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Harris v. Eli Lilly & Co.

June 13, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. United States District Judge


Jacqueline Harris brings this action against her employer, Eli Lilly and Company ("Eli Lilly"), a manufacturer and distributor of pharmaceuticals, alleging that it discriminated against her on the basis of her race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981"). Before the court is Eli Lilly's motion for summary judgment [#34]. Upon consideration of the motion, the opposition thereto, the summary-judgment record, and the argument of counsel at a hearing, the court concludes that Eli Lilly's motion must be granted.


Harris, a Black woman, has been employed as a sales representative for Eli Lilly since 1989. As a sales representative, Harris is expected to call on physicians to promote Eli Lilly products, organize a specific number of speaker programs each year, comply with administrative obligations,*fn1 attend district meetings, and participate in weekly district conference calls. Her duties have remained essentially the same throughout her employment with Eli Lilly.

During her time at Eli Lilly, Harris has been denied particular promotional opportunities, has been issued a written warning regarding her sales performance,and has been denied an opportunity to shadow an employee who holds the position she desires. Harris makes clear, however, that her complaint "is not about" these specific acts. Pl.'s Opp'n at 22. Rather, Harris asserts that during the time she was supervised by Greg Johnson-from 1996 until 1997 and again from late 1998 until 2004-he discriminated against her, because of her race, by not supporting her for promotion, by "making subjective and unfair criticisms of her performance," id. at 14, and by denying her certain career developmental opportunities.*fn2

While Harris has been moved to higher salary classes at least twice and named a Senior Sales Representative, these were not career promotions in that they did not affect her job responsibilities. Harris argues, and Eli Lilly concedes, that career promotions are more desirable than salary increases because they increase the maximum pay available to a sales representative. Depending on the promotion sought, employees in Eli Lilly's sales organization become eligible for promotion by excelling in terms of quantitative and qualitative results. "[M]ere satisfactory performance is insufficient." Def.'s Mot. at 4.

In general, applying for a career promotion at Eli Lilly involves a two-step process: first, an employee must notify her manager of her intent to apply and then post her application on Eli Lilly's job posting system.*fn3 Once the application is posted, the employee competes with others around the country for the promotion. The job posting process is a competitive process through which hiring managers select the "best qualified applicant out of those who post for a particular position." Id. at 3. There is no evidence to suggest that Harris was ever precluded from using Eli Lilly's job posting system to apply for any position she desired.*fn4 In fact, on at least one occasion in 1999, Harris used the system despite the fact that she did not have Johnson's support for the position sought.

Eli Lilly regularly holds Human Resource Planning ("HRP") meetings, during which management and human resource personnel discuss the prospects for promoting various sales representatives. Harris insists that she has never been promoted because Johnson has neither brought up her name for discussion at one of these HRP meetings nor otherwise supported her requests for promotions. On multiple occasions during the relevant time period, Johnson has told Harris why he refused to support her requests for promotions. For example, in 1996, Johnson responded to a request by Harris to be considered for a specialty sales representative position by informing her that he could not support her given her poor sales results, productivity, and behavior. Also, in 1999, Johnson refused to support Harris's application for a Business to Business ("B2B") Account Executive position. The B2B group is a "specialty group of sales representatives that call on managed care organizations and work to get Lilly products on their formularies." Def.'s Mot. at 7. Positions with this group are difficult to obtain and are "reserved for those Lilly considers to be the best of the best in terms of their demonstrated sales performance." Id. at 8. At the time she applied, Harris held a Tier 1 primary care position; the B2B job she sought was a Tier 4 position. Based on the "highly unusual" prospect of moving from a Tier 1 to a Tier 4 position and on his previous observations of Harris's performance, Johnson did not support Harris's application and she was never offered the job. Id.*fn5

Moreover, Johnson has repeatedly informed Harris that she failed to meet his expectations with regard to sales performance, both quantitatively and qualitatively. After spending a day working together in the field in September 1999, Johnson observed that Harris did not meet the company's expectations regarding number of daily sales calls, failed to meet the district-wide goal regarding number of physician visits, and had below average sales results. On November 30, 1999, Johnson sent an e-mail to Harris explaining that her sales performance was unacceptable and that she continued to be below the district average in terms of percentage of customers sampled, numbers of sales calls made, lunches and programs attended, and medical letters sent. For 1999, Harris's composite sales ranking was 407th out of the 500 sales representatives in her sales division. Johnson again wrote Harris in May 2000, noting that he had not received a number of requested documents and reiterating that Harris's productivity was below expectations in terms of average sales calls per day.*fn6

On April 9, 2001, Eli Lilly issued Harris a written warning for unacceptable work performance. The warning was based on Harris being late in transmitting several reports to the district office, being late for or missing appointments, making errors or being tardy in reporting customer calls, and not meeting expectations in terms of sales calls. Harris concedes that the concerns noted in the warning letter were accurate. Def.'s Mot., Ex. 3 ("Harris Dep.") 198:11--202:2.*fn7

Later that summer, Harris asked Johnson if she could shadow a B2B Account Executive in order to get an idea of what the job was like. Johnson refused to approve this request, stating that "it would be counterproductive for [Harris] to take a day out of her territory to do the ride-along because she needed to work on her current sales results." Def.'s Mot. at 11.

Harris filed a civil complaint in 2003, alleging that Eli Lilly violated Title VII and § 1981 by "denying her job development and promotional opportunities in the company." Compl. ¶ 1. In February 2005, this court granted Eli Lilly's motion to dismiss in part, ruling that many of Harris's claims in her complaint were barred by the applicable statutes of limitations.*fn8 Since that time, Harris has clarified that her complaint is "not about Mr. Johnson's discrete acts of giving her a written warning, denying her a shadowing exercise, or even the denial of a specific job." Pl.'s Opp'n at 22.*fn9 Rather, Harris believes that Johnson discriminated against her "with respect to the developmental opportunities he denied her and which ultimately destroyed her career advancement." Id.


Eli Lilly moves for summary judgment, arguing that the undisputed material facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law.*fn10 Specifically, Eli Lilly contends that summary judgment is appropriate because Harris has neither established a prima facie case of discrimination with regard to Johnson's asserted failure to provide developmental ...

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