United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
CINDY R. TINSLEY, Plaintiff,
CATERPILLAR FINANCIAL SERVICES CORPORATION, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
A. Trauger United States District Judge.
before the court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by
the defendant, Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation
(“CFS”) (Docket No. 23). The motion was
previously granted by the court (Docket No. 34). The Sixth
Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed this court's grant of
summary judgment to the defendant on the plaintiff's
Americans with Disabilities Act failure to accommodate and
forced retirement claims, but remanded the case for further
consideration of her Family Medical Leave Act
(“FMLA”) retaliation claim. (Docket No. 40.) The
court ordered supplemental briefing, which has now been
filed. (Docket Nos. 43, 46, 47.) For the reasons discussed
herein, the motion will be denied and the FMLA retaliation
claim shall proceed to trial.
Tinsley is a former employee of CFS. She started at the
company as a paralegal in 1997 and eventually moved to the
company's business side. By October 2013, she had worked
her way up to the position of Business System Analyst III. In
that role, Tinsley worked on the Four Pillars Project (the
“Project”) with a team of seven other business
analysts. The Project involved developing, testing, and
deploying new software platforms for CFS's various
business functions. Each team member had background
experience and specialization in different functional areas.
Tinsley's specialization was in Special Accounts, dealing
mainly with collections. The team operated under the
supervision of a Global Process Track Manager, Paul Kaikaris,
and a Team Lead, Amy Clendenon. Kaikaris provided overall
leadership, while Clendenon was responsible for direct
guidance and supervision of the team.
team spent the project's first seven months familiarizing
themselves with the new software systems' capabilities.
They then reviewed those capabilities with the software's
eventual users, in order to identify gaps between the
capabilities and the users' needs. The business analysts
would draft a Functional Design Document (“FDD”)
that documented the required changes. Initially, business
analysts worked primarily to develop software solutions for
gaps within their realm of specialization. In April 2015, the
team began to test the solutions in a major test, Systems
Validation Event 1 (“SVE1”). Due to the high
volume of testing and the potential for long periods of idle
waiting time, Kaikaris and Clendenon shifted tacks by
implementing “cross-testing.” They had each
business analyst train the rest of the team on his or her
area of specialization, allowing each business analyst to run
any test scheduled on a given day.
disagreed with this decision, believing that team members
should only conduct tests within their realm of
specialization. Cross-testing was not the only source of
stress for Tinsley. Another business analyst on the team,
John Wallace, had left the team some months prior, and his
job duties and responsibilities were transferred to Tinsley.
In addition, Tinsley was handling increased responsibilities
at home related to after-school care for her grandchildren.
On April 15, 2015, Tinsley emailed Kaikaris to outline her
concerns. She noted that her change in family obligations
restricted her ability to work more than 50 hours per week
and stated that her responsibilities at work-particularly
those beyond her specialization-were negatively impacting her
work, sleep, and health. She requested that she be
transferred off of the Project and placed back in a
met with Tinsley upon receiving the email and agreed to
lighten her workload and otherwise support her as needed. On
April 21, 2015, Tinsley submitted a doctor's note from
her personal physician, excusing her from work for a
confidential medical condition. (Docket No. 26-1, Ex. 5.) She
took four days of leave pursuant to the FMLA and returned the
following Monday, April 27, 2015. On May 4, 2015, Tinsley met
with Kaikaris and Clendenon, who reassigned three FDDs from
Tinsley's workload in an effort to ease her workload
burden. In a later email to Human Resources Generalist Chinh
Brown, Tinsley stated that this “greatly reduced”
her stress level. (Doc. No. 26-1, Ex. 10.)
proceeded with the rest of the team into the SVE1 testing
event. On May 28, 2015, Kaikaris awarded Tinsley a “Cat
Buck, ” a small incentive used by CFS to praise
employees performing exemplary work or exceeding
expectations. (Docket No. 46-1 at 2 (Supplemental Affidavit
of Cindy Tinsley).) CFS employees receive a small number of
Cat Bucks every quarter to give to other employees they
perceive as doing their job well. (Id.) Cat Bucks can
be redeemed in the CFS cafeteria and on-site store.
(Id.) Each Cat Buck includes a checklist of five
“Customer Experience Guiding Principles, ” and
the employee awarding the Cat Buck checks the principle she
believes the recipient's work exemplifies. (Id.,
Ex. B.) On the Cat Buck he awarded Tinsley, Kaikaris checked
“Follow through builds trust” and added the
annotation “ALM, ” a reference to the software on
which Tinsley was working at the time. (Id.)
Kaikaris told Tinsley when he awarded her the Cat Buck that
she was one of the only testers following the prescribed
methodology. (Id. at 4.)
attempt to ameliorate the stressful conditions surrounding
SVE1, Kaikaris distributed stress balls to the business
analysts. Some business analysts and other employees-and, on
at least one occasion, Kaikaris himself-took to bouncing the
balls on the floor and other surfaces, a source of great
distraction to Tinsley. Tinsley was similarly frustrated by
various other downtime behaviors on the part of her
co-workers, which included physical activities such as
headstand pushups and arm-wrestling. On July 2, 2015, at a
daily team meeting, Kaikaris opened the floor to team
members, and Tinsley voiced her concerns. She described the
work environment as a “kindergarten” and
explained that such behavior prevented her from concentrating
and completing her work. (Doc. No. 26-1, Ex. 9.) Kaikaris
addressed the issue, and team members subsequently stopped
bouncing the balls around Tinsley.
following week, Kaikaris and Clendenon met with Tinsley to
discuss her performance during SVE1. Kaikaris and Clendenon
raised several issues related to Tinsley's purported
failure to abide by the prescribed testing methodology and
protocol. As to methodology, Kaikaris stated in his
deposition that he and Clendenon showed Tinsley accounting
tests that showed that Tinsley's testing was deficient.
Q. And what was the problem with the progress of Ms.
Tinsley's test events?
A. Cindy was getting through a very large number of tests in
a short period of time. And there's a check and balance
that we have with our finance analysts that check the
accounting after the business tests. Based on her velocity,
there were- there were-excuse me. It was evident that there
were deficiencies within her testing.
Q. How was it evident?
A. The accounting tests that followed her business tests
Q. How did those tests show that?
A. Through the accounting check of those tests. In other
words, errors-errors on the accounting side were evident due
to the balance, the credit-debit balance, the post-accounting
check that the tests ran through.
Q. Did you show Ms. Tinsley those accounting tests when you
discussed with her in meeting with Ms. Clendenon?
Q. How many test events were improperly done, according to
the accounting tests at that time?
A. I do not recall the number of tests.
Q. How many accounting test checks did you show Ms. Tinsley
during that meeting?
A. I don't recall.
Q. Less than five?
A. I don't recall.
(Docket No. 26-2 at 38.) Tinsley denies that she was shown
any accounting tests. Kaikaris and Clendenon also expressed
concern that Tinsley had left work early without permission
on two occasions. Tinsley denied both charges, insisting that
she was performing adequately and complying with team
that month, Kaikaris and Clendenon again met with Tinsley to
deliver her mid-year performance review. It was uncommon-but
not unprecedented-for multiple supervisors to deliver a
review. Kaikaris and Clendenon asked why Tinsley was taking
longer than other analysts to perform her tests, which
confused Tinsley, given that, in the prior meeting, Kaikaris
had noted that she was performing tests too quickly. (Docket
No. 46-1 at 3.) Kaikaris explained that he did not understand
why Tinsley, unlike other analysts on the team, needed to
arrive at 6:30 am to prepare for 8:00 am tests. (Docket No.
26-1 at 239.) Tinsley responded that she used that time to
answer e-mails, work on FDDs, or complete other tasks, not to
prepare for tests. (Id.)
and Clendenon informed Tinsley that she would receive a
“Did Not Meet Performance Expectations” rating,
based on the concerns they had communicated in the previous
meeting. Specifically, they detailed that Tinsley was not
following the established testing process and methodology,
putting test quality at risk. In the official performance
review document, Kaikaris wrote:
Cindy has made great contributions to the 4 Pillars project
during the first 18 months of her assignment, however the
testing aspect of her role, coupled with the high demand for
multi-tasking project deliverables, has resulted in an
uncomfortable job fit. During the first half of 2015, her
performance related to preparing for and executing the
Solution Validation testing event (SV1) for North America did
not meet performance expectations. She did not follow the
established testing process/methodology, putting test quality
at risk. Prior to beginning the event, accommodations were
made for Cindy as she was experiencing elevated stress
levels. A portion of her tasks were distributed to other
analysts including [FDD] writing and follow-up. This mid-year
rating is an anomaly and should not detract from her past
accomplishments and future opportunities. With an action plan
in place, I'm confident that Cindy can return to an
expected level of performance by year-end.
(Docket No. 26-2, Ex. 2.)
August 14, 2015, Kaikaris again met with Tinsley and provided
her with a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”),
as stipulated by company policy when an employee receives a
“Did Not Meet Performance Expectations” review
rating. The PIP outlined the disputed deficiencies Kaikaris
and Clendenon identified in their previous meeting and
prescribed a process for monitoring Tinsley's performance
for the remainder of the year. It stated that Tinsley needed
to follow proper protocol related to testing and improve
certain “value-based competencies” drawn from a
Follow the established AQA (Application Quality
Need to follow the established AQA (Application Quality
Assurance) process for testing and refrain from autonomous
and/or impulsive actions while testing. Specifically, gain
approval from Team-Lead prior to 1) instructing Tech to
change code, configurations, or formulas; 2) opening/closing
a defect; 3) obtaining an alternative contract to test. ...