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WILLIAMS-McCOY v. STARZ ENCORE GROUP

February 13, 2004.

KATRINA WILLIAMS-McCOY, Plaintiff,
v.
STARZ ENCORE GROUP a/k/a ENCORE MEDIA COMPANY, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM YOHN, JR., District Judge

Memorandum and Order

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 Page 2 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 developing the Page 3 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 Page 4 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. Page 5 Ex. A. Plaintiff then filed this action, and presently before the court is defendant's motion for summary judgment.

  II. Legal Standards

  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 Page 6

  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.

  III. Analysis

 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, Page 7 352 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 surrounding her Page 8 termination give rise to an inference of discrimination.*fn9

 (1) Job Qualification

  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 ¶ 11.*fn11 Page 9

  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 ...


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