The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM YOHN, JR., District Judge
Plaintiff Katrina Williams McCoy ("McCoy") brings this Title VII
action against her former employer, Starz Encore Group ("Starz"),
alleging that defendant's decision to terminate her employment was
impermissibly motivated by race-based animus. Presently before this court
is defendant's motion for summary judgment.
I. Factual Background*fn1
In the autumn of 1999, plaintiff Katrina Williams McCoy applied for a
position as District Manager of the East Coast region at Starz, a
national media company. Pl.'s Answer to
Def.'s Statement of Uncontested Facts ("Pl.'s Statement"); see
also McCoy Dep. at 9 and 107. After speaking with Que Spalding, the
president of Starz, and Jillaina Wachendorf, plaintiff was referred to
Robin Feller, the regional vice president of Starz. McCoy Dep. at 107. On
October 21. 1999, plaintiff sent a letter to Feller indicating that she
had experience in the cable industry and was interested in a District
Manager position at Starz. Id. at 306-08. Plaintiff was
interviewed by Starz Director Tracey Sartino, Feller, Miles McNamee, a
regional vice president, and Susan Geiselhart, division vice president.
Pl.'s Statement at ¶¶ 2-3. Upon defendant's decision to hire McCoy,
Feller called plaintiff, offered her the position at a starting annual
salary of $60,000, and plaintiff commenced work as District Manager for
the East Coast region of Starz on December 30, 1999. Id. at
¶¶ 4-8. Plaintiff's salary of $60,000 was $5,000 to $10,000 more than
the salary offered to Colleen Willcom, a Caucasian female who began
employment with Starz as a District Manager shortly after plaintiff.
Id. at ¶ 7.
Although Sartino has hired other African-Americans during her time at
Starz, plaintiff was the first African-American hired by Sartino for a
management position. Sartino Dep. at 221-22. Feller has personally
participated in hiring at least two other African-Americans, both male,
for the positions of trainer and District Manager. Feller Dep. at 33-35.
As District Manager, plaintiff was part of the AT&T system. McCoy
Dep. at 17. This system had two directors, each responsible for one
portion of the country, and several district managers working for each
director. Id. McCoy reported to Tracey Sartino, her director,
who in turn reported to Robin Feller, a regional vice president.
Id. at 17-18. As a district manager, plaintiff was responsible
for product knowledge training within the AT&T cable system, for
implementation of both national and regional movie-based incentives, for
marketing tactics used to grow Starz's subscriber base, and for
creating effective telemarketing systems. Id. at 9-15.
During Plaintiff's employment at Starz, she experienced general
unfriendliness in the workplace, several incidents of perceived
hostility, and a lack of training and support from her supervisors.*fn2
On July 27, 2000, Sartino met with plaintiff to discuss an "Action
Plan" that she had prepared one day earlier. Pl's Statement at ¶ 10.
The 90-day Action Plan, prepared by Sartino due to her perception that
McCoy was not performing at the expected level,*fn3 set forth several
performance objectives for plaintiff, outlined Sartino's expectations,
and established 30, 60, and 90-day deadlines for the completion of each
task. See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J at Ex. D ("Action Plan"). The six
objectives set forth for McCoy by the Action Plan included the following:
increase knowledge of territory; develop and implement marketing plans
for Boston and Pittsburgh; increase sales and product knowledge;
understand the budget; hire two trainers in the
Philadelphia office by September 2000; improve organizational skills.
Id.*fn4 Plaintiff met some of the objectives before the
deadlines, and failed to meet others. Pl.'s Statement at ¶ 11.
On September 28, 2000, plaintiff received a Corrective Discipline
Memorandum which detailed several "performance or behavioral problems,"
defendant's expectations, proposed solutions, and consequences should
Plaintiff's performance or behavior not improve to the expected level.
See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J at Ex. E ("CDM").*fn5
Following the expiration of the 90-day portion of plaintiff's Action
Plan, Sartino and Feller met to discuss Plaintiff's job performance,
determined that she should be terminated, and terminated plaintiff on
November 15, 2000. Def.'s Statement of Uncontested Facts in Support of
Mot. Summ. J. at ¶ 13-17; Pl.'s Statement at ¶ 13-17. Prior to
Plaintiff's termination, Feller had participated in two corrective
discipline actions, one with a minority female who was ultimately
terminated and one with a Caucasian male who was not terminated. Feller
Dep. at 82-84. Sartino had never taken part in a corrective action prior
to issuing the CDM to plaintiff, nor had she been involved in terminating
an employee. Sartino Dep. at 158.
On August 30, 2001, McCoy contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission, alleging that Starz had discriminated against her by
terminating her employment. McCoy Dep. at 200; see also Ltr.
from McCoy to Daniel McGuire, Aug. 30, 2001 (attached to McCoy Dep. as
Ex. 1). The EEOC then issued a "right to sue" notice to plaintiff on
April 25, 2002. See Compl.
Ex. A. Plaintiff then filed this action, and presently before the court
is defendant's motion for summary judgment.
Summary judgment is proper "if 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). This court may not resolve disputed factual issues, but
rather should determine whether there are genuine, material factual
issues that require a trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). Where "the record taken as a
whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving
party," however, there is "no genuine issue for trial." Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587
(1986) (quotations omitted). In order to determine whether summary
judgment is appropriate in this particular case, all of the facts
delineated above are stated in the light most favorable to the plaintiff
as the non-moving party. See Saldana v. Kmart Corp.,
260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001). While this court will draw all reasonable
inferences in Plaintiff's favor, however, plaintiff must do more than
rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements.
Trap Rock Indus., Inc. v. Local 825, 982 F.2d 884, 890 (3d Cir.
1992). Rather, plaintiff "must present affirmative evidence" in order to
defeat a motion for summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 257 (1986).*fn6
Title VII prohibits an employer from discrimination against any
individual on the basis of "race, color, religion, sex, or national
origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). To prevail on a Title VII claim,
McCoy must present circumstantial evidence of discrimination using the
familiar burden-shifting analysis of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).*fn7 Pursuant to McDonnell
Douglas, a plaintiff must first provide evidence to support a prima
facie case of discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence. See
St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 506 (1993). If
plaintiff succeeds in establishing a prima facie case, defendant then
must "articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the
employee's [termination]." McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802.
If defendant does so, the burden shifts back to plaintiff to show that
the reasons proffered by defendant were not its true reasons, but rather
a pretext for discrimination. Id. at 804.
A. McCoy's Prima Facie Case
The existence of a prima facie case of race-based employment
discrimination "is a question of law that must be decided by the Court."
Sarullo v. United States Postal Service,
352 F.3d 789, 797 (3d Cir. 2003). In order to make out a prima
facie case of racial discrimination, McCoy must satisfy a four-prong
test: she must establish that (1) she is a member of a protected class,
(2) that she was qualified for her position, (3) that she was subjected
to an adverse employment action despite being qualified, and (4) that
Starz continued to seek out individuals with qualifications similar to
hers to fill the position "under circumstances that raise an inference of
discriminatory action." Id.; see also Hampton v. Borough of Tinton
Falls Police Dept., 98 F.3d 107, 112 (3d Cir. 1996) (describing the
fourth prong as requiring that plaintiff establish that her termination
occurred under circumstances giving rise "to an inference of unlawful
discrimination") (quoting Tex. Dept. of Community Affairs v.
Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981)); see also Geraci v.
Moody-Tottrup, Intern., Inc., 82 F.3d 578, 580-81 (3d Cir. 1996)
(quoting same); Waldron v. SL Indus., 56 F.3d 491, 494 (3d Cir.
1995) (quoting same).*fn8 The elements of a prima facie case
must be established by a preponderance of the evidence. See St.
Mary's, 509 U.S. at 506.
The parties do not dispute that plaintiff is a member of a protected
class, nor do they dispute that she was terminated from her position at
Starz. Whether or not McCoy has made out a prima facie case, therefore,
turns upon the second and fourth prongs of the prima facie test: whether
she was qualified for the position, and whether the circumstances
termination give rise to an inference of discrimination.*fn9
McCoy must establish that she was qualified for her position. After
almost seven months on the job, plaintiff was given a "90-Day Action
Plan" by Tracey Sartino, a Starz Director and Plaintiff's direct
supervisor. See Action Plan; see also Def.'s Statement
of Uncontested Facts in Supp. of Mot. Summ. J. at ¶ 10 (attached to
Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. as Ex. A); Pl.'s Answer to Def.'s Statement of
Uncontested Facts at ¶ 10.*fn10 The Action Plan set forth six
improvement objectives for plaintiff, as well as deadlines by which she
was expected to have completed them. See Action Plan at 1-2.
Plaintiff admits that she did not meet each and every goal set forth in
the Action Plan. See Def.'s Statement of Uncontested Facts in
Supp. of Mot. Summ. J. at ¶ 11 (attached to Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. as
Ex. A); Pl.'s Answer to Def.'s Statement of Uncontested Facts at ¶
Two months later, plaintiff was given a Corrective Discipline
Memorandum setting forth Plaintiff's performance and behavioral problems,
as perceived by Sartino, Starz's expectations and proposed solutions to
Plaintiff's problems, and consequences should Plaintiff's behavior and
performance not improve to the expected level. See CDM. While
plaintiff disputes the truth of certain portions of the CDM, she admits
that she had difficulty understanding "SEG products and sales
strategies," the ...