Stephanie Turner v. Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc.
UNPUBLISHED OPINION FILED. [11-30476 Affirmed ] Judge: EHJ , Judge: ECP , Judge: LHS Mandate pull date is 05/08/2012 [11-30476]
Date Filed: 04/17/2012
IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
United States Court of Appeals
FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
April 17, 2012
Lyle W. Cayce
JACOBS ENGINEERING GROUP, INCORPORATED,
Appeal from the United States District Court
for the Middle District of Louisiana
USDC No. 3:09-CV-896
Before JONES, Chief Judge, and PRADO and SOUTHWICK, Circuit Judges.
An employee of a technical professional services company brought suit
against her employer initially claiming violations of state discrimination and
anti-retaliation laws. She later added parallel claims under Title VII. The
district court granted summary judgment to the employer on all claims. The
employee appeals the district court’s ruling on her Title VII retaliation claim.
Pursuant to 5TH CIR. R. 47.5, the court has determined that this opinion should not
be published and is not precedent except under the limited circumstances set forth in 5TH CIR.
Date Filed: 04/17/2012
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Jacobs Engineering Group hired Stephanie Turner in April 2006 as an
Administrative Services Support Manager in its Baton Rouge, Louisiana office.
In that position, Turner was responsible for the administrative services group,
which assisted project managers with tasks like completing paperwork and
preparing reports. She also oversaw the document control group, which was
responsible for updating Jacobs’ system with drawings and revisions for different
Turner reported to the Manager of Engineering, who was Bill
Broussard briefly in early 2008, then Eric Balkom from mid-2008 until the end
of Turner’s employment.
In May 2008, Turner brought a complaint to Holly Powell in the human
resources department regarding unequal pay based on gender discrimination.
Turner also contends that she was subjected to several offensive sexual
comments during the last six months she worked for Jacobs. Between May and
October of 2008, Turner reported to Powell a number of instances of race and
gender discrimination directed at other individuals. In June 2008, Turner
notified Powell of her concern regarding Jacobs’ failure to compensate employees
for training sessions conducted during the lunch hour. Also in June 2008,
Turner reported to Powell that Broussard was retaliating against her.
In May 2008, Broussard conducted a performance evaluation of Turner.
Some ratings of “unsatisfactory” were made. After comments by Turner, the
evaluation was amended to remove an unsatisfactory rating in the integrity
category. The evaluation urged improvement in understanding the systems and
processes of the support services group, in her problem resolution skills, and her
candor when implementing decisions that impact subordinates.
In October 2008, an employee in Turner’s group complained to Turner’s
supervisor, Balkom, about Turner.
This led Balkom to discuss Turner’s
performance with his manager, Jere Ducote, Powell, and long-time Jacobs
Date Filed: 04/17/2012
employees in Turner’s group. According to Balkom, Turner’s subordinates
reported that she was “not properly managing the staffing, documents [were]
getting behind,” and interactions between document control and administrative
services were strained. Additionally, Balkom observed that Turner’s “two groups
were not working together, that [Turner] seemed not to want to deal with people
issues, that [Turner] seemed not to understand the roles of the two positions and
how they interacted and how they affected the project execution.” Balkom
created Turner’s performance evaluation based on his discussion with Turner’s
coworkers and subordinates and his own observations. Also in October 2008,
Turner informed Powell that she had contacted the EEOC.
Prior to speaking with Turner, Balkom spoke with Powell about an
alternate position for Turner.
They determined that based on Turner’s
background in IT and her inexperience working in the groups she managed,
there were no positions to which Jacobs could move Turner. On October 27,
Balkom met with Turner to discuss his review and let her know that Jacobs
would be terminating her employment.
Turner brought this suit in Louisiana state court in September 2009.
Jacobs removed the case to the United States District Court for the Middle
District of Louisiana and filed an answer. On February 25, 2011, Jacobs moved
for summary judgment as to Turner’s state law claims. On March 9, Turner
moved for leave to file a supplemental and amended complaint adding parallel
claims under Title VII. Leave was granted by the magistrate judge. Jacobs then
filed a motion to strike the amended pleadings and for reconsideration before the
magistrate judge. The magistrate judge denied the motions and Jacobs appealed
to the district court. The district court affirmed the magistrate’s order and
allowed Jacobs to file an additional motion for summary judgment. Jacobs filed
a second motion for summary judgment on April 22. On May 6, 2011, the
district court granted summary judgment on all of Turner’s claims.
Date Filed: 04/17/2012
We review a district court’s decision to grant summary judgment de novo.
Stewart v. Miss. Transp. Comm’n, 586 F.3d 321, 327 (5th Cir. 2009). 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.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).
Turner argues that the district court erred in dismissing her Title VII
retaliation claim. Specifically, Turner argues that the district court failed to
infer knowledge of the decision maker and failed to find she had presented
sufficient evidence to show pretext. Jacobs argues the district court’s order
should be affirmed for these reasons: (1) Turner should not have been allowed
to amend her complaint to bring this claim; (2) Turner failed to satisfy her prima
facie case; and (3) Turner failed to show Jacobs’ legitimate, nonretaliatory reason
was pretext. Because we conclude that Turner failed to establish a prima facie
case, we do not address Jacobs’ alternative contentions of improper amendment
of the complaint or that Turner failed to show pretext.
To withstand summary judgment on her Title VII retaliation claim,
Turner must demonstrate that (1) she participated in protected conduct, (2) she
suffered an adverse employment action, and (3) there was a causal connection
between her protected conduct and the adverse employment action. Stewart, 586
F.3d at 331. Jacobs does not contest that Turner engaged in a protected activity
by filing various complaints with HR nor does it contest that Turner suffered an
adverse employment action when her employment was terminated. The appeal
centers on whether Turner can demonstrate a causal connection between the
protected activity and the adverse employment action.
Turner offers the following as evidence of a causal connection between her
protected conduct and the termination of her employment at Jacobs: (1) that her
employment was terminated within a matter of days of reporting to Powell that
Date Filed: 04/17/2012
she had contacted the EEOC; (2) that Balkom met with Ducote and Powell, both
of whom had knowledge of her complaints prior to meeting with Turner; (3) that
Balkom stated that she was “not a team player” despite a positive review in
leadership five months before; (4) that her final performance review was riddled
with inconsistencies; and (5) that Balkom had not questioned Turner about
coworker complaints or reviewed her previous goals. Additionally, Turner
offered evidence that Jacobs did not follow its typical policy and procedure in
terminating Turner’s employment. Turner also argues that she has presented
sufficient evidence that Balkom was the “cat’s paw” because he consulted with
Powell and Ducute prior to terminating Turner’s employment. See Staub v.
Proctor Hosp., 131 S. Ct. 1186, 1190 (2011).1
Turner must present at least some evidence that the decision maker was
aware of the protected activity. Manning v. Chevron Chem. Co., 332 F.3d 874,
883 & n.6 (5th Cir. 2003). To prove this awareness, Turner relies solely on
evidence that Balkom met with Powell and Ducote. From this, Turner argues
that the court should infer knowledge. Turner acknowledges that she never
brought any complaints to Balkom and that Balkom stated her termination was
not based on any claims brought to the attention of HR. In his deposition,
Balkom stated that he did not have any knowledge of Turner’s EEOC complaint
or other complaints to HR. Turner does not allege that she knows that Balkom
was told of her complaints, only that we may infer that Balkom had knowledge.
Although Turner states that she has come forth with evidence that Balkom
exhibited hostility to her, she only points to his statement in her final
performance review that she was “not a team player.” Although this statement
could refer to Turner’s complaints to HR, the performance review noted another
A “cat’s paw” case is one in which an employee seeks to hold his or her “employer
liable for the animus of a supervisor who was not charged with making the ultimate
employment decision.” Id.
Date Filed: 04/17/2012
potential basis for that comment in the “Management and Leadership” section.
The review stated that Turner “[d]oes not provide adequate direction to staff.
Does not support of the team. Does not seem to be aware of how the document
control and PAA groups should function.” Turner urges us to infer from this
single team-player comment during her final performance review and Balkom’s
discussion of Turner’s performance with other Jacobs employees that Balkom
knew about her complaints and that knowledge contributed to his determination
to terminate her employment. We must draw only reasonable inferences in
Turner’s favor. Turner v. Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th
Cir. 2007). On this record, it is not reasonable to infer that Balkom knew about
Turner’s protected activity from one comment about being a team player and
general conversations with other employees.
In the alternative, Turner argues that Balkom is the “cat’s paw.” See
Staub, 131 S. Ct. at 1190. In Staub, though, the plaintiff provided evidence that
two supervisors made regular reports motivated by antimilitary animus which
resulted in termination upon later review by an employee not shown to have that
animus. Id. at 1191. The court held that where “a supervisor performs an act
motivated by antimilitary animus that is intended by the supervisor to cause an
adverse employment action, and if that act is a proximate cause of the ultimate
employment action, then the employer is liable.” Id. at 1194 (emphasis omitted).
Turner does not allege that the employee who complained to Balkom about
her conduct as manager or the employees Balkom contacted to discuss her
employment had knowledge of her protected activity or had any retaliatory
motive. Furthermore, Turner does not present any evidence that Powell or
Ducote had performed any act motivated by retaliatory animus, which was the
proximate cause of Balkom’s decision to terminate Turner’s employment. Staub
does not support Turner’s argument.
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