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Truesdale v. CSX Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

September 21, 2017

ECIA TRUESDALE, Plaintiff,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Ecia Truesdale, who is African-American, worked for defendant CSX Transportation, Inc. (“CSXT”) as a customer service representative and coordinator from June 2012 until August 2015 when CSXT terminated her employment. Truesdale sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, alleging CSXT harassed and discriminated against her based on her race (Count I) and retaliated against her for making complaints to the human resources department (Count II). CSXT has moved for summary judgment (Doc. 14), Truesdale responded (Docs. 18 & 19), and CSXT replied (Doc. 24). “Summary judgment is proper ‘if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'” Trask v. Sec'y, Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 822 F.3d 1179, 1184, n.1 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)).

         I. Undisputed Facts

         In her job as a customer service representative, Truesdale worked with customers to track and locate freight on CSXT's rails and trucks. Doc. 14-5, Ex. 1; Doc. 18-6, Ex. 80. At some point her title changed to customer service coordinator, but her responsibilities remained the same. Doc. 18-6, Ex. 80. At her first year-end review, Truesdale's supervisor, Janel Williams (who is African-American), rated Truesdale's performance as unsatisfactory. Doc. 14-5, Ex. 5; Doc. 14-15 at ¶ 6. Truesdale disagreed with the rating. Doc. 14-5, Ex. 9. Williams provided Truesdale with detailed feedback as to why the rating was warranted. Doc. 14-5, Ex. 10.

         Williams left CSXT in April 2013 and Debra Ghourley (who is white) then supervised Truesdale until November 2013 when Ghourley became the Director of Customer Service. Doc. 24-1. Ghourley completed Truesdale's 2013 year-end review and initially rated her performance as “fair.” Doc. 14-5, Ex. 15. Truesdale disagreed with the rating and Ghourley, in consultation with her own supervisor (who is white) and the human resources director (who is African-American), changed Truesdale's score to “satisfactory” which, unlike the “fair” rating, entitled Truesdale to receive a raise. Doc. 14-2 at Tr.[1] 150; Doc. 14-5, Ex. 13, Ex. 17, Ex. 18. Ghourley explained that because she had not supervised Truesdale for the entire year, she changed the rating to give Truesdale “the benefit of the doubt, ” Doc. 14-16 at ¶ 6, though Truesdale testified that Ghourley only grudgingly raised her rating, and reminded Truesdale on many occasions that she disagreed with the higher rating. Doc. 14-2 at Tr. 155-56.

         Jennifer Perry (who is white) began supervising Truesdale in February 2014. Doc. 24-1 at ¶ 4; Doc. 14-2 at Tr.158, Doc. 14-6, Ex. 19.[2] In June 2014, Truesdale was counseled after sending her biggest customer an email telling the customer that her tone was “very disrespectful, rude and condescending, ” and that she was making Truesdale's work “very difficult.” Doc. 14-6 at Ex. 22; Doc. 14-2 at Tr. 164. Perry completed Truesdale's 2014 year-end review, rating her as “sometimes achieves expectations, ” and noting that Perry was seeing improvement after “work[ing] through several issues” with Truesdale to help her better address her customers' needs. Doc. 14-6, Ex. 19. In February and March 2015 different coworkers complained to Perry about interactions with Truesdale. Doc. 14-7, Ex. 51, Ex. 53. In March 2015 Truesdale was counseled for directing a customer to submit inquiries in a manner that created more work for the customer and made it appear that Truesdale was handling a high volume of inquiries. Doc. 14-7, Ex. 54, Ex. 55.

         Then on May 26, 2015, accompanied by two human resources directors, LaTisha Thompson and Kelly Toaston (both African-American), Perry met with Truesdale and issued her a formal Performance Warning. Doc. 14-6, Ex. 25. Perry advised Truesdale that if she did not sustain acceptable performance over the next sixty days, she would be subject to further disciplinary action, up to and including termination. Id. Several days later, Truesdale sent a lengthy email to Toaston explaining that she felt she was being retaliated against and treated unfairly for having contacted human resources to dispute her performance reviews; she felt threatened and intimidated by Perry and Ghourley (who was now Perry's supervisor); and management was sabotaging her by not timely sharing performance information with her. Doc. 14-6, Ex. 27. Truesdale's email does not once mention race. Truesdale closed her letter by seeking Toaston's assistance in finding another position within CSX. Id. Truesdale applied for other open positions at CSX but was not selected. Doc. 14-6, Ex. 32, Ex. 33.

         Meanwhile, Perry and Toaston met with Truesdale every two weeks for coaching sessions meant to improve her performance. Doc. 14-6, Ex. 31, Ex. 35; Doc. 14-7, Ex. 39, Ex. 40. However, Perry did not rate Truesdale's performance as meeting expectations on a regular basis and at the end of the sixty days, Perry recommended to Ghourley that Truesdale be terminated. Doc. 14-10 at Tr. 35. Ghourley, Perry and Toaston met with Truesdale, and Ghourley terminated Truesdale on August 10, 2015.

         II. Discussion[3]

         In her two count complaint, Truesdale alleges she was harassed and terminated because she is African-American and retaliated against for reporting unlawful employment practices, all in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Doc. 1. Race discrimination and retaliation claims brought under § 1981 are analyzed in the same manner as claims brought under Title VII.[4] Rice-Lamar v. City of Ft. Lauderdale, 232 F.3d 836, 843 n.11 (11th Cir. 2000) (analyzing § 1981 claim of wrongful termination under Title VII framework); Bryant v. Jones, 575 F.3d 1281, 1296 n.20 (11th Cir. 2009) (stating that elements of a § 1981 claim of hostile work environment are same as those under Title VII); Goldsmith v. Bagby Elevator Co., Inc., 513 F.3d 1261, 1277 (11th Cir. 2008) (analyzing § 1981 and Title VII retaliation claims under the same standard).

         A. Termination Claim (Count I)

         Because Truesdale relies on circumstantial evidence to attempt to prove her race discrimination claim, the Court first addresses her claim under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. Smith v. Lockheed-Martin, Corp., 644 F.3d 1321, 1325 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-05 (1973)). Barring success there, the Court may consider whether Truesdale has painted “a convincing mosaic of circumstantial evidence” from which a jury could infer intentional discrimination. Id. at 1328-29 (quotation and citation omitted).[5]

         Starting first with the McDonnell Douglas analysis, Truesdale must establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing “(1) that [she] is a member of a protected class (here, [African-American]); (2) that [she] was qualified for the position [she] held; (3) that [she] was discharged from that position; and (4) that in terminating [her] employment, [CSXT] treated [her] less favorably than a similarly-situated individual outside [her] protected class.” Smith, 644 F.3d at 1325 (citing Maynard v. Bd. of Regents, 342 F.3d 1281, 1289 (11th Cir. 2003)). If Truesdale can establish a prima facie case, the burden shifts to CSXT to rebut the presumption that its decision to terminate Truesdale was motivated by race, which it may do by articulating a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for her termination. See Id. at 1325. If CSXT meets its burden of production, “the presumption of discrimination is rebutted” and “the inquiry ‘proceeds to a new level of specificity, ' whereby [Truesdale] must show [CSXT's] proffered reason to be a pretext for unlawful discrimination.” Id. at 1325-26 (quoting EEOC v. Joe's Stone Crabs, Inc., 296 F.3d 1265, 1272 (11th Cir. 2002)).

         The Court finds Truesdale cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination because she cannot demonstrate that in terminating her employment, CSXT treated her less favorably than similarly-situated co-workers who were not African-American. Truesdale testified that one white co-worker (Roxanne McElroy) received a “bad review” in 2013 but was not terminated, and two other white co-workers (Janeene Bartley and Patti Cole) performed as poorly as Truesdale but were not disciplined.[6]But Truesdale also testified that she had never seen Bartley or Cole's personnel files, Doc. 14-3 at Tr. 213; doesn't know if they were ever disciplined or how they scored on their performance reviews, id.; didn't know how many mistakes Bartley made, Doc. 14-1 at Tr. 90; hadn't seen any of McElroy's subsequent reviews, Doc. 14-2 at Tr. 92-93; was “making a guess” that McElroy had as many performance deficiencies as Truesdale, id. at Tr. 92; had never observed Cole's work, Doc. 14-3 at Tr. 213; and admitted that her source of information about Cole was “rumors in the grapevine.” Doc. 14-2 at Tr. 92. In fact, neither McElroy, Bartley or Cole ever received an unsatisfactory performance review (as did ...


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