. Exum. (K Exum Depo. at 49-50). Mrs. Exum stated she would take care of this herself, but Mr. Exum's assistant told her Kanawha would contact her at 10:00 a.m. the next day. Id. at 50. The next day Kanawha contacted Mrs. Exum, agreed the charge was not correct, and fixed the problem. Id. As a result of his frustration over the repeated benefits mishaps, Mr. Exum instructed Rendin to fire Plaintiff by July 1, 2005. (F. Exum Dep. at 34). Because Rendin would be out of town July 1, 2005, Mr. Exum agreed Rendin could put it off for a couple of weeks until he got back. (Rendin Dep. at 28).
Once Rendin was out of the country, Plaintiff informed him she was going to get married. (Rendin Dep. at 27-28). Plaintiff was terminated on July 13, 2005. (Day Dep. at 152). During her termination, Rendin told Plaintiff she could resign and tell everyone she was doing so because of her upcoming marriage. Id. at 123-24. At the time of Plaintiff's termination, she was receiving a salary of around $47,000. (Rendin Dep. at 48). However, during her last year of employment with Defendant, male managers were hired at a starting salary of $75,000 per year, plus bonus. (Day Dep. at 141). Two of the managers were the same age as Plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff also noticed male directors were paid significantly higher salaries than female directors. Id. at 134-35.
According to Plaintiff, soon after she was terminated, Rendin commented to an employee he did not understand why she was upset about her termination because now she could be a stay-at-home mom. (Day Depo. at 123). Redin denies making this comment but states when he was told Plaintiff had gotten married to a man who had children already, he commented Plaintiff had told him she wanted to become a mother, have a family and raise children and now she had achieved that. (Rendin Dep. at 47-48). Plaintiff admits at one point she told Rendin her "pipe dream" was to go back to school, get a Ph.D., and become a professor of human resources; she stated when she made that change of going to school full time, she would like to have children and be a stay-at-home mom while studying for her Ph.D. (Day Dep. at 151-52). After Plaintiff's termination, her duties were given to Angela McLaughlin ("McLaughlin"), a female benefits specialist, and as a result, Jennifer Sawyer was hired to handle the work McLaughlin could no longer do. (Rendin Dep. at 52).
Plaintiff's complaint contains four causes of action brought pursuant to the Tennessee Human Rights Act ("THRA"): gender-discrimination, failure to promote, wage disparity, and gender-based hostile work environment. As a preliminary matter, the Court notes the Tennessee Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized the application of federal law to THRA cases. See, e.g., Parker v. Warren County Utility Dist., 2 S.W.3d 170, 172 (Tenn. 1999) (recognizing the Tennessee legislature intended the THRA "to be coextensive with federal law."); Frizzell v. Southwest Motor Freight Co., 154 F.3d 641, 646 (6th Cir. 1998). Therefore, the Court analyzes Plaintiff's THRA claims for gender-discrimination, gender-based hostile work environment, and failure to promote under the relevant federal standards.
A. Gender Discrimination Claim
In her complaint, Plaintiff alleges she was terminated because of her gender. Defendant moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim, contending Plaintiff was not replaced at all; instead, another female employee took over her duties. The Court will GRANT Defendant's motion for summary judgment and Plaintiff's THRA gender discrimination claims will be DISMISSED.
Under both Title VII and the THRA, a plaintiff seeking to establish a claim of sex discrimination bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination. Tex. Dep't of Comm. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-53 (1981); Peltier v. United States, 388 F.3d 984, 987 (6th Cir. 2004). A plaintiff "may establish a prima facie case of discrimination either by presenting direct evidence of intentional discrimination by the defendant, or by showing the existence of facts which create an inference of discrimination." Talley v. Bravo Pitino Rest., Ltd., 61 F.3d 1241, 1248 (6th Cir. 1995). In the instant case, Plaintiff has proposed the indirect method and in doing so implicitly concedes her evidence does not suffice as direct proof. A plaintiff may establish her prima facie case of gender discrimination with indirect, circumstantial evidence by showing: (1) she was a member of a protected class, (2) she was subjected to an adverse employment action, (3) she was qualified for the position, and (4) she was replaced by a person outside the protected class, or a similarly situated non-protected employee was treated more favorably. Talley, 61 F.3d at 1246 (race discrimination); Jacklyn v. Schering-Plough Healthcare Prods. Sales Corp., 176 F.3d 921, 928 (6th Cir. 1999) (gender discrimination). "If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of gender discrimination, the burden of production shifts to the defendant to provide a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the employment action." Humenny v. Genex Corp., 390 F.3d 901, 906 (6th Cir. 2004).
If the defendant is able to satisfy this burden, the plaintiff must then prove the defendant's proffered reason is, in fact, a pretext for unlawful discrimination. Id. Pretext can be proven by showing that: "(1) the stated reasons for the defendant's action had no basis in fact; (2) the stated reasons for defendant's action were not the actual reasons; or (3) the stated reasons for the defendant's action were insufficient to explain the [adverse action taken]." Sampson v. Sec'y of Transp., No. 98-5669, 1999 WL 455399, at *2 (6th Cir. June 23, 1999); Barnhart v. Pickrel, Schaeffer & Ebeling Co., 12 F.3d 1382, 1390 (6th Cir. 1993). A defendant bears only the burden of production and not the burden ...