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Frances Jean-Louis v. Rgis Inventory Specialists

August 18, 2011

FRANCES JEAN-LOUIS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
RGIS INVENTORY SPECIALISTS, LLC, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pollak, J.

OPINION

Plaintiff Frances Jean-Louis, an African-American woman, brings this civil action under both state and federal anti-discrimination statutes against her former employer, RGIS Inventory Specialists, LLC ("RGIS"). She alleges that RGIS treated her unfairly because of her race and improperly classified her work to avoid paying her overtime. Before the court now is RGIS's motion for summary judgment.

I. Background

RGIS is an inventory specialist that performs, among other things, audits of retail stores to provide an accurate merchandise count. As alleged in the amended complaint, RGIS hired Jean-Louis as an auditor in January 2005. Am. Compl. at ¶ 5. As an auditor, she was responsible for counting merchandise at the stores RGIS serviced. Jean-Louis Dep. Tr. 1 74:11--75:12.*fn1 In Spring 2005, Jean-Louis was promoted to team leader, a supervisory role in which she managed some of the smaller stores. Id. at 77:7--81:3. In this role she reported to two Area Managers ("AMs"): Naim Caleb, an African-American man; and Isaac Brown, a Caucasian man. Id. at 105:5--12. The AMs, in turn, were supervised by District Manager ("DM") Jay Gritz, a Caucasian man. Id. at 105:1--4.

In late 2005, Brown left his AM position, and Jean-Louis was promoted to fill it on December 31, 2005. Gritz Dep. Tr. 23:17--24:2; Jean-Louis Dep. Tr. 1 106:24--107:17. As an AM, Jean-Louis was the most senior RGIS employee at an inventory job site, Jean-Louis Dep. Tr. 1 91:10--13, earned a salary of "$33,800 per year," Am. Compl. at ¶ 7, and had responsibilities both before and during inventories. Before an inventory, she was responsible for making pre-inventory visits with customers to prepare for the inventory, planning the audit, and ensuring that all necessary equipment was on-site. Jean-Louis Dep. Tr. 2 at 132:15--24. During an inventory, her primary responsibility was supervising auditors, but she also (a) communicated with customers and (b) trained auditors. Id. at 28:7--10. In total, she trained around fifteen auditors during her time as an AM, and "groom[ed]" two auditors to be team leaders. Id. at 29:10--13. She had the authority to dismiss auditors from the job site, Jean-Louis Dep. Tr. 2 at 43:3--45:21, but did not have the authority to hire or fire, Gritz Dep. Tr. 77:3--16. Jean-Louis's first two positions, auditor and team leader, were hourly; her job as AM was salaried. Gritz Dep. Tr. 150:15--16.

According to District Manager Gritz, Jean-Louis's performance as AM was inadequate from the very beginning. The first three examples of alleged unprofessional behavior are as follows:

1. On January 7, 2006, Gritz reprimanded Jean-Louis for "eliminat[ing] areas from the range check to make it appear as if there was nothing missing." Docket No. 52 Ex. 9 at 3 (first internal complaint by Jean-Louis). Jean-Louis testified that she was not doing what Gritz accused her of; rather, she "was trying to see what was out there, to double check." Jean-Louis Dep. Tr. 1 262:4--5.

2. Later that month, on January 31, 2006, Jean-Louis did not arrive for an inventory and it had to be cancelled. Id. at 272:5--9. She explained that she was working off of an old version of the schedule with a later start time. Id. at 271:18--272:9.

3. On February 22, 2006, Jean-Louis arrived late for RGIS's first inventory with a customer. Id. at 258:23--259:2. She explained that she was late because she "had another inventory the night before" and that Gritz "was running [the] inventory, not [her]." Id. Nonetheless, she admitted that "[i]t wasn't okay" for her to arrive late. Id. The next day, she was 40 minutes late for an inventory because of "traffic." Jean-Louis Dep. Tr. 2 at 208:18--24.

In sum, although she disagreed with Gritz's characterization of her work, Jean-Louis knew that Gritz was unhappy with her performance as AM during her first few months in the position. See Jean-Louis Dep. Tr. 1 263:11--16 (testifying that Gritz had expressed displeasure with her performance on January 7, 2006); id. at 279:9--13 (testifying that Gritz was "none too happy" with her performance before March 30, 2006); Docket No. 52 Ex. 5 (First Performance Improvement Plan).

On March 30, 2006, Gritz told Jean-Louis that he wanted to speak with her. Gritz said that he told Jean-Louis that the meeting was to discuss her "performance issues," Docket No. 52 Ex. 9 at 3, but Jean-Louis does not remember what Gritz said the meeting was about, Jean-Louis Dep. Tr. 1 257:16--19. That same day, Jean-Louis made a formal complaint to RGIS's Human Resources ("HR") department (the "first internal complaint"). According to internal records, which Jean-Louis confirms were a complete and accurate description of her complaint, id. at 244:19--22, 245:8--12, she alleged that Gritz: (1) "cursed at her on several occasions"; (2) "threaten[ed] to terminate her employment and undermin[ed] her authority in front of customers and team members"; (3) "yelled at her in front of the team"; (4) told her that "she does not know what she is doing"; (5) "does not give her the opportunity to run inventories solo"; (6) threatened to terminate her employment unless she "purchase[d] a new cell phone . . . by the end of the business day"; (7) "threaten[ed] to kick her out of [a] inventory"; and (8) was "trying to jeopardize her employment in order to promote another employee to the AM position," Docket No. 52 Ex. 9 at 1--2. Her formal complaint did not allege that these actions were motivated by her race; indeed, it made no mention of race. See id.

Gritz gave Jean-Louis a Performance Improvement Plan on May 9, 2006 (the "first PIP"). The PIP documented: (1) four instances of insubordination or uncooperative behavior; (2) twelve examples of missed deadlines; and (3) ten instances of poor communication. See Docket No. 52 Ex. 5 (first PIP). Jean-Louis testified that the behavior outlined in the first PIP generally occurred, but argued that her actions were not fairly characterized. Jean-Louis Dep. Tr. 2 198:17--244:3. For example, she agreed that she did not attend a scheduled inventory, but pointed out that she had just "worked an all-night inventory" and did not have the strength to participate. Id. at 205:8--206:3.

The months after the first PIP were, according to Gritz, "kind of quiet"; "[Jean-Louis] . . . just went and did her stuff and I tried not to have any conversations with her because it was pointless." Gritz Dep. Tr. 139:6--21. But the quiet did not last: on October 9, 2006, Jean-Louis made a second formal complaint about Gritz (the "second internal complaint") to HR. According to internal records, Jean-Louis alleged that Gritz: (1) "made comments to her that [were] inappropriate and verbally abusive"; (2) "made a very offensive explicit comment to her";*fn2 (3) told her she was "useless"; (4) assigned her the "most inexperienced and slow auditors," and explained his behavior by alleging that "no one wants to work with her"; and (5) "told her she should have called him first" after she left a store early because she was not feeling well even though she had the other AM's permission to leave. See Docket No. 52 Ex. 10 (second internal complaint). The second internal complaint contained no allegation of racial bias, and Jean-Louis testified that RGIS's record of that complaint was complete to the best of her knowledge. Jean-Louis Dep. Tr. 1 129:16--19.

Gritz gave Jean-Louis a second Performance Improvement Plan on December 1, 2006 (the "second PIP"). See Docket No. 52 Ex. 6 (second PIP). The second PIP focused on Jean-Louis's alleged poor communication, and cited 23 instances where a lack of communication undermined productivity. See id. Gritz concluded by stating that "[he does] not have any plans for [Jean-Louis's] improvement" because "[t]oo much time has gone by without [Jean-Louis] making the needed modifications in [her] communication and overall performance." Id. at 2. Gritz followed the second PIP with a planned field evaluation in early December. Gritz rated Jean-Louis as unsatisfactory in new sales, profits, employee development, and leadership and management; he wrote that she met expectations in customer service. Docket No. 52 Ex. 7 (RGIS Field Evaluation).

On December 4, 2006, Jean-Louis called in sick from an inventory around noon, three hours after it was scheduled to begin. See Docket No. 52 Ex. 11 at 1 (email from Gritz to Melissa Jent, RGIS Operations Manager). A few minutes later, at 12:20 PM, Jean-Louis faxed in her response to the field evaluation from an OfficeMax location. See id at 4 (fax from Jean-Louis to Jent). In the fax, Jean-Louis alleged that while the "statistical analysis . . . was fair," Gritz's "interpretations and comments show[] a lack of integrity and honesty." Id.

RGIS terminated Jean-Louis's employment on December 13, 2006. See Docket No. 54 Ex. 6 (Jean-Louis's agency charge of discrimination). According to Gritz, RGIS terminated her for incompetence because she "fail[ed] to communicate" and was unable "to perform the functions of her job." Gritz Dep. Tr. 34:14--18. A little over a year later, on December 20, 2007, Jean-Louis filed an administrative charge of discrimination with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").*fn3 See Docket No. 54 Ex. 6. She claimed that she was "discriminated against because of [her] race," and cited the treatment of two other employees, Latisha Johnson and Joel Abboud, who "had similar performance issues and were not discharged." Id. Johnson is an African-American woman, and Abboud is a Caucasian man. Both worked as Associate Area Managers ("AAMs"), an hourly position below AM, during Jean-Louis's time with RGIS. Gritz Dep. Tr. 163:21--164:4, 166:17--20; Jean-Louis Dep. Tr. 2 164:4--9. RGIS promoted Johnson from AAM to AM to fill Jean-Louis's position. Gritz Dep. Tr. 163:18--20.

The EEOC issued Jean-Louis a Right-to-Sue letter on March 10, 2008, and she filed a pro se complaint with this court on June 16, 2008. She subsequently retained counsel and, on April 1, 2009, filed an amended complaint that alleged racial discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or "Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Civil Rights Act of 1866, or "§ 1981"), and 43 P.S. § 951 et seq. (Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, or the "PHRA"). She also alleged that RGIS had violated 43 P.S. § 260.1 et seq. (Pennsylvania Wage Payment Collection Law) by not paying her the overtime she deserved.*fn4

On April 15, 2009, RGIS filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion alleging that Jean-Louis's first (Title VII) and third (PHRA) claims were time-barred. This court issued a memorandum opinion on March 3, 2010, denying RGIS's motion to dismiss. Before the court now is RGIS's motion for summary judgment and memorandum in support thereof, Jean-Louis's ...


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