United States District Court, D. Maryland, Northern Division
WILLIAM D. QUARLES, Jr., District Judge.
Jeraline Taylor sued Rite Aid Corporation (the "Corporation") and Rite Aid of Maryland, Inc. ("Rite Aid"), (together the "defendants"), for employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"),  the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended ("ADA"),  and the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"). ECF No. 1. Pending is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 15. No hearing is necessary. Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the following reasons, the defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.
In 1998, Rite Aid hired Taylor, an African-American female over the age of 40, as an Order Fulfillment Associate. See ECF Nos. 15-1 at 3, 15-2 at 2-3, 18-10 at 12. For the duration of her employment with Rite Aid, Taylor worked at the Rite Aid Distribution Center in Perryman, Maryland. ECF No. 15-3. In 1999, she was promoted to assistant manager, and in 2003, she was assigned to the Replenishment Department. See id. "The Replenishment Department is responsible for [e]nsuring that product has been moved from storage to the proper location to be picked by pickers to fulfill store orders." Id.
Taylor has lupus,  a condition that causes symptoms of "tiredness." See ECF No. 18-2 at 11-12. Her condition did not force her to take extended absences from work, but some days she was too tired to come to work or would need to leave for several hours to go to doctor's appointments. See id. In 2000 or 2001, she was approved for intermittent FMLA leave by Rite Aid to accommodate her symptoms and need to visit the doctor. See id.
As an assistant manager, Taylor was responsible for supervising drivers and stockers (together "associates"), and leads (other supervisors), at the distribution center. ECF No. 15-2 at 3, 6-7, 14. The associates had productivity goals which were tracked by a computer and reported on weekly. Id. at 6-7. One of Taylor's responsibilities was to monitor the associates' performance, and talk to them if they were not meeting their productivity goals. Id. at 7. This was referred to as a "counseling." Id. Taylor was required to complete counselings within a certain time-generally two weeks-from receiving the relevant data and record their completion on the computer. See id. at 9, 23.
From 2003 until April 2007, Karen Brown supervised Taylor. See ECF Nos. 15-5 at 5, 18 at 3. Brown conducted several formal performance reviews of Taylor. See, e.g., ECF No. 15-2 at 74. The reviews generally rated employee performance from "Unsatisfactory" to "Outstanding" in 15 performance areas. Id. at 27. In Taylor's April 2005 review, for example, Brown rated Taylor as "Very Good" in several performance areas, as "Meets Expectations" in several other performance areas, and as "Needs Improvement" in two areas. Id. at 74-77. Taylor received an overall rating of "Meets Expectations, " which meant that Taylor's performance was considered "standard" and her results "as expected." Id. at 77. In an addendum to the review, Brown set four concrete objectives for Taylor following the review, including: "Improve organizational skills" and "Start holding leads accountable for responsibilities[;] Issue counselings when needed." Id. at 78. Taylor's April 2006 review closely resembled her previous year's review, except she was only marked as "Needs Improvement" in one performance area. See id. at 79-82. She again received an overall rating of "Meets Expectations." Id. at 82.
On June 30, 2006, Taylor received a "corrective action" which took the form of a written counseling. Id. at 83. The incident was described as follows: "Jerri has had work performance that... does not meet the requirements for the position. She has failed to carry out her responsibility of conducting productivity counseling by the due dates given." Id. It noted that Taylor had not met her deadlines for March, April, and May. Id.
In August, September, and October of 2006, Taylor received summaries of her performance generated from computer data tracked by the company's "Performance Assessment Tool" ("PAT"). ECF No. 15-2 at 84-92. She received favorable assessments in a few areas, but in several others, including "Productivity" and "Attendance" counseling of associates, she received marks of "Unsatisfactory, " because she failed to counsel many of her associates "within two weeks of data availability." Id. at 84. On October 18, 2006, she received another corrective action because of her unsatisfactory results on the PAT assessments. Id. at 93. The corrective action noted that "[f]ailure to consistently adhere to the timely issuance of reviews as well as coaching, counseling and exception administration... fosters an atmosphere of associate dissatisfaction.... Continuation of this negligence will result in progressive disciplinary action and/or termination." Id. Following this corrective action, Taylor continued to receive poor PAT assessments. Id. at 94-99.
On December 20, 2006, the day after Taylor took a day of FMLA leave, Jen Lazor, a Human Resources ("HR") Manager, and Brown met with Taylor to discuss their concerns about her performance. ECF Nos. 18-2 at 18, 20, 18-7 at 2-3. They discussed her difficulties in timely administering counselings to her associates and suggested that these difficulties may have been caused by her lupus and FMLA status. See ECF No. 18-2 at 30-31. They also felt that the stress of her job may be exacerbating her symptoms. See id. at 22, 30-31. They offered to find her another, less demanding, job. See id. at 22, 30-31. Taylor refused their offer. Id. at 22.
In April 2007, Brown conducted another performance review of Taylor. ECF No. 15-2 at 100-03. In the written portion of the review, Brown wrote "Below Expectations[:] Jerri did not succeed with the tracking and counseling of the associates['] attendance and productivity... for majority of the year She needs to improve [time] management and multi-tasking skills. Jerri did show improvement toward the latter part of the year." Id. at 100. Taylor received ratings of "Needs Improvement" in six performance areas and favorable reviews in the other areas. Id. at 101-03. However, Taylor's overall rating was still "Meets Expectations." Id. at 103.
Beginning in May 2007, Charles Williams replaced Brown as Taylor's supervisor for the remainder of Taylor's employment at Rite Aid. ECF No. 15-5 at 5. Although they got along well at first, Williams soon began to give Taylor instructions through her co-worker, Cipriano Valdez, a male assistant manager, rather than speak to Taylor directly. ECF No. 18-2 at 10. Also, Williams spoke to Taylor at least twice about her tardiness in completing counselings for associates. See ECF No. 15-5 at 9-11.
At some time,  Taylor met with Williams to discuss filling an open position for a driver trainer. ECF No. 18-2 at 12-13. Taylor recommended Laurie Lockett, whom she believed was the department's "top driver." Id. ; ECF No. 18-6 at 24. According to Taylor, Williams refused to promote Lockett, because Lockett's FMLA status might affect her availability. ECF No. 18-2 at 13. Instead, Williams told Taylor that he planned to choose another driver to fill the position, who had only worked in the department for six months. See id. According to Taylor, she asked Williams: "You have something against people who have FMLA?" Id. at 14. He replied: "Sometimes it can hinder us if people just take off any time." Id. Taylor then informed Williams that she also had an FMLA, and he responded "You do?" Id. Taylor said "[y]es" and walked out of the room. Id.
On August 10, 2007, Taylor received a final performance review from Brown. ECF No. 18-8. She was marked as "Needs Improvement" in two performance areas, was otherwise rated favorably, and received "Meets Expectations" overall. Id. In the written performance summary, Brown noted that "Jerri has been able to complete the required appraisals and counselings by given deadlines.... She has improved immensely since her fiscal yearly evaluation." ECF No. 18-8 at 2.
On August 30, 2007, Taylor met with Lazor and Daniel McDaniel, Operations Manager of HR. ECF No. 18-2 at 17-20. Taylor informed them that she felt uncomfortable working with Williams because of his attitude toward persons approved for FMLA leave, and because she felt that he was discriminating against her on the basis of her sex by giving her instructions through her male co-worker, Valdez. See id. at 11, 19, 39-40. She requested a transfer to a different department. See id. at 18. McDaniel initially responded to Taylor by asking if she wished to transfer because Williams was the "first man [she] ever worked for;" Taylor told him that she had other male managers in the past. Id. at 19. Williams learned of this conversation before Taylor was terminated. See ECF No. 18-6 at 34-35.
Taylor did not take FMLA leave while Williams was her supervisor, because she was concerned about his attitude about FMLA. See ECF No. 15-2 at 42. However, shortly before she was terminated, she informed Williams that she was taking FMLA leave for part of the day to attend a doctor's appointment. ECF Nos. 15-2 at 43, 73; 18-2 at 16.
On September 19, 2007, Taylor met with McDaniel and Williams in the HR department. See ECF No. 18-2 at 24-25. They informed her that she was being terminated for job performance. See id. at 25.
The parties dispute which employees were involved in the decision to terminate Taylor. See ECF No. 15-1 at 8. In their interrogatory answers, the defendants assert that "upon information and belief, Plaintiff's supervisor Charles Williams and Human Resources Manager Dan McDaniel" were "involved in the decision making process to terminate Plaintiff's employment." ECF No. 18-7 at 4. However, Williams testified that he did not decide to terminate Taylor and did not find out about her termination until the day it occurred. See ECF No. 18-6 at 25-26. Before her termination, Williams was asked to comment on Taylor's performance by his supervisor Brent Hubbard. ECF Nos. 15-5 at 6, 15-6, 18-6 at 7. Williams told Hubbard that Taylor's performance "reports reflected that she wasn't performing her job duties as an Assistant Manager as far as just coaching and counseling, as far as issuing documentation to associates in a proper and expedient manner." ECF No. 15-5 at 9. Williams believed though that Taylor was "qualified" for her job. ECF No. 18-6 at 22.
Lazor testified that she was not informed beforehand that Taylor was going to be terminated. ECF No. 18-9 at 6. However, she said that "typically" she would be told before an assistant manager in the Replenishment Department was terminated, and she had been surprised that she was not told in Taylor's case. See id. at 12, 15. She stated that she "believe[d]" Taylor was terminated because of her performance. Id. at 15.
Angela Mayweathers, another HR manager at Rite Aid, testified that she also was not informed of Taylor's termination before it occurred. ECF No. 18-10 at 3-4. She also said that she would normally be made aware of all corrective actions, and other performance problems,  for assistant managers, because she was responsible for instituting training and other measures to help improve their performance. See id. at 17-18. She stated that she could not "recall seeing any corrective actions" or "action plans" pertaining to Taylor. Id. at 19. In response to the question-"did anyone bring to your attention ...