Thrower v. Yelda Management Company Inc
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER; Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted and that all claims alleged in Plaintiff's complaint are dismissed with prejudice; costs taxed to Plaintiff. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 02/24/17. (SPT )
2017 Feb-24 PM 03:19
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
Case No. 5:14-CV-02490-CLS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Vickie Thrower, a white female, alleges that defendant, Yedla
Management Company, Inc., discriminated against her on the basis of her gender and
race, fostered a hostile work environment, and retaliated against her for engaging in
protected conduct, all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as
amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of
1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981.1 Those claims are before the court on defendant’s motion
for summary judgment (doc. no. 21).2 Upon consideration of the pleadings, briefs,
evidentiary submissions, and arguments of counsel, the court concludes that the
motion should be granted.
See doc. no. 1 (Complaint), ¶¶ 14, 15.
Defendant also filed a motion in limine (doc. no. 27), and a motion to strike plaintiff’s
affidavit (doc. no. 36), which are addressed in a separate order entered contemporaneously herewith.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that a court “shall grant summary
judgment 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).
Thus, summary judgment is proper “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.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
“In making this determination, the court must review all evidence and make all
reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment.” Chapman
v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (quoting Haves v.
City of Miami, 52 F.3d 918, 921 (11th Cir. 1995)). Inferences in favor of the nonmoving party are not unqualified, however. “[A]n inference is not reasonable if it is
only a guess or a possibility, for such an inference is not based on the evidence, but
is pure conjecture and speculation.” Daniels v. Twin Oaks Nursing Home, 692 F.2d
1321, 1324 (11th Cir. 1983) (alteration supplied). Moreover,
[t]he mere existence of some factual dispute will not defeat summary
judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue affecting the
outcome of the case. The relevant rules of substantive law dictate the
materiality of a disputed fact. A genuine issue of material fact does not
exist unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party
for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in its favor.
Chapman, 229 F.3d at 1023 (quoting Haves, 52 F.3d at 921) (emphasis and alteration
supplied). See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)
(asking “whether 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”).
II. SUMMARY OF RELEVANT FACTS
Yedla Management Company, Inc. (“Yedla Management”), is an Alabama
corporation headquartered in Madison County, Alabama.3 It is a “hospitality
management company,” meaning that it enters into “contractual relationships with the
owners of hotels to ‘manage’ the day to day operations” of facilities providing
accommodations and meals for travelers.4 On the dates of the events leading to this
action, Yedla Management supervised the operations of at least five hotels, including
the “DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Huntsville-South,” the facility at which plaintiff
worked as general manager for approximately seven months during 2012.5 That hotel
Doc. no. 22-2 (Yedla Affidavit), ¶ 4.
Id., ¶ 5.
During arguments on the present motion, defense counsel identified the hotels as: (1) the
DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Huntsville-South; (2) the Hampton Inn located behind the foregoing
hotel; (3) the Springville Suites behind the Von Braun Civic Center in downtown Huntsville, Ala.;
(4) the Courtyard in Decatur, Ala.; and (5) the Hampton Inn in Florence, Ala. In addition, Yedla
Management also may have managed an additional three hotels in 2012: i.e., the Westin in Orlando,
Fla.; a Marriott property in Charlotte, N.C.; and another Marriott property in Anchorage, Ak.
was owned by Enterprise Lodging of Huntsville, L.L.C. (“Enterprise Lodging”), a
Delaware limited liability company that is qualified to conduct business in Alabama.6
Enterprise Lodging is not now, nor has it ever been, a party to this action.
The “Project Management Agreement”
Yedla Management entered into a “Project Management Agreement” with
Enterprise Lodging on March 13, 2001,7 under the terms of which Yedla Management
was required “to provide development, managerial, design, construction, operation,
and administrative services in connection with the development and operation of” one
of more hotels on a tract of land in Huntsville, Alabama owned by Enterprise
Finally, the company will manage the operations of two other Huntsville hotels that still were under
construction on the date of oral argument on the subject motion: i.e., the Townhouse Suites at
Redstone Arsenal Gate 9; and the AC hotel next to Big Spring Park, on the site of the former
Huntsville Hilton Inn that was demolished in 2015-16.
Compare doc. no. 22-2 (Yedla Affidavit), ¶ 7 (swearing that “[t]he Hotel is owned by
Enterprise Lodging of Huntsville, LLC . . . an Alabama limited liability company.”) (alterations and
emphasis supplied), with doc. no. 43-1 (Project Management Agreement between Yedla
Management and Enterprise Lodging), at 6 (where Enterprise Lodging— identified as the “Hotel
Group” — “represents and warrants that . . . It is a limited liability company duly organized and
validly existing in good standing under the laws of the State of Delaware . . .; [and that it] is duly
qualified to do business in the State of Alabama. . .”) (alterations and ellipses supplied).
The date stated in text is taken from the preamble of Yedla Management’s “Project
Management Agreement,” a copy of which was filed following oral arguments on the present motion
for summary judgment. See doc. no. 43-1 (Project Management Agreement between Yedla
Management and Enterprise Lodging), at 1. That date is contradicted by Satya Yedla’s affidavit,
which states that “Since February 26, 2001, YMC has [held] a contract for the management of the
DoubleTree Suites Huntsville South (formerly the Radisson Huntsville South) located at 6000
Memorial Parkway S.W., Huntsville, Alabama. . . .” Doc. no. 22-2 (Yedla Affidavit), ¶ 6
(emphasis, ellipsis, and alterations supplied).
Lodging.8 The agreement required Yedla Management to “be responsible for all
management operation[s] and administrative services necessary to operate” any hotel
constructed on the property: a requirement that included the responsibility to
“Supervise, manage, hire and discharge [hotel] personnel, all of whom shall be
deemed to be employees of the Hotel Group [i.e., Enterprise Lodging].”9
The first hotel constructed on the land owned by Enterprise Lodging was
operated for many years as a “Radisson®” franchise under the name of “Radisson
Huntsville South.”10 That hotel was closed in November of 2011, however, in order
to facilitate remodeling work necessary to re-brand the facility as a “DoubleTree
Doc. no. 43-1 (Project Management Agreement between Yedla Management and Enterprise
Lodging), at 1.
Id. at 2, § 3(a)(v) (alterations and emphasis supplied). The relevant text of that provision
states: “Management Company [i.e., Yedla Management] shall be responsible for all management
operation and administrative services necessary to operate the Project. Without limitation of such
responsibilities, Management Company shall: . . . (v) Supervise, manage, hire and discharge
Project personnel, all of whom shall be deemed to be employees of the Hotel Group; . . . .” Id.
(alteration, ellipses, and emphasis supplied). In addition, Section 4(b) of the same agreement
directed Yedla Management to:
Furnish to Hotel Group [i.e., Enterprise Lodging] an annual financial statement of
Project operations prepared or reviewed (at the sole cost and expense of Hotel Group)
by a finn [sic] of accountants chosen by the Management Company. The entire cost
of all expenses of the business of Hotel Group (other than salaries of Management
Company employees) including, without limitation, the cost of business licenses,
taxes, insurance premiums, utilities, janitorial, food, occupancy beverages, payroll
serving, salaries of employees at the Project, office supplies, advertising, and legal
and outside accounting fees for services rendered to Hotel Group shall be paid by
Id. at 3 (alterations and emphasis supplied).
See doc. no. 22-2 (Yedla Affidavit), ¶ 6 (quoted in note 7, supra).
Suites by Hilton” hotel11
All employees of the former Radisson hotel were
terminated,12 and normal operations ceased during the work, which included a “major
structural overhaul” and “a lot of construction and additions and changes.”13
Plaintiff’s Employment as General Manager
Plaintiff, who had many years of experience in the hotel industry,14 initially was
identified as a candidate to become general manager of the remodeled DoubleTree
Suites by Hilton hotel by Srinath Yedla, an ethnically-Indian resident of Huntsville,
Alabama, who — along with his father, Dr. K. Rao Yedla, and brother, Satya Yedla
— is one of the owners of Yelda Management.15
An offer of employment was extended to plaintiff in a March 11, 2012 letter
See doc. no. 22-2 (Yedla Affidavit), ¶ 8 (“In 2011, Enterprise Lodging took out a loan for
roughly seven million dollars ($7,000,000.00) to finance the remodeling, rebranding, and reopening
of the Hotel as a DoubleTree Suites.”).
See doc. no. 22-2 (Yedla Affidavit), ¶ 9 (“In November 2011, all the employees of the
Hotel were terminated and the Hotel ceased operations altogether to facilitate remodeling
See doc. no. 31 (Plaintiff’s Brief: Statement of Undisputed Facts), ¶ 2.
See doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 16-18. Plaintiff previously had been
employed as general manager of a Hilton Garden Inn and a Homewood Suites hotel in the Huntsville
market, and each facility was a “full-service hotel,” meaning that each maintained rooms for rent and
an onsite restaurant. Id. at 20-21. She also had worked for ten years at the Huntsville Marriot hotel
located adjacent to the Alabama Space and Rocket Center, another “full-service hotel,” but not as
general manager. Id.
See doc. no. 22-2 (Yedla Affidavit), ¶ 2. It is clear that at some times during plaintiff’s
employment at the hotel, Srinath Yedla possessed authority over plaintiff’s work. See doc. no. 22-11
(Yedla Deposition), at 71. Satya Yedla testified that it was his brother, Srinath Yedla, who “thought
that [plaintiff] would be a good solution to getting a GM in place quickly.” Id. at 19 (alteration
from Stuart R. Newmark, Yedla Management’s Executive Vice President for
Operations.16 The letter was typed on stationery bearing the name and corporate logo
of Yedla Management, and read as follows:
It is my pleasure to extend the following offer of employment to you on
behalf of the DoubleTree Suites Huntsville-South in Huntsville,
Position: General Manager
Reporting Relationship: This position will report to the Executive Vice
President of Operations for Yedla Management Company.
Base Salary: [$]83,076.93 gross paid bi-weekly, which annualizes to
$80,000 per year gross. This position is a salaried exempt position.
Your Employment with the Company: Employment in the state of
Alabama is “At Will”. You and the company can terminate employment
at anytime with or without cause and with or without notice.
You acknowledge that this offer letter, [sic] (along with the final form
of any referenced documents) represents the entire agreement between
you and the Company and that no verbal or written agreements,
promises or representations that are not specifically stated in this offer,
are or will be binding upon the Company. In addition this offer is
contingent upon a satisfactory background and credit check.
See doc. no. 32-1 (Plaintiff’s Affidavit), ¶ 1.
Plaintiff testified that typically a general manager would make a higher salary than she was
paid “[f]or that type of hotel.” Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 33 (alteration supplied).
Even so, when asked if she could believe that her salary was the highest ever paid at the DoubleTree,
plaintiff responded: “I can believe that.” Id.
If you are in agreement with the above outline, please sign below. This
offer is in effect for five business days.
This is an exciting and dynamic project and one that requires a
committed and seasoned General Manager. We are confident Vickie
that with your background, experience and proven track record in the
Huntsville market that you can lead the hotel to the desired targets in all
We all look forward to welcoming you to Yedla Management Company
and to the DoubleTree Suites Huntsville-South.
Doc. no. 32-1 (Plaintiff’s Affidavit), at ECF 3 (Employment Offer) (underscored text
in original, italicized emphasis, ellipsis, footnote, and alterations supplied). Plaintiff
endorsed her acceptance of the offer on March 15, 2012.18
Hotel Revenues During Plaintiff’s Tenure as General Manager
When plaintiff reported for work as general manager,19 remodeling work still
was ongoing and the hotel was not open for business.20 Guest room rentals did not
See doc. no. 32-1 (Plaintiff’s Affidavit), at ECF 3 (Copy of Plaintiff’s Contract).
Apparently, plaintiff did not actually begin work as general manager until on or about April
17, 2012, one month after accepting Stuart Newmark’s offer of employment. See doc. no. 22-2
(Yedla Affidavit), ¶ 13 (“On or about April 17, 2012, the Plaintiff, Vickie Thrower[,] was hired by
Enterprise Lodging to serve as the Hotel’s General Manager.”) (alteration supplied).
As plaintiff explained during her deposition:
The state of the hotel was . . . a train wreck from being remodeled. There was
a lot of work to do. It was pretty much an inside shell that they were still working on
when I was hired. There was a lot of renovation going on inside the hotel. So when
I was hired, there was a lot of work to do. Had to clean and — We had to clean. We
had to get people in there and a staff that would know what to do.
Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 17-18 (ellipsis supplied); see also id. at 19.
resume until sometime around the middle of August 2012.21
Despite a “rocky start”22 — which included a collapse of the roof over the
hotel’s fitness and business centers on the date of reopening, the fact that half of the
149 guest rooms “weren’t put together correctly,” and “a lot of things [still] needed
to be redone”23 — plaintiff described the hotel’s initial performance during the
remainder of August as “great,” and the income generated during that partial month
of operations as “very good”:
The hotel was doing great. You know, I was having to put in a
lot of hours. The housekeeping manager was putting in a lot of hours to
make it good. There were several guest issues. But as far as the money
that we were making, it was very good. . . . That’s because the ADR
[Average Daily Rate24] was high. So the hotel was doing very well
Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 37, 38 (emphasis, ellipsis, alteration. and
footnote supplied). Plaintiff’s stated opinions were subjective, as compared to more
objective metrics for measuring hotel performance that were utilized by Yedla
Management: e.g., comparing monthly rental receipts to pre-determined revenue
See id. at 98; and doc. no. 22-2 (Yedla Affidavit), ¶ 21 (“The grand re-opening of the Hotel
occurred on or about August 14, 2012.”).
Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 37.
Id. at 35-36 (alteration supplied).
A hotel’s average daily rate (“ADR”) is a measure of the average rate paid for hotel rooms,
calculated by dividing gross room revenue by the number of rooms sold. It is a statistical unit widely
used in the hospitality industry to indicate the average realized daily room rental revenue. See, e.g.,
http://www.strglobal.com/Media/Default/Documents/Definitions.pdf; and http://www. investopedia.
projections. Plaintiff participated in the discussions that resulted in those revenue
targets,25 and monitored monthly profit and loss reports.26
The hotel’s gross room rental revenue for August 2012, the first, partial month
of operations after re-opening, was $69,384.72.27 That amount was $3,587.72 more
than (or 5.45% above) the projected revenue target of $65,798 for the month.28
Revenues for the months of September and October 2012 were significantly
below expectations, however. For example, September’s aggregate room rental
revenue of $148,311.97 represented a –$59,541.03 (or 28.6%) shortfall from the
projected revenue target of $207,853.30 October’s gross room rental revenue of
$187,058.07 represented an even greater deviation from projections: it was
See doc. no. 22-2 (Yedla Affidavit), ¶ 23 (“These budget figures were set by employees
of YMC, with input from employees of Enterprise Lodging, including Thrower.”); and doc. no. 2211 (Yedla Deposition), at 27 (testifying that monthly revenue targets were established by Kristy
Anderson (Yedla Management’s executive vice-president), plaintiff, and Natasha Lawrence (the
hotel’s director of sales)).
Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 97 (testifying that she looked at the month-end
revenue reports “every day”).
Id. at 98 (“[T]he room revenue in August of 2012 was $69,384.72[.]”) (alterations
supplied); see also doc. no. 22-12 (Enterprise Lodging 2012 Income Statement), at ECF 1 & Aug.
Col. (recording same amount as the aggregate monthly room rental revenues).
Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 102 (testifying that $65,798 “was our projected”
room rental revenue target).
See doc. no. 22-12 (Enterprise Lodging 2012 Income Statement), at ECF 1 & Sept. Col.
(recording $148,311.97 as the aggregate monthly room rental revenues).
See doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 103 (confirming that $207,853 was the
aggregate room rental revenue projection for September).
See doc. no. 22-12 (Enterprise Lodging 2012 Income Statement), at ECF 1 & Oct. Col.
(recording $187,058.07 as the aggregate monthly room rental revenues); see also doc. no. 22-1
(Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 104 (confirming the same amount).
–$99,644.93 (or 34.75%) below the anticipated target of $286,703.32
Plaintiff contended that the hotel’s failure to meet projected revenue amounts
in those two months was due, in part, to the uninhabitable state of some of the
rooms.33 For example, as many as 37 of the hotel’s 149 guest rooms (24.8%) were
not capable of occupancy during the month of September.34 On the other hand, only
four of the hotel’s rooms (2.68%) remained in a condition that prevented occupancy
by October 29, 2012, the date on which plaintiff’s employment was terminated.35
Plaintiff also blamed the poor revenue performance on such factors as: the
failure of the hotel’s sales manager to mount an “active sales effort,” to “go out and
make sales calls”;36 the residual negative opinion of the hotel that carried over from
the years during which it had been operated as a “Radisson®” franchise;37 her inability
See doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 104 (confirming that $286,703 was the
aggregate room rental revenue projection for October 2012).
Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 98-99.
Compare id. at 99 (“guessing” that “probably eight to ten rooms” on the “ground floor”
of the hotel “were out of order” during September 2012) (emphasis supplied), with doc. no. 22-7
(Sept. 5, 2012 Email from Plaintiff to Stuart Newmark) (stating that “As of this morning we had 23
rooms that were out of order,” and later that “There are . . . 37 rooms out of order as of now”)
(ellipsis supplied). See also doc. no. 43 (Supplement to Defendant’s Motion for Summary
Judgment), ¶ 2 (“The DoubleTree Suites Huntsville south has one hundred forty-nine (149) guest
See doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 99 (testifying that “[a]ll but four rooms were
operational when I left” in October 2012) (alteration supplied).
See id. at 104; see also id. at 110 (“I just wanted her [the hotel’s sales manager] to go out
and make sales calls.”) (alteration supplied).
Id. at 104-105.
to have “a little bit more input” on room rental rates;38 the fact that “a lot of money”
had to be refunded to customers due to deficiencies in the condition of their rooms;39
and, her assertion that the monthly revenue projections were “way too high.”40
Plaintiff’s September Performance Evaluation
A meeting to discuss the hotel’s failure to meet income projections, as well as
other “things that were going on,” was held on September 13, 2012. It was attended
by, among others: plaintiff; Yedla Management’s Executive Vice President of
Operations, Stuart Newmark; Yedla Management’s Accounting Manager, Kristy
Anderson;41 and, the hotel’s Sales Manager, Natasha Lawrence.42
subsequently addressed a five-page, single-spaced, typewritten memo to plaintiff,
recapitulating the topics discussed during that meeting, and outlining a long, bullet-
Id. at 105 (“I believe we could have made more revenue had I been allowed to have had
a little bit more input on the rate structure — rate level of the rooms and stuff.”).
Id. (“And we refunded a lot of money because of different issues that was going on in the
hotel with the soap dishes and things falling off [and] hitting people.”) (alteration supplied).
Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 106; see also id. at 107 (reiterating that “the
budget was overprojected,” and “they knew it was way too high for the projection”).
Defense counsel contended during oral arguments on the subject motion that Accounting
Manager Kristy Anderson was not employed just by Yedla Management, but by all of the hotels
managed by that company in north Alabama. Ms. Anderson denied during her deposition that she
was an employee of Yedla Management Company, but was then employed by “Enterprise Lodging
of Huntsville, Highlander Staffing, Wiring Hotel Group I, Wiring Hotel Group II, [and] Vision
Hospitality I.” Doc. no. 22-10 (Anderson Deposition), at 5 (alteration supplied). She added that she
received paychecks from those entities, as well as others: “I actually get — don’t quote me on the
number — eight or nine different paychecks every two weeks.” Id. at 7.
Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 78 (alteration supplied).
point list of “follow up action items and expectations.”43 The memorandum bore a
typed date of September 25, 2012, but it was not emailed to plaintiff until October 1,
2012.44 Pertinent portions read as follows:
Vickie[:] the following shall serve as a recap of our discussions
including follow up action items and expectations.
Meeting with Team Leaders
. . . . The following were some of the areas where you need to continue
to work on and enhance as the property evolves.
Consistency across the board and seeing things through to full
Enhanced communication is needed. Everyone should be on the
Ensure all are fully aware of YMC SOP’s [standard operating
procedures]. It was apparent that most of those in attendance
were not aware of the policies and procedures of our company
and as such what they were responsible for adhering to as a leader
of the team.
Continue to be aware of the importance of fostering a culturally
diverse team. This includes a focus on recruiting as required
individuals from the local area. At the end of the day we will
always choose the most qualified candidate(s)[;] however[,]
being able to draw from a larger pool of applicants is
Doc. no. 22-14 (Sept. 25, 2012 Memo from Stuart Newmark to Plaintiff).
See doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 79.
During the Sept. 13, 2012 staff meeting that precipitated this memo, the Sales Manager for
the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton hotel, Natasha Lawrence, a black female, angrily complained about
plaintiff’s disproportionate hiring of white employees who were from the Union Grove community
south of the Tennessee River, near plaintiff’s residence. See, e.g., doc. no. 22-2 (Yedla Affidavit),
¶¶ 24-25; doc. no. 22-10 (Anderson Deposition), at 15-16. Plaintiff was not disciplined, but was
instead instructed by Stuart Newmark, both verbally and in this paragraph of his memo, “to be aware
of the importance of fostering a culturally diverse team” and, whenever possible, to hire only “the
most qualified candidate(s) . . . from a larger pool of applicants.” Doc. no. 22-2 (Yedla Affidavit),
encouraged and generall [sic] good business practice.
MBWA & Guestroom Inspections
Vickie[:] please stay visible throughout all areas of the hotels
[sic] following the SOP on MBWA (Management by Walking
Around) and meeting the minimum quota for inspecting rooms.
This is an important period as you know as we build awareness
and trial. As the saying goes you only get one chance to make a
great first impression and so the time is now to be up and about
as often as possible inspecting, interacting with guests and
Vickie[:] during lunch Kristy and I had a candid conversation
with you and mentioned that we have received comments that at
times you may not be as effective in your communication and that
your approach/style can be perceived as being too harsh. I know
that there are always two sides to every situation[;] however we
asked that you think about it and if necessary modify your style to
one that[,] while holding team members accountable[,] is seen as
respectful and objective. The leader as you know is always under
the microscope and must be held to a very high standard.
Further communication with the F&B [Food and Beverage] team
is one that perhaps has not gotten off on the best footing and so
I ask that you also seek ways to create a greater sense of
partnership and communication with the F&B team overall.
It is clear that plaintiff had a temperamental relationship with Chef James Boyce, the
hotel’s restauranteur. Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 72; doc. no. 22-10 (Anderson
Deposition), at 37 (“[Plaintiff] did not get along with the third party running the restaurant, which
was Chef Boyce.”) (alteration supplied); doc. no. 22-11 (Yedla Deposition), at 18. As part of the rebranding, the hotel remodeled its restaurant space for lease as a first class restaurant to local chef,
James Boyce. Doc. no. 22-2 (Yedla Affidavit), ¶ 9. She explained that she got along with Boyce
Our expectations for the DoubleTree Suites are very high as there
is a lot riding on the success of this hotel. As the leader of the
property you need to be on top of all of the issues, be a highly
effective communicator and collaborator[,] and be the champion
of the brand (both DoubleTree and YMC). Following up on
assignments and requests in an expeditious manner . . . should
also always remain high on your list.
Opening a hotel as we have discussed in the past is never an easy feat.
The priorities during opening change once the hotel is open. Well we
are there now and the focus and objectives should always be pursued
with a high degree of urgency and [“]make it happen[”] philosophy.
Carry the flag high and proud even when there may be frustrating days
and moments. Never ever let your personal feelings or emotions be
obvious to those around you[,] especially if your actions may be
perceived as less favorable or critical with a certain situation or
individual. Always endeavor to take the high road, be solution
oriented[,] and always a strong advocate of the company, brand[,] and
direction. Behind the scenes and one on one it is fine to express
differences of opinion; it fact it is encouraged. As I have said before it
is perfectly fine for individuals working together to be able to agree to
Doc. no. 22-14 (Sept. 25, 2012 Memo from Stuart Newmark to Plaintiff), at 1-5
(boldfaced underscored emphasis in original, all other emphasis, ellipses, footnotes,
and alterations supplied).
Plaintiff’s Relationship With Krishna Nagalla
The statement emphasized in the last paragraph of Stuart Newmark’s
“okay unless he yelled at me.” Chef Boyce complained to Stuart Newmark regarding the
“communication issue” between himself and plaintiff, and that prompted this paragraph of the
memo. See doc. no. 22-11 (Yedla Deposition), at 20.
September 25th memo to plaintiff quoted immediately above (admonishing plaintiff
to “Never ever let your personal feelings or emotions be obvious to those around
you[,] especially if your actions may be perceived as less favorable or critical with
a certain situation or individual”) appears to refer to her contentious relationship
with the hotel’s Purchasing Manager, Krishna Nagalla. Plaintiff contends that
Nagalla, a male native of India, discriminated against her based upon her gender and
race.47 Nagalla frequently “questioned” plaintiff on “everything” she procured for the
hotel, regardless of whether it was blankets, toilet paper, or training materials.48
According to plaintiff, Nagalla had a “trust issue”: she “had to beg and plead” to
purchase anything needed “to get that hotel ready to open.”49 That lack of trust was
not peculiar to plaintiff, however. Instead, Nagalla “did not trust anybody.”50
Nagalla also “yelled at” and “cussed” plaintiff; but, again, that behavior was not
See doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 41, 89-90; doc. no. 31 (Plaintiff’s Brief:
Statement of Undisputed Facts), ¶ 5.
Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 38-39.
Id. at 40. Accounting Manager Kristy Anderson explained that, when a “purchase order
would come in . . . [Krishna Nagalla] would shop around for the best price. . . . [T]hen he would
place the order or tell [plaintiff] to place the order if it was something they could do down there [i.e.,
at the hotel]. He would make sure that what they were ordering were [sic] within the standards. .
. .” Doc. no. 22-10 (Anderson Deposition), at 44-45 (alterations and ellipses supplied).
Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 40; see also id. at 42 (“Well, he had a trust issue
with everybody.”). Even so, there may have been a more specific basis for Nagalla’s attitude toward
plaintiff: her friendship with Joseph Maroney, who had worked for Nagalla and the Yedlas for many
years, and stolen “a bunch of money.” Id. at 43. Plaintiff speculates that, as a result of that, Nagalla
“had huge trust issues with me and discriminated against me. And that’s the reason he didn’t want
me to have control of the supplies that we needed.” Id.
peculiar to her.51
Plaintiff complained about Nagalla’s behavior in emails addressed to Stuart
Newmark. In one, she alleged that Nagalla had “yelled at” her for requesting hotel
Newmark responded that he was available to discuss plaintiff’s
frustrations, but the record does not indicate that any official action was taken by him
in response to her complaint.53 In a later email, plaintiff asserted that, following
another disagreement about the procurement of supplies, Nagalla had made her
feel like I was [an] irresponsible 2 year old and scum on the bottom of
[his] shoes. He did say he was having more [vacuum cleaners] brought
here in a little while however. He interrupts and does not give you a
chance to say a word [sic] you know that too.
I know what needs to be done and how to secure things [sic] I am
concerned about everyone opening up storage rooms and leaving them
open too. It is not Becky doing that. I am told it is Giri but not sure,
anyway I just need to vent to you because that is better than having my
blood pressure boil because Krishna thinks I am a [sic] idiot..... [sic] and
Please don’t say anything to him because he clearly understands
Id. at 40-41. Defendant’s brief argues that, in his role of Purchasing Manager, “Mr.
Nagalla was specifically directed by Enterprise Lodging to be very strict in regard to spending and
was generally known to Enterprise Lodging, and its employees, to be very harsh to all the Hotel’s
employees and even its ownership on occasion.” Doc. no. 22 (Defendant’s Brief: Undisputed
Material Facts), ¶ 16.
See doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 63-64
Id. at 62. It is clear, nevertheless, that plaintiff did not complain that she was being treated
poorly or differently because of her race or gender. See id. at 65-68.
where I am coming from but it will only make matters worse. I have
offered my 4 wheel drive long wheel base truck to go pick up the stuff.
I am capable of that too. I am not going to take anything. I am not
Joseph Maroney and every General Manager should not suffer because
of a few bad apples. I am not a thief, I was known at every property I
have ever worked at for catching thieves and terminating them. No need
to respond, just venting to you. I am going to do a time line to Vernon,
Krishna and copy you of [sic] how we would like to proceed with the
Doc. no. 22-4 (July 25, 2012 Email) (all alterations supplied, ellipsis in original).
Plaintiff admitted that she never lodged a formal complaint asserting that
Nagalla’s treatment was based upon either her gender or race.54 Moreover, the record
reflects that Yedla Management “received complaints about Krishna from almost
every single employee that worked at every one of [the hotels managed by the
company] — male, female, white, black, [and] Hispanic. . . .”55 Satya Yedla
described Nagalla as a person who was in “conflict with everybody,” including Satya
himself, his brother, Srinath Yedla, and his father, Dr. K. Rao Yedla.56 Plaintiff’s
succinct description was that Krishna Nagalla is “just a butt.”57
Despite the unhappy relationship between plaintiff and Krishna Nagalla, he
Id. at 65-66; see also id. at 67-68 (“Q. . . . Did you ever tell anybody at Yedla Management
that you were being treated differently because you are a woman, because I don’t see it here? A. Not
specifically a woman.”) (ellipsis supplied).
Id. at 68 (ellipsis and alterations supplied).
Doc. no. 22-11 (Yedla Deposition), at 47 (alteration supplied). Kristy Anderson explained
that she and Stuart Newmark both regarded Nagalla as a “pain in the ass.” Doc. no. 22-10 (Anderson
Deposition), at 30.
Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 75.
was not her supervisor, he possessed no power to discipline her, and he did not
participate in the decision to terminate plaintiff’s employment.
Plaintiff’s Relationship With Stuart Newmark
Plaintiff contends that Stuart Newmark, a white male, discriminated against her
because of her gender and race.58 In that regard, she testified that Newmark treated
her differently “because he would address the men before he would address me.
Oftentimes[,] whenever there were e-mails and things being sent to him [by me], he
wouldn’t even answer me back. So in that way he discriminated against me, I would
Id. at 45. See also the following at page 89 (line 18) through page 90 (line 12) of plaintiff’s
Well, like I said, I feel that Stuart discriminated against me by not taking care
of Krishna, who I constantly complained about the way he was treating me. So you
don’t treat another male more differently than you do the female. No matter who he
is, they did not take care of the way he was treating me. So that would be
discrimination, in my opinion, if someone doesn’t address the male that’s treating
you wrong and you have asked them to do something about it on several occasions
and said, he, he’s treating me like the scum on the bottom of my shoe. And I’m
constantly being told well, you know his [Krishna Nagalla’s] name means God, and
we can’t do anything because Dr. Rao has vowed to take care of him for the rest of
his life so you are just going to have to deal with it.” [sic] I was told that almost
from day one. [Emphasis and alteration supplied.]
Despite plaintiff’s complaints about Stuart Newmark’s failure to intervene, the record indicates that
only Dr. K. Rao Yedla possessed the authority to fire Krishna Nagalla. See, e.g., doc. no. 22-10
(Anderson Deposition), at 40-41.
Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 26 (alterations supplied). Plaintiff went on to say
that she felt that Newmark often usurped her authority as general manager, but failed to clearly
indicate any particular instances in which he prevented her from performing her duties. Id.
Plaintiff later contradicted herself, however, when stating that she did not
believe that Newmark had discriminated against her “ because [she] was a woman,
but because [she] had said something about Krishna treating [her] the way he had.”60
Plaintiff was terminated on October 29, 2012, a little over six months after
being hired as general manager of the DoubleTree Suites Huntsville-South hotel.61
On that day, Kristy Anderson entered plaintiff’s office and, while seated in plaintiff’s
presence, called Stuart Newmark on plaintiff’s telephone. Together, Anderson and
Newmark explained to plaintiff that she was being fired.62 Anderson later testified
that plaintiff’s termination was the result of a joint decision by her and Stuart
Newmark.63 Even so, plaintiff believes that it was Stuart Newmark who actually
made the decision to fire her, because she had “said something about Krishna
[Nagalla] treating me the way he had and nothing was being done about it.”64
The reasons stated by Newmark for plaintiff’s termination during the telephone
conference were: she “was making too much money[;] and the hotel wasn’t making
Id. at 27 (alterations supplied).
Id. at 17. Plaintiff was not aware of Stuart Newmark firing any other person during her
stint of employment. Id. at 31.
Id. at 81.
Doc. no. 22-10 (Anderson Deposition), at 30.
Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 27-28 (alteration supplied).
the money they expected it to make[;] and [she] was not a good fit for the company’s
culture.”65 When Kristy Anderson was asked to explain her understanding of the
statement that plaintiff did not “fit the company culture,” Anderson said that plaintiff
“did not get along with the third party running the hotel’s restaurant [Chef James
Boyce],” and the hotel’s revenues had not reached budgeted expectations.66
Satya Yedla testified that plaintiff was terminated because: she had “an issue
with communication and follow through and being visible in all the departments”;67
standard operating procedures “weren’t being enforced” by plaintiff; and, her salary
exceeded the level of experience they had expected from her.68
For her part, plaintiff believed that she had been terminated because of the
combative nature of her “relationship with Krishna [Nagalla,] and how he treated and
discriminated against me and others.”69
On November 27, 2012, one month after plaintiff’s termination, she sent the
following email to Stuart Newmark:
Dear Mr. Newmark,
I appreciate the opportunity you gave me to work for your
Id. at 32 (alterations supplied).
Doc. no. 22-10 (Anderson Deposition), at 37 (alteration supplied).
Doc. no. 22-11 (Yedla Deposition), at 18.
Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 35 (alteration supplied).
company. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances of my termination, I
have no choice but to conclude that it is due to my gender, race and
Southern Heritage, in violation of my federally protected rights
guaranteed by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I am requesting
that I be reinstated as an employee, with back pay, and with appropriate
measures in place to prevent further occurrences of discrimination and
I have read and clearly understand the document that was
presented to me by Kristy Anderson after you told me that I was
terminated over the phone. I cannot agree with the termination, or sign
any document that proposes to waive my federally protected rights.
Your reason for my termination, that I was not a good fit for
Yedla Management Companies [sic] “culture,” is consistent with the
bias and harassment shown by management toward females and
Caucasian employees of southern heritage. When I was hired [,] you
certainly indicated that your company had the money to afford my salary
regardless of the hotel’s performance. It is unfortunate that the
company’s reputation has continued to cause the negative performance
in business for the Doubletree [sic] Suites by Hilton Huntsville-South.
As you are aware[,] Srinath Yedla sought me out due to my good
reputation, and it was clear your company was aware of my ability as
General Manager. I do feel that I could make a difference and the
business would be successful if I was allowed to do my job. As such, I
must insist on reinstatement, under conditions that will allow me to
perform free from harassment and discrimination.
Doc. no. 22-15 (Plaintiff’s Nov. 27, 2012 Email to Stuart Newmark) (alterations
supplied).70 Shortly after sending the foregoing email, plaintiff filed a formal charge
of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.71
Despite asking for her job back, plaintiff testified in her deposition that she did not believe
she would “be able to work together” with “the Yedlas” again. Id. at 33.
Doc. no. 22-16 (EEOC Charge).
Jesse Martinez, a Polynesian male from the island of Guam, was hired by Yedla
Management as “interim” general manager of the hotel in November of 2012.72 He
served in that capacity for nearly two years, departing in August of 2014 for another
position in Florida.73 He was replaced by Paula Evans, a white female, who left in
June of 2015, after also finding a job in Florida.74 Currently, Lars Schrieder, a white
German male, is the hotel’s general manager.75
Plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to a hostile work environment, and was
discharged from her employment because of her “gender, female, and her race,
Caucasian, and in retaliation for engaging in protected activity.”76 She contends that
defendant thereby violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42
Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 29-31. Jessie Ramirez worked as general
manager of “the SpringHill” hotel in Huntsville, Alabama prior to coming to work at the DoubleTree
Suites. Doc. no. 22-11 (Yedla Deposition), at 76. Satya Yedla testified that Martinez was making
a significantly lower salary than plaintiff. Id.
Doc. no. 22-10 (Anderson Deposition), at 19.
Id. at 20. The record contains no information concerning Evans’ performance as general
manager while at the hotel. Even so, Satya Yedla testified that her salary was less than $80,000.
Doc. no. 22-11 (Yedla Deposition), at 75.
Doc. no. 22-10 (Anderson Deposition), at 18. Satya Yedla testified that Mr. Schreider
earns a salary of $83,000 “because he’s very experienced and has increased the sales [of the hotel]
measurably.” Doc. no. 22-11 (Yedla Deposition), at 75 (alteration supplied).
Doc. no. 1 (Complaint), ¶ 14. Plaintiff, in her EEOC charge, complained that she also was
discriminated against on the basis of her “Southern heritage.” Doc. no. 22-16 (EEOC Charge), at
ECF 3. Even so, plaintiff did not allege that she was discriminated against on the basis of her
“Southern heritage” within her complaint, nor did she argue it within her brief. Accordingly, the
court will not address any claims for discrimination based on plaintiff’s “Southern heritage.”
U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”), and Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of
1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981.
Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer “to discriminate against any
individual with respect to his [or her] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges
of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national
origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1) (alteration supplied). In contrast, § 1981
addresses only racial discrimination. See, e.g., Johnson v. Railway Express Agency,
Inc., 421 U.S. 454, 459-60 (1975) (“§ 1981 affords a federal remedy against
discrimination in private employment on the basis of race.”) (emphasis supplied);
Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409, 436 (1968) (“In light of the concerns that
led Congress to adopt it and the content of the debates that preceded its passage, it is
clear that the Act was designed to do just what its terms suggest: to prohibit all racial
discrimination, whether or not under color of law. . . .”) (emphasis supplied); Little
v. United Technologies, 103 F.3d 956, 961 (11th Cir. 1997) (“It is well-established
that § 1981 is concerned with racial discrimination in the making and enforcement
of contracts.”) (emphasis in original) (citations omitted).
Even so, “[b]oth of these statutes have the same requirements of proof and use
the same analytical framework,” and courts accordingly “address the Title VII claim
with the understanding that the analysis applies to the § 1981 claim as well.”
Standard v. A.B.E.L. Services, Inc., 161 F.3d 1318, 1330 (11th Cir. 1998) (alteration
supplied); see also, e.g., Bryant v. Jones, 575 F.3d 1281, 1296 n.20 (11th Cir. 2009)
(observing that race discrimination claims brought under Title VII and § 1981 “are
subject to the same standards of proof and employ the same analytical framework”);
Whiting v. Jackson State University, 616 F.2d 116, 121 (5th Cir. 1980) (“When
section 1981 is used as a parallel basis for relief with Title VII against disparate
treatment in employment, its elements appear to be identical to those of [Title VII]
section 706 [42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5].”) (citations omitted, alterations supplied).
Defendant’s Contention That It Was Not Plaintiff’s Employer
Defendant’s primary contention has two parts: i.e., it was not plaintiff’s
employer; and, even if it were, the company did not employ the number of persons
required to subject it to liability under Title VII.77 Defendant insists that plaintiff was
an employee of Enterprise Lodging — a limited liability company that, as previously
noted, is not now, nor has it ever been, a party. Defendant points to the fact that each
of plaintiff’s paychecks, as well as her 2012 W-2 form and her 2012 federal and state
income tax returns, uniformly stated that she was an employee of Enterprise
Lodging.78 Moreover, the records presented to this court indicate that Yedla
See doc. no. 22 (Defendant’s Brief), at 11-12.
See doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 46-47; doc. no. 22-18 (Plaintiff’s 2012 W-2
Form); doc. no. 22-17 (Plaintiff’s 2012 Tax Returns), at ECF 4. Note: “ECF” is an acronym formed
from the initial letters of the name of a filing system that allows parties to file and serve documents
Management employed only four persons during the period relevant to plaintiff’s
claims,79 whereas thirty-five or more persons were employed by plaintiff as staff for
the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton hotel.80
Even so, plaintiff initially was identified as a candidate for employment as
general manager of the remodeled DoubleTree Suites by Hilton hotel by Srinath
Yedla,81 who was one of the three owners of Yelda Management.82 Further, the
March 11, 2012 letter offering plaintiff employment as General Manager of that hotel
was typed on stationery bearing Yedla Management letterhead and logo, and was
signed by that company’s Executive Vice President of Operations, Stuart Newmark.83
electronically (i.e., “Electronic Case Filing”). See The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation,
Rule 7.1.4, at 21 (Columbia Law Review Ass’n et al. eds., 19th ed. 2010). When this court cites to
pagination generated by the ECF header, it will, as here, precede the page number(s) with the letters
The four persons unquestionably employed by Yedla Management include the three owners
of that corporation (Dr. K. Rao Yedla and his two sons, Satya and Srinath) and Stuart Newmark.
That number does not comply with Title VII’s definition of the term “employer,” which requires
proof of “fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks
in the current or preceding calendar year.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(b).
Plaintiff testified that she hired “somewhere close to 35 to 40 employees,” with the largest
portion of those hires, “10 or so,” being housekeeping staff, and “28 maybe” being nonhousekeeping staff. Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 50-51.
Satya Yedla testified that it was his brother, Srinath, who “thought that [plaintiff] would
be a good solution to getting a GM in place quickly.” Doc. no. 22-11 (Yedla Deposition), at 19
See doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 44; doc. no. 22-2 (Yedla Affidavit), ¶ 2. It
is clear that at some times during plaintiff’s employment at the hotel, Srinath Yedla possessed
authority over plaintiff’s work. See doc. no. 22-11 (Yedla Deposition), at 71.
See doc. no. 32-1 (Plaintiff’s Affidavit), at ¶ 1; id. at ECF 3 (Employment Offer); doc. no.
22-11 (Yedla Deposition), at 7.
The first paragraph of that letter states that the offer was extended “on behalf of the
DoubleTree Suites Huntsville-South in Huntsville, Alabama,” and does not mention
Enterprise Lodging within the four corners of the document, either by name or
implication. The third paragraph of the offer letter states that plaintiff would report
to “the Executive Vice President of Operations for Yedla Management Company.”84
The final paragraph of the same letter says that: “We all look forward to welcoming
you to Yedla Management Company and to the DoubleTree Suites HuntsvilleSouth.”85 Dr. K. Rao Yedla not only is the major stockholder of Yedla Management
Company, Inc., but he also has identified himself as “Manager” of Enterprise
Plaintiff’s employment was terminated by Yedla Management’s
Executive Vice President of Operations, Stuart Newmark.
Finally, Title VII’s definition of the term “employer” reads as follows:
(b) The term “employer” means a person engaged in an industry
affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees for each
working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or
preceding calendar year, and any agent of such a person, but such term
does not include (1) the United States, a corporation wholly owned by
the Government of the United States, an Indian tribe, or any department
or agency of the District of Columbia subject by statute to procedures of
the competitive service (as defined in section 2102 of Title 5), or (2) a
Doc. no. 32-1 (Plaintiff’s Affidavit), at ECF 3 (Employment Offer) (emphasis supplied).
Id. (emphasis supplied).
Doc. no. 22-3 (Jan. 4, 2002 Deed from Enterprise Lodging of Huntsville, L.L.C., to Main
Street South, Ltd., recorded on Feb. 13, 2002, in Deed Book 1014, at Page 11, Probate Records of
Madison County, Ala.).
bona fide private membership club (other than a labor organization)
which is exempt from taxation under section 501(c) of Title 26, except
that during the first year after March 24, 1972, persons having fewer
than twenty-five employees (and their agents) shall not be considered
42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(b) (emphasis supplied). Thus, even granting defendant’s
argument that Yedla Management Company, Inc., was not plaintiff’s “employer,” that
entity certainly was the “agent of” her actual employer, Enterprise Lodging of
Huntsville, L.L.C. Applying the agency principles ratified by the Supreme Court’s
decision in Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 754-55 (1998), it is
clear that Yedla Management was acting as an “agent of” Enterprise Lodging: the
entity that actually owned the hotel and employed plaintiff.
Plaintiff may recover under Title VII from an agent of an employer sued in its
official capacity, regardless of whether the actual employer is a party to the action.
See, e.g., Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 772 (11th Cir. 1991). Cf., e.g.,
Prescott v. Independent Life and Accident Insurance Co., 878 F. Supp. 1545, 1552
(M.D. Ala. 1995); Bahadirli v. Domino’s Pizza, 873 F. Supp. 1528, 1534 (M.D. Ala.
1995). See also, Williams v. City of Montgomery, 742 F.2d 586, 589 (11th Cir. 1984)
(observing that, “[w]here the employer has delegated control of some of the
employer’s traditional rights, such as hiring or firing, to a third party, the third party
has been found to be an ‘employer’ by virtue of the agency relationship”) (alteration
supplied, citations omitted).
Even if this court should be incorrect in reaching that conclusion, the following
discussion will establish that plaintiff still cannot recover.
Plaintiff presents no direct evidence of discrimination on the basis of either her
gender or race in the termination of her employment.87 Therefore, to avoid summary
judgment, she must satisfy the burden-shifting analytical framework for disparate
treatment claims defined by the Supreme Court in a trilogy of decisions, beginning
with McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), then elaborated in
Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981), and finally
elucidated in St. Mary’s Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502 (1993). The analytical
Only the most blatant remarks indicating a discriminatory animus constitute direct
evidence. See, e.g., Damon v. Fleming Supermarkets of Florida, Inc., 196 F.3d 1354, 1359 (11th
Cir. 1999); Wright v. Southland Corporation, 187 F.3d 1287, 1293-1303 (11th Cir. 1999); Carter
v. City of Miami, 870 F.2d 578, 581-82 (11th Cir. 1989). Further, “[t]o amount to direct evidence,
a statement must: (1) be made by a decisionmaker; (2) specifically relate to the challenged
employment decision; and (3) reveal a blatant discriminatory animus.” Chambers v. Walt Disney
World Co., 132 F. Supp. 2d 1356, 1364 (M.D. Fla. 2001) (alteration supplied).
“Direct evidence is evidence that establishes the existence of discriminatory intent
behind the employment decision without any inference or presumption.” Standard
v. A.B.E.L. Servs., Inc., 161 F.3d 1318, 1330 (11th Cir.1998) (citing Carter v. City
of Miami, 870 F.2d 578, 580-81 (11th Cir.1989)). Absent direct evidence, a plaintiff
may prove intentional discrimination through the familiar McDonnell Douglas
paradigm for circumstantial evidence claims.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Joe’s Stone Crab, 220 F.3d at 1263, 1286-87 (11th
Cir. 2013). Here, nothing in the record indicates that Stuart Newmark or Kristy Anderson acted with
blatant discriminatory animus in terminating plaintiff.
framework developed by those opinions has three steps, the goal of which is
“‘progressively . . . sharpen[ing] the inquiry into the elusive factual question of
intentional discrimination.’” Hicks, 509 U.S. at 506 (quoting Burdine, 450 U.S. at
255 n.8) (alteration and ellipsis in original).88
Plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of intent to
discriminate. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802; Burdine, 450 U.S. at 252-53;
Hicks, 509 U.S. at 506. The demonstration of a prima facie case “creates a
presumption that the employer unlawfully discriminated against the employee.”
Burdine, 450 U.S. at 254. The effect of the presumption is to shift to the employer
the burden of producing, but not proving, some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason
for the contested employment action. See McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802.
“The defendant need not persuade the court that it was actually motivated by the
proffered reasons. It is sufficient if the defendant’s evidence raises a genuine issue
of fact as to whether it discriminated against the plaintiff.” Burdine, 450 U.S. at
254-55 (citation and footnote omitted). If the defendant-employer carries its burden
of production, “the presumption raised by the prima facie case is rebutted,” id. at 255,
The analytical framework applicable to both Title VII and § 1981 claims is the McDonnell
Douglas burden-shifting framework, which places the burden of establishing a prima facie case of
either a gender- or race-discrimination on the employee. See, e.g., McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973); Vessels v. Atlanta Independent School System, 408 F.3d 763, 76768 (11th Cir. 2005).
and “drops from the case.” Id. at 255 n.10.
At the third level of analysis, “plaintiff has the opportunity to come forward
with evidence, including the previously produced evidence establishing the prima
facie case, sufficient to permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the reasons
given by the employer were not the real reasons for the adverse employment action.”
Combs v. Plantation Patterns, 106 F.3d 1519, 1528 (11th Cir. 1997) (citations
[T]his circuit’s post-Hicks decisions uniformly hold that once a plaintiff
has established a prima facie case and has put on sufficient evidence to
allow a factfinder to disbelieve an employer’s proffered explanation for
its actions, that alone is enough to preclude entry of judgment as a
matter of law.
Id. at 1532 (alteration supplied).
Prima facie elements of a discriminatory discharge claim
A prima facie discriminatory discharge claim generally contains four elements
of proof: that is, a plaintiff customarily must demonstrate (1) that she was a member
of a class of persons protected by Title VII or Section 1981 (i.e., her gender and/or
race under Title VII, or her race under § 1981); (2) that she was qualified for the
employment position she held; (3) despite plaintiff’s qualifications, defendant
terminated her employment; and (4) following plaintiff’s discharge, the defendant
either replaced her with someone outside her protected class, or retained other
employees who were not within plaintiff’s protected class, but who possessed
comparable or lesser qualifications. See, e.g., Jones v. Lumberjack Meats, Inc.,680
F.2d 98, 101 (11th Cir. 1982).
Defendant did not dispute that plaintiff had satisfied the elements of a prima
facie case. As a Caucasian female, plaintiff is a member of classes protected by both
Title VII (white females) and § 1981 (whites).89 Construing the facts in the light most
favorable to plaintiff, she also was qualified to perform the duties of general manager.
Finally, plaintiff was replaced by Jessie Martinez, a Polynesian male, who is outside
her protected classes.
Accordingly, the burden shifts to defendant to proffer a non-discriminatory
reason for plaintiff’s termination. Yedla Management “must clearly set forth, through
the introduction of admissible evidence, the reasons for the [contested employment
decision].” Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 255
(1981) (alteration supplied).
Defendant’s non-discriminatory reason for termination
Defendant proffers evidence that plaintiff was fired because the hotel was not
meeting projected revenues,90 and her act of hiring several white persons who resided
See, e.g. McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co., 427 U.S. 273, 295 (1976)
(holding that section 1981 afforded protection against discrimination for all races, including whites).
See, e.g, doc. no. 22-2 (Yedla Affidavit), ¶ 27 (“In October 2012, the Hotel’s room rental
performance, which is its primary source of revenue, continued to fall drastically off the budgeted
near her in Union Grove, Alabama, south of the Tennessee River, demonstrated that
“she did not fit with the Hotel’s diverse culture and other employees.”91 “An
employer’s good faith belief that an employee’s performance is unsatisfactory
constitutes a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for termination.” Clark v. Coats &
Clark, Inc., 990 F.2d 1217, 1228 (11th Cir. 1993) (citing Young v. General Foods
Corp., 840 F.2d 825, 830 (11th Cir. 1988)).
Thus, defendant has rebutted plaintiff’s prima facie case, the presumption of
discrimination drops from the case, and the burden shifts back to plaintiff to establish
that defendant’s proffered nondiscriminatory reasons are pretextual excuses for a
When an employer produces sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption of
discrimination raised by demonstration of a prima facie case, a plaintiff’s failure to
produce sufficient evidence, including the previously produced evidence establishing
a prima facie case, to permit a reasonable jury to find that the employer’s articulated
reasons are not worthy of belief justifies the entry of summary judgment in favor of
pace ($286,703.00 projected vs. $187,058.07 actual, makes a difference = $99,644.93 or 35% below
Id., ¶ 28 (“On or about October 29, 2012, Thrower’s employment at the Hotel was
terminated because of the Hotel’s poor performance under her guidance and because she did not fit
with the Hotel’s diverse culture and other employees.”).
the employer. See, e.g., Howard v. BP Oil Company, Inc., 32 F.3d 520, 526 (11th
Cir. 1994) (explaining that summary judgment is proper where a plaintiff fails to
produce evidence to discredit a defendant’s explanation of its action). “[C]onclusory
allegations of discrimination, without more, are not sufficient to raise an inference of
pretext or intentional discrimination where [an employer] has offered . . . extensive
evidence of legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for its action.” Carter v. City of
Miami, 870 F.2d 578, 585 (11th Cir. 1989) (alterations and ellipsis in original); see
also Grigsby v. Reynolds Metals Co., 821 F.2d 590, 597 (11th Cir. 1987) (same).
Moreover, a plaintiff cannot establish pretext by merely disagreeing with, or
questioning, an employer’s stated reason for an adverse employment action. “Stated
somewhat differently, a plaintiff may not establish that an employer’s proffered
reason is pretextual merely by questioning the wisdom of the employer’s reason, at
least not where, as here, the reason is one that might motivate a reasonable
employer.” Combs, 106 F.3d at 1543. Rather, the plaintiff’s burden is that of
“cast[ing] sufficient doubt on the defendant’s proffered nondiscriminatory reasons to
permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the employer’s proffered ‘legitimate
reasons were not what actually motivated its conduct’ . . . .” Id. at 1538 (quoting
Cooper-Houston v. Southern Railway Co., 37 F.3d 603, 605 (11th Cir. 1994))
(alteration supplied). The plaintiff shoulders that burden by demonstrating “such
weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the
employer’s proffered legitimate reasons for its action that a reasonable factfinder
could find them unworthy of credence.” Id. (quoting Sheridan v. E.I. duPont de
Nemours & Company, 100 F.3d 1061, 1072 (3d Cir. 1996)) (internal quotation marks
Plaintiff responds to defendant’s stated reasons for terminating her employment
by arguing, on the one hand, that she performed well when given sufficient resources
and control over her work and, alternatively, that the revenue targets against which
she was measured were unfairly set in view of the poor condition and reputation of
the hotel — i.e. the ongoing construction and renovation work.92
Plaintiff cannot deny that the hotel’s gross revenues for September and October
in 2012 fell well below targeted projections. Although she now argues that the
revenue targets she was measured against were unfair, she actively participated in
setting those targets both before and after the hotel was opened to guests.93
Furthermore, although plaintiff asserts her “performance was high where she was
given control and [resources,]”94 she testified that, ultimately, she was placed in
Doc. no. 31 (Plaintiff’s Brief), at 11-13.
See doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 101, 107 (explaining that plaintiff helped set
the budget both before and after opening the hotel to guests).
Doc. no. 31 (Plaintiff’s Brief), at 11 (alteration supplied); see doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s
Deposition), at 104.
charge of and responsible for the overall performance of the sales team and meeting
Additionally, the record indicates that plaintiff was having difficulty
communicating with staff and the third party restauranteur, and complying with the
standard operating procedures for comparable hotel properties.96 Even though one
of Yedla Management’s reasons for terminating plaintiff’s employment — i.e., that
she was “not a good fit” for the company — may be both subjective and vague, there
is no evidence that plaintiff’s termination was motivated by either her race or gender.
Moreover, courts should not second guess the legitimate non-discriminatory business
decisions of employers. Lee v. GTE Florida, 226 F.3d 1249, 1253-54 (11th Cir.
2000) (explaining that it is not the role of the courts to “act as a super personnel
department that second-guesses employers’ business judgments”) (citation omitted).
A “subjective” reason for an employment decision may be “just as valid” as an
objective reason. Dunklin v. Montgomery County Board. of Education, 652 F. Supp.
2d 1226, 1236 (M.D. Ala. 2009) (citing Chapman, 229 F.3d at 1033-1034).
Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that defendant’s proffered legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reasons for terminating her employment are a mere pretext for
See doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 46, 103-107.
See doc. no. 22-14 (Sept. 25, 2012 Memo from Stuart Newmark to Plaintiff); doc. no. 2210 (Anderson Deposition), at 37; doc. no. 22-11 (Yedla Deposition), at 18.
discrimination, and summary judgment is due to be granted on her claims for
discriminatory discharge under both Title VII and § 1981.
Hostile Work Environment
Plaintiff contends that she “was subject to verbal abuse” and “a hostile work
environment” because of her race and gender. A Title VII hostile work environment
claim is established upon proof that “the workplace is permeated with discriminatory
intimidation, ridicule, and insult, that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the
conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.”
Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993).
A prima facie hostile work-environment claim requires proof that: (1) plaintiff
belonged to a protected group; (2) she was subjected to unwelcome harassment based
upon her race and/or gender;97 (3) the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive
as to alter the terms or conditions of plaintiff’s employment, and created a
discriminatory abusive working environment; and (4) plaintiff’s employer is liable
for the hostile environment under a theory of either direct or vicarious liability. See,
e.g., Miller v. Kenworth of Dothan, Inc., 277 F.3d 1269, 1275 (11th Cir. 2002).
The first two prima facie elements cannot be disputed. As a white female,
See National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 116 n.10 (2002)
(“Hostile work environment claims based on racial harassment are reviewed under the same standard
as those based on sexual harassment.”) (citing Faragher v. Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 786–87 & n.1
(1998); and Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 66-67 (1986)).
plaintiff belongs to two protected groups. See Henson v. City of Dundee, 682 F.2d
897, 903 (11th Cir. 1982) (“As in other cases of sexual discrimination this [element]
requires a simple stipulation that the employee is a man or a woman.”) (alteration
supplied). Plaintiff also has testified that she was subjected to aggressive comments
and offensive behavior that she found unwelcome.
Even so, there is no evidence indicating that plaintiff was treated differently or
worse because of either her race or gender. Title VII was never intended to protect
employees from all unpleasant and rude conduct in the workplace. Mendoza v.
Borden, Inc., 195 F.3d 1238, 1254 (11th Cir. 1999) (Edmondson, J., concurring)
Instead, it prohibits discrimination on the basis of a protected characteristic. See, e.g.,
Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 523 U.S. 75, 80 (1998); Harris v.
Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 25 (1993) (Ginsburg, J., concurring).
My thought is this one: at least when the sexual content of a
supervisor’s conduct is not obvious, a plaintiff asserting a claim of
sexual discrimination in employment must present some evidence that
plaintiff’s coworkers, those not of plaintiff’s sex, were treated differently
and better. Otherwise, Title VII’s vital element — discrimination — is
read out of the statute. The plaintiff’s burden to show that similarly
situated employees were treated better is not a heavy one; ordinarily, the
plaintiff testifies to that circumstance herself or himself. But that the
burden can usually be met easily by a properly motivated plaintiff does
not mean that meeting the burden is a meaningless formality or that
actual evidence is unrequired. This evidence — evidence of the
discrimination — is the heart of the case. And, therefore, courts must
allow no fudging on the proof.
Mendoza, 195 F.3d at 1253-54 (11th Cir. 1999) (Edmondson, J., concurring)
(emphasis added) (footnotes omitted).
It appears that Krishna Nagalla treated virtually all individuals with whom he
worked in an unpleasant manner. He was loud and abusive toward nearly every
individual discussed in the record, regardless of race or gender, including his
superior, Dr. K. Rao Yedla, and other members of the Yedla family. Yedla
Management had “received complaints about Krishna from almost every single
employee that worked at every one of [the hotels managed by Yedla Management
Company] — male, female, white, black, Hispanic. . . .”98 There is no evidence that
Krishna Nagalla, or any other employee of Yedla Management, uttered any offensive
sexual or racial comments to plaintiff. Moreover, the record indicates that all
instances on which plaintiff complained of Krishna Nagalla’s behavior, his comments
and behavior were based upon the performance of the hotel or the procurement of
supplies, and not upon plaintiff’s race or gender. Id. Perhaps most importantly,
plaintiff has failed to establish facts indicating that male or non-white employees
were treated more favorably than she was.99
Doc. no. 22-1 (Plaintiff’s Deposition), at 68 (alteration and ellipsis supplied).
The “critical issue,” according to the Supreme Court, in establishing a hostile or abusive
work environment “is whether members of one sex are exposed to disadvantageous terms or
conditions of employment to which members of the other sex are not exposed.” Oncale, 523 U.S.
at 80 (quoting Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 25 (1993) (Ginsburg, J., concurring)).
Stated somewhat differently,
Because plaintiff has failed to demonstrate any unwelcome harassment based
upon either her race or gender, summary judgement is due to be granted on her hostile
work environment claim.
“Retaliation is a separate violation of Title VII.” Gupta v. Florida Board of
Regents, 212 F.3d 571, 586 (11th Cir. 2000). Section 704(a) of Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 provides protection for employees who oppose or participate in
activities to correct an employer’s discriminatory practices.
It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to
discriminate against any of his employees or applicants for employment
. . . because he [the employee] has opposed any practice made an
unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because he has
made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an
investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a) (alteration and ellipsis supplied).100
[t]he essence of a disparate treatment claim under Title VII is that an employee or
applicant is intentionally singled out for adverse treatment on the basis of a
prohibited criterion. . . . In proving a claim for a hostile work environment due to
sexual harassment, therefore, the plaintiff must show that but for the fact of her sex,
she would not have been the object of harassment. . . .
Henson, 682 F.2d at 903-04 (citations omitted) (alteration and ellipses supplied). “[U]nfair treatment
of an employee, standing alone, does not make out a Title VII case; the mistreatment must be
because the employee was female.” Bell v. Crackin Good Bakers, Inc., 777 F.2d 1497, 1504 (11th
Cir. 1985) (Hill, J., concurring in part; dissenting in part) (alteration supplied).
Even though the text of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 does not contain a specific prohibition against
retaliation, the Supreme Court has held that retaliation claims asserted in the context of a complaint
of racial discrimination, and arising after the effective date of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, are
cognizable under that statute. CROCS West, Inc. v. Humphries, 553 U.S. 442, 457 (2008). See also,
To establish a prima facie case of retaliation, plaintiff must prove three
elements: (1) that she engaged in statutorily protected expression; (2) that she
suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) that there was a causal linkage
between the protected conduct and the adverse employment action. See, e.g., Bass
v. Board of County Commissioners, 256 F.3d 1095, 1117 (11th Cir. 2001); Johnson
v. Booker T. Washington Broadcasting Service, Inc., 234 F.3d 501, 507 (11th Cir.
“Statutorily protected expression” includes either the act of complaining to
superiors or filing written complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission about any allegedly discriminatory conduct. See, e.g., Johnson, 234
F.3d at 507 (citing Rollins v. State of Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 868
F.2d 397, 400 (11th Cir.1989)). Plaintiff complained to her supervisor about Krishna
Nagalla’s offensive behavior, but she never complained that his conduct was based
e.g., Webster v. Fulton County, Georgia, 283 F.3d 1254, 1256 (11th Cir. 2002) (holding that the
court has “previously concluded that Section 1981 supports a retaliation cause of action”) (citing
Andrews v. Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital, 140 F.3d 1405, 1409-13 (11th Cir. 1998) (concluding
that § 1981 retaliation claims are cognizable after the 1991 amendment to that statute, but explaining
that the question of whether a specific claim is cognizable depends upon the specific nature of the
retaliation claim); Jackson v. Motel 6 Multipurpose, Inc., 130 F.3d 999, 1007 (11th Cir. 1997)
(observing that § 1981 retaliation claim lies for a plaintiff’s opposition to race discrimination,
regardless of whether the plaintiff is personally the victim of that race discrimination); Pinkard v.
Pullman-Standard, 678 F.2d 1211, 1229 (5th Cir. Unit B 1982) (recognizing that § 1981 claims
“may be based upon retaliatory action taken against an employee for the employee’s lawful advocacy
of the rights of racial minorities”).
upon either her race or her gender. See Cartwright v. Tacala, Inc., No. CIV A 99W-663-N, 2000 WL 33287445, at *9-10 (M.D. Ala. Nov. 1, 2000) (explaining that,
while an employee’s express complaints to a supervisor about allegedly
discriminatory practices clearly constitutes “protected activity,” a vague, nonspecific
declaration of “unfair treatment” is not sufficient to constitute “opposition” under
Title VII). “Unfair treatment, absent discrimination based on race, sex, or national
origin, is not an unlawful employment practice under Title VII.” Coutu v. Martin
County Board of County Commissioners, 47 F.3d 1068, 1074 (11th Cir. 1995)
(emphasis in original). Moreover, plaintiff filed her EEOC charge on December 2,
2012, after the date on which her employment was terminated. Therefore, plaintiff
cannot claim that she was retaliated against because she filed an EEOC charge.
Accordingly, plaintiff’s complaints cannot serve as the basis for a retaliation claim
under either Title VII or § 1981.
In accordance with the foregoing discussion, defendant’s motion for summary
judgment is GRANTED, and it is ORDERED, ADJUDGED, and DECREED that all
claims alleged in plaintiff’s complaint be, and the same hereby are, DISMISSED with
prejudice. Costs are taxed to plaintiff. The Clerk is directed to close this file.
DONE and ORDERED this 24th day of February, 2017.
United States District Judge
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