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Mallory v. Caterpillar Financial Services Corp.

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

April 28, 2017

SHEILAH MALLORY, Plaintiff,
v.
CATERPILLAR FINANCIAL SERVICES CORP., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR., CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Sheilah Mallory brought this action against her current employer, Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation (“Caterpillar”), alleging multiple violations of federal and state law stemming from her employment. (Doc. No. 1.) Before the Court is Caterpillar's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 28.) For the following reasons, Caterpillar's motion is GRANTED.

         I. UNDISPUTED FACTS

         Mallory is a fifty-two-year-old African American female who works at Caterpillar in Nashville, Tennessee. (Doc. No. 36 at 1-2.) Caterpillar hired Mallory in 1996 as an Associate Tax Accountant. (Id. at 2.) In 2008, Mallory worked as an Accountant III with a salary grade of 7 for Caterpillar. (Doc. No. 38-2 at 20.) Her supervisor, Cathy Brindos, rated Mallory's performance as “3B, ” which means she had a “Valued Performance, ” and Dawn Couch approved that rating. (Id. at 20, 27.) In 2009, Brindos rated Mallory's performance as “3C, ” which also means she had a “Valued Performance, ” and a supervisor approved that rating. (Doc. No. 38-4 at 6-14.) A grade of “3B” was the middle of the acceptable performance, while a grade of “3C” was the lower end of an acceptable performance. (Doc. No. 30-2 at 12.)

         1. Mallory's Demotion

         On May 1, 2010, Alyssa Pagel became Mallory's direct supervisor. (Doc. No. 36 at 2.) Pagle created an interim review document, dated June 9, 2010, rating Mallory as a “4, ” which means “Needs Improvement.” (Doc. No. 38-4 at 16.) It is unclear from the record why Pagel's mid-year evaluation of “4” is the only evaluation in the record, or even why Pagel did a mid-year review. Pagel testified that Brindos would have completed the mid-year evaluation in 2010 because she was Mallory's supervisor for the majority of the year. (Doc. No. 30-2 at 12.) According to Pagel, Brindos rated Mallory as a “3C” in the mid-year evaluation for 2010. (Id. at 6.) Based on the “3C” rating, as well as Pagel's observations of Mallory, Pagel decided to put Mallory on a performance improvement plan. (Id.) Mallory believes that the “false” mid-year evaluation of a “4” led Pagel to place her on the performance improvement plan, and she would not have with Brindos' “3C” rating. (Doc. No. 36 at 4-5.) While Pagel was the financial statements manager, she never placed any other employee, all white females, on a performance improvement plan. (Doc. No. 30-2 at 24.)

         At the end of the 2010, Pagel rated Mallory as a “4 - Needs Improvement, ” which Dawn Couch approved. (Doc. No. 30-4 at 9, 17.) As a result, in 2011, Caterpillar gave Mallory two choices: stay in her current job in a salary grade 7 but go through her performance improvement plan again, or take a demotion to an Accountant II position at a salary grade 6. (Doc. No. 30-1 at 23.) With the demotion, Mallory would be able to keep her salary, but her incentive compensation would decrease from twelve percent to nine percent. (Id.) Mallory accepted the demotion, effective February 1, 2011. (Id.; Doc. No. 36 at 6.)

         On April 7, 2011, Mallory filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), alleging age discrimination in her demotion. (Doc. No. 36 at 18.) On August 15, 2012, the EEOC sent Mallory a Right to Sue letter, but Mallory chose not to file a lawsuit. (Id. at 19.)

         2. Job Performance After Demotion

         Effective March 11, 2011, Kimberly Coots, a female over the age of 40, became Mallory's direct supervisor. (Doc. No. 36 at 6, 8.) For the calendar year 2011, Coots rated Mallory as a “3C - Valued Performance, ” which Pagel approved. (Id. at 6-7, Doc. No. 30-3 at 15.) On February 24, 2012, Mallory filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, alleging race and age discrimination and retaliation. (Id.) She alleged that she received a poor evaluation since her first charge, her managers stand around watching her and whisper, and that she was the only employee not to receive a pay raise in the past three years. (Id.) Mallory alleged that her failure to receive a raise in 2012 was based on discrimination because of her race and age. (Id.) On December 18, 2012, the EEOC sent Mallory a Right to Sue letter, again Mallory did not file a lawsuit. (Id.)

         For the calendar year 2012, Coots rated Mallory as “Expected Level of Performance, ” which her manager approved after a consensus review process. (Doc. No. 36 at 7.) For the calendar year 2013, Coots rated Mallory as “Expected Level of Performance, ” which her manager approved after a consensus review process. (Id.) Coots' ratings of Mallory were based on Coots' observation and assessment of Mallory's work performance and effort. (Id.) Mallory's race, sex, and/or age and any charges of complaints of discrimination she might have made played no role in Coots' assessment of Mallory's performance. (Id.)

         On September 26, 2013, Coots updated Mallory's “Employee Talent Profile Report.” (Doc. No. 30-3 at 3; 29.) In the report, she stated that Mallory was currently at her potential level, and she was not promotable. (Id. at 29.) She noted that Mallory had a strong desire to pursue a Salary Grade 6 Credit Analyst position, but that was not realistic because she wanted to avoid customer- facing positions within the business. (Id.) However, after Mallory applied for the Credit Analyst position and David Sopko told Mallory that she did not get the position because she was demoted and currently rated as not promotable, Coots, Pagel, and Rachel Stearn met with Mallory and stated that they did not know who put those comments in the system. (Doc. No. 30-1 at 12.) Coots never said anything to Mallory that suggested Coots was biased against Mallory because of her race, gender, or age. (Doc. No. 36 at 8.)

         Effective March 1, 2014, Michelle Wooten became Mallory's supervisor. (Id. at 9.) For the calendar year 2014, Wooten rated Mallory as at her “Expected Level of Performance, ” which Wooten's manager approved through the consensus review process. (Id.) Wooten's rating for Mallory was based on Wooten's observation and assessment of Mallory's work performance and overall work effort. (Id.) Mallory's race, sex, age, and any charges or complaints of discrimination played no role in Wooten's assessment of Mallory's performance. (Id.) Separate from the performance review process, Wooten completed Mallory's Employee Talent Profile Report on August 9, 2014. (Id.) In the report, Wooten identified that Mallory was currently at her potential level and indicated that Mallory was not promotable. (Id.) Again, Wooten's assessment of Mallory's potential was based on Wooten's observation and assessment of Mallory's performance and capabilities, and Mallory's race, sex, age, and/or any charges or complaints of discrimination played no role in Wooten's assessment of Mallory's job potential. (Id. at 10.)

         At one point during Wooten's tenure as Mallory's supervisor, she and Gwen Rowland attempted to change Mallory's journal to show her as late. (Doc. No. 30-1 at 40.) Ultimately, they did not succeed, and this dishonest attempt was one of the reasons Caterpillar moved Wooten to a different department the following year. (Id.)

         Effective January 1, 2015, Allen Patterson became Mallory's supervisor, and currently remains her supervisor. (Doc. No. 36 at 10.) Patterson rated Mallory as at her “Expected Level of Performance, ” which his manager approved through the consensus review process. (Id.) Patterson's rating of Mallory was based on his observation and assessment of Mallory's work performance and overall work effort. (Id.) Mallory's race, sex, age, and any charges or complaints of discrimination played no role in his assessment of Mallory's performance. (Id.)

         In October 2015, Mallory asked Patterson why no manager had rated Mallory as promotable. (Id. at 11.) Patterson met with Mallory to explain the reasons, and sent a follow-up email after the meeting to reiterate the reasons. (Id.) The email stated that Mallory has not “demonstrated the skills necessary for the next level position.” (Id.) It further stated that in the time Patterson has been the supervisor, he noted that Mallory has done a good job on “routine tasks but need to improve in some areas before [she is] ready for the next level . . . .” (Id.) Patterson concluded that Mallory was “well placed at this time.” (Id.) Mallory has no reason to believe Patterson is biased against black employees. (Id.)

         3. Mallory's Attempt to Transfer

         In 2013, 2014, and 2015, Mallory applied for a lateral transfer to a Credit Analyst position in the North American Business Center (the “Business Center”), a department within Caterpillar separate from the Accounting Department. (Id. at 12-13.) Mallory would not be entitled to a pay increase had she received the transfer. (Id. at 13.) In 2013, while Caterpillar judged Mallory to be minimally qualified for the position, it, through the hiring manager Karen Page, ultimately did not select her. (Id.) Instead, it selected a black female and two white males. (Id.) All three selected candidates had experience working in a credit or sales support function within the Business Center. (Id.) In 2014, David Sopko, the new hiring manager, interviewed Mallory for the position, but ultimately selected a black male and a white male. (Id.) One of the hired candidates was the liaison between the Credit and Documentation departments prior to his transfer, while the other had eight years of banking experience and had been providing business support to customers and financial analysis support to Territory Managers and Sales Representatives. (Id. at 13-14.) In 2015, Sopko again interviewed Mallory, but did not select her. (Id. at 14.) Sopko instead selected a white male who had been analyzing loan documents since his hiring and had eight years' banking experience. (Id.)

         Sopko met with Mallory at least once after hiring other candidates for open Credit Analyst positions. (Doc. No. 36 at 14; Doc. No. 30-1 at 12.) He told Mallory that she could improve her prospects of obtaining a future open Credit Analyst position by seeking other credit experience. (Doc. No. 30-1 at 12.) He also told her that he saw in her file that she had been demoted due to her performance, lacked customer service skills, and was rated as non-promotable, which were the reasons he did not hire her for the open positions. (Id.; id. at 49) Sopko swore that he hired other candidates because they were better qualified with more relevant experience for the open positions. (Doc. No. 30-6 at 3.) He also swore that he recommended to Mallory that she pursue a sales support position with the Business Center to increase her chances of being selected for a future credit analyst position. (Id.) Mallory does not allege that Sopko considered Mallory's race, gender, age, and/or national origin in his decisions to select other candidates for the credit analyst positions. (Doc. No. 36 at 15.) Instead, she alleges that Coots' ...


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