Chandler v. Infinity Insurance Group
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by US Magistrate Judge T Michael Putnam on 6/4/2014. (MSN)
2014 Jun-04 PM 03:35
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DIVISION OF ALABAMA
TERRI L. CHANDLER,
INFINITY INSURANCE GROUP,
Case No. 2:12-cv-2870-TMP
This cause is before the court on the motion for summary judgment (doc. 25)
filed October 24, 2013, by the defendant, Infinity Insurance Group (AInfinity@).
Defendant seeks dismissal of plaintiff=s claims of religious discrimination and retaliation
brought pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. '' 2000e et seq.
Plaintiff, Terri L. Chandler, is a Jehovah=s Witness. Her complaint alleges that she was
discriminated against on account of her religion because her employer, Infinity, forced
her to attend a Christmas party, which violated her religious beliefs. (Count I). 1 She
The defendant apparently reads the complaint more broadly, construing
further alleges that she was later disciplined and fired in retaliation for her refusal to
participate fully in the Christmas party events. (Count II). The motion for summary
judgment was supported by a brief and evidentiary submissions. (Docs. 26, 27).
Plaintiff filed an opposition in response, supported by a copy of her EEOC charge.
(Doc. 29). Defendant filed a brief in reply. (Doc. 30).
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment is proper Aif 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). The party asking for
summary judgment Aalways bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court
of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of >the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,=
which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.@ Celotex
Count I to include claims that the disciplinary actions and termination that came in the
months following the party also were discriminatorily based on her religion. That
broad reading of the complaint, however, is unwarranted. Plaintiff specifies that the
conduct that was discriminatory was the forced attendance at a holiday party. She
further has specified, in both her EEOC charge and her complaint, that after she
refused to participate at the party, she was retaliated against by being reprimanded and
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting former Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). The
movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing there is no dispute of
material fact, or by showing that the nonmoving party has failed to present evidence in
support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. There is no requirement, however, Athat the moving party
support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent=s
claim.@ Id. at 323.
Once the moving party has met his burden, Rule 56 Arequires the nonmoving
party to go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the >depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions of file,= designate >specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial.=@ Id. at 324 (quoting former Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)).
The nonmoving party need not present evidence in a form necessary for admission at
trial; however, he may not merely rest on his pleadings. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.
A[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after
adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who 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.@ Id. at 322.
After the plaintiff has properly responded to a proper motion for summary
judgment, the court must grant the motion if there is no genuine issue of material fact
and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).
The substantive law will identify which facts are material and which are irrelevant.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine Aif the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.@
Id. at 248. A[T]he judge=s function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine
the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.@
at 249. His guide is the same standard necessary to direct a verdict: Awhether the
evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it
is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.@ Id. at 251-52; see also
Bill Johnson=s Restaurants, Inc. v. N.L.R.B., 461 U.S. 731, 745 n.11 (1983). However,
the nonmoving party Amust do more than show that there is some metaphysical doubt
as to the material facts.@ Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475
U.S. 574, 586 (1986). If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly
probative, summary judgment may be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249 (citations
omitted); accord Spence v. Zimmerman, 873 F.2d 256 (11th Cir. 1989). Furthermore,
the court must Aview the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive
evidentiary burden,@ so there must be sufficient evidence on which the jury could
reasonably find for the plaintiff.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254; Cottle v. Storer
Communication, Inc., 849 F.2d 570, 575 (11th Cir. 1988). Nevertheless, credibility
determinations, the weighing of evidence, and the drawing of inferences from the facts
are the function of the jury, and therefore the evidence of the non-movant is to be
believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor. Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 255. The non-movant need not be given the benefit of every inference but only of
every reasonable inference. Brown v. City of Clewiston, 848 F.2d 1534, 1540 n.12
(11th Cir. 1988).
For purposes of determining the defendant=s motion for summary judgment, the
following facts are undisputed, or if disputed, are taken in a light favorable to the
Infinity is a property and casualty insurance company that provides automobile
insurance. Infinity employs electronic funds transfer clerks (AEFT clerks@) who work
in the accounting department. They are responsible for setting up and maintaining the
accounts for payment of insurance premiums. Because EFT clerks handle customers=
bank account information, attention to detail and accuracy of work is very important.
EFT errors may negatively affect customers= bank accounts, causing disgruntled
customers and additional costs to Infinity.
At all relevant times, Infinity had an Equal Employment Opportunity Policy,
which strictly prohibits any form of discrimination in all terms and conditions of
employment, including discrimination based on religion. The policy also prohibits
retaliation against an employee who reports discrimination. The policy is published in
the employee handbook, which is distributed to employees upon hire and as updates are
made. The policy requires an employee who believes he or she has witnessed or been
subject to discrimination or retaliation to immediately report it to Human Resources.
The handbook also contains an Employee Conduct Policy, which contains examples of
conduct Infinity considers inappropriate and that will subject employees involved to
disciplinary action up to and including termination.
The plaintiff, Terri L. Chandler, was hired as a part-time mail clerk in August
1992. She began working full-time at Infinity in 1993. She received a copy of the
handbook and updates issued during her employment. She understood that Infinity
prohibited religious discrimination and retaliation and that she was required to report
any concerns about discrimination and retaliation to Human Resources. Chandler also
understood that the following conduct was violative of Infinity=s Employee Conduct
Policy, and would subject her to disciplinary action that could include termination:
inattention to duties; excessive use of company time, property, or materials for personal
reasons; failure to notify a supervisor of an absence from work within one hour of her
scheduled shift; and excessive inefficiency, substandard production, waste, or defective
During her employment at Infinity, Chandler held several positions in the
accounting department. In March 2008, she was hired as an EFT clerk. Staci Elder,
Cash Receipt Supervisor, interviewed her for that position and made the decision to
hire her. Elder knew that Chandler was a Jehovah=s Witness. Chandler understood
that attention to detail was important to her job as an EFT clerk. As an EFT clerk, she
reported to Elder and General Accounting Supervisor Helen Crenshaw.
Plaintiff received several disciplinary notices during her employment at Infinity.
On February 23, 2007, (before she began working as an EFT clerk) plaintiff was issued
a written warning and placed on probation for 90 days for excessive inefficiency after
she made excessive errors following her 2006 performance evaluation. She was cited
for making duplicate payments to vendors and failing to research all issues to ensure
that her processing was accurate. On May 13, 2008, (after she became an EFT clerk)
plaintiff was issued a counseling report for inattention to duties after she updated a
customer=s EFT information with information from another customer=s bank account. 2
Chandler committed at least one other EFT error in 2008 for which she was corrected
by a supervisor in the normal course of business. 3 On September 21, 2009, plaintiff
was issued a written warning and placed on probation for 90 days after she failed to
notify her supervisor of an absence from work within one hour of her scheduled start
time. Chandler, however, had been told by Elder that it was unnecessary to call in
every day. Plaintiff committed at least nine EFT errors between February and early
June 2010 for which she was corrected by a supervisor in the normal course of business.
On June 21, 2010, plaintiff was issued another Counseling Report for inattention to
duties after she processed four customer policies in error. Plaintiff disagreed with the
Counseling Report because it was her first time processing Ae-check re-sweeps@ and she
was distracted when one of her co-workers came to assist her. She admits that she
received training on how to process Ae-check re-sweeps@ prior to making the errors, and
The facts set forth preceding this footnote are taken from the defendant=s
brief and/or plaintiff=s deposition, and have not been disputed by the plaintiff. The
facts following this footnote exclude the information from defendant=s brief that the
plaintiff has identified as disputed, and include both additional facts provided by
plaintiff or gleaned from the exhibits.
In its statement of facts, the defendant states that the plaintiff made errors
for which she was Acounseled by Elder.@ The plaintiff has disputed this description,
asserting that the Adefendant is misrepresenting what was a correction by a supervisor in
the normal course of business as >counseling.=@ The plaintiff has not disputed that the
errors alleged were made, or that a supervisor addressed the error.
concedes that she does not know of any co-worker who re-swept four policies in error
and was not issued written discipline. On July 30, 2010, plaintiff was issued an
Informal Discipline for failure to follow Infinity=s mailing procedures, which resulted in
customers not receiving notification of cancelled policies in a timely manner. Plaintiff
committed at least four EFT errors between August 2010 and early January 2011 for
which she was corrected by a supervisor in the normal course of business. On January
24, 2011, plaintiff was issued a written warning and placed on probation for 90 days for
improper, unauthorized and excessive use of Infinity property after she made more
than fourteen and a half hours of telephone calls during work hours in December 2010,
even though she worked only 16 days that month. Plaintiff, however, had reasons she
asserts were acceptable under the company policy for using the telephone for that
amount of time.
Plaintiff understood that any further performance issue or
company-policy violation would result in termination. During the 90-day probation,
plaintiff committed at least one EFT error. Although immediate termination was
warranted, Elder only counseled plaintiff regarding the error. On June 13, 2011,
plaintiff exhibited excessive inefficiency, substandard production, waste or defective
work when she duplicated a debit to a customer=s bank account, causing the customer
to be charged twice for an insurance premium. Elder recommended that plaintiff be
terminated, and Crenshaw approved the termination.
Plaintiff=s employment was terminated on June 23, 2011. Infinity has stated that
the reason for the termination was repeated deficiencies in the accuracy of her work.
At no time did anyone from Infinity tell plaintiff that she was being terminated because
of her religion. Plaintiff has identified Ann Reed and Cerethia Tyson as employees
who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses, but had the same types of performance issues and
were not terminated. Ann Reed=s December 2010 telephone report shows fewer hours
of calls than plaintiff=s report, and Reed explained to Elder that the majority of her calls
were business related, not personal. There has been no evidence at all produced to
show Tyson=s disciplinary record, nor does plaintiff detail what she believes Tyson did
for which she was not disciplined.
Elder and Crenshaw have terminated employees who were not of the same
religion as Chandler for repeated deficiencies in the accuracy of their work. Elder
knew when she hired Chandler that she was a Jehovah=s Witness, and she never said
anything inappropriate or derogatory about Chandler=s religion.
As a Jehovah=s Witness, plaintiff does not celebrate birthdays or civil, patriotic,
or religious holidays, or anything that has a pagan origin. She may attend social
functions that are not associated with religious, political, or patriotic observances, such
as baby showers, anniversaries, charity events, and employee appreciation events.
Plaintiff does not allege that any discriminatory conduct occurred prior to
November 2010. She alleges that, in November 2010, despite knowledge of plaintiff’s
Jehovah Witness religion, Elder forced her to attend a company holiday party at
Infinity=s Colonnade location, telling her that the party was mandatory and that she
expected her to attend. Plaintiff did not tell Elder that she could not attend the
function because of her religion,4 and no one at Infinity forced her to eat, drink, or
otherwise participate in any activities at the party. Plaintiff called the party a Christmas
Plaintiff’s testimony about this conversation can be found in her
deposition at pages 123-128. Part of that testimony is the following:
Q: …. But my question is: In this instance where Staci told you
there was a party that was mandatory that you had to attend, did you tell
her that you could not go because of your religion?
A: I didn’t tell her I could not go. I just --- what I said was, well,
Staci, I said I’d go, but I won’t --- I said I’m not going to participate and
I’m not going to eat anything.
Q: Anything else?
Q: What did she say in response to that?
A: She said that, you know, I would have to drive my own car, you
know. So I didn’t say anything else, I just got up and I walked out.
Plaintiff’s Depo. pp. 127-128, Doc. 27-1, p. 33 of 53.
party in her complaint, but admits that she does not recall any holiday decorations,
music, or other holiday celebration that took place at the function. She recalls
Plaintiff attended the event, but did not eat or drink at the party. She brought a
drink with her to have at the party so that she would not be accepting any food or drink,
or be Aparticipating@ in the event. Elder stared at her during the party and appeared
upset that plaintiff did not participate in the festivities. Plaintiff did not tell anyone at
Infinity that her refusal to participate was based upon her religion.6 No one at Infinity
said anything derogatory to her about her failure to participate, but after the party,
Chandler believes that Elder treated her differently.
Infinity has presented evidence that it held its only 2010 company
Christmas party on December 17, 2010, at Cahaba Grand Conference Center, and not
at the Colonnade. The only company function that involved a pie-throwing event and
was attended by both plaintiff and Elder was at the Colonnade in November 2009 (not
2010), according to Infinity, and was part of the company’s employee appreciation
week. The pie-throwing event was a charity fundraiser. While Infinity clearly disputes
that the party described in the complaint was held in 2010, or that plaintiff attended a
company holiday party in 2010, the court views the facts in the light most favorable to
the plaintiff and, thus, considers as a fact that a Christmas party was held in 2010 and
that plaintiff attended, having been told that attendance was mandatory.
There is testimony that plaintiff complained to Helen Crenshaw about
disrespectful emails to her from Elder, but plaintiff testified that she never complained
to Crenshaw about the holiday party or her religious objections to it. See Pl.’s Depo.,
at 112-113. She never indicated to Crenshaw that Elder’s treatment was due to her
Plaintiff contends that Elder treated EFT clerk Cynthia Ford more favorably in
terms of vacation usage, but plaintiff admits that she always was allowed to choose her
vacation days before Ford, and that she was never denied the vacation time she selected.
In 2011, plaintiff was terminated before using the vacation days she had selected. After
plaintiff was terminated, Ford took vacation on the days that had been selected by
Plaintiff alleges that Elder treated non-EFT clerks Angela Gooden and Tekia
(last name unknown) more favorably with regards to disciplinary actions for EFT
errors, but she admits that Gooden and Tekia were cross-training in EFT when they
made the errors. Plaintiff also admits that Elder did not issue a written disciplinary
notice to her every time she had made an EFT error.
Plaintiff did not speak to anyone in Human Resources about the treatment she
was receiving from Elder. Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination and retaliation with
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on November 18, 2011. She filed
the complaint that commenced this lawsuit on September 4, 2012.
Defendant seeks summary adjudication of plaintiff=s claims of religious
discrimination and retaliatory discharge in violation of Title VII. Defendant asserts
that Plaintiff is unable to offer evidence to meet the elements required to prove a prima
facie case of discrimination or retaliation under Title VII. Defendant further asserts
that it has offered a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the discipline given to the
plaintiff and for her termination, and that plaintiff has not shown that reason to be
A. Religious Discrimination
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides, in relevant part, that A[i]t shall
be an unlawful employment practice for an employer ... to discriminate against any
individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of
employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.@
42 U.S.C.A. ' 2000eB2(a)(1)(emphasis added). In any Title VII case, proof of a
discriminatory motive is Acritical.@ International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. United
States, 431 U.S. 324, 335 n.15, 97 S. Ct. 1843, 52 L. Ed. 2d 396 (1977). A disparate
treatment claim requires proof of discriminatory intent, either through the use of direct
or circumstantial evidence. See, e.g., Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v.
Joe=s Stone Crab, Inc., 220 F.3d 1263, 1286 (11th Cir. 2000). In order to establish a
prima facie case of discrimination, a plaintiff may present to the court: (1) direct evidence
that Adiscriminatory animus played a significant or substantial role in the employment
decision,@ Eskra v. Provident Life and Accident Ins. Co., 125 F.3d 1406, 1411 (11th
Cir. 1997), or (2) circumstantial evidence of discrimination, in accordance with the
four-part test set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct.
1817, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973), or (3) statistical evidence of a pattern of discrimination.7
Zaben, 129 F.3d at 1457.
Direct evidence is evidence that establishes the existence of discriminatory intent
behind the employment decision without requiring the factfinder to make any
inferences or presumptions. Carter v. City of Miami, 870 F.2d 578, 580-81 (11th Cir.
Direct evidence is limited to Aonly the most blatant remarks, whose intent
could mean nothing other than to discriminate on the basis of@ some impermissible
factor. Rojas v. Florida, 285 F.3d 1339, 1342 n. 2 (11th Cir. 2002), quoting Schoenfeld
v. Babbitt, 168 F.3d 1257, 1266 (11th Cir.1999); see also Carter, 870 F.2d at 582 (11th
Where there is no direct evidence, the plaintiff must prove intent through
circumstantial evidence in accordance with McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411
U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973). When the plaintiff relies upon
circumstantial evidence, rather than direct evidence, she creates a presumption of
discrimination by establishing a prima facie case. The presumption may be rebutted,
Plaintiff has not offered any statistical evidence or attempted to prove her
claim by a statistical pattern of religious discrimination.
however, if the employer offers a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the
employment action. Once the nondiscriminatory reason is articulated, the burden
shifts to the plaintiff to show that the reason is either not worthy of belief, or that, in
light of all the evidence, a discriminatory reason more likely motivated the decision than
the proferred reason. Standard v. A.B.E.L. Servs. Inc., 161 F.3d 1318, 1331-33 (11th
Cir. 1998) reh=g and reh=g en banc denied, 172 F.2d 884 (11th Cir. 1999), citing Combs v.
Plantation Patterns, 106 F.3d 1519, 1528 (11th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 118 S. Ct. 685,
139 L. Ed. 2d 632 (1998).
It is not the duty of this court to evaluate whether the employment decisions
made were fair or wise; employers are free to make unfair or unwise employment
decisions so long as they do not violate anti-discrimination statutes. See Elrod v. Sears,
Roebuck and Co., 939 F.2d 1466, 1470 (11th Cir. 1991). Questionable business
judgment is not evidence of discrimination.
Moreover, courts have
recognized that the discrimination laws should not be used to override employment
decisions Abased on individual assessments of a person=s abilities, capabilities, or
potential.@ Magruder v. Selling Area Mktg. Inc., 439 F. Supp. 1155 (N.D. Ill. 1977).
Plaintiff has not defined the form of religious discrimination that she is alleging.
Courts have recognized that a plaintiff may be subjected to a hostile working
environment on account of religion, or may be subjected to disparate treatment because
of religion, or may be discriminated against when an employer fails to reasonably
accommodate a requirement of his or her religion. See, e.g., Tillery v. ATSI, Inc., 242 F.
Supp. 2d 1051 (N.D. Ala. 2003).
While the complaint does Are-allege and incorporate
by reference@ the factual statements made in paragraphs 8-13 of the complaint, the only
fact set forth in Count I of the complaint alleging Areligious discrimination@ is that she
was Aforced ... to attend an after work religious based party that was against [her]
religious beliefs.@ Because there is no reference to any severe or pervasive hostile
working environment or any severe or pervasive harassment of any kind B in either the
complaint or the EEOC charge B the claim cannot be construed as one alleging that
Infinity created or allowed to exist a hostile working environment. See, e.g., Blanton v.
Bunch and Assoc., Inc., 2006 WL 269981 *8, n.9 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 3, 2006)(holding that
failure to plead a hostile work environment claim in the complaint precludes arguing
that theory in response to a dispositive motion).
Because plaintiff specifically alleges that she was Aforced@ to attend a party, while
others were not forced to attend (attachment to EEOC charge, doc. 29-1, p. 2), the
claim could be viewed as one of disparate treatment. 8 A review of other cases
The plaintiff says she was required to attend because Elder told her that
attendance was mandatory. In her EEOC charge, she refers to the party as
Amandatory.@ At deposition, however, she testified that she was told that it was
mandatory, when in fact it was not. The only evidentiary basis for her conclusion that
attendance was not mandatory, was her observation that some of her coworkers did not
involving discrimination based on religion, however, suggests that the case is best
analyzed as one in which the plaintiff required some accommodation for her religious
beliefs. Plaintiff has offered no comparator evidence to show that she was singled out
and forced to attend the party while other employees of different religions were not, nor
is there any evidence that she was forced to attend because of her religion.
Plaintiff complains that one event in her 17-year history at Infinity was offensive
to her religion, and she essentially argues that, as an accommodation of her religious
beliefs forbidding observance of Christmas, Infinity either should have given plaintiff
permission to forgo attending the party, or should have held the mandatory party with
some other Atheme@ that was not offensive to her religion. 9 Plaintiff’s claim is best
analyzed as a failure to accommodate claim.
In order to survive a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the
plaintiff in a Title VII religion discrimination case must establish a prima facie case by
showing that: (1) she had a bona fide religious practice that conflicted with an
attend. Absent some evidence that other workers were told the party was not
mandatory and that the purpose in Aforcing@ her to attend was discriminatory, however,
she has failed to demonstrate actionable disparate treatment. There is no evidence that
plaintiff was forced to attend because of her religion.
The defendant asserts that the party plaintiff references was not a holiday
party, but was an employee appreciation event, and that there was not a Christmas or
holiday theme for the party. Plaintiff admits she does not recall holiday decorations or
music, but insists it was a holiday party.
employment requirement,10 (2) she brought the practice to the employer=s attention,
and (3) the religious practice was the basis for an adverse employment decision. Beadle
v. Hillsborough County Sheriff=s Dep=t, 29 F.3d 589, 592 n.5 (11th Cir. 1994); see also
Equal Employment Opportunity Comm=n v. United Parcel Serv., 94 F.3d 314, 317 (7th
Cir. 1996); Equal Employment Opportunity Comm=n v. Union Independiente de la
Autoridad de Acuedoctos & Alcantarillados de Puerto Rico, 279 F.3d 49 (1st Cir. 2002);
Seaworth v. Pearson, 203 F.3d 1056, 1057 (8th Cir. 2000). 11 A plaintiff alleging
employment discrimination on account of religion must Apresent evidence, either direct
or circumstantial, sufficient to allow a reasonable fact finder to conclude that the
defendant intentionally and unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff, i.e., in a
religious discrimination case, that the employment decision at issue was made >on
account of [the plaintiff's] religious beliefs.=@ Perdue v. C. Hager & Sons Hinge Mfg. Co.,
Inc., 412 F. Supp. 2d 1227 (M.D. Ala. 2005), quoting Young v. Southwestern Sav. &
Loan, 509 F.2d 140, 143 (5th Cir.1975) (emphasis added). It is not enough for the
There is no contention by defendant that plaintiff did not have a bona fide
religious practice which forbade participation in a Christmas party, or that she sincerely
held that religious belief. The second and third elements of the prima facie case are the
ones at issue here.
The religious belief must be Asincerely held,@ and not just a personal
preference; however, there is no requirement that the belief be Aacceptable, logical,
consistent or comprehensible to others.@ Thomas v. Review Bd. Of Ind. Employment
Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707, 714, 101 S. Ct. 1425, 67 L. Ed. 2d 624 (1981).
plaintiff merely to show that her employer knew of her religious beliefs; there must also
be evidence to support an inference that the religious practices were the basis of the
adverse employment action. Perdue, 412 F. Supp. 2d at 1236 n.13.
Religious discrimination cases differ from other Title VII cases in that the
plaintiff must show that the employer was made aware of the religious practice at issue,
and was given an opportunity to accommodate it. EEOC v. United Parcel Serv., 94
F.3d at 318 n.3. The second element of a prima facie case of religious discrimination is
met only where the plaintiff has Ainformed [the employer] of the existence of [the
religious] belief and its conflict with the requirement.@ Telfair v. Federal Express Corp.
934 F. Supp. 2d 1368, 1383 (S.D. Fla. 2013) (Jehovah=s Witness told employer that
Saturday Bible studies were a necessary expression of that faith and that working on
Saturdays conflicted with the belief); Beadle, 29 F.3d at 591 (finding as a requirement of
the prima facie case that the Seventh Day Adventist plaintiff had informed the employer
that working on Saturdays violated his religious beliefs). The need for accommodation
is similar to cases arising under the Americans with Disabilities Act, in which the
employee must participate in good faith dialogue, making efforts to communicate with
the employer about what religious accommodations may be necessary.
See, e.g., Beck
v. University of Wisconsin Bd. of Regents, 75 F.3d 1130 (7th Cir. 1996). The necessity
of an accommodation does not arise, of course, unless the employee first has informed
the employer of the belief and the need for an accommodation.
Morrissette-Brown v. Mobile Infirmary Med. Ctr., 506 F.3d 1317 (11th Cir. 2007).
Other circuit courts of appeals have addressed the interactive nature of the need
for a religious accommodation. In Wilkerson v. New Media Tech. Charter School,
Inc., the court held that and employee must give A>fair warning= that a particular
employment practice will interfere with that employee=s religious beliefs.@ 522 F.3d 315
(3d Cir. 2008), quoting Reed v. Great Lakes Cos., 330 F.3d 931, 935 (7th Cir. 2003).
Placing such a burden on the employee is sensible because an employer is not Acharge[d]
with detailed knowledge@ about the particularized beliefs and observances of various
religious sects. 330 F.3d at 936. Only when an employee has informed her employer
of a conflict between the requirements of her employment and her religious beliefs, and
the employer refuses to accommodate her religious beliefs, can it be said that the
employee’s religious beliefs were the basis of the employer’s adverse employment
The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has addressed the requirement that the
employee initiate the discussion regarding the need for an accommodation in a case
involving a woman who wore a headscarf as part of her Muslim religion:
In sum, we hold that, in order to establish the second element of
their prima facie case under Title VII's religion-accommodation theory,
ordinarily plaintiffs must establish that they initially informed the
employer that they engage in a particular practice for religious reasons and
that they need an accommodation for the practice, due to a conflict
between the practice and the employer's work rules. As noted, we
recognize that some courts have taken a different path on this question.
However, we are confident that our approach is the sounder one.
Given Title VII's conception of religion and the interactive nature
of the religion-accommodation process, we are hard-pressed to see how
we could logically reach another conclusion regarding the notice element
of the prima facie case. This is because the answers to the key questions
that determine whether an employer has an obligation under Title VII to
provide a reasonable religious accommodation ordinarily are only within
the ken of the applicant or employee; because an employer's obligation to
engage in the interactive religion-accommodation process is only triggered
when the employer has answers to those questions; and because, in
implementing Title VII's anti-discrimination mandate, the EEOC has
expressly disapproved of employers inquiring in the first instance or
speculating about the answers to such questions.
For example, recall that Title VII only obliges employers to provide
a reasonable accommodation for practices that applicants or employees
engage in because of bona fide, sincerely held religious beliefs. See, e.g.,
EEOC Q & A, supra (ATitle VII requires employers to accommodate only
those religious beliefs that are religious and sincerely held....@ (internal
quotation marks omitted)). As noted, those beliefs are defined broadly,
but Atypically concern [ ] ultimate ideas about life, purpose, and death.@
EEOC Compliance Manual ' 12BI(A)(1) (internal quotation marks
omitted). Title VII does not extend its protections to practices that are
engaged in as a matter of personal preference or for cultural reasons, see,
e.g., Reed, 330 F.3d at 935 (A[A]n employee is not permitted to redefine a
purely personal preference or aversion as a religious belief.@), and no
matter how strongly an applicant or employee believes in certain political,
economic, or social ideas, if those ideas do not otherwise relate to the stuff
of religion (e.g., ultimate notions about life, purpose, or death), then
practices based upon them do not fall within Title VII's protective ambit,
see, e.g., EEOC Compliance Manual ' 12BI(A)(1).
But how is an employer to know that applicants or employees are
engaged in a practice for religious reasons, unless they inform the
employer? Cf. id. (ADetermining whether a practice is religious turns not
on the nature of the activity, but on the employee's motivation. The
same practice might be engaged in by one person for religious reasons and
by another person for purely secular reasons.@). To be sure, in certain
instances, applicants or employees may engage in practices that are
traditionally associated with a particular religion. However, Title VII
does not require employers to become knowledgeable about the customs
and observances of religions. See, e.g., Wilkerson, 522 F.3d at 319 (A[W]e
do not impute to the employer the duty to possess knowledge of
particularized beliefs of religious sects.@); Reed, 330 F.3d at 936 (noting that
Aemployers are not charged with detailed knowledge of the beliefs and
observances associated with particular sects@); EEOC Compliance
Manual ' 12BIV(A)(1) (noting that an employee Acannot assume that the
employer will already know or understand@ Athe religious nature of the
belief or practice at issue@).
Furthermore, even if an employer was generally aware of the beliefs
and observances that are traditionally associated with a particular religious
group, and also knew that the applicant or employee displayed symbols
associated with that groupCor even that the applicant or employee
specifically claimed to be a member of that groupCordinarily, the
employer would still not know whether the conflicting practice in question
actually stemmed from religious beliefs unless the particular applicant or
employee informed the employer, because under Title VII, as we have
discussed, religion is a uniquely personal and individual matter. See, e.g.,
EEOC Compliance Manual ' 12BI(A)(1) (AAn employee's belief or
practice can be >religious' under Title VII even if the employee is affiliated
with a religious group that does not espouse or recognize that individual's
belief or practice, or if fewCor noCother people adhere to it.@ (emphasis
added)); see also id. (A[A] person's religious beliefs need not be confined in
either source or content to traditional or parochial concepts of religion. A
belief is religious for Title VII purposes if it is religious in the person's own
scheme of things....@ (emphasis added) (footnotes omitted) (internal
quotation marks omitted)). In holding that Title VII places a Aduty on
the employee to give fair warning of the employment practices that will
interfere with his religion,@ Reed, 330 F.3d at 935, the Seventh Circuit
succinctly and cogently touched on a like point. Specifically, the court in
Reed stated: AA person's religion is not like his sex or raceCsomething
obvious at a glance. Even if he wears a religious symbol, such as a cross
or a yarmulka, this may not pinpoint his particular beliefs and
observances....@ Id. at 935B36 (emphasis added).
Similarly, in upholding the dismissal of the plaintiff's
religion-accommodation claim because she failed to inform her employer
of her need for an accommodation due to a conflict between her Christian
beliefs and the employer's Alibation@ or alcohol-drinking ceremony, the
Third Circuit in Wilkerson rejected the plaintiff's suggestion that the
employer's knowledge that she was a Christian was enough to trigger its
accommodation obligation. Specifically, the Third Circuit stated, Athat
[the employer] knew she was a Christian does not sufficiently satisfy [the
plaintiff's] duty to provide >fair warning= to [the employer] that she
possessed a religious belief that specifically prevented her from
participating in the libations ceremony.@ Wilkerson, 522 F.3d at 319
(emphasis added). Indeed, the Third Circuit went further and concluded
that even if the employer Asuspected@ that the libations ceremony would
be specifically offensive to the plaintiff, that would not relieve the plaintiff
of the obligation to Ainform the defendants that the libation ceremony
would offend her religious beliefs.@ Id. at 319B20 (emphasis added). In
the same vein, in upholding the denial of the plaintiff's
religion-accommodation claim, the Fourth Circuit rejected the plaintiff's
argument that the employer's knowledge of the plaintiff's strongly held
religious beliefs was enough to Aput it on notice@ that those beliefs
wouldC in the plaintiff's viewCoblige her to Awrite, and send, personal,
accusatory letters to co-workers at their homes.@ Chalmers, 101 F.3d at
1020 n. 3. Therefore, even if an employer were on notice that an
applicant or employee subscribed to a particular religious belief system,
because religion under Title VII is a uniquely personal matter, that
information would not be enough to tell the employer what practices are
religious in Athe person's own scheme of things.@ EEOC Compliance
Manual ' 12BI(A)(1) (internal quotation marks omitted). Ordinarily, the
only way the employer would know such information is if the applicant or
employee informed the employer.
Knowing this much demonstrates why the most natural reading of
Title VII's religion-accommodation provision is one that ordinarily places
the burden on the applicant or employee to inform the employer of the
conflicting religious practice and the need for an accommodation, and
why a contrary reading of the statute would be patently unfair to
employers. Reed provides a hypothetical that powerfully underscores this
Equal Employment Opportunity Comm=n v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 731
F.3d 1106, 1131-33 (10th Cir. 2013). The Tenth Circuit summarized its holding,
noting that Aeven if an employer has particularized, actual knowledge of the religious
nature of the practice B that is knowledge that the practice of a particular applicant or
employee stems from his or her religious beliefs B that still would not be sufficient
information to trigger the employer=s duty to offer a reasonable accommodation.@ 731
F.3d at 1133.
Chandler has not alleged that she ever informed Elder, or anyone at Infinity, that
attending a holiday party would conflict with her sincerely held religious beliefs.
Infinity has offered the affidavit of Elder, who stated that Chandler made her Aaware
that she was a Jehovah=s Witness during her interview,@ and further that Elder is
Afamiliar with this religion, as [she] has family members who are Jehovah=s Witnesses.@
(Doc. 27-4, Affi. of Elder, & 12).
Even this specific knowledge, however, is
insufficient to trigger Infinity=s duty to offer a reasonable accommodation because
Chandler never told anyone, even her supervisor Elder, that attending a holiday party
gave rise to a need for a religious accommodation, or, as the Tenth Circuit Court of
Appeals phrased it, that she felt Aobliged by religion@ to adhere to the practice of
avoiding holiday celebrations of any kind. Even though Elder was knowledgeable
about the Jehovah=s Witness religion, neither she nor Infinity was not charged with
understanding all of the practices of the religion, much less whether Ms. Chandler
personally felt obliged to adhere to any particular practice of the religion. A contrary
result would place an employer in the untenable position of having to inquire into the
existence and parameters of the religions observed by its employees, and having to
accommodate employees, even when the employees may not adhere to any particular
tenets of a religion.
Chandler=s claim that Title VII was violated when Elder told her that it was
mandatory that she attend and participate in a company Christmas party is due to be
dismissed because Chandler has failed to prove a prima facie case of religious
discrimination. She has not demonstrated that she gave her employer Afair warning@
that attending the party would violate her sincerely held religious beliefs and that she
was in need of an accommodation. She did not engage in the interactive process
necessary to set the right to an accommodation in motion. Infinity had no obligation
to inquire about Chandler=s religious beliefs and which practices of the faith she
followed or held closely. To the contrary, Infinity would have subjected itself to other
claims of discrimination had it taken the initiative to investigate the religious practices of
Chandler=s claim also is subject to summary disposition in favor of Infinity
because she has failed to meet the third element of a Title VII prima facie case: she has
not shown that the religious practice was the basis for an adverse employment decision.
Chandler has not come forward with any evidence that her employer had any intent to
discriminate, or any animosity toward her religion. The supervisor whom she alleges
exhibited the animus, Elder, is the same supervisor who hired her for the position, fully
aware that she was a Jehovah’s Witness. Chandler admits there were never any
derogatory comments made about her religion during the 17 years she worked there.
There is simply no evidence that any action taken by Infinity was on account of the
plaintiff’s religious beliefs.12 For all of these reasons, Infinity’s motion for summary
Even if the court were to construe the complaint to include, as disparate
treatment claims, her allegations that her discipline was meted out discriminatorily,
there still is no evidence to support the conclusion that the discipline was imposed on
account of her religion. If Elder singled out Chandler for discipline because she simply
did not like her personally, that treatment is not violative of Title VII. Absent some
evidence of discriminatory intent based on religion, the claim for disparate treatment
judgment on the Title VII religious discrimination claim is due to be granted, and
Count I of the complaint is due to be dismissed.
In order to establish a prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII, a plaintiff
must prove each of the following elements: (1) she participated in an activity protected
by Title VII; (2) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) there is a causal
connection between the participation in the protected activity and the adverse
employment decision. Goldsmith v. Bagby Elevator Co, Inc., 513 F.3d 1261, 1277
(11th Cir. 2008), citing Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 126 S.
Ct. 2405, 2410-16, 165 L. Ed. 2d 345 (2006). In addition, the plaintiff must show that
her employer was aware of her participation in the protected activity when it took the
adverse action. Maniccia v. Brown, 171 F.3d 1364, 1369 (11th Cir. 1999). As
explained below, this claim also must be dismissed.
1. Protected Activity
There is no dispute that Chandler suffered an adverse action in the form of
various disciplinary notices meted out to her after the November 2010 party, but
defendant argues that she did not engage in any statutorily protected activity and that,
even if she did, there is no causal relation between her refusal to participate at the party
and the disciplinary actions and termination. Thus, in dispute are the first and third
elements of the prima facie requirement.
An employee’s generalized complaint about bad treatment in the workplace is
not sufficient to meet the requirement that the plaintiff engaged in protected activity.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has noted:
We affirm the district court’s judgment because, as the court
correctly noted, the record contained no evidence that Brown engaged in a
protected activity by making a complaint about racial discrimination or
harassment. Brown admitted that she never mentioned the word Arace@
when she complained about Kirby’s behavior, that she had no knowledge
of Kirby making any racially derogatory comments, and that Kirby took
out her anger on everyone, including the white office assistant.
Moreover, Brown did not engage in a protected activity because she never
voiced a complaint that the City was engaged in an unlawful employment
Brown v. City of Opelika, 211 Fed. Appx. 862 (11th Cir. 2006). Engaging in a
“protected activity” involves opposing an employment practice that the employee
reasonably believes is illegal under Title VII. The “opposition” must be made know to
the employer in the form of a complaint or some overt rejection of what the employee
believes to be an illegally discriminatory practice or decision. Remaining silent in the
face of an illegal practice is not engaging in a “protected activity.” An employer may be
guilty of retaliation only with respect to things it knows about.
Chandler has failed to present any evidence that she engaged in any protected
activity until after she was fired, when she filed a charge with the EECO. She made no
internal complaint to Infinity that she had ever been treated differently because of her
religion while she was working at Infinity. While she complained to Crenshaw about
“disrespectful” emails from Elder, she never told Crenshaw that this was due to her
religion. (See Pl.’s Depo., at 112-113, Doc. 27-1, pp. 29-30 of 53). At the time that
Infinity held the party complained of, she did not tell anyone that it was offensive to her
religion. Her only Aopposition@ to the party was that she brought her own drink and
did not eat, drink or otherwise participate. The plaintiff=s only suggestion, in her brief,
that she engaged in a protected activity is to cite Crawford v. Metropolitan Gov=t of
Nashville, 555 U.S. 271, 129 S. Ct. 846, 172 L. Ed. 2d 650 (2009) for the proposition
that Astanding pat@ can constitute opposition.
(Doc. 20, p. 11).
inapposite to this case.
The Supreme Court in Crawford examined the Aopposition clause@ of
Section 2000e-3(a), which prohibits retaliation against an employee who has Aopposed
any practice made an unlawful employment practice@ by the Civil Rights Act, or who
has Amade a charge, testified, assisted, or participated@ in any proceeding relating to an
unlawful employment practice. 42 U.S.C. 2000e-3(a). The plaintiff in Crawford had
described instances of sexual harassment when she was asked, during an internal
investigation that arose from rumors about sexual harassment by a school district=s
employee relations director, whether she had witnessed any inappropriate behavior by
the director. She described several instances in which the director had made
inappropriate sexual remarks or gestures.
Crawford was later accused of
embezzlement and was fired.
The district court granted summary judgment against the plaintiff in Crawford
on her claims of retaliation, concluding that she had not satisfied the opposition clause
because she had not Ainstigated or initiated any complaint@ about gender discrimination,
but had merely answered questions asked of her in an investigation initiated at the
behest of another employee. The appellate court affirmed, holding that opposition
required Aactive, consistent@ activities. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded,
however, holding that Crawford=s Adisapproving account@ of the sexual behavior, which
Aantagonized@ her employer, was sufficiently Aresistant@ and Aantagonistic@ to constitute
555 U.S. at 275-76.
The Court noted: A>When an employee
communicates to her employer a belief that the employer has engaged in ... a form of
employment discrimination, that communication= virtually always >constitutes the
employee's opposition to the activity.=@ 555 U.S. at 276.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has limited the application of Crawford,
noting that the case Apertained only to whether the reporting of a harassment claim was
covered by Title VII where the reporting was solicited rather than volunteered.@ Brush
v. Sears Holdings Corp., 466 Fed. Appx. 781, 787 (11th Cir. 2012). The caution with
which the holding in Crawford must be applied is justified. The plaintiff in Crawford
was questioned directly about allegations of sexual harassment. Her answers plainly
described conduct that had violated Title VII. In the instant case, by comparison, no
employee ever made allegations, while Chandler was employed there, that any Infinity
supervisor engaged in religious discrimination. Chandler’s only Aopposition@ was to
attend a party without enjoying herself; she did not complain to any supervisor or
Human Resources officer about having to attend the party. Nothing about her
Astanding pat@ at the party plainly indicated that she was opposing religious
discrimination taking place. Her conduct could reasonably have been understood as
shyness, social awkwardness, a dislike of coworkers or supervisors, or simply not being
in the mood to party. In this case, Chandler’s actions in refusing to Aparticipate@
cannot be regarded as opposition to religious discrimination. Her conduct did not
signal to Infinity that she believed it was engaged in prohibited religious discrimination.
Chandler may suspect that Elder knew that she was not eating or drinking because of
religious beliefs and that attending the party violated her religious beliefs, but there is no
evidence that supports this hunch. The fact that Elder was Afamiliar@ with Jehovah=s
Witnesses does not lead to the conclusion that she understood all of the tenets of the
religion, much less which ones Chandler held as sincere beliefs and followed.13
Accordingly, there is no evidence that Chandler engaged in a statutorily
protected activity before she was disciplined or fired. For this reason, Infinity is
entitled to summary adjudication in its favor on the retaliation claim (Count II) of the
2. Causal Connection
The defendant is entitled to summary judgment in its favor on the retaliation
claim for a second reason. Once a plaintiff has demonstrated that she engaged in a
protected activity, she also has the obligation to show a causal connection by showing
Athat the decision makers were aware of the protected activity and the protected activity
and the adverse action were not wholly unrelated.@
Bass v. Board of County
Prior to the party, the issue of whether Infinity had engaged in some form
of employment discrimination by holding a Christmas party had never been raised.
Plaintiff simply was told to attend a party, and did so without protesting, although she
apparently brought her own drink and did not eat anything or join in any of the party
activities. Such passive resistance to an activity that was never the subject of any
complaint and that is not so patently offensive as the sexual harassment described in
Crawford does not rise to the level of activity that would constitute Aopposition.@ It is
reasonable to expect an employer, hearing an account of a supervisor pulling an
employee’s head to his crotch, to infer that the employee was opposing conduct that
clearly violated the prohibition against sexual harassment. It is not so reasonable to
expect an employer, watching an employee stand idly by at a company party, to know
that the employee is expressing opposition to discrimination on account of religion.
Comm=rs., Orange County, 256 F.3d 1095, 1119 (11th Cir. 2001) (overturned on other
grounds). The causal link requirement is to be construed broadly, and the Eleventh
Circuit Court of Appeals has stated that Aa plaintiff need only show that the protected
activity and the adverse action were not wholly unrelated.@ Brungart v. Bellsouth
Telecommunications, Inc., 231 F.3d 791, 799 (11th Cir. 2000) (quoting Clover v. Total
Sys. Servs., Inc., 176 F.3d 1346, 1354 (11th Cir. 1999).). However, to meet even this
low threshold of proof of causation, the plaintiff must offer some evidence from which
a jury could infer that the protected activity caused the adverse employment action
taken against her later. Therefore, even if she had demonstrated that she engaged in a
protected activity, Chandler fails to meet this third element of the prima facie case.
Even if her non-participation could be construed as a protected activity, she has
failed to show that her actions at the party were causally connected to the discipline
given to her or to her termination. While the causal link is broadly construed to require
plaintiff to prove little more than that the adverse action and the protected activity were
not Awholly unrelated,@ it nevertheless is well settled that the plaintiff Amust generally
show that the decision maker was aware of the protected conduct at the time of the
adverse employment action.@ Goldsmith, 513 F.3d at 1278. ADiscrimination is about
actual knowledge, and real intent, not constructive knowledge and assumed intent.
When evaluating a charge of employment discrimination, then, we must focus on the
actual knowledge and actions of the decision-maker.@ Brown, 211 Fed. Appx. at 864,
quoting Walker v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 286 F.3d 1270, 1274 (11th Cir.
2002). The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has further stated that Asummary
judgment cannot be avoided based on hunches unsupported with significant probative
evidence.@ Raney v. Vinson Guard Service, Inc., 120 F.3d 1192, 1198 (11th Cir. 1997).
Other than Elder’s knowledge of plaintiff’s religion, there is no evidence that
anyone at Infinity took any adverse employment actions against plaintiff after the
November 2010 party. While it is true that plaintiff received several disciplinary
notices afterward, there is no basis for inferring that she received them because of her
religion. The Supreme Court has recently made the plaintiff=s burden of proving
retaliation even more difficult. In University of Texas Southwestern Med. Ctr. v.
Nassar, 133 S. Ct. 2517, 186 L. Ed. 2d 503 (2013), the Court stated: AThe text,
structure, and history of Title VII demonstrate that a plaintiff making a retaliation claim
under ' 2000eB3(a) must establish that his or her protected activity was a but-for cause
of the alleged adverse action by the employer.@ 133 S. Ct. at 2534.
failed to show that she would not have been fired if she had not opposed Elder=s alleged
discrimination.14 For this additional reason, Infinity=s motion for summary judgment
on the retaliation claim is due to be granted.
Because the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the
Finally, even if plaintiff had met her burden of proving a prima facie case of
retaliation, the presumption of retaliation may be rebutted if the employer offers a
legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employment action. Once the employer
meets its burden of articulating a non-discriminatory reason, the burden shifts back to
the plaintiff to show that the reason is either not worthy of belief or that, in light of all
the evidence, a discriminatory reason more likely motivated the decision than the
proferred reason. Standard v. A.B.E.L. Servs. Inc., 161 F.3d 1318, 1331-33 (11th Cir.
1998), citing Combs v. Plantation Patterns, 106 F.3d 1519, 1528 (11th Cir. 1997), cert.
denied, 118 S. Ct. 685, 139 L. Ed. 2d 632 (1998).
Because the employer has offered a nondiscriminatory reason for the
termination --- that Chandler made too many errors to effectively function as an EFT
clerk --- to overcome the motion for summary judgment Chandler must demonstrate by
competent, admissible evidence that the defendant’s nondiscriminatory reason is
merely a pretext for retaliation against her. She must show not only that the articulated
reason is false, but also that the defendants’ true reason for the discipline and/or
termination was retaliation. See Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 990 F.2d 1217, 1228
plaintiff, the court assumes, without deciding, that the ultimate decision to discipline
and fire was Elder=s, and not Crenshaw=s.
(11th Cir. 1993). It is not the duty of this court to evaluate whether the decision to
terminate Chandler was fair or wise; employers are free to make unfair or unwise
employment decisions so long as they do not violate anti-discrimination statutes. See
Elrod v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., 939 F.2d 1466, 1470 (11th Cir. 1991).
No fact in evidence logically calls into question the credibility of the articulated
nondiscriminatory reason. To survive summary judgment, a plaintiff must show more
than Amere curious timing coupled with speculative theories.@ Raney v. Vinson Guard
Serv. Inc., 120 F.3d 1192, 1197 (11th Cir. 1997) citing Goldsmith v. City of Atmore, 996
F.2d 1155, 1163 (11th Cir. 1993). The court=s job is to consider whether the evidence
submitted by the parties Apresents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a
jury.@ Combs, 106 F.3d at 1526. The only evidence before this court indicates that
the disciplinary notices and termination were made due to concerns separate from
Chandler’s refusal to participate at a Christmas party. The evidence is undisputed that
Chandler made the errors for which she was disciplined, including talking on the
telephone at work for more than 14 hours during a month when she only worked 16
days. Although she argues that other EFT clerks made errors and talked on the phone,
the evidence demonstrates that no other clerk made as many errors or talked on the
phone as frequently as did Chandler. 15 Consequently, Chandler has failed to meet her
The court has determined that the complaint does not contain a claim that
secondary burden of showing that Infinity=s stated reason for her termination was
pretextual, and for this additional reason the claim of retaliation is subject to summary
judgment in favor of the defendant.
Even if Chandler could support her claim that she engaged in a protected
activity, and the protected activity was causally connected to her discipline and
termination, Infinity has offered a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the disciplinary
actions: that Chandler made several errors in her duties, and spent almost an hour a day
during one month on the telephone for personal calls. Once the defendant set forth
the non-retaliatory reasons for the disciplines and termination, the plaintiff has the
burden of demonstrating that the reason is pretext.
In this case, the plaintiff has produced no evidence of pretext. Her disciplinary
history extends back far before she even encountered Elder. She was first placed on
the discipline she received was religious discrimination, but only that the discipline,
including termination, was retaliatory. Even if plaintiff had a claim that the disciplines
were discriminatory, the claim would fail because she has not been able to identify a
comparator --- another employee who committed essentially the same infractions and
was treated less harshly. Turner v. Florida Prepaid College Bd., 522 Fed. Appx. 829,
832 (11th Cir. 2013)(A plaintiff complaining of discriminatory discipline or termination
generally must be able to identify a similarly situated employee, not within the protected
class, who engaged in nearly identical conduct and was not disciplined or terminated.)
Plaintiff does not provide any evidence that any other co-worker committed the same
infractions and was punished less severely: she merely speculates as to what other
employees did; and the employer has offered specific evidence that shows that the
conduct was not Anearly identical.@
probation in 2007 for excessive inefficiency, before she began working for Elder as an
EFT clerk. Her second probation was imposed in 2009, more than a year before the
Christmas party, and she was Acorrected@ at least nine times between February and early
She was issued an Informal Discipline in July 2010.
All of these
disciplinary actions took place before she was Aforced@ to attend the party and before
she Astood pat@ by refusing to participate at the party. All of the disciplinary actions
taken before November 2010 occurred in the absence of any conduct she now claims
was discriminatory. After the party, she was given a written warning in January for her
excessive phone use and was placed on probation. Even though she committed
another error while on probation --- a fire-able offense --- she was not terminated until
June 2011, after she duplicated a debit to a customer’s bank account. Her termination
came almost seven months after the party.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the timing of a termination
has some bearing on whether it may be deemed causally related to the protected activity.
See Farley v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co, 197 F.3d 1322, 1337 (11th Cir. 1999) (holding
that plaintiff=s termination seven weeks after filing EEOC discrimination charge
established a causal connection); Berman v. Orkin Exterminating Co., Inc., 160 F.3d
697, 702 (11th Cir. 1998) (holding that adverse employment action taken between five
weeks and Aa couple of months@ of plaintiff=s filing of an EEOC complaint was
sufficient to establish a causal connection); Donnellon v. Freuhauf Corp., 794 F.2d 598,
601 (11th Cir. 1986) (holding that one-month period between filing of discrimination
complaint and adverse employment action was sufficient to show a causal connection).
The court in Higdon v. Jackson defined further what constitutes sufficient temporal
proximity to establish a causal connection in a retaliation case.
We have held that a period as much as one month between the
protected expression and the adverse action is not too protracted. See
Wideman, 141 F.3d at 1457 (citing Donnellon v. Fruehauf Corp., 794
F.2d 598, 601 (11th Cir. 1986)). The Supreme Court has stated that
"mere temporal proximity between ... knowledge of protected activity and
an adverse ... action ... must be 'very close.' " Clark County Sch. Dist. v.
Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 273, 121 S. Ct. 1508, 1511, 149 L. Ed. 2d 509
(2001) (citations omitted). The Court cited with approval decisions in
which a three to four month disparity was found to be insufficient to show
causal connection. See id. (citing Richmond v. ONEOK, 120 F.3d 205,
209 (10th Cir.1997)(3-month period insufficient) and Hughes v.
Derwinski, 967 F.2d 1168, 1174-75 (7th Cir.1992) (4-month period
insufficient)). If there is a substantial delay between the protected
expression and the adverse action in the absence of other evidence
tending to show causation, the complaint of retaliation fails as a matter of
law. In Wascura v. City of South Miami, we held that "Wascura failed to
present evidence from which a reasonable jury could find any causal
connection between Wascura's notice to the Commissioners in January
1995 of her potential need to take time off to care for her son and her
subsequent termination on May 16, 1995." 257 F.3d 1238, 1248 (11th
Higdon v. Jackson, 393 F.3d 1211, 1220 (11th Cir. 2004).
Based on the undisputed facts of this case, including the plaintiff=s disciplinary
history before the party, and the parameters established by the Eleventh Circuit Court
of Appeals regarding temporal proximity, this court finds that the time between
plaintiff=s alleged protected activity and the adverse employment actions are not so
close as to compel a conclusion that the two are related. Accordingly, plaintiff has
provided insufficient evidence of temporal proximity from which a jury could infer that
the defendant=s articulated reason for the termination is not worthy of credence and the
real reason was retaliation.
Therefore, Chandler has not met the burden of establishing a prima facie case of
retaliation with respect to her disciplinary actions or her termination, or to show that the
non-retaliatory reason given for the termination is pretext.
defendant=s motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.
Accordingly, consistent with the foregoing discussion of the evidence presented
and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals case law, and in light of Chandler=s failure to
establish a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation, this court determines that
Infinity=s motion for summary judgment against Chandler is due to be GRANTED and
both of her claims are due to be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
A separate order will be entered in accordance with the findings set forth herein.
DATED the 4th day of June, 2014.
T. MICHAEL PUTNAM
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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