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Prater v. FedEx Corporate Services

June 18, 2009

ANTHONY PRATER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FEDEX CORPORATE SERVICES, INC., DEFENDANT.



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

Memorandum Opinion

Anthony Prater brings this lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) (2006), against FedEx Corporate Services, Inc. ("FedEx Services") seeking reinstatement, back pay, and $300,000 in unspecified compensatory damages based on the defendant having allegedly subjected him to a hostile work environment and for the purported wrongful termination of his employment. Currently before the Court is the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Mot.") pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn1 Upon consideration of the various filings submitted by the parties, the Court will grant the defendant's motion.

I. Factual Background

The following facts are undisputed.*fn2 From June 1, 2000, until January 3, 2006, Anthony Prater, an African-American, was an employee for FedEx Services, a component of the FedEx Corporation that provides services to FedEx's corporate clients. Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at 1-2; Defendant's Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Mem.") at 2 & Exhibit ("Ex.") A (Prater Dep., Jan. 3, 2008) ("Def.'s Prater Dep.") at 21-22. Mr. Prater commenced his employment in June 2000 with FedEx Services as an Account Executive,*fn3 and was promoted to a Senior Corporate Account Executive position in Government Sales in August 2000. Pl.'s Opp'n at 1 & Ex. 8 (Prater Affidavit) at 1;*fn4 Def.'s Mem. at 2 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.) at 25-26. As a Senior Corporate Account Executive, Mr. Prater was a sales representative for government agencies who used FedEx products and services in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

Def.'s Mem. at 2 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.) at 25-26.

Mr. Prater received the first in a series of annual performance reviews, which form the basis for much of FedEx Services' justification for its actions, in December of 2002. Pl.'s Opp'n at 3-4; Def.'s Mem. at 3. In this first performance review, John Middlebrooks, Mr. Prater's supervisor at that time, rated Mr. Prater's overall job performance as a 2.7 out of a possible maximum score of 4.0. Def.'s Mem., Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.) at 49 & Ex. 12 (Individual Performance and Contribution Discussion Form [-] Sales Professional (Bonus-Eligible)) ("Dec. 2002 Perf. Rev.") at 1.*fn5

Laurie Carson replaced Mr. Middlebrooks as Mr. Prater's supervisor in the spring of 2004, Pl.'s Opp'n at 4; Def.'s Mem. at 3, and Ms. Carson provided Mr. Prater with a new performance evaluation on June 21, 2004, Pl.'s Opp'n at 4; Def.'s Mem. at 3-4 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.), Ex. 13 ([Untitled]) ("June 2004 Perf. Rev."). This review evaluated four objectives and provided an overall evaluation along with Ms. Carson's comments; the review did not include a numeric evaluation. Def.'s Mem., Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.), Ex. 13 (June 2004 Perf. Rev.) at 1-2. Except for the objective entitled "professional selling skills development," Ms. Carson rated Mr. Prater's performance on the other three objectives as "Needs Improvement."

Id. Mr. Prater's "Overall Evaluation for [the] period" was also rated as "Needs Improvement." Id., Ex. 13 (June 2004 Perf. Rev.) at 2.

Ms. Carson followed-up her performance review on September 13, 2004, with a "Letter of Counseling for Unacceptable Performance."*fn6 Def.'s Mem. at 4 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.), Ex. 14 (Letter of Counseling for Unacceptable Performance, Sept. 13, 2004) ("Sept. 2004 Letter") at 1-2. The letter chronicled the administrative errors committed by Mr. Prater both before and after the June 21 performance review. Id., Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.), Ex. 14 (Sept. 2004 Letter) at 1. The letter also stated that Ms. Carson was going to put Mr. Prater on a plan with the objective of improving his sales performances. Id., Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.), Ex. 14 (Sept. 2004 Letter) at 2. This "Performance Planner" required Mr. Prater to provide Ms. Carson with a biweekly report of his sales activities, which had to include a minimum of five attempts per week to acquire new customers. Id., Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.), Ex. 15 (Inter-Office Mem., Sept. 20, 2004) at 1. Mr. Prater's performance apparently improved as a result of the implementation of the Performance Planner, because on November 9, 2004, Ms. Carson sent Mr. Prater an email wherein she commented on improvements in Mr. Prater's recent job performance, noting: "I am very encouraged by your recent improvement and am confident that you can and will continue to improve your job performance." Id., Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.), Ex. 16 (Email from Anthony Prater to Laurie Carson, Nov. 10, 2004) at 1.

Vince Scarfo replaced Ms. Carson as the supervisor of the Government Sales team in April of 2005. Def.'s Mem. at 5 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.) at 77. Shortly after assuming this position, Mr. Scarfo reviewed each employee's revenue goals. Id. at 6-7 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.) at 80-81. As a result of this review, on April 18, 2005, Mr. Scarfo sent Mr. Prater an email indicating that Mr. Prater was significantly below the sales revenue goals for the customers within his assigned territory, and that his performance was suppressing the entire team's sales numbers. Id. at 6-7 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.) at 80-81.

Following Mr. Scarfo's criticism, Mr. Prater secured a Government Service Administration facility in Burlington, New Jersey ("GSA Burlington") as a customer in April of 2005. Id. at 7 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.) at 74-76. This contract required FedEx to provide ten dock workers per day to help load and process shipments at the GSA Burlington warehouse. Id. at 7 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.) at 74-75, 82. However, when Mr. Prater submitted the GSA Burlington contract for approval to his superiors, the proposal failed to include the labor costs of the dock workers. Id. at 7 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.) at 82-84. FedEx approved the agreement based on the cost information provided by Mr. Prater, and this mistake resulted in FedEx sustaining a twelve percent overall monetary loss on the contract. Id. at 7.

In addition to the GSA Burlington pricing error, Mr. Prater failed to complete software upgrades on his customers' computers in May of 2005. Id. at 8, Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.) at 89 & Ex. 21 (Inter-Office Mem., June 3, 2005) ("June 2005 Letter of Warning") at 1. While the record is unclear as to what the software upgrades entailed, it is clear that Mr. Prater had until May 18, 2005, to have the upgrades installed and that they had not been completed by that date. Id. As a result of this failure, other FedEx employees who were not originally assigned to that task had to complete the upgrades. Id.

Due to Mr. Prater's cost estimate mistake in pricing the GSA Burlington contract and his failure to timely complete the customer software updates, Mr. Scarfo issued a letter of warning to Mr. Prater on June 3, 2005. Id. Four days later, Mr. Scarfo issued a new Performance Planner to "bring [Mr. Prater's] performance up to an acceptable level." Id. at 8 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.), Ex. 23 (Inter-Office Mem., June 7, 2005) at 1. The Performance Planner required Mr. Prater to "[c]omplete [a]ll [a]ssigned [t]asks," "[t]ake [o]wnership of [r]esponsibilities," and "[i]mprove [c]ommunication." Id. The Performance Planner also required that Mr. Prater attend monthly meetings for the next three months to discuss his progress in achieving these goals. Id. Sometime during the summer of 2005, Mr. Scarfo also completed Mr. Prater's annual performance review and Mr. Prater's overall performance was rated as "needs improvement." Id. at 8 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.) at 108 & Ex. 22 (June 2005 Perf. Rev.) at 3.

Several weeks after the issuance of the new Performance Planner, GSA Burlington emailed Mr. Prater and Mr. Scarfo complaining about two dock workers who had not reported for duty on two days during the prior week, thereby compromising the work being performed at the GSA Burlington facility. Id. at 9 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.), Ex. 25 (Email from Anthony Prater to John Presper, David Steele, Scott Brumbaugh, Scott Ray, John Cameron, Vincent Scarfo, and Michael Devault, July 25, 2005) at 1. Mr. Prater had been expected to act as an on-site manager at the GSA Burlington facility during the transition of the work performed at the GSA Burlington facility to FedEx, so it was surprising to Mr. Scarfo to learn about staffing problems from the customer and not Mr. Prater. Id.

On September 16, 2005, Mr. Scarfo issued another letter of warning to Mr. Prater. Id. at 9 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.), Ex. 33 (Inter-Office Memorandum, Sept. 16, 2005) ("Sept. 2005 Letter of Warning") at 1. The letter referenced Mr. Prater's lack of involvement with the transition at GSA Burlington; ongoing administrative errors, namely two reports that Mr. Prater submitted with errors in them; five consecutive quarters of not achieving his business plan; and two consecutive quarters during which he was ranked last among his sales team members. Id. The letter of warning outlined the various goals that his supervisors expected Mr. Prater to achieve during the remainder of that business quarter. Id. The letter then stated, "If you fail to achieve any of these elements during the quarter, you will be recommended for termination." Id. at 2.

In an email following the meeting in which Mr. Scarfo delivered the warning letter, Mr. Scarfo asked Mr. Prater to develop a plan of action for meeting the goals outlined in the letter. Id. at 10 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.) at 156-57. Mr. Prater complied with this request, but Mr. Scarfo felt Mr. Prater's responses were too broad and he asked Mr. Prater to develop a more specific framework for meeting his revenue goals by the end of that week. Id. After agreeing to comply with this request, Mr. Prater had to perform other duties and he requested an extension to the following Monday to submit a more specific plan to Mr. Scarfo. Id.

After Mr. Prater submitted his performance improvement plan, he delayed processing a pricing request for one of his customers despite being advised by a FedEx staff member that a quick turnaround on the request was needed. Id. at 10 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.) at 161-62. Although Mr. Prater experienced computer problems when the pricing request was first submitted, he took more than a week to approve the pricing request for the customer. Id.

As a result of the long-term deficiencies in Mr. Prater's work performance, Mr. Scarfo presented a Letter of Termination for Performance to Mr. Prater on January 3, 2006, id. at 11 & Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.), Ex. 39 (Inter-Office Mem., Jan. 3, 2006) ("Letter of Termination"), terminating Mr. Prater's employment that same day, id., Ex. A (Def.'s Prater Dep.), Ex. 39 (Letter of Termination) at 1. The letter cited the two consecutive annual performance reviews in which Mr. Prater received overall ratings of "needs improvement," the three warning letters focusing on specific delinquencies during that time period, and the ongoing efforts to help improve Mr. Prater's performance as the reasons for terminating his employment. Id. Mr. Prater signed the termination letter, thereby agreeing to end his employment with ...


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