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Simmons v. Del Monte Foods

September 11, 2006

LAWANNA SIMMONS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DEL MONTE FOODS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terrence F. McVerry United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

Pending before the Court for consideration and disposition is Defendant's MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Document No. 17). Plaintiff Lawanna Simmons ("Simmons") alleges discrimination based on race, sex and age and retaliation for engaging in protected activity with respect to promotion and compensation decisions made by Defendant Del Monte Foods ("Del Monte"). After a thorough review of Defendant's Memorandum of Law in Support of Its Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 18), Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition (Document No. 21), Defendant's Reply Brief (Document No. 24), the Statement of Material Undisputed Facts (Document No. 19), Plaintiff's Response to Statement of Material Undisputed Facts (Document No. 23), and Defendant's Reply (Document No. 25), and the appendices attached thereto, the Court concludes that the motion will be GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

Ms. Simmons was hired by H.J. Heinz Corporation ("Heinz") in May 1999. She was a probationary Staff Accountant, then a full-time Staff Accountant for Heinz. In that position, she reconciled bank accounts to a general ledger, and performed short-term debt analysis. In December 2002, Del Monte acquired certain Heinz business units and Plaintiff became a Del Monte employee. She reported to Ken Woodard, Manager of Financial Accounting.

In 2003, Del Monte developed a new compensation structure to "harmonize" (standardize and simplify) job titles and compensation in the new organization. Prior to the harmonization, there had been 1000 unique job titles for 1800 employees. Del Monte harmonized the former Heinz employees by matching the employee's Heinz salary midpoint to the corresponding salary midpoint at Del Monte, which then dictated a particular Del Monte grade level and generic title under Del Monte's compensation scheme. Following the harmonization, employees were informed that future job evaluations would be based on "Market Pricing," which entailed comparing job duties and job descriptions to similar jobs in the labor market and within the company.

In May 2003, Rachel Lenyk, another Staff Accountant, resigned.*fn1 Woodard asked Simmons if she would like to take over Lenyk's duties. Simmons agreed because it was consistent with her desire to do additional new things and to take on new projects and opportunities. Simmons understood that she would not get a change in title or pay. In August 2003, Plaintiff received a memo advising her that as part of the harmonization process her job title was being changed from "Staff Financial Analyst" to "Associate II, salary grade level 11." Until this date, Plaintiff had believed that her title was "Staff Accountant" rather than "Staff Financial Analyst." An Analyst would have a higher salary grade than an Accountant.

In October 2003, Woodard asked Simmons if she would be interested in hedge and derivative accounting. That position became available when Angela Siecinski was promoted. Starting in approximately 2000, Siecinski had developed a system to ensure Heinz' compliance with a new financial accounting standard, FAS 133. By 2002, Siecinski's position at Heinz had evolved from Procurement Buyer to Manager of Derivative Financial Accounting. After the acquisition, Siecinski adapted her derivative accounting system to Del Monte, which did not have such a program. In response to Woodard's request, Simmons asked whether the position would be a promotion and discussed the job duties with Siecinski. Siecinski told her that she would be taking on everything that Siecinski had done. Siecinski and Simmons had similar educational and work experience, with the exception of familiarity with hedge and derivative accounting. Woodard informed Simmons that there was a six-month learning curve because it was such a high profile position and allegedly promised that she would be promoted after those six months.

From October 2003 until January 2004, Simmons continued to perform her prior job duties while also learning some of Siecinski's tasks. In January 2004, Del Monte hired Dawn Miller to fill Simmons' prior job and Simmons began training Miller while continuing to learn the derivative accounting role. Miller was paid substantially less than Simmons and had a lower job title (Associate I).

In March 2004, Siecinski submitted a notice of resignation. Simmons acknowledged that she didn't know anything about hedge accounting and had to learn the job in the two weeks before Siecinski left. Thereafter, Simmons used the derivative system that had been created by Siecinski to perform the day-to-day processes required for derivative accounting, in addition to working on fixed assets and implementing a software package called Reval. Some of Siecinski's managerial duties were assumed by Tony Dodds (Manager, Corporate Accounting). Simmons then reported to Dodds.

Dodds prepared a job description for Simmons' new duties, which he reviewed with Simmons. He used a "Financial Analyst - Derivative Accounting" template rather than one for a "Manager - Derivative Accounting," and recommended to Human Resources that the position be salary grade level 11. Woodard had told Dodds that he hoped the position would be salary grade level 11. Simmons confirmed that the job description accurately summarized her duties. James Kennedy and Paul Schwarzmiller then performed a job evaluation and concluded that the functional title for Simmons' job was Derivative Accountant, with salary grade level 11.*fn2 After learning of this result, Simmons met with Kennedy and Lisa Sennett to inform them that Woodard and Steve Reyburn, Vice President of Finance, had promised her a promotion and that she did not agree with not being promoted. Kennedy and Sennett agreed to look into the matter and held a conference call with managers in the finance department regarding the scope of responsibilities of various staff accounting positions. Del Monte adhered to its original result.

Sennett told Simmons that she would hate to see Simmons leave the company and volunteered to help revise Simmons' resume for future job applications. Sennett then arranged an interview with Greg Findley, although Findley showed very little interest. Other employees in Human Resources also met with Simmons to see what other positions she might be interested in at Del Monte.

After Siecinski resigned, Woodard and Dodds decided not to fill Siecinski's position as Manager of General Accounting, but instead created a new grade level 12 position for Senior Financial Analyst (Associate III). Simmons did not apply for this position or express interest in it, even though Dodds was the hiring manager.

On June 25, 2004, Simmons applied for an open position, Senior Business Analyst, Manager I (salary grade level 21), which had been posted on May 19, 2004. Plaintiff was not interviewed for this position. Two acceptable candidates had already been interviewed and selected, although the job was not yet filled. Sennett informed Simmons at the time she applied that the candidate had already been selected. The first choice declined the position and the second choice, Robert Amoroso, was hired on July 6, 2004.*fn3 The successful candidate needed to demonstrate proficiency in statistics and forecasting and have experience in supply chain and consumer goods forecasting. Amoroso had ten years of relevant experience at Kraft Foods, which was much larger than Del Monte. Amoroso did not have an MBA or an APICS certification, both of which were preferred, but not required. Simmons did not have any expertise in forecasting or supply chain management.

On July 9, 2004, Simmons filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. The charge alleged race, sex and age discrimination, retaliation ...


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