Vickery v. Medtronic, Inc.

Filing 62

ORDER granting 45 Motion for Summary Judgment; terminating 56 Motion for Oral Argument. Signed by Senior Judge Charles R. Butler, Jr on 2/3/2014. (adk)

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IN  THE  UNITED  STATES  DISTRICT  COURT  FOR  THE   SOUTHERN  DISTRICT  OF  ALABAMA   SOUTHERN  DIVISION     CARL  VICKERY,     Plaintiff,     v.     MEDTRONIC,  INC.     Defendant.       )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )           CIVIL  ACTION  NO.   12-­‐00731-­‐CB-­‐C   OPINION  and  ORDER     This  action,  filed  pursuant  to  42  U.S.C.  §  1981,  involves  several  employment   discrimination  claims  based  on  “reverse”  discrimination  and  retaliation.    The   defendant  has  filed  a  motion  seeking  summary  judgment  on  all  claims.    (Doc.  45.)   After  due  consideration  of  the  motion,  plaintiff’s  response,  and  all  supporting   evidence  and  briefs,  the  Court  finds  that  the  motion  is  due  to  be  granted.   FACTS   Background     Plaintiff  Carl  Vickery  was  employed  by  defendant  Medtronic,  Inc.  from  2006   until  2012.  Vickery  has  an  associate’s  degree  in  nursing,  as  well  as  an  undergraduate   degree  in  social  work,  and  a  master’s  degree  in  counseling.    For  two  years   immediately  prior  to  being  hired  by  Medtronic,  Vickery  was  employed  as  a  surgical   nurse.    Initially,  Vickery,  who  is  white,  worked  in  Medtronic’s  Navigation  division  as   a  Computer  Assisted  Surgical  Specialist  where  he  provided  technical  support  to   surgeons  using  Medtronic  navigation  equipment  to  perform  spine  or  cranial   surgeries.    In  2007,  Vickery  transferred  to  the  Neuromodulation  division  where  he   worked  initially  as  a  Procedures  Solutions  Specialist  for  the  Deep  Brain  Stimulation   (DBS)  therapy.    In  April  2008,  Vickery  became  Activa  Development  Manager  (ADM)   in  DBS,  a  position  he  held  until  his  termination       Neuromodulation  and  Navigation  are  separate  divisions  of  Medtronic,1  with   different  devices  aimed  at  different  types  of  medical  procedures.    Navigation   provides  equipment  for  spinal  and  cranial  surgeries.  Neuromodulation  provides   devices  for  deep  brain  stimulation  (DBS)  therapy.    DBS  uses  medical  devices   implanted  deep  within  the  brain  to  treat  certain  conditions,  such  as  Parkinson’s   disease.2  In  the  Navigation  unit,  Vickery  provided  technical  support  to  surgeons   using  Medtroinc  equipment  to  perform  spine  or  cranial  surgeries.    This  technical   support  included  operating  a  computer,  infrared  camera  system,  and  medical   devices  or  equipment  attached  to  drills  and  probes.      In  the  Neuromodulation   division,  Vickery’s  job  duties  in  his  first  position  as  Procedure  Solutions  Specialist   involved  working  closely  with  surgeons  to  help  them  understand  the  DBS  Nexframe   equipment,  which  was  similar  to  Navigation  equipment.    When  this  position  was   eliminated,  Vickery  became  an  ADM.         According  to  a  Medtronic  job  description  dated  September  2010,  an  ADM   “[w]orks  in  partnership  and  support  of  the  DBS  sales  organization  to  help  create   new  accounts,  introduce  new  therapies/indications,  assist  with  training  internal  and   external  people  on  DBS,  and  cover  difficult  cases.”    (Pl.’s  Ex.  A.,  Doc.  52-­‐1.)    Vickery                                                                                                                   1  The  company  is  “vertically  integrated”  so  that  each  division  has  a  separate   sales  and  marketing  channel,  each  with  its  own  general  manager.    (Frenkel  Dep.  12-­‐ 16,  Doc.  48-­‐3.)   2  Medtronic’s  Activa  neurostimulator  delivers  a  controlled  electrical  pulse  to   precisely  targeted  areas  of  the  brain.    The  devise  is  typically  implanted   subcutaneously  and  connected  to  an  extension  and  lead  implanted  in  the  brain.     2   had  more  specialized  knowledge  than  regular  sales  representatives.    As  part  of  his   ADM  duties,  Vickery  trained  surgeons  on  the  use  of  the  DBS  Nexframe  equipment,   which  was  similar  to  equipment  used  in  Navigation  procedures.  He  also  trained   sales  representatives,  but  he  had  no  authority  to  discipline  them.    As  ADM,  Vickery   reported  to  the  Neuromodulation  division’s  southeast  regional  sales  manager.3     When  Vickery  became  ADM,  Ty  Atteberry  was  regional  sales  manager.    According  to   Vickery’s  understanding,  there  was  no  nationwide  uniformity  regarding  an  ADM’s   responsibilities.    Atteberry  used  his  discretion  based  on  the  needs  of  the  district  to   direct  Vickery’s  job  duties.     Ross  Becomes  Manager     In  2011,  Charles  Ross,  who  is  African  American,  replaced  Atteberry  as  sales   manager.    As  manager,  Ross  was  aware  of  Vickery’s  background,  education  and   experience.    Ross  reported  to  Ellen  Frenkel,  the  Vice  President  of  Sales  for  DBS.    In   addition  to  Vickery  (the  ADM)  approximately  twelve  sales  representatives  and  an   undetermined  number  of  clinical  specialists  reported  to  Ross.    The  racial  makeup  of     the  employees  under  Ross’s  supervision  was  overwhelmingly  white.    At  most,  there   were  three  nonwhite  employees-­‐-­‐Jesus  Azan,  a  sales  representative,  is  Hispanic;   Kelly  Roberts,  a  clinical  specialist,  has  been  described  as  a  person  “of  Persian   descent;”  and  Eric  Jackson,  a  sales  representative  fired  by  Ross  prior  to  Vickery’s   termination,  is  African  American.       According  to  Vickery,  Ross  was  not  a  good  manager.    He  “was  inconsistent  in   communication  with  the  team  and  destructive  in  the  way  he  interacted  with  some  of                                                                                                                   3  Sales  representatives  also  reported  to  the  regional  sales  manager.     3   the  team  members,”  and  he  “targeted”  certain  individuals.    (Pl.’s  Decl.  ¶  7,  Doc.  52-­‐ 15.)      On  January  12,  2012,  Ross  gave  Vickery  a  memorandum,  known  as  a  “letter  of   expectations,”  regarding  improvements  he  wanted  to  see  in  Vickery’s  job   performance.    (Id.  ¶  9.)  Vickery  was  surprised  because  this  was  the  first  time  Ross   informed  him  that  he  was  not  meeting  expectations.    (Id.  ¶  9.)    From  this  point   forward,  the  relationship  between  Vickery  and  Ross  went  downhill.    As  Vickery   describes  it,     By  2012,  it  was  clear  Mr.  Ross  had  targeted  me.    On  a  weekly  basis,  Mr.   Ross  failed  to  include  me  in  team  discussions  and  business  meetings   so  that  I  could  be  informed  of  issues  and  respond  to  them.    Mr.  Ross   regularly  criticized  me  for  being  responsive  to  the  requests  of  sales   representatives.  .  .  to  assist  them  in  covering  cases  and  training,  and   yet  he  never  took  action  that  would  give  me  the  time  or  resources  to   respond  to  any  unmet  expectation  he  identified.    He  held  me   accountable  for  circumstances  beyond  my  control  repeatedly  even   though  he  knew  what  obstacles  were  interfering  with  my  ability  to   respond  to  his  demands  within  his  desired  time  frame.    This  conduct   from  Mr.  Ross  was  persistent,  unremitting,  and  regular  from  January   2012  until  I  was  fired.     (Id.  ¶  10.)       Vickery  testified  that  “the  way  I  felt  and  what  I  had  seen  with  a  couple  of   others  is  anybody  that  stood  their  ground  or  –or  tried  to  defend  their  position,  then   –and  they  were  white,  they  were  marked  [by]  Ross.”      (Pl.’s  Dep.  218,  Doc.  52-­‐14.)     Two  of  Vickery’s  coworkers  also  perceived  Ross  to  behave  in  a  discriminatory   manner.    Barbara  Williams,  a  former  Medtronic  sales  representative,  testified  that   Ross  was  hostile  to  comments  by  white  employees  but  was  not  hostile  to  similar   comments  by  nonwhites.    (Williams  Decl.  ¶  14,  Doc.  52-­‐17.)    She  also  noted  that   Kelly  Robertson  (the  clinical  specialist  “of  Persian  descent”)  received  preferential   treatment  from  Ross.    Another  former  sales  representative,  Richard  Plummer,  also     4   complained  to  Human  Resources  that  Ross  had  discriminated  against  him  and  that   he  “was  being  targeted  because  of  [his]  race  and  for  [  ]  being  a  witness  for  [his]   Caucasian  co-­‐workers  who  were  complaining  about  Mr.  Ross.”    (Plummer  Decl.  ¶  10,   Doc.  52-­‐18.)   The  Hotel  Incident  and  the  White  Elephant  Comment     In  April  2012,  Ross  and  Vickery  attended  a  convention  in  Florida  and  were   staying  at  the  same  hotel.    They  made  arrangements  to  ride  together  to  the   convention  one  morning,  but  Ross  forgot  and  left  Vickery  at  the  hotel.    Later,  during   the  same  convention  when  a  coworker  asked  why  he  was  almost  late  for  the   meeting,  Vickery  explained  that  Ross  had  left  him.    Vickery  then  commented:  “Next   time  we’re  ever  in  Mississippi,  I’ll  leave  him  in  the  lobby  of  the  hotel  and  he  can  find   his  way  to  the  hospital.”    Another  Medtronic  employee,  Dr.  Sylvia  Bartley,  overheard   this  comment  and  thought  it  had  racial  overtones.    Bartley  told  Ross,  who  also   thought  the  comment  was  racist.    Ross  told  Laura  Neuenschwander  of  Human   Resources,  and  an  investigation  ensued.         Vickery  told  Heidi  Meyer,  who  was  investigating  the  matter  for  Medtronic:     “You  know,  it's  almost  like  I'm  being  set  up  here.  It's  almost  like  it's  a  hostile  work   environment.  It's  almost  like  he's  trying  to  push  me  out.  And  it's  almost  like  reverse   race  discrimination  going  on.  It's  almost  like  he's  got  it  against  me  that,  you  know,   the  team  likes  me.  I  work  well  with  the  team.  I  -­‐-­‐  you  know,  I  don't  know  what  the   issue  is.”    (Pl.’s  Dep.  209)  In  a  follow-­‐up  conversation,  Vickery  thinks  he  “reiterated   it  seems  like  retaliation  at  this  point,  that  -­‐-­‐  that  it  was  hostile.  I  felt  like  it  was   violating  me  in  a  sense  that  he  was  coming  after  me  and  targeting  me.”    (Id.  213)       5   Vickery  feared  retaliation  from  Ross  because  “any  time  you  stood  up  or  disagreed   with  Mr.  Ross,  you  were  -­‐-­‐  you  could  -­‐-­‐  you  didn't  even  have  to  hold  your  breath;  you   were  getting  some  kind  of  negative  feedback  on  something  that  was  not  even   related  to  that  situation.”  (Id.)     At  a  sales  meeting  that  occurred  after  this  investigation,  another  employee   brought  up  “backstabbing  and  lying  in  the  Southeast  district.”    (Id.  183-­‐84)  In   response,  Ross  looked  directly  at  Vickery  and  said,  “Well,  let's  discuss  the  white   elephant  in  the  room.”  (Id.  184)    After  he  made  the  remark,  Ross  “went  on  to  discuss   how  [the  group]  should  work  together,  .  .  .  teamwork,  how  he.  .  .  would  do  a  better   job  in  communicating.”    (Id.)  Vickery  considered  Ross’s  “white  elephant”  comment   to  be  “a  racist  remark.”  (Id.)        Use  of  Navigation  Equipment  During  Surgery  at  Sacred  Heart  Hospital     On  July  25,  2012,  Vickery  was  at  Sacred  Heart  Hospital  in  Pensacola  along   with  Michael  Tapley,  a  Medtronic  sales  representative,  and  Brian  Beck,  a  new   Medtronic  employee,  for  training.    Brian  Nguyen,  a  sales  representative  from  the   Navigation  unit,  asked  Vickery  to  cover  for  him  in  a  spine  surgery  because  he  had   been  called  to  an  emergency  at  another  hospital.    Nguyen  had  already  set  up  the   equipment  so  that  all  Vickery  had  to  do  was  to  aim  the  camera  for  the  surgeon.     Vickery  worked  under  the  direction  of  the  surgeon,  and  the  Navigation  camera   “operated  in  the  same  way  as  when  [Vickery]  was  a  Navigation  clinical  specialist   and  in  the  same  way  as  when  using  Nexframe  [i.e.,  DBS]  technology.”  (Pl.’s  Decl.  ¶     6   15.)    Vickery  did  not  believe  he  was  doing  anything  wrong  when  he  filled  in  for   Nguyen,  and  his  assistance  prevented  any  delay  in  the  procedure.4    (Id.  ¶  11.)         Ross  learned  about  this  incident  on  August  23,  2012  in  a  meeting  with   Vickery  and  Tapley.    Ross  summarized  that  meeting  in  a  memo  to  Laura   Neuenschwander.    (Def.’s  Ex.  2,  Doc.  49-­‐1.)    Tapley  told  Ross  that  he  “was  going  over   planning  software  with  Brian  [a  new  hire]  when  he  noticed  Carl  was  not  present.  “     (Id.)    Tapley  learned  that  Vickery  was  “’[r]unning  the  Stealth  [Navigation   equipment]  in  a  spine  case  for  the  surgeon.’”    (Id.)    In  the  meeting,  Vickery   confirmed  to  Ross  that  “’he  ran  the  camera  for  a  spine  case  for  the  surgeon’”  but  was   “’just  helping  the  local  MNav  rep  out.’”    (Id.)    Ross  informed  Vickery  that  this  was  a   violation  of  policy.    (Id.)       Transfer  Request     On  August  29,  2012,    Vickery  told  Laura  Neuenschwander  that  Ross  “had   been  hostile  towards  me  and  his  communication,  or  lack  of  communication,  that  he   did  not  follow  up  with  questions,  .  .  .  or  he  was  supposed  to  have  a  conference  call   with  me  on  the  plan;  he  never  followed  up  with  that.    And  I  felt  like  I  was  being  set   up  and  that  I  felt  that  race  was  involved;  I  felt  retaliation  was  involved  (Pl.’s  Dep.   244.)    Vickery  requested  that  he  be  transferred.    (Id.)    Medtronic,  however,  was   already  moving  toward  termination  and,  therefore,  did  not  grant  the  transfer   request.  (Neuenschwander  Dep.  41,  Doc.  48-­‐8.)                                                                                                                   4  The  surgery  would  have  gone  ahead,  even  if  Vickery  had  not  assisted.     However,  the  nurse  practitioner  would  have  run  the  camera  and  would  have  been   required  to  resterilize  each  time  she  touched  the  camera.    As  a  result,  the  surgery   would  have  taken  longer,  thereby  increasing  both  the  length  of  the  surgery  and  the   patient’s  time  under  anesthesia.    (Vickery  Decl.¶  11.)         7   Termination     On  September  11,  2012,  Medtronic  terminated  Vickery’s  employment.  (Ross.   Dep.  74-­‐75,  Doc.  48-­‐4.)    Ross  and  Ellen  Frenkel,  Medtronic’s  Vice  President  of  Sales   for  DBS,  jointly  made  the  termination  decision  based  on:    (1)  Vickery’s  poor   judgment  in  assisting  with  the  procedure  for  which  he  was  not  trained  (the  Sacred   Heart  spine  surgery)  and  (2)  his  repeated  failure  to  meet  performance  expectations   outlined  by  Ross.    (Id.)    Regarding  performance  expectations,  Ross  testified  that   Vickery  failed  to  work  toward  account  development,  failed  to  “deliver  training  …  to   groups  of  neurologists,”  and  generally  failed  to  strike  a  proper  balance  between   providing  clinical  support  and  developing  new  accounts.  (Id.  75-­‐78.)      Medtronic’s   written  policy  required  that  “prior  to  providing  any  technical  support  a   representative  must  be  trained  on  the  products  they  support.”    (Def.’s  Ex.  6,  Doc.  49-­‐ 2.)      Although  Vickery  had  been  trained  on  the  equipment  used  in  the  spine  surgery   when  he  was  in  the  Navigation  division,  his  did  not  possess  current  training  or   credentials  to  operate  Navigation  equipment  when  he  took  part  in  the  spine  surgery   at  Sacred  Heart.    (Neuenschwander  Dep.  41-­‐43.)   Post-­‐Termination  Application  for  Navigation  Position     Within  days  of  his  termination,  Vickery  applied  for  a  clinical  specialist   position  in  Medtronic’s  Navigation  division.    (Pl.  Dep.  228.)    Erik  Bruskotter,  a   Navigation  regional  sales  director,  interviewed  two  candidates  for  the  job—Vickery   and  Lori  Josey,  an  African  American.    Before  the  interview,  Vickery  spoke  to   Bruskotter,  whom  he  had  known  when  he  worked  in  Navigation,  via  telephone.     Vickery  told  Bruskotter  that  he  was  interested  in  the  position  and  also  explained     8   that  he  had  been  terminated  from  Medtronic.    (Id.)  Vickery  asked  if  that  was  going  to   be  a  problem,  and  Bruskotter  assured  him  that  “[a]s  long  as  you  are  rehireable,  I   definitely  don’t  have  a  problem  with  you,  definitely  want  you  to  interview  and  you   would  definitely  be  one  of  the  top  candidates.”    (Id.  230.)      At  the  interview,   Bruskotter  asked  Vickery  why  he  was  let  go,  and  Vickery  explained  that  he  had  some   challenges  with  the  sales  reps,  that  there  were  some  conflicts,  and  that  he  also  had   some  challenges  with  his  manager.    (Bruskotter  Dep.  73,  Doc.  48-­‐5.)    Bruskotter  told   Vickery  that  he  had  one  more  person  to  interview  and  that  “if  everything  works   out,”  he  would  be  giving  Vickery  a  call.    (Pl.  Dep.  231.)         Vickery  was  actually  Bruskotter’s  second  interview.    (Bruskotter  Dep.  58.)     Bruskotter  had  already  interviewed  Josey,  whom  he  found  to  be  a  solid  candidate.     Josey’s  training  and  experience  made  her  a  good  fit  for  the  position.  She  had  clinical   experience  working  with  hospital  staffs  that  involved  supporting  other  types  of   surgical  equipment,  experience  with  a  radiology  device  that  had  some  similarities  to   Navigation  equipment,  and  a  degree  in  computer  information  systems,  which  would   obviously  be  of  value  working  with  computers  and  software.  (Id.  60-­‐63.)           Immediately  after  Vickery’s  interview,  Bruskotter  decided  that  Vickery   would  be  a  better  fit  for  the  position  because  he  had  a  background  with  Navigation.     (Id.  74.)    That  same  day,  Bruskotter  sent  an  email  to  Veronica  Lambert,  the  HR   person  assigned  to  his  group  informing  her  that  he  wanted  to  put  together  an  offer   letter  for  Vickery.    In  the  email  Bruskotter  also  explained  that  Vickery  had  been  “let   go”  by  Activa  but  that  he  was  eligible  for  rehire.    (Id.  81-­‐82.)    Lambert  had  some   questions  about  why  Vickery  had  been  “let  go,”  which  led  to  a  telephone     9   conversation  the  following  day  between  Bruskotter  and  Lambert.    (Id.  84.)    Between   the  time  of  the  email  exchange  and  the  time  of  his  conversation  with  Lambert,   Bruskotter  began  to  rethink  his  decision.    (Id.  85.)      Bruskotter  talked  about  the   situation  with  Lambert  and  told  her  that  he  had  begun  to  have  “a  lot  of  concerns  .  .  .   given  the  friction  that  [Vickery]  had  mentioned.  .  .  with  the  sales  rep  and  the   manager.”    Id.    By  the  end  of  the  conversation,  Bruskotter  decided  “to  move  forward   with  [Josey]  instead  of  [Vickery].”  (Id.  86.)    Bruskotter  subsequently  had  a  telephone   conversation  with  Vickery  to  inform  him  of  the  decision.    (Id.  90.)    According  to   Vickery,  Bruskotter  told  him  “HR  had  put  a  kibosh  on  me  coming  on  board.”     (Vickery  Dep.  231.)         Vickery  subsequently  filed  the  instant  action  against  Medtronic,  asserting   numerous  employment  discrimination  and  retaliation  claims  under  42  U.S.C.  §  1981.     Specifically,  Vickery  claims  that  Medtronic  terminated  his  employment  because  of   his  race,  that  Medtronic  failed  to  rehire  him  because  of  his  race  and  that  Medtronic   subjected  him  to  a  hostile  work  environment  because  of  his  race.    Further,  Vickery   alleges  that  Medtronic  retaliated  against  him  for  complaining  of  race-­‐based   discrimination  by  terminating  his  employment,  by  refusing  to  transfer  him  to  a   different  position  prior  to  his  termination,  and  by  refusing  to  rehire  him  following   his  termination.   ISSUES  PRESENTED     On  summary  judgment,  Medtronic  argues  that  Vickery  cannot  produce   sufficient  evidence  to  support  any  of  the  six  claims  he  has  asserted.    In  his  response   brief,  Vickery  addresses  only  four  of  those  claims,  omitting  his  claims  for     10   discriminatory  failure  to  rehire  and  retaliatory  termination.    In  reply,  Medtronic   asserts  that  those  unaddressed  claims  have  been  abandoned.    In  surreply,  Vickery   argues  that  he  did  not  intentionally  abandon  those  claims.    Below,  the  Court  sets  out   the  applicable  legal  standards  and  explains  why  certain  claims  are  deemed   abandoned  before  addressing  the  sufficiency  of  the  evidence  as  to  each  of  the   remaining  claims—discriminatory  termination,  hostile  work  environment,   retaliatory  refusal  to  transfer,  and  retaliatory  refusal  to  rehire.   LEGAL  ANALYSIS      Applicable  Standards  of  Review     Summary  Judgment  Standard     Summary  judgment  should  be  granted  only  if  "there  is  no  issue  as  to  any   material  fact  and  the  moving  party  is  entitled  to  a  judgment  as  a  matter  of  law."       Fed.  R.  Civ.  P.  56(c).    The  party  seeking  summary  judgment  bears  "the  initial  burden   to  show  the  district  court,  by  reference  to  materials  on  file,  that  there  are  no  genuine   issues  of  material  fact  that  should  be  decided  at  trial."    Clark  v.  Coats  &  Clark,  Inc.,   929  F.2d  604,  608  (11th  Cir.  1991).    Once  the  moving  party  has  satisfied  his   responsibility,  the  burden  shifts  to  the  nonmoving  party  to  show  the  existence  of  a   genuine  issue  of  material  fact.    Id.    "If  the  nonmoving  party  fails  to  make  'a  sufficient   showing  on  an  essential  element  of  her  case  with  respect  to  which  she  has  the   burden  of  proof,'  the  moving  party  is  entitled  to  summary  judgment."    United  States   v.  Four  Parcels  of  Real  Property,  941  F.2d  1428,  1437  (11th  Cir.  1991)  (quoting   Celotex  Corp.  v.  Catrett,  477  U.S.  317  (1986))  (footnote  omitted).           11     "In  reviewing  whether  the  nonmoving  party  has  met  its  burden,  the  court   must  stop  short  of  weighing  the  evidence  and  making  credibility  determinations  of   the  truth  of  the  matter.    Instead,  the  evidence  of  the  non-­‐movant  is  to  be  believed,   and  all  justifiable  inferences  are  to  be  drawn  in  his  favor.”    Tipton  v.  Bergrohr  GMBH-­‐ Siegen,  965  F.2d  994,  999  (11th  Cir.  1992)  (internal  citations  and  quotations   omitted).    “However,  we  draw  these  inferences  only  “’to  the  extent  supportable  by   the  record.’”  Penley  v.  Eslinger,  605  F.3d  843,  848    (11th  Cir.  2010)  (quoting  Scott  v.   Harris,  550  U.S.  372,  381  n.  8  (2007)  (emphasis  omitted)).      Furthermore,  “[a]   dispute  over  a  fact  will  only  preclude  summary  judgment  if  the  dispute  “might  affect   the  outcome  of  the  suit  under  the  governing  law.”  Id.  (quoting  Anderson  v.  Liberty   Lobby,  Inc.,  477  U.S.  242,  248,  (1986))     Employment  Discrimination  &  Retaliation  Framework     For  more  than  30  years,  federal  courts  have  relied  on  the  burden-­‐shifting   framework  established  in  McDonnell  Douglas  Corp.  v.  Green,  411  U.S.  792  (1973)  and   Texas  Department  of  Community  Affairs  v.  Burdine,  450  U.S.  248  (1981),  to  analyze   employment  discrimination  and  retaliation  claims  based  on  circumstantial  evidence.       See,  e.g.,  Chapman  v.  A1  Transport,  229  F.3d  1012,  1024    (11th  Cir.  2000)  (en   banc)(analyzing  ADEA  claim  using  McDonnell  Douglas/Burdine  analysis);  Combs  v   Plantation  Patterns,  106  F.3d  1519,  1528  (11th  Cir.  1997)  (racial  discrimination).5     Under  that  framework,  a  plaintiff  bears  the  initial  burden  of  establishing  a  prima                                                                                                                   5  The  same  analysis  applies  to  discrimination  and  retaliation  claims  brought   under  Title  VII,    §  1981  and  the  Age  Discrimination  in  Employment  Act  (ADEA).    See   e.g.,  Brown  v.  Alabama  Dept.  of  Transp.,  59  F.3d  1160,  1174  n.  6  (11th  Cir.  2010)   (Title  VII  and  §  1981);  Chapman,  229  F.3d  at  1024  (ADEA  and  Title  VII);  Goldsmith  v.   Bagby  Elevator  Co.,  513  F.3d  1261,  1277  (11th  Cir.  2008)  (retaliation  under  Title  VII   and  §  1981).    Therefore,  the  case  law  in  these  types  of  cases  is  interchangeable.     12   facie  case  of  discrimination  or  retaliation  through  circumstantial  evidence.    Combs  v.   Plantation  Patterns,  106  F.3d  1519,  1527  (11th  Cir.  2000).    If  the  plaintiff  does  so,  a   presumption  of  discrimination  or  retaliation  is  created  and  the  burden  shifts  to  the   defendant  to  produce  a  legitimate  nondiscriminatory  reason  for  its  action.    Id.  1527-­‐ 28.    If  the  defendant  meets  his  burden  (which  is  a  burden  of  production,  not   persuasion),  then  the  presumption  disappears,  and  the  plaintiff  must  “’demonstrate   that  the  proffered  reason  was  not  the  true  reason  for  the  employment  decision.’”    Id.   (quoting  Burdine,  450  U.S.  at  256).      This  may  be  accomplished  “’either  directly  by   persuading  the  court  that  a  discriminatory  reason  more  likely  motivated  the   employer  or  indirectly  by  showing  that  the  employer’s  proffered  explanation  is   unworthy  of  credence.’”    Id.   Review  of  Plaintiff’s  Claims     Abandoned  Claims     Vickery’s  summary  judgment  response  fails  to  address  his  claims  for   discriminatory  failure  to  rehire  and  retaliatory  termination.    The  Eleventh  Circuit   has  long  held  that  “[t]here  is  no  burden  upon  the  district  court  to  distill  every   potential  argument  that  could  be  made  based  upon  the  materials  before  it  on   summary  judgment.”    RTC  v.  Dunmar  Corp,  43  F.3d  587,  599  (11th  Cir.  1995);  accord   Clark  v.  City  of  Atlanta,  ___  Fed.  Appx.  ___  2013  WL  6037179  (11th  Cir.  Nov.  15,  2013)   (district  court  properly  treated  as  abandoned  claims  not  addressed  in  opposition  to   summary  judgment  motion).    Vickery  asserts,  in  surreply,  that  he  should  not  be   penalized  for  the  “lack  of  clarity”  in  his  summary  judgment  response.  Plaintiff’s   problem  is  more  than  a  lack  of  clarity.    He  has  failed  to  address  the  claims  at  all.         13   Plaintiff’s  counsel  points  to  last-­‐minute  difficulties  she  encountered  in  filing  the   summary  judgment  response  and  to  her  “good  faith  belief”  that  the  submission   entitled  “Plaintiff’s  Statement  of  Disputed  Facts  Requiring  Trial”  would  be  sufficient   to  preserve  the  claims  not  addressed  in  Plaintiff’s  summary  judgment  response   brief.      But  a  statement  of  disputed  facts—even  one  as  extensive  as  this—does  not   explain  how  the  facts  relate  to  any  specific  legal  claim,  much  less  the  legal  sufficiency   of  the  claims.    “[T]he  onus  is  upon  the  parties  to  formulate  arguments;  grounds   alleged  in  the  complaint  but  not  relied  upon  in  summary  judgment  are  deemed   abandoned.”    Dunmar,  43  F.3d  at  599.      Because  Plaintiff  provided  no  argument  to   support  his  claims  for  discriminatory  failure  to  rehire  and  retaliatory  termination,   those  claims  are  deemed  abandoned.     Discriminatory  Termination  Claim     Medtronic  argues  that  it  is  entitled  to  summary  judgment,  first,  because   Vickery  cannot  prove  a  prima  facie  case  of  discrimination.    Most  often  an  employee   asserting  discriminatory  discharge  demonstrates  a  prima  facie  case  by  proving  that:   (1)  he  is  a  member  of  a  protected  class;  (2)  he  was  qualified  for  the  position;  (3)  he   suffered  an  adverse  employment  action;  and  (4)  he  was  treated  less  favorably  than  a   similarly-­‐situated  individual  outside  his  protected  class.  Maynard  v.  Bd.  of  Regents  of   Div.  of  Univs.  of  Fla.  Dept.  of  Educ.  ex  rel.  Univ.  of  S.  Fla.,  342  F.3d  1281,  1289  (11th  Cir.   2003).    However,  “[t]he  methods  of  presenting  a  prima  facie  case  are  not  fixed;  they   are  flexible  and  depend  to  a  large  degree  upon  the  employment  situation.”    Wilson  v.   B/E  Aerospace,  Inc.,  376  F.3d  1079,  1987  (11th  Cir.  2004).    A  plaintiff’s   discrimination  claim  is  not  doomed  simply  because  there  are  no  similarly-­‐situated     14   employees  who  may  be  used  as  comparators.  Smith  v.  Lockheed-­‐Martin  Corp,  644   F.3d  1321  (11th  Cir.  2011).    Recognizing  that  Vickery  relies  on  “other  evidence”  to   prove  discrimination,  Medtronic  argues  that  Vickery’s  evidence  is  not  sufficient  to   raise  an  inference  of  intentional  discrimination.     Vickery’s  response  is  two-­‐fold.    First,  citing  Smith,  Vickery  argues  that  the   entire  McDonnell  Douglas  framework  can  be  cast  aside  and  that  he  need  only  prove   “any  circumstantial  evidence  from  which  a  reasonable  inference  of  discrimination   can  be  drawn.”    (Pl.’s  Br.,  Doc.  53  at  16.)    Alternatively,  Vickery  asserts  that  he  can   prove  a  prima  facie  case  under  McDonnell  Douglas.      Taking  the  latter  argument  first,   it  is  easy  to  understand  why  Vickery  relies  so  heavily  on  the  former.    Vickery  points   to  Kelly  Robertson  as  a  comparator  and  argues  that  she  was  “a  person  of  color  .  .  .   known  by  Ross  to  have  performed  work  outside  of  her  training  and  experience   without  being  terminated.”    (Pl.’s  Br.  18,  Doc.  53.)    To  satisfy  his  burden,  Vickery   must  prove  that  he  and  Robertson  were  similarly  situated  in  all  relevant  respects   and  that  Robertson’s  misconduct  was  “nearly  identical”  to  his  own.    Wilson,  376  F.3d   at  1091.    The  supporting  evidence  he  cites,  however,  falls  far  short  of  proof.     Vickery  cites  to  his  own  declaration  and  that  of  Williams,  a  former  sales   representative  who  worked  with  Robertson.    In  his  own  declaration,  Vickery  avers   that  “Mr.  Ross  knew  Kelly  Robertson  had  performed  work  without  certification   without  disciplining  her.”    (Pl.’s  Decl.¶  12,  Doc.  52-­‐15.)    Because  Vickery  does  not   identify  the  work  Robertson  did  without  certification,  it  is  impossible  to  say  that  it   was  similar  in  all  relevant  respects  to  the  conduct  for  which  Vickery  was  terminated.     Williams’  declaration  does  not  identify  any  work  Robertson  performed  without     15   certification.    Instead,  Williams  complains  that  Robertson  did  not  perform  her  job   and  Ross  did  nothing  about  it.    (Williams  Decl.,  ¶  14,  Doc.  52-­‐15.)     Whether  the  Eleventh  Circuit  in  Smith  created  an  alternative  to  the   McDonnell  Douglas  paradigm  in  its  entirety  or  merely  an  alternative  method  of   proving  the  fourth  element  of  a  prima  facie  case  is  the  subject  of  debate.    See,  e.g.,   Bell  v.  Crowne  Mgmt,  LLC,  844  F.Supp.2d  1222,  1232  (S.D.  Ala.  2012)  (to  extent  Smith   suggests  burden-­‐shifting  paradigm  of  McDonnell  Douglas  can  be  ignored  in   circumstantial  evidence  case,  “it  is  in  tension  with  a  long  line  of  Eleventh  Circuit   precedent”  and  “with  McDonnell  Douglas  itself”);  Williams  v.  Cleaver  Brooks,  Inc.  ,   2012  WL  6151141,  *7  n.  9  (M.D.  Ga.  Dec.  11,  2102)  (noting  with  interest  the  relevant   portion  of  Bell).    This  Court  need  not  wade  into  the  debate,  however,  because   Vickery’s  “other  evidence”  does  not  amount  to  the  type  of  “convincing  mosaic  of   circumstantial  evidence”  that  would  allow  a  jury  to  infer  intentional  discrimination.           As  circumstantial  evidence  of  discriminatory  intent  Vickery  argues,  first,  that   “[p]roof  of  bias  by  a  decision-­‐maker  against  other  employees  is  probative  of   discriminatory  animus  even  if  those  employees  are  not  similarly  situated.”  (Pl.’s  Brf.   15,  Doc.  53.)  Vickery’s  potential  “bias”  evidence  is  of  two  types.6    First  is  evidence   that  other  employees  were  mistreated  and  abused  by  Ross.  Undoubtedly,  there  were   issues  with  Ross’s  management  style.    He  may  have  treated  some  employees   unfairly,  but  there  is  no  evidence  from  which  a  factfinder  could  reasonably  infer  that                                                                                                                   6  The  difficulty  with  this  claim  is  that  Vickery  does  not  explain  what  he   believes  to  be  evidence  of  Ross’s  racial  bias,  leaving  the  Court  to  comb  through  his   proposed  facts  to  arrive  at  some  possibilities  and  then  to  sift  through  pages  of   depositions  and  declarations  to  determine  whether  the  evidence  supports  those   “facts”.         16   he  did  so  because  of  their  race.7    Vickery’s  second  type  of  “bias”  evidence  is  that   Ross  showed  favoritism  to  nonwhite  employees.    A  former  coworker,  Barbara   Williams  observed  that  Ross  responded  more  positively  to  Eric  Jackson,  an  African   American,  than  he  did  to  white  employees;  that  he  spoke  more  kindly  to  Jesus  Azan,   a  Hispanic,  than  he  did  to  white  employees;  and  that  he  gave  preferential  treatment   to  Kelly  Robertson,  a  clinical  specialist  who  is  “of  Persian  descent.”  (Id.  ¶¶  13-­‐14.)       As  additional  circumstantial  evidence  of  discrimination,  Vickery  points  again   to  Kelly  Robertson,  arguing  that  she  engaged  in  conduct  outside  the  scope  of  her   employment  and  was  not  disciplined.      But  that  vague  claim,  supported  by  no   specific  information  as  to  conduct,  provides  no  basis  for  any  inferences.  8  9     Vickery’s  final  piece  of  circumstantial  evidence  of  discriminatory  termination   is  his  claim  that  “he  did  not  violate  any  policy  or  engage  in  any  misconduct.”    (Pl.’s   Brf.  17.)    The  evidence  does  not  support  Vickery’s  claim.    At  the  time  Vickery   covered  the  spine  surgery  at  Sacred  Heart  Hospital,  Medtronic  had  a  policy  that                                                                                                                   7  Vickery  misses  the  mark  with  his  argument  that  this  is  “me  too”  evidence   that  can  be  considered  as  probative  of  discriminatory  intent.    It  is  only  probative  if   the  evidence  proffered  demonstrates  discriminatory  intent.  Since  one  could  not   reasonably  conclude  that  Ross  discriminated  against  the  other  employees  because   of  their  race,  no  inference  can  be  made  that  he  intentionally  discriminated  against   Vickery  on  account  of  race.   8  See  discussion,  supra  at  15,  regarding  Robertson’s  alleged  misconduct.  If   Vickery  is  implying  that  Robertson’s  failure  to  perform  her  job  duties  is  equivalent   to  engaging  in  out  of  scope  conduct,  that  is  simply  wrong.   9  In  the  “Statement  of  Material  Facts”  section  of  his  summary  judgment   response,  Plaintiff  implies  that  he  has  “been  disadvantaged  in  responding”  to  this   issue  because  no  ruling  has  been  entered  on  a  pending  discovery  motion  “that   would  likely  produce  evidence  favorable  to  Plaintiff  if  allowed.”    (Pl.’s  Rsp.  11  n.3.)       Pursuant  to  Fed.  R.  Civ.  P.  56(d)  if  a  party  “cannot  present  facts  essential  to  justify  its   opposition,”  it  must  present    “an  affidavit  or  declaration”  setting  forth  the  “specified   reasons”  it  cannot  do  so.    A  vague  footnote  in  a  summary  judgment  response  is  not   sufficient.         17   required  its  employees  to  be  trained  on  the  products  they  support.    Vickery  did  not   possess  current  training  or  credentials  for  the  Navigation  equipment.      Vickery   asserts  that  the  training  he  had  was  sufficient,  but  that  is  nothing  more  than  a   disagreement  with  Medtronic’s  policy.    It  is  not  evidence  that  the  policy  did  not   exist,  nor  is  it  evidence  that  he  did  not  engage  in  misconduct.10     In  summary,  Vickery  has  presented  evidence  that  Ross  was  vindictive  toward   employees  who  stood  up  to  him  and  that  Ross  was  more  positive  to  a  nonwhite   employee  (whom  he  later  fired),  spoke  kindly  to  another  nonwhite  employee,  and   did  not  force  a  third  nonwhite  employee  to  perform  her  job  duties.    This  type  of   evidence—that  a  manager  treated  employees  unfairly  and  showed  slight  favoritism   toward  others—cannot  be  the  “convincing  mosaic”  that  the  Smith  court  had  in   mind.11    Indeed,  this  is  exactly  the  type  of  case  that  requires  a  court  to  sift  through                                                                                                                   10  Vickery’s  argument  that  he  did  not  violate  any  policy  is  followed  by  a  series   of  “facts”  intended  to  prove  that  claim.    The  actual  evidence  cited  does  not  support   the  “facts”  asserted.    But  even  if  it  did  those  “facts”  would  demonstrate  only  that  the   policy  was  not  clearly  conveyed  to  Medtronic’s  employees.    Specifically,  he  claims   that  sales  representatives  frequently  did  things  that  were  “out  of  scope,”  and  that   they  received  confusing  information  about  what  was  “out  of  scope.”    Failure  to   communicate  a  policy  does  not  mean  that  no  policy  existed.    And  “out  of  scope”  is   not  the  same  as  providing  support  using  equipment  for  which  one  has  not  been   trained.    Vickery  also  claims  that  he  was  led  to  believe  that  working  on  Navigation   equipment  was  not  against  Medtronic  policy.    In  his  declaration,  he  recounts  an   April  2012  meeting  of  ADM’s:    “I  heard  Van  Allen  [another  ADM]  talk  about  covering   Navigation  cases  (which  includes  spine  and  cranial  cases).  This  discussion  did  not   involve  any  criticism  by  Dr.  Bartley  [a  Medtronic  supervisor]  or  identification  of  any   policy  in  Medtronic  being  violated.”    (Pl.’s  Decl.  ¶  11.)    Again,  failure  to  clearly   communicate  a  policy  does  not  mean  it  does  not  exist.    Finally,  Vickery  asserts  that   no  policy  was  identified  to  explain  his  termination.    Once  again,  the  failure  to   specifically  identify  the  policy  does  not  negate  its  existence.   11  The  plaintiff  in  Smith  was  terminated  under  the  Lockheed  Martin’s  “zero     tolerance”  policy  because  he  forwarded  a  racist  email  from  his  work  email.    At  the   time,  the  company  had  “a  substantial  incentive  to  discipline  white  employees  more   harshly  than  black  employees”  because  its  historic  treatment  of  African  American     18   personnel  disputes  and  reexamine  a  defendant’s  business  decision  based  on  the   slight  possibility  that  somewhere  there  might  be  a  whiff  of  discriminatory  intent.    Cf.   Denney  v.  City  of  Albany,  247  F.3d  1172,  1188  (11th  Cir.  2001)  (federal  courts  are   not  intended  to  sit  as  “a  super-­‐personnel  department”).           Hostile  Work  Environment  Claim     The  Supreme  Court  has  defined  a  hostile  work  environment  as  “[a]   workplace  [  ]  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  Sys.,   Inc.,  510  U.S.  17,  21  (1993).    An  employment  discrimination  claim  based  on  hostile   work  environment  has  both  an  objective  and  a  subjective  component.    It  requires   proof  of  an  environment  that  “a  reasonable  person  would  find  [it]  hostile  or   abusive”  and  that  the  “victim  .  .  .  subjectively  perceive[d]  .  .  .to  be  abusive.    Id.  510   U.S.  at  21.      “It  is  a  ‘bedrock  principle  that  not  all  objectionable  conduct  or  language   amounts  to  discrimination  under  Title  VII.’    Therefore,  only  conduct  that  is  ‘based   on’  a  protected  category,  such  as  race,  may  be  considered  in  a  hostile  work   environment  analysis.    Jones  v.  UPS  Ground  Freight,  683  F.3d  1283,  1297  (11th  Cir.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             employees  was  facing  national  scrutiny.    Smith,  644  F.3d  at  1341.    Allegations  of   company-­‐wide  racial  intolerance  were  about  to  be  the  subject  of  an  ABC  television   news  investigative  report.    The  news  coverage  stemmed  from  the  racially-­‐motivated   shooting  of  several  African  American  employees  by  a  former  employee  who  was   also  a  white  supremacist.       19   2012)  (quoting  Reeves  v.  C.H.  Robinson  Worldwide,  Inc.,  594  F.3d  798,  809  (11th  Cir.   2010)  (en  banc)).    Vickery’s  evidence  falls  short.12        Vickery’s  hostile  work  environment  argument  relies  heavily  on  evidence   that  Ross  mistreated  him,  held  him  to  unrealistic  standards  and,  generally,  made  his   work  life  miserable.    Even  if  this  could  be  considered  evidence  of  harassment,  anti-­‐ discrimination  laws  “do[  ]  not  prohibit  harassment  alone,  however  severe  and   pervasive.”    Baldwin  v  Blue  Cross/Blue  Shield  of  Ala.,  480  F.3d  1287,  1302  (2007).     And  Vickery’s  evidence  does  not  demonstrate  that  this  mistreatment  was  based  on   race.     Vickery’s  primary  argument  is  that  white  subordinates  who  stood  up  to  or   challenged  Ross  became  targets  of  Ross’s  abuse.    This  evidence  has  no  probative   value  in  proving  a  racially  hostile  work  environment  because  the  workforce  under   Ross’s  command  was  overwhelmingly  white.  Thus,  the  modifier  “white”  to  describe   “employee”  is  almost  redundant.    Coupled  with  the  lack  of  evidence  that  any   nonwhite  employee  ever  challenged  Ross,  Vickery’s  evidence  proves  only  that  those   who  stood  up  to  Ross  were  targeted.13         Although  Vickery  does  not  specifically  cite  it  as  part  of  his  hostile  work   environment  argument,  Ross’s  “white  elephant  in  the  room”  comment  might  be                                                                                                                   12  Because  the  Court  finds  insufficient  evidence  to  prove  a  racially  hostile   work  environment,  it  need  not  address  Medtronic’s  Faragher/Ellerth  affirmative   defense.   13  Vickery  asserts  that  “[t]he  work  environment  created  by  Ross  was   characterized  by  bias  in  favor  of  persons  of  color,  regardless  of  what  they  said  or   how  they  were  performing.”    This  sweeping  allegation  mischaracterizes  and/or   vastly  overstates  the  supporting  evidence  cited,  which  is  the  some  of  the  same   evidence  the  Court  has  found  insufficient  to  support  Vickery’s  discriminatory   discharge  claim.    Supra  at  16.     20   considered  evidence  racial  bias.    However,  as  the  Supreme  Court  has  pointed  out,   “’mere  utterance  of  an  …  epithet  which  engenders  offensive  feelings  in  an  employee   does  not  sufficiently  affect  the  conditions  of  employment”  to  support  a  hostile  work   environment  claim.    Harris  v.  Forklift  Sys.,  Inc.,  510  U.S.  17,  21  (1993)  (quoting   Meritor  Svgs.  Bank,  FSB  v.  Vinson,  477  U.S.  57,  67  (1986)).    On  the  spectrum  of   objectionable  conduct—from  severe  to  merely  offensive—the  “white  elephant”   comment  falls  squarely  at  the  low  end.    The  comment-­‐-­‐even  when  considered  in  the   totality  of  the  circumstance  (i.e.,  Ross  was  a  difficult  boss  who  did  not  treat  Vickery   well  and  targeted  employees  who  stood  up  to  him)14  the  comment  does  not  create   an  actionable  hostile  work  environment  .15     Retaliation  Claims     Vickery  has  asserted  retaliation  claims  based  on:  (1)  Medtronic’s  refusal  to   transfer  him  prior  to  his  termination  and  (2)  Medtronic’s  refusal  to  rehire  him  to  a   different  position  shortly  after  his  termination.    The  parties  agree  that  these   retaliation  claims  should  be  evaluated  under  the  McDonnell  Douglas  burden-­‐shifting   framework.    Hurlbert  v.  St.  Mary’s  Health  Care  Sys.,  Inc.,  439  F.3d  1286,  1297  (11th   Cir.  2006).      First,  the  plaintiff  must  establish  a  prima  facie  case  of  retaliation.    Id.    If   the  plaintiff  meets  this  burden,  the  defendant  must  articulate  a  legitimate  non-­‐                                                                                                                 14  The  term  “elephant  in  the  room”  refers  to  an  obvious  problem  that  is  not   acknowledged,  while  the  term  “white  elephant”  refers  to  a  costly  object  that   provides  little  reward  or  profit    See    www.merriam-­‐   15  Both  parties’  proposed  findings  of  fact  have  devoted  considerable  attention   to  events  surrounding  Vickery’s  remark  about  leaving  Ross  in  Mississippi.  Neither   party  has  explained  the  relevance  of  these  events  to  any  particular  claim.  It  does  not   support  the  hostile  work  environment  claim,  if  that  is  its  purpose.    Ross  believed   Vickery’s  remark,  as  it  was  repeated  to  him,  to  be  racist  and  reported  it  to  Human   Resources.    Reporting  a  remark  with  racial  overtones  is  not  race-­‐based  harassment.         21   retaliatory  reason  for  its  action.    If  the  defendant  does  so,  then  the  plaintiff  must   prove  that  the  proffered  reason  is  pretextual.    The  success  or  failure  of  Vickery’s   retaliation  claims  depends  on  his  ability  to  prove  a  prima  facie  case,  since  that  is  the   only  challenge  Medtronic  has  raised  on  summary  judgment.      “To  establish  a  prima   facie  case  of  retaliation  under  Title  VII,  ‘the  plaintiff  must  show  (1)  that  [he]  engaged   in  statutorily  protected  expression;  (2)  that  [he]  suffered  an  adverse  employment   action;  and  (3)  that  there  is  some  causal  relation  between  the  two  events.’”    Thomas   v.  Cooper  Lighting,  Inc.,  506  F.3d  1361,  1363  (11th  Cir.  2007)  (per  curiam).         Medtronic  argues  that  Vickery  cannot  establish  a  causal  connection  between   his  complaints  about  discrimination  and  either  of  the  adverse  employment  action.     Vickery  complained  three  times  that  he  believed  his  was  the  victim  of  racial   discrimination:    (1)  to  Laura  Neuenschwander  in  January  or  February  2012;  (2)  to   Heidi  Meyer  in  April  or  May  of  2012;  and  (3)  to  Laura  Neuenschwander  in  late   August  2012,  a  couple  of  weeks  before  his  termination.  To  prove  a  causal  connection   between  these  complaints  and  Medtronic’s  employment  decisions,  Vickery  must   show  “  that  the  decision-­‐maker[s]  [were]  aware  of  the  protected  conduct,  and  that   the  protected  activity  and  the  adverse  action  were  not  wholly  unrelated.”  McCann  v.   Tillman,  526  F.3d  1370,  1376  (11th  Cir.  2008)  (internal  quotation  and  citation   omitted).    Close  temporal  proximity  between  the  protected  activity  and  the  adverse   employment  action  can  serve  as  evidence  that  the  two  events  are  “not  wholly   unrelated.”    Id.    “But  mere  temporal  proximity,  without  more,  must  be  ‘very  close.’”   Thomas  v.  Cooper/Lighting,  Inc.,  506  F.3d  1361,  1364  (11th  Cir.  2007)  (quoting  Clark   County  Sch.  Dist.  v.  Breeden,  532  U.S.  268,  273  (2001)).    “Very  close”  means,  at  the     22   very  least,  less  than  three  months  between  the  statutorily  protected  expression  and   the  adverse  employment  action.    Id.    Consequently,  Vickery  cannot  establish  a  prima   facie  case  based  on  the  first  two  complaints  because  each  was  than  three  months   prior  to  the  first  adverse  action  (failure  to  transfer).    As  to  the  remaining  complaint,   temporal  proximity  may  exist,  but  it  is  not  enough  to  establish  causation  under   these  circumstances.     Medtronic  contends  that  no  causal  connection  exists  between  Vickery’s   August  2012  complaint  and  the  retaliatory  failure  to  transfer  claim  because  the   transfer  request  was  made  after  it  had  begun  moving  toward  Vickery’s  termination.       Vickery  offers  no  coherent  response  to  this  argument.16    While  Vickery  might  argue   that  the  August  2012  complaint  and  the  refusal  to  transfer  are  not  wholly  unrelated   because  they  occurred  in  same  conversation,  any  inference  of  causation  based  on   temporally  proximity  of  these  events  is  negated  by  the  fact  that  Medtronic  was  in   the  process  of  terminating  Vickery’s  employment  when  they  occurred.    Cf.  Castillo  v.   Roche  Laboratories,  Inc.,  467  Fed.  Appx.  859  (11th  Cir.  2012)  (finding  that  complaint   of  discrimination  post-­‐dated  defendant  initially  contemplated  termination  negated   inference  of  causation  based  on  temporal  proximity).     With  respect  to  the  retaliatory  refusal  to  hire  claim,  Medtronic  argues  that  no   causal  connection  exists  because  there  is  no  evidence  that  Erik  Bruskotter,  the   person  who  made  the  hiring  decision,  was  aware  of  Vickery’s  protected  conduct.     Vickery  does  not  dispute  Bruskotter’s  lack  of  knowledge,  but  he  does  dispute  that                                                                                                                   16  In  a  three-­‐sentence  argument  directed  to  this  claim,  Vickery  states  that  he   had  a  conversation  with  Neuenschwander  on  August  29,  2012  in  which  he   complained  of  racial  discrimination  and  retaliation  and  that  he  was  terminated  on   September  11,  2012.         23   Bruskotter  was  the  decisionmaker.    Vickery  points  to  his  own  testimony  that   Bruskotter  told  him  the  Human  Resources  “put  the  kibosh”  on  his  hiring.    Thus,   according  to  Vickery,  “Human  Resources”  made  the  decision.    But  in  the  absence  of   evidence  that  the  person  or  persons  in  Human  Resources  who  vetoed  Vickery’s   hiring  also  knew  about  his  protected  conduct,  his  claim  fails.17   Conclusion     In  sum,  Vickery  has  failed  to  meet  his  burden  on  summary  judgment  as  to   any  of  the  claims  asserted  in  his  complaint.    Accordingly,  Medtronic’s  motion  for   summary  judgment  is  GRANTED.     DONE  and  ORDERED  this  the  3rd  day  of  February,  2014.                                     s/Charles  R.  Butler,  Jr.       Senior  United  States  District  Judge                                                                                                                     17  The  only  evidence  before  the  Court  as  to  any  specific  intervention  by   Human  Resources  is  Bruskotter’s  testimony  that  Victoria  Lambert,  the  Human   Resources  representative  assigned  to  his  division,  sent  him  an  email  questioning   why  Vickery  was  let  go.         24  

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