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Robinson v. Bank of America

September 29, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge


This matter is before the Court on the plaintiff's complaint filed pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (2000), alleging discrimination based on her pregnancy and retaliation. Currently before the Court is the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [D.E. # 13], the plaintiff's opposition thereto, and the defendant's reply. Based upon the parties' submissions and for the reasons set forth below, the Court grants, in part, and denies, in part, the defendant's motion for summary judgment.

I. Background

The plaintiff began her employment with defendant Bank of America ("BOA") as a personal banker at its Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Banking Center on September 13, 2001. Complaint for Injunctive and Monetary Relief ("Compl.") ¶ 8; Plaintiff's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Mem.") at 2.*fn1 The plaintiff's initial salary as a personal banker was $25,000 per year. Id. While working at the Fort Walton Beach Banking Center, the plaintiff reported to Tammy Groth, the Banking Center Manager ("BCM"). Id. After observing the plaintiff's interactions with customers and her "business acumen," Ms. Groth felt that plaintiff "should manage her own banking center" and recommended that she apply for a BCM position. Id. Based on Ms. Groth's recommendation, the plaintiff applied for a BCM position in the District of Columbia. Id. Alvin Smith, a Regional Manger with BOA, interviewed the plaintiff over the telephone and subsequently offered her the BCM position at the Washington Navy Yard Banking Center ("WNYBC"), a new Military Banking Center that was scheduled to open in the Spring of 2002. Id.; Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("Def.'s Facts") at 2. In his position "[a]s Regional Manager, Smith oversaw all of the Banking Centers in the East Region of the Military Bank, including the Banking Centers in the Pentagon, the State Department, the Census Bureau, the Aberdeen Proving Ground, and the Washington Navy Yard." Pl.'s Mem. at 1. The plaintiff accepted the promotion, which increased her salary to $38,000 per year, and moved to the Washington, D.C. area in January of 2002. Id. at 2. Because the Navy Yard Banking Center had not yet opened, the plaintiff was assigned to the State Department Banking Center ("SDBC") to gain experience working in a Military Bank until the WNYBC was ready to open. Id.; Def.'s Facts. at 2. Prior to working at the SDBC, the plaintiff did not have any experience working in a Military Bank. Pl.'s Mem. at 2. While working at the SDBC, the plaintiff was provided with the Military Bank manual and asked to review it, along with being required to hire staff and prepare for the WNYBC's opening. Id. (citing Exhibit ("Ex.") 1 (Deidre Robinson Deposition Transcript ("Robinson Tr.") at 58-59, 66). In March 2002, the plaintiff discovered that she was pregnant and immediately informed her supervisor, Alvin Smith, of her condition. Pl.'s Mem. at 3.

On March 29, 2002, the plaintiff received a Conference Report for "unprofessional and unacceptable behavior" regarding her daily tardiness in reporting to work,*fn2 and her failure to follow proper procedures when opening new accounts. Id.;*fn3 Def.'s Facts. at 2. According to the plaintiff, she was confused by the March Conference Report because Smith had already addressed her tardiness by arranging for a co-worker, Denise Gordon, to drive to work with the plaintiff "so she could learn the shortest ways to get to the Banking Center." Pl.'s Mem. at 3 (citing Ex 1 (Robinson Tr.")) at 70. And after learning routes that would take less time to travel to the SDBC, the plaintiff was able to arrive at work on time.*fn4

While at the SCBC, the plaintiff's duties included preparing the new Navy Yard Banking Center for its opening. With respect to the SCBC, the plaintiff was responsible for leading and managing operations, personnel and community relations "to achieve sales volume and profit objectives;" conducting and supervising "weekly information sessions for staff on bank policies, sales training and economic development;" and providing performance and salary reviews. Pl.'s Mem. at 4. On April 15, 2002, the WNYBC opened and the plaintiff was reassigned to began her work there as the bank's BCM. Id.

On May 17, 2002, the plaintiff met with Smith to discuss a second Conference Report addressing the plaintiff's practice of leaving work early, and for failing to follow proper bank closing procedures. Pl.'s Mem. at 5, Ex. 1 (citing Robinson Tr. at 99-100, Ex. 15 (May 17, 2002 Conference Report ("May Conference Report")). The May Conference Report mandated "[i]mmediate and sustained improvement" or else "further disciplinary actions may be taken, up to and including termination." Id.; Def.'s Facts at 3. According to the plaintiff, Smith's real concern in the May Conference Report was that the bank had closed with only one teller on duty, but Smith understood that the plaintiff sometimes had to leave early to pick up her daughter from after-school care. Pl.'s Mem. at 5, Ex. 1 (citing Robinson Tr. at 99-100). The plaintiff further states that Smith gave her permission to leave early to pick up her daughter, and that he merely objected to her leaving early every day. Id. After meeting with Smith, the plaintiff held a meeting with the WNYBC staff to discuss the one teller concern and to ensure that the bank would always close with at least two employees on duty. Id. The plaintiff also created a schedule to guarantee that two employees would be at WNYBC when the bank closed, which, according to the plaintiff, Smith approved. Pl's Mem. at 5, Ex. 1 (citing Robinson Tr. at 94, 104, 121). Thereafter, from May, 2002 through August 14, 2002, the plaintiff received numerous commendations from Smith regarding the excellent performance of the WNYBC team and her own "great" work. Pl.'s Mem. at 5. Moreover, Smith issued regional status reports in April and June of 2002 congratulating the WNYBC team for exceeding its goal of opening new checking accounts by 310%. Id. at 4 (citing Ex. 2 (Unemployment Hearing Transcript ("UH Tr.") dated December 12, 2002)) at 78.

On August 8, 2002, Hope Russell, who was the Banking Center Manager at the Beards Hill Plaza Shopping Center in Aberdeen, Maryland, authored an email on Smith's behalf to the BCMs assigned to the banking centers in his region requesting their vacation dates so Smith would know when they were on leave. Pl.'s Mem. at 7. Approximately one week later on August 13, 2002, the plaintiff responded to Russell's email, requesting maternity leave from December 16, 2002 through February 3, 2003.*fn5 Id.; Compl. at 3. The next day, the plaintiff received a telephone call from Smith, asking her to come to his office. Pl.'s Mem. at 7. Smith informed the plaintiff that "her performance as a Banking Center Manager was not meeting his expectations." Id. Apparently, Smith had called the WNYBC at approximately 5:50 p.m. on the prior day, but no one answered the telephone. Def.'s Facts at 4. And Smith confirmed from another bank employee that the plaintiff had been closing the banking center early for "a while." Id. According to the plaintiff, on August 14, 2002, Smith informed her that she could either accept a demotion as a personal banker or be given 30 days to look for a position with another employer. Id. At the plaintiff's request, Smith granted the plaintiff 24 hours to consider the alternatives. Id. at 8. The plaintiff then contacted the Bank's "advice and counsel line" and spoke with Kim Prioleau, a "personnel generalist." Id. The plaintiff informed Prioleau of the options that Smith had given her and told Prioleau that she "felt [that Smith] was taking action against her because of her pregnancy and recent request for maternity leave." Id. After initially expressing reluctance to Prioleau's request that Prioleau be given authorization to speak to Smith, the plaintiff eventually granted Prioleau permission to do so. Id.

On August 15, 2002, Smith contacted the plaintiff and told her to come to his office before she had the opportunity to initiate contact with him regarding her decision. Id. at 9, Ex. 1 (citing Robinson Tr. at 142). When the plaintiff arrived at Smith's office, he "indicated . . . that he [had] tried to be nice but in light of [her] complaint to personnel, . . . [the plaintiff's] only option at that point was to either accept the demotion or be terminated effective that day." Id. According to the plaintiff, she accepted the demotion because she could not afford to be without health benefits in light of the impending birth of her child, which was the reason she wrote the letter accepting the demotion as demanded by Smith. Id. The plaintiff states that she was required to write the letter before leaving Smith's office, with the treat of being fired if she declined to do so. Id.

Prior to assuming her new position as a personal banker, the plaintiff was temporarily assigned to the Bank's Census Bureau Banking Center and was later permanently placed at the Pentagon Banking Center ("PBC"). Id. at 10. However, before assuming the permanent position, the plaintiff allegedly received harassing telephone calls from Smith while she was still at the Census Bureau facility. Id. For example, according to the plaintiff, Smith would call her to inquire about unresolved WNYBC business but "his tone was accusatory, unprofessional and disrespectful" and "[h]e would yell and scream at [the plaintiff] and hung up on her on several occasions." Id. The plaintiff contends that Smith accused her of lying when she tried to explain the circumstances of a teller's data entry error, although eventually it became clear that she had not made a mistake in handling the situation. Id.

The plaintiff transferred to the PBC sometime between the end of August and the first few days of September, and worked under the supervision of BCM Denise Gordon. Id. On September 4, 2002, Smith came to the PBC and met with the plaintiff and Gordon about flyers and envelopes that had been found in the file cabinet plaintiff used when she worked at the WNYBC. Id. at 10-11. Smith claimed that the names and addresses on the envelopes were those of BOA customers. Id. at 11. The plaintiff acknowledged that the documents were used in connection with a personal business she operated out of her home but informed Smith and Gordon that she never used the Bank's customer information for her personal use, nor had she engaged in non-Bank business while she was working at the WNYBC. Id. Concluding that the plaintiff had not been truthful about her use of the Bank's customer information, the plaintiff's employment was terminated the next day by Smith on the ground that she could no longer be trusted.*fn6 Id. at 14. Gordon advised the plaintiff that if she had any question about her termination she should contact Smith. Id. The plaintiff then filed this action.

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge" when a judge is not sitting as the trier of facts. Id. at 255. The entry of summary judgment is appropriate after there has been "adequate time for discovery . . . [and the] party [against whom the motion has been filed] fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

"[S]ummary judgment is a drastic remedy, [and therefore] courts should grant it with caution so that no person will be deprived of his or her day in court to prove a disputed material factual issue." Greenberg v. Food & Drug Admin., 803 F.2d 1213, 1216 (D.C. Cir. 1986). The Court must approach summary judgment "with special caution in employment discrimination cases." Remedios Jose v. Hosp. for Sick Children, 130 F. Supp. 2d 38, 41 (D.D.C. 2000) (citing Ross v. Runyon, 859 F. Supp. 15, 21-22 (D.D.C. 1994)). Yet the "plaintiff is not relieved of her obligation to support her allegations by affidavits or other competent evidence showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Remedios Jose, 130 F. Supp. 2d at 41. Summary judgment accordingly is not appropriate, for example, where "the evidence presented on a dispositive issue is subject to conflicting interpretations, or reasonable persons might differ as to its significance . . . ." Greenberg, 803 F.2d at 1216 (citations ...

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