Novella Lockett v. Marsh USA, Inc., et al
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION File Name: 09a0759n.06 No. 08-3413 UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
Dec 03, 2009
LEONARD GREEN, Clerk
NOVELLA LOCKETT, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MARSH USA, INC., et al., Defendants-Appellees,
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ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
BEFORE: COLE, GIBBONS, Circuit Judges; and BELL, District Judge.* ROBERT HOLMES BELL, District Judge. Plaintiff Novella Lockett appeals the district court's entry of summary judgment for Defendants Marsh U.S.A., Inc., Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc. (collectively "Marsh"), and Charles Becker, on her employment discrimination claims. Lockett contends that she was demoted and terminated on the basis of her race, gender and age, and in retaliation for protected activity. She also contends that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over this removed action because she only alleged state law claims. For the following reasons, we AFFIRM. I. BACKGROUND We adopt the background facts from the district judge's well-written opinion as our own.
The Honorable Robert Holmes Bell, United States District Judge for the Western District of Michigan, sitting by designation.
Lockett v. Marsh No. 08-3413 Plaintiff Novella Lockett ("Lockett") is an African-American female born on March 2, 1953. She was hired at Johnson & Higgins ("J & H") in March 1975 as an accounting clerk. Lockett earned multiple promotions throughout her time with J & H, and had attained the title Chief Administrative Officer in 1997, when Marsh USA, Inc. ("Marsh") acquired J & H. In 1999, her job responsibilities continued to include elements of human resources, technology, finance, and management services organization. Marsh's structure throughout its other regions did not contain a "Chief Administrative Officer" position. Beginning in October 1999 and continuing through January 2003, Lockett became known as the Regional Human Resources Manager, even though Jim Meathe ("Meathe"), the manager for whom she consistently worked, and some Marsh documents still referred to her as the Chief Administrative Officer. Regardless of her title, her responsibilities remained spread through finance, information technology and management services organization. In 2001, Marsh's Great Lakes and East Central Regions merged to create a Midwest Region. This brought more responsibility for Lockett. In May 2001, Marsh hired Christopher Long ("Long") as the Regional Human Resources Manager in Chicago. Long had a Masters Degree in Labor and Industrial Relations and at least 12 years of human resources experience. Lockett, who was based in Cleveland, continued her varying duties, including human resources. In November 2002, Meathe left Marsh and Arlene Corsetti became the Regional Leader for the Midwest Region. Corsetti assessed the region and did not understand Lockett's multi-duty responsibilities because Corsetti had no experience with a Chief Administrative Officer-type function, and Marsh did not have a chief administrative officer role in its organizational structure. Corsetti had previously worked with Long in Chicago, and saw Long as the Midwest Region HR manager. Therefore, she decided to move Lockett to Office Administrator in Cleveland. Prior to informing Lockett of the reassignment, Corsetti asked Becker his opinion and he responded with approval, proclaiming, "That would be great. The people in Cleveland like her." In her Office Administrator position, Lockett had two financial analysts who reported to her, Jeff Miles ("Miles") and Sheryl Evans ("Evans"). While Lockett received no cut in salary, her responsibilities were reduced in the new position. Lockett contacted Barbara Silvan, Managing Director of Employee Relations, about her confusion concerning her reassignment. Silvan investigated Lockett's concerns and found no evidence of unfair treatment. She determined, however, that the Company could have done a better job of communicating to Lockett the responsibilities assumed by Long when he was hired in 2001. Thereafter, in 2
Lockett v. Marsh No. 08-3413 December 29, 2003, Lockett filed a charge of discrimination with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission ("OCRC") and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") claiming she was demoted because of her race. The EEOC issued a right to sue letter on April 13, 2004, after finding it was unable to conclude that the evidence established a violation of the relevant statutes. Approximately six months later, in October 2004, the New York Attorney General filed a civil complaint against Marsh which ultimately resulted in a settlement causing the company to pay approximately $850,000,000. Several Marsh executives, including Corsetti, resigned, and approximately 3,000 Marsh employees lost their jobs in the resulting cost-saving reduction in force ("RIF"). Lockett was among those terminated as part of the RIF on November 19, 2004. Evans, a 49-yearold white female, and Miles, a 46-year-old white male, Lockett's two subordinates who performed financial support functions in Cleveland with her, were also terminated in the RIF. No employees were hired to replace Lockett, Miles and Evans, and no financial management services organization support functions were performed in Cleveland after the RIF. Lockett then filed a second charge with the OCRC alleging race discrimination and retaliation in her termination. The EEOC again disagreed with Lockett's allegations, finding that the evidence did not show Marsh retaliated against her or discriminated against her on account of her race. A right to sue letter was issued and Lockett then filed this lawsuit against Marsh and Becker, claiming (1) wrongful demotion on the basis of age, race and gender; (2) wrongful discharge on the basis of age, race and gender; (3) retaliatory demotion; (4) retaliatory discharge; (5) wrongful discharge in violation of Ohio public policy, and (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress. Lockett v. Marsh USA, Case No. 1:06CV00035, 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 73939, at *2-7, (N.D. Ohio Oct. 3, 2007) (Dkt. No. 55, Mem. Op. & Order) (Lioi, J.) (citations and footnotes omitted). The district court, in two separate opinions, entered summary judgment in favor of Marsh and Becker on all of Lockett's claims against them and denied Lockett's cross-motion for summary judgment on Count VII. Lockett filed this appeal.
Lockett v. Marsh No. 08-3413 II. On appeal, Lockett challenges the district court's exercise of subject matter jurisdiction as well as its entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendants. A. JURISDICTION The threshold issue raised by this appeal is subject matter jurisdiction. Lockett filed her complaint in the Court of Common Pleas for Cuyahoga County, Ohio, alleging state law claims of wrongful demotion and termination based on race, age and gender, and wrongful denial of severance payments. Defendants removed the action to federal court on the basis of federal question and diversity jurisdiction.1 Lockett did not move to remand. However, the district court sua sponte requested briefing from the parties on the issue of its subject matter jurisdiction. See Klepsky v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 489 F.3d 264, 268 (6th Cir. 2007) ("<[S]ubject matter jurisdiction may be raised sua sponte at any juncture because a federal court lacks authority to hear a case without subject matter jurisdiction,'" (quoting Thornton v. S.W. Detroit Hosp., 895 F.2d 1131, 1133 (6th Cir. 1990)). The district court ultimately determined that Count VII of Lockett's complaint, which purported to assert a claim under Ohio Revised Code § 4112 based on the terms and conditions of employment, was completely preempted by § 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), and was removable based on the court's original federal question jurisdiction.
Although Defendants have acknowledged that both Lockett and Becker were citizens of the State of Ohio, Defendants contend that the district court had diversity jurisdiction in addition to federal question jurisdiction because Plaintiff joined Defendant Becker solely for the purpose of defeating the diversity jurisdiction of the court. In light of our determination that there was federal question jurisdiction, there is no need for us to consider this alternative basis for jurisdiction. 4
Lockett v. Marsh No. 08-3413 Lockett contends that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because all eleven counts in her complaint were based upon either Ohio common law or Ohio statutory requirements, and no federal claims were intended, alleged, or referenced. We review "
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