Morris v. U S Bank et al
ORDER granting 25 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge D. P. Marshall Jr. on 2/21/2014. (jak)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
AMANDA C. MORRIS
U.S. BANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION;
MICHAEL SHELLEY; and MIKE
1. Summary. Was Morris, who is white, fired by U.S. Bank because she
dated and then married a black man, or because she underperformed? She
says her interracial relationship was the reason, and has sued U.S. Bank and
two former supervisors, Shelley and Richardson, for discrimination. The
Bank says it fired Morris for low customer-loyalty scores, customer
complaints, and poor retail loan production. The Court has already dismissed
some of Morris's claims. NQ 20. Claims remain against the Bank under Title
VII and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act, and under 28 U.S.C. § 1981 against the
Bank, Shelley, and Richardson. NQ 20 at 7. All defendants seek summary
There's no direct evidence of discrimination- no racial slurs or overt
discriminatory behavior- so the Court considers Morris's claims through the
familiar McDonnell-Douglas burden-shifting framework. The analysis for all
three claims is the same. Lake v. Yellow Transportation, Inc., 596 F.3d 871, 873
n.2 (8th Cir. 2010). The Court views the evidence in the light more favorable
to Morris and draws all reasonable inferences in her favor. McCullough v.
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, 559 F.3d 855, 860 (8th Cir. 2009).
2. Background. Morris was a branch manager at U.S. Bank. She was
charged with overseeing her branch's team, attracting new business, and
keeping customers happy.
The record provides a mixed review of her
performance. She received many quarterly and annual awards, like the
Pinnacle award, which recognized her branch as one of the best nationwide.
She was on pace to get the Pinnacle award again in 2010, the year she was
fired. Her yearly performance reports, written by three different district
managers- Esther Jackson, Bill Fowler, and Mike Richardson- give a
The reports are long; here are some excerpts. The 2007 report, done by
Jackson, said Morris needed to focus on customer loyalty because she met the
Bank's expectations in only one quarter, and she hadn't reached minimum
loan production numbers. NQ 25-18. The 2008 report, done by Fowler,
showed that loan growth needed improvement. NQ 25-4. The 2009 report,
done by Richardson, said revenue was down and customer loyalty was low.
NQ 25-5. Morris objected to the 2009 report. NQ 25-6 at 1. She also says
Shelley, the Bank president in Arkansas, influenced the reports. NQ 40-1 at 25.
Based on the 2009 report, Richardson put Morris on an action
plan- notice that she needed to improve in certain areas. Failure to improve,
Morris knew, could get her fired. Among the things needing improvement
were customer loyalty and retail lending. NQ 25-7 at 1. Morris disagreed with
being put on the action plan; she complained to the Bank's ethics line that she
had an unspecified personal problem with Shelley, but gave no details.
Morris completed the action plan in June 2010. But she continued to fall
short of some benchmarks.
She missed monthly loan goals, had low
customer-loyalty scores, and had low business banking production in April,
May, June, July, and August of 2010. NQ 40-1 at 34. Richardson asked Morris
to address her poor performance in writing by 13 August 2010.
responded eleven days after this deadline. In late September, Richardson met
with Morris. He gave her a day to formulate a plan to get back on track. At
the same time, he asked U.S. Bank's HR department to approve her
termination. The next day, Richardson, with an HR representative present by
phone, told Morris she was losing her job. She asked to step down to another
position- a voluntary demotion. Richardson rejected the request and fired
3. Prima Facie Case. Morris's burden is not heavy, and she's carried
it. Putman v. Unity Health System, 348 F.3d 732, 735 (8th Cir. 2003). U.S. Bank
agrees that the law prohibits workplace discrimination because of interracial
relationships, including marriage. Morris was fired. She was qualified to be
a branch manager. This requires only a nominal showing, not proof, as the
Bank argues, of meeting expectations. Haigh v. Gelita USA Inc., 632 F.3d 464,
469 (8th Cir. 2011 ). Morris managed the branch for five years. She was highly
At one point she led the State in mortgage referrals.
according to Jackson, a former manager, Morris turned a struggling branch
around. Morris was, without question, qualified.
The causation question is close, but Morris's proof suffices. Jackson
testified on deposition that Shelley's general attitude toward Morris and her
branch essentially turned cold after he met Morris's then fiance- Chris.
Shelley visited less often and became more critical. Shelley also mentioned
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - -- - - --
Chris to Jackson, saying that he was a good guy or an okay guy. Race was
never mentioned. Jackson noted the comment, though, because she could not
recall Shelley ever making any remark about another manager's spouse.
Morris has offered some reports about other managers' performance in 2010.
Some were more underperforming than Morris. They were not fired. None
of these other managers were in interracial relationships. Finally, some other
managers had been allowed to take a demotion instead of being fired. Morris
wasn't. The standard for comparators is not strict at the prima facie stage.
Rodgers v. U.S. Bank, N.A., 417 F.3d 845, 851-52 (8th Cir. 2005), abrogated on
other grounds by Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031 (8th Cir. 2011).
Though Morris's evidence is not overwhelming, it carries her case forward.
4. Legitimate Reasons. U.S. Bank had good reasons for firing Morris.
Her performance issues are well documented. Mock audits done in 2010, for
example, returned low scores of 48% and 65%. NQ 25-12 & 25-13 . In a 2010
checkup, the branch got a rating of "Watch," which is below an" Acceptable."
NQ 25-14 at 1. After completing her action plan, Morris kept missing loan and
loyalty-score marks. When faced with another round of concerns in August
2010, Morris missed her deadline for a responding plan by eleven days. All
this adds up to legitimate reasons for firing.
5. Pretext. Facing these reasons, Morris hasn't shown that they were a
cover for discrimination. She could do this by undermining the Bank's
reasons, by showing that other, non-legitimate reasons motivated Shelley and
Richardson, or by showing that other employees who performed the same
way were treated differently. Anderson v. Durham D & M LLC, 606 F.3d 513,
521 (8th Cir. 2010); Ridout v. JBS USA, LLC, 716 F.3d 1079, 1085 (8th Cir. 2013).
Morris first challenges the Bank's reasons. She points to Jackson's
testimony that customer-loyalty scores weren't a good basis to fire someone
because these scores were too variable. NQ 40-3 at 7. Jackson left the company
in 2008; her testimony doesn't speak to the Bank's expectations in 2010.
Jackson herself emphasized in Morris's annual report that Morris's customerloyalty scores needed improvement. NQ 25-18. Keeping customers happy was
a big part of Morris's job, and her scores were often under the Bank's targets.
The customer-loyalty reason wasn't a pretext for discrimination.
A significant event form was filed against Morris because a large
commercial customer complained. Shelley's wife, the CFO of one of the
Bank's big customers, lodged the complaint. NQ 25-21 at 2-3. Morris says the
complaint stemmed from a misunderstanding and her branch wasn't to
blame. That the complaint came from Shelley's wife gives the Court pause.
But even viewing the customer complaint as a staged reason to fire Morris,
she hasn't shown, as she must, that the complaint was a pretext for race-based
discrimination. Barber v. C1 Truck Driver Training, LLC, 656 F.3d 782, 794 (8th
Cir. 2011). A reasonable fact-finder could conclude that Shelley fired Morris
in part because the upset customer's representative was his wife. If true, that
may be a questionable management decision, but it's not a Title VII violation.
Morris next says that race, and not performance, was the true reason she
was fired. Her proof on this point is thin. There's Shelley's cold treatment of
Morris and him asking about Morris's fiance. Morris says Shelley made
another racist remark to district manager Jackson during a party. Jackson,
who is black, complimented Shelley on a wall at his house. When she
touched the wall, Shelley said" if I find dirt on my wall tomorrow, I'm coming
NQ 40-3 at 17. Jackson also says Shelley treated black tellers
differently, but there are no specifics about when this happened or who was
involved. Jackson never heard Shelley make racist or discriminatory remarks
to Morris-she never saw them together. NQ 40-3 at 14. As to Richardson,
Morris says only that he acted on Shelley's instructions; she doesn't allege that
Richardson himself had any racial motive.
The examples of Shelley's mistreatment are too vague and too stale to
support a verdict. Morris leans heavily on Jackson's testimony. Jackson left
the Bank, however, two years before Morris was fired. Missing from the
record is any sufficient indication that Shelley, if he treated Morris differently,
did so on account of Morris's interracial relationship.
mentioned anyone's race. Nothing he said was disparaging to Chris Morris,
to black people, or to those in interracial relationships. No reasonable juror
could infer from all the circumstances that racial animus motivated Shelley's
and Richardson's decision.
6. Comparators. Morris says that other employees "similarly situated
in all relevant respects" were treated differently. Ridout, 716 F.3d at 1085.
She doesn't need to find someone who is her clone. The employee she points
to, however, must have been a branch manager, worked under Richardson,
been subject to the same standards, and performed the same way Morris did.
Wierman v. Casey's General Stores, 638 F.3d 984, 994 (8th Cir. 2011).
This is hard given the lack of information about her coworkers. Morris's
chart, for example, NQ 35 at 13-14, lacks context. It compares Morris with
other branch managers on some relevant factors like customer-loyalty scores
and incentive pay. But the chart is silent about other reasons cited for
Morris's termination. It's unclear whether the other employees lagged in loan
production, as Morris did, where they worked, and for whom they worked.
The information about K. K., D. M., and K. D. is likewise incomplete. NQ 35
at 17. Giving the offered loyalty scores all the evidentiary weight they can
bear, the comparisons are too inexact. Without more details, a fact-finder
cannot reasonably infer anything meaningful about Morris's treatment from
how these other folks were treated.
Morris's examples on the voluntary-demotion point suffer from the
same flaw. Some of those employees worked for other managers. NQ 40-3 at
8. Morris doesn't know how their performance compared to hers. And she
doesn't know the circumstances around their requests to step down. For
example, Morris is unsure whether their demotion requests came, like hers,
in the face of a planned termination.
Despite Morris's many awards, the record shows years of consistent and
documented problems in customer loyalty and loan production. A reasonable
fact-finder couldn't conclude that the reasons for firing Morris were pretexts
for discriminating against Morris because she dated and married a man of
7. Discovery. Morris alludes to some problems getting discovery on
the comparator issue.
NQ 35 at 12-13.
The discovery deadline, as
inadvertently extended, has expired, though. Compare NQ 22 with NQ 30. Any
snags should have been brought to the Court's attention by way of joint
report, NQ 30 at 3, or motion under FED. R. CIV. P. 56(d) or (e).
Motion for summary judgment, NQ 25, granted.
D.P. Marshall Jr.
United States District Judge
fef.nvo.tty ilOI t./
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?