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Jenkins v. Electrolux Home Products, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

November 22, 2016

MARY JENKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
ELECTROLUX HOME PRODUCTS, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          ALETA A. TRAUGER, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Mary Jenkins filed this action in July 2015, asserting claims of age and disability discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”), Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-101 et seq., and the Tennessee Disability Act (“TDA”), Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 8-50-103 and -104. Now before the court is the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 29.) The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review. For the reasons set forth herein, the court will grant the motion and dismiss this action with prejudice.

         I. MATERIAL FACTS[1]

         Defendant Electrolux Home Products, Inc. (“Electrolux”) manufactures gas and electric ranges at a factory in Springfield, Tennessee. Plaintiff Mary Jenkins, a 67-year-old woman, began working at Electrolux's Springfield facility in 1978. At the time of her termination on September 5, 2014, Jenkins was a Customer Service Advocate (“CSA”) in Electrolux's Direct Ship Department and had held that position for several years.

         Among other things, CSAs' responsibilities generally include handling customer orders, tracking orders to ensure timely shipment, printing bills of lading, and communicating with customers about the status of their orders. As a CSA, Jenkins specifically handled intercompany orders, known as employee sales or “IC orders.” IC orders include employee purchases of Electrolux products as consumers and orders of products by Electrolux engineers for testing. In addition to tracking IC orders, Jenkins also printed bills of lading, tracked scrap units, and did some filing work. All CSAs were expected to share responsibility for ensuring overall customer satisfaction and to serve as backup for each other as needed.

         In June 2013, Megan Stanton became the Demand Flow Manager in the Direct Ship Department; in January 2014, Stanton became the CSAs' direct supervisor. Stanton's supervisor was J.T. Terzo, the Demand Flow and Distribution Manager.

         When Stanton joined the Direct Ship Department in June 2013, there was a corporate computer system, known as Focus, that showed orders nationwide but provided few details on particular orders. There was no uniform, centralized order tracking system at the Springfield plant. Instead, each CSA at the Springfield plant managed and tracked orders using his or her own individual method or system. At that time, errors were being made with respect to external and IC orders in the Direct Ship Department: some external and IC orders were not being shipped in a timely fashion; some incorrectly appeared as “past due” in Focus even when they were not; other orders went missing altogether or were duplicated. These errors drove costs up substantially. The individual tracking methods also made it difficult for any CSA to locate or track another CSA's orders when they were called in to perform back-up for one another.

         Likewise, the individual systems made it difficult for management to locate an order or quickly provide customer assistance if needed.

         Stanton communicated the Direct Ship Department's order tracking issues to Trina Phillips, a corporate CSA Manager. To improve the Direct Ship Department's efficiency in order tracking, Phillips created a “dashboard” for the Springfield plant-a shared excel file stored in the public folder of the plant's intranet that shows all past-due orders and the specific circumstances underlying the past-due status. The dashboard provides a centralized source for up-to-date information on any past-due order, including its daily location and status, accessible to anyone in the plant who needs the information. In the fall of 2013, Phillips came to the plant and trained the Direct Ship Department on how to use the dashboard. Jenkins was present during the training.

         In October 2013, Stanton noticed that many of Jenkins' orders were not up to date. For example, orders that had been complete since June 2013 had not been updated to reflect this status and thus appeared as past-due in Focus. At the time, Jenkins was still keeping track of her orders through handwritten notes on pieces of paper or post-it notes that she kept in a folder at her desk. On October 28 and 29, 2013, Stanton asked Jenkins to update her past-due orders by November 1, 2013.

         Jenkins concedes that she did not have all of her past-due orders current by November 1. She explained: “I did most of them, but there were certain ones that I did not have any ranges for, and so there was no way that I could do them if I did not have a range and a serial number.” (Doc. No. 30-2, Pl.'s Dep. at 52.)[2] Stanton asked her again on November 1 and November 5 to update her past-due orders; on November 5, Stanton gave Jenkins a list detailing which orders needed to be brought current and removed from Focus. As of November 6, Jenkins still had not updated all of the orders. She received a written warning related to this event on November 6, 2013, notifying her that she was underperforming and specifically directing her to “keep [her] orders current” and also to keep up with the other tasks she was expected to perform. (Doc. No. 30-5, at 1.)

         As early as June 2013, Terzo had noticed significant discrepancies in the financials on scrap units, including between the reported scrap figures and the actual figures. He learned that Jenkins was responsible for reporting the scrap numbers and discovered that she was not regularly reporting up-to-date numbers, which he concluded was causing many of the discrepancies. (Doc. No. 30-1, Terzo Decl. ¶ 5.) The November 6 written warning also specifically notified Jenkins that she needed to keep her scrap reporting current. (Doc. No. 30-5, at 1.)

         Jenkins received an overall rating of “underperforming” on her 2013 Annual Performance Appraisal (“APR”). The APR identified areas in which Jenkins needed to improve, including IC order tracking, use of the dashboard, and the quality of her written communications. Stanton and Jenkins met to review the APR on April 30, 2014. In response to the APR's evaluation of her use of the dashboard, Jenkins told Stanton that she had never been specifically told to use the dashboard and that it was not part of her job. Stanton explained that, going forward, Jenkins was expected to keep track of her orders in the dashboard, to improve her IC order tracking overall, and to learn to use the dashboard. Shortly after that, Stanton sat with Jenkins for about an hour, showing her how to use the dashboard, while Jenkins took notes. (Pl.'s Dep. at 36.)

         A month after meeting with Stanton to discuss her APR, Jenkins was still not using the dashboard. As a result, on May 30, 2014, Terzo and Stanton placed her on a 90-day Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”). The PIP identified three critical areas where improvement was needed: “[m]anagement and completion of daily dashboard”; “[m]anagement and follow up with customer orders and requests for information”; and “[o]wnership of printing bills [of lading] accurately and timely and process bills in appropriate order date.” (Doc. No. 30-7.) The PIP laid out specific steps that Jenkins was to take in order to improve in these areas and notified her that she was expected to “make immediate progress toward meeting these requirements.” (Id.) Jenkins signed the summary of her May 30 performance discussion with Stanton, but testified that she Dated:ly to indicate that the PIP was discussed with her, not that she agreed with it, and that she “just felt . . . it wasn't necessary.” (Pl.'s Dep. at 55.)

         During the 90-day PIP period, Jenkins and Stanton met weekly to review Jenkins' progress, identify areas where improvement was still needed, discuss ways to help Jenkins improve, and set weekly objectives. By the end of the first month, it was Stanton's perception that Jenkins was still not using the dashboard or the open-orders file as instructed. (See Doc. No. 30-10, July 11, 2014 Memo titled “Review and feedback after a month of meetings.”) Jenkins signed Stanton's assessment but noted that her signature acknowledged only that they had discussed the memo, not that she agreed with Stanton's feedback. (Id.; Pl.'s Dep. at 78.) Jenkins testified that she disagreed with several of the statements in the memo. (Pl.'s Dep. at 72-77.)

         Jenkins conceded that she did not send daily updates to the dashboard to Stanton as instructed if there were no changes to it: “If there was no change to the Dashboard, I did not send it to her every day.” (Pl.'s Dep. at 77.) Jenkins felt that Stanton could access that information herself, so there was no need to send it to her. (Id. at 78.)

         Despite being admonished in the April APR to improve the quality of her emails and later receiving an additional written reminder in June from Stanton and Terzo to double-check and proofread her emails before sending them, Jenkins continued to send emails with many errors. Jenkins does not dispute that her emails contained errors, but she insists that she did not make any more mistakes than her colleagues and supervisors, including Stanton. In support of that statement, however, Jenkins points only to her own notes on her copy of Stanton's July 11, 2014 memorandum, identifying perceived errors. (See Pl.'s Dep. at 69; Doc. No. 30-12.) In any event, despite the reminder in June, Jenkins continued to send emails with errors throughout the summer of 2014. (Doc. No. 30-14.) In addition, Jenkins was still not keeping the scrap records up to date.

         In July 2014, Stanton and Terzo amended the PIP to include specific directives that Jenkins improve the “quality of her written communication” and the “tracking and communication of scrap quantity and cost.” (Doc. No. 30-15, PIP Amendment.) Regarding scrap, the amended PIP required Jenkins to “track the quantity of scrapped units weekly and the associated cost and send to JT Terzo every Monday. A month to date total should be included with the data.” (Id.) Nonetheless, for several weeks after the PIP was amended, Jenkins sent the scrap updates late, sent incomplete information, or failed to send any update at all. After again being reminded by Terzo to send the scrap information, including the month-to-date total as required by the PIP amendment, Jenkins told Terzo that she had not been sending the month-to-date data because that requirement “ha[d] not been discussed.” (Doc. No. 30-18, at 2.)

         During the 90-day PIP period, despite being specifically directed to do so in the PIP, Jenkins did not properly refresh and update the dashboard on a daily basis. (Pl.'s Dep. at 59.) She did not always escalate open orders that would become past-due to the manager ahead of time, and she did not always report daily on all orders that were past due. (Id. at 60.) In addition, Jenkins continued to send emails with numerous spelling and grammatical errors. Jenkins does not dispute that fact, but she maintains that others, including Stanton, had just as many errors in their emails and that it was hypocritical for Stanton to demand better email etiquette from Jenkins when her own communications contained errors. (Doc. No. 36-1, at ¶¶ 67, 69.)

         Jenkins does not dispute that she understood both the dashboard and open order files from early on during the PIP period. She understood what was expected of her as to the scrap report and the quality of her emails.

         After the PIP Amendment went into effect, Terzo sat in on the meetings with Jenkins on August 8, 15, and 22. According to Terzo, at each meeting he asked Jenkins how they could help her improve and achieve the PIP goals, but she did not respond meaningfully. Terzo concluded that the meetings were not serving any purpose, as Jenkins had not meaningfully improved or complied with the performance requirements.

         Following the August 8 meeting, Terzo sent an email to Human Resources (“HR”) Director Mike Norton and HR Manager Jeri King, recommending that Jenkins be terminated unless HR could transfer her to an alternative position within the plant. (Doc. No. 30-20, Aug. 8, 2014 email). At the August 15, 2014 PIP meeting, Terzo asked Jenkins if she would be interested in transferring to a position in another department, either HR or the product testing lab. Jenkins rejected the offer without asking what specific jobs might be available in those departments. According to Jenkins, she told Terzo that she was not qualified for a job in HR or the testing lab, and that going “back to the line would be a demotion.” (Pl.'s Dep. at 98.)

         On September 5, Electrolux terminated Jenkins' employment based on performance issues. She was told that she was no longer able to do her job and was not interested in taking another job within the company, so there was no choice but to terminate her. (Pl.'s Dep. at 100- 01.)

         After Jenkins' termination, Electrolux did not replace her with another CSA. Instead, Stanton divided Jenkins' duties among the current CSAs in the Direct Ship Department and also took on some of the duties herself.

         On July 30, 2014, while the PIP period was ongoing, Jenkins filed her first EEOC charge, alleging age discrimination. The EEOC Regional Director signed the Notice of Charge and mailed it to Electrolux on August 7, 2014. Electrolux's Human Resources Manager received the charge on August 11 and forwarded it to the company's general counsel. Jenkins filed her second EEOC charge on September 18, 2014.

         She filed this lawsuit on July 2, 2015.

         III. ...


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