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Rogers v. The Salvation Army

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

May 11, 2015

CAROL A. ROGERS, Plaintiff,
v.
THE SALVATION ARMY, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [14]

NANCY G. EDMUNDS, District Judge.

This employment discrimination and harassment dispute comes before the Court on Defendant The Salvation Army's ("TSA") motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Plaintiff's four-count complaint alleges that TSA discriminated against her on the basis of race and age in violation of Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), and Michigan's Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act ("ECLRA").[1] Plaintiff also raises a claim for sexual harassment based on her belief that she was subjected to a hostile work environment. TSA argues that Plaintiff is a disgruntled former employee who was demoted and ultimately terminated for failing to live up to the organization's standards. As such, TSA maintains that Plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants TSA's motion for summary judgment and dismisses Plaintiff's claims with prejudice.

I. Facts

The Salvation Army ("TSA") is "an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God." (Def.'s Mot. Ex. DD, TSA Handbook). TSA's "mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination." (Id. ) With respect to its hiring policies, TSA is clear in its handbook that "[i]t is expected that all employees... will endeavor to relate to those whom the [TSA] serves in the spirit of Christian love, consistent with our Mission Statement." (Id. )

Plaintiff Carol Rogers is a 67 year-old white female who was first employed by TSA in January of 1999 as a part-time finance clerk in the addiction recovery center ("ARC"). (Def.'s Mot. Ex. A, Rogers Dep. 51). After a little over two-years in this position, Plaintiff opted to part ways with TSA to pursue a career in the mortgage services industry. (Id. at 63). By all accounts, Plaintiff left TSA on good terms with her then supervisor, Merle Miller ("Mr. Miller").

In April 2005, Mr. Miller re-hired Plaintiff as an addictions counselor at the ARC. (Id. ). At the time, Plaintiff was not certified with the State of Michigan to work with addicts, but it was understood that she would pursue the required training before commencing her new role. Plaintiff was given a job description outlining her responsibilities, which included, among other things, "4. Monitor[ing] beneficiaries to evaluate effectiveness of rehabilitation program and adapt treatment plan as needed. 6. Prepar[ing] formal work therapy evaluations and work adjustment reports.... 10. Provide statistical information to the personnel responsible for the preparation of the monthly reports." (Def.'s Mot. Ex. B, Counselor I- Duties/Responsibilities). As the description provided by TSA suggests, Plaintiff's position had administrative and counseling components, both of which were integral to the ARC's functionality.

As far as the Court can tell, Plaintiff's first four years with TSA were relatively uneventful. During that time, Plaintiff reported to Dr. Billy Taylor, director of ARC's program services. (Rogers Dep. 80-84). In 2009, Dr. Taylor left ARC-seemingly on good terms-and was replaced by the former assistant director, Dr. Harrison Igwe, a Nigerian male. (Id. ). Dr. Igwe reported to Mr. Miller and Cheryl Miller ("Mrs. Miller"), the administrator of family ministries. At some point after Dr. Igwe accepted his new position, Brenda Thompson, an African American woman, was hired to assume the role of assistant director. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. C, Igwe Dep. 26). While Thompson was Plaintiff's direct supervisor, Dr. Igwe frequently interacted with Plaintiff and closely monitored her job performance.

The 2009 leadership transition signaled a turn in the tide with respect to Plaintiff's job satisfaction and overall working relationship with her superiors. In or around May of 2010, for example, Thompson conducted an individual evaluation of each of the addiction counselors. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. D, Thompson Dep. 15). With respect to Plaintiff, Thompson noted that while she was "very good at praying with [her clients and], telling them what scriptures to read...." she consistently struggled to fulfil the administrative aspects of the job, explaining that: "I would go to her and say, Carol, you need to catch up your dates; Carol, you need to catch up your paperwork. I would personally talk to her [even] when I had the right to write [her] up.... I would let her know verbally that she needed to do some work on her jobs." (Thompson Dep. 24-25). Thompson testified that she spoke with Plaintiff on more than one occasion "about her failure to maintain charts or records." (Id. at 33).

Dr. Igwe likewise provided verbal warnings to Plaintiff regarding her failure to adequately maintain client records. (Igwe Dep. 68-69). In July of 2012, this issue officially came to a head after Plaintiff was issued a "written warning notice." (Def.'s Mot. Ex. II). The seriousness of the notice becomes clear in the introductory narrative on the form: "This warning is being given to you because certain kinds of actions... cannot be permitted on the job. [T]his warning may also be issued in conjunction with a Notice of Suspension or Termination." (Id. ) The infraction giving rise to the warning was described as "incorrect dates... [and] allowing too much time between counseling sessions...." (Id. ). In other words, the notice was yet another reprimand concerning Plaintiff's record-keeping practices. Plaintiff, for her part, acknowledged receiving the warning notice-and the importance of maintaining accurate reports-but steadfastly denied any suggestion that she failed to meet with her clients on a regular basis. (Rogers Dep. 105-07).

Approximately one year later, Mrs. Miller-the head of Plaintiff's department-instructed Dr. Igwe to perform an independent performance evaluation of all addiction counselors. (Igwe Dep. 41). According to the report authored by Dr. Igwe, Plaintiff's job performance was the second lowest in her department. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. Y, Counselors Performance Evaluation). Dr. Igwe further noted that he "discussed [the] evaluation report with Carol Rogers. Needs to quickly improve on her knowledge and mastery. Further discussed her lack of capacity to assist a [client] with his related problems." (Id. ). Around the same time as Dr. Igwe's evaluation, TSA, in response to the needs of its clients, was in the process of expanding its "spiritual development department." Recognizing that Plaintiff consistently struggled in the ARC-and was particularly proficient in spirituality counseling-TSA offered to transfer Plaintiff to the new department in lieu of termination. See (Def.'s Mot. Ex. H, Cheryl Miller Dep. 65) (we "thought that Carol would be more effective in the spiritual development department because that's where her heart was."). Dr. Igwe recommended the transfer and it was approved by Mr. and Mrs. Miller.

In or around July 2013, Plaintiff's job title was officially changed to Spiritual Counselor. According to a memo written to Plaintiff on July 10, 2013, her new duties included "help[ing] Employees, and Beneficiaries to develop a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, and then grow in that personal relationship." (Def.'s Mot. Ex. W, Rogers Job Description). As correspondence between Plaintiff, Mr. Miller, and Connie Elliot (director of TSA's human resources) makes clear, however, the reassignment was doomed from the very beginning. First, Plaintiff expressed a number of concerns about the reduction in pay associated with the new position. See (Def.'s Mot. Ex. M, Rogers Memo); (Plaintiff notes that "because of the very drastic pay cut, I cannot agree to be slashed in such a way."). While the record is hazy with respect to whether Plaintiff's concerns were ever formally addressed, it is undisputed that the transfer resulted in a pay cut of $4.56 per hour. (Def.'s Mot. 6). Plaintiff also began questioning the propriety of the process leading up to her transfer, noting in an email to Mr. Miller that "I also was told that I am not qualified to be an addictions counselor, [i]s this discrimination?" (Def.'s Mot. Ex. I, Rogers Email). Plaintiff's email to Mr. Miller was later forwarded to TSA's human resources supervisor, Natalie Hunt, who testified that she did not consider the message to be a complaint for discrimination because "[t]here are no facts. There is no information. It's just an open-ended question. It's just a word on a piece of paper." (Def.'s Mot. Ex. N, Hunt Dep. 25). Hunt further testified that Plaintiff never complained to her about any discrimination or harassment in the workplace. (Id. at 66).

Perhaps not surprisingly, Plaintiff's tenure in the spiritual development department was short-lived. In fact, the director of the department, James McSpadden, recommended terminating Plaintiff within her first month on the job. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. F, McSpadden Dep. 13-14). According to McSpadden, Plaintiff was missing reports for over half of the clients she was scheduled to see, and another 7 had not been updated in nearly a month. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. J, Rogers Caseload Spreadsheet). Plaintiff admitted that the reports were not in her file at the time of McSpadden's review, but maintained that they "were clipped together on [her] desk, being updated." (Rogers Dep. 139); (Def.'s Mot. Ex. Q, Rogers Letter). When asked why he opted to recommend immediate termination, McSpadden reasoned that:

The caseload that [Plainitff] had in addictions counseling, ... became her spiritual counseling [clients]. So naturally when I went through the files I had to see the charting from her addiction counseling before it was stopped, and there was a lot of missed entries. I didn't want [that] in my department. She carried her lack of charting from addiction counseling to spiritual counseling.

(McSpadden Dep. 94). In addition, McSpadden noted that Plaintiff "would be sitting in her office talking on the telephone with the door shut or on the computer and this would be two or three hours I would walk past, she would still be doing the same thing." (Id. at 76). On August 23, 2013, Plaintiff was terminated.

Two days after Plaintiff's termination, she sent a letter to Major Graham Allan, territorial commander for the ARC, alleging that she had been "the victim of repeated offensive sexual remarks, and physical touch." (Def.'s Mot. Ex. O, Rogers Letter). Plaintiff went on to describe a series of isolated incidents involving Mr. Miller and Dr. Igwe. With respect to Mr. Miller, Plaintiff focused on a meeting in 2009 when he allegedly jerked her head and slapped her in front of the "whole counseling dep[artment] staff, and Cheryl Miller." (Id. ). Plaintiff further remarked that Mr. Miller (1) placed his hand on her neck, (2) "always had a degrading remark to me whenever I was in his presence" and, (3) in the summer of 2013, put his hand "around my waist... with remarks, you are one good looking woman." (Id ). As for Dr. Igwe, Plaintiff maintained that he often made lewd comments such as "touchdown", and would open her office and blow her kisses. (Id. ). According to Plaintiff, she "reported these incidences [sic] on numerous occasions to counseling dept. staff co-workers." (Id. ).

In the months following Plaintiff's termination, she exchanged a number of emails with Connie Elliott from TSA's human resources department. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. V, Rogers/Elliott Emails). The focus of Plaintiff's correspondence with Elliott was not her allegations of discrimination and harassment-which, incidentally, never came up-but rather a request to have her termination date extended for purposes of collecting a pension. TSA ultimately granted Plaintiff's request, extending her time in service well beyond the date she was formally discharged. (Id. ).

On September 3, 2013, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging sex and age discrimination. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. T, EEOC Charge). Plaintiff later amended her charge to include a claim for reverse race discrimination. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. U, Amend EEOC Charge). On July 7, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant suit, alleging race and gender discrimination and sexual harassment under Title VII and ECLRA.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

The Sixth Circuit employs the familiar standard for summary judgment, namely, that summary judgment is proper when the movant "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." U.S. SEC v. Sierra Brokerage Services, Inc., 712 F.3d 321, 326-27 (6th Cir. 2013) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)) (quotations omitted). When reviewing the record, "the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor." Id. Furthermore, the "substantive law will identify which facts are material, and summary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

When considering the material facts on the record, a court must bear in mind that "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could ...


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