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Davis v. Nissan North America, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

July 27, 2016

RICHARD H. DAVIS, JR., Plaintiff,


          GEORGE J HAZEL United States District Judge.

         This is a race discrimination and retaliation case brought by Plaintiff Richard H. Davis. Jr.. an African-American male, against his farmer employer. Nissan North America. Inc. (“Nissan”), tor purported violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Nissan's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 32. came before the Court for a hearing on July 15. 2016.[1] For the reasons that follow, Nissan's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted, and this action is dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         Nissan is an automobile manufacturer that sells vehicles throughout the United States. ECF No. 1 ¶ 4; ECF No. 15 ¶ 4. Davis was employed by Nissan beginning in 1996 and continuing until his termination in August 2013. ECF No. 1110; ECF No. 15 ¶10: ECF No. 32- 3 at 29.[3] Davis started in the company as a technical support specialist and was later promoted to the position of dealer technical specialist ("DTS"). The obligations of a DTS include assisting in resolving vehicle repairs that dealer technicians were unable to diagnose and repair; analyzing dealer service department operations and providing constructive feedback to dealership management and Nissan regional staff; performing incident investigations and preparing related reports; conducting evaluations of customer "'buy-back" vehicles when repairs were unsatisfactory;[4] and acting as Nissan's representative in Better Business Bureau arbitrations and "Lemon Law" cases. ECF No. 32-3 at 33: ECF No. 32-4 at 3-4.

         Between roughly 2009 and 2011. Davis worked as a DTS under the supervision of Rhonda Calico. See ECF No. 35-5 at 14; ECF No. 40-1 at 2. In addition to Davis. Calico was responsible for supervising six other DTS employees, all of whom were Caucasian. ECF No. 35-5 at 3. According to Calico. Davis, who is African-American. ECF No. 32-3 at 3, was a professional employee who had a good rapport with customers and colleagues, ECF No. 35-5 at 5. During her deposition, she could not recall Davis ever having attendance problems, nor did she ever receive complaints from other employees or from Nissan dealers about him. hi. at 6. Calico described Davis as a "star performer." whose work was comparable to or better than the other DTS employees whom Calico supervised. Id. at 7. In her annual evaluations of Davis" performance. Calico explained that Davis was "a skilled and seasoned professional" who ""displays and maintains an effective and consistent level of performance with results that meet and sometimes exceed position expectations." ECF No. 35-6 at 2. She further explained that Davis ""displayed] a thorough knowledge of technical aptitude." Id. at 3. In each category of her performance appraisal. Calico rated Davis' performance as meeting or exceeding Nissan's expectations. Id. at 2-3.

         Throughout the course of his employment with Nissan. Davis received various letters recognizing and commending his work. See ECF No. 35-4 at 4-30. For instance, in November 2010, the Regional Vice President and Regional General Manager for the Northeast Region of Nissan wrote to Davis stating this his "efforts in the field have a significant impact on [Nissan's] customers and dealers alike" and that his "training and professionalism distinguish [the] franchise as truly Tier 1!" ECF No. 35-4 at 4.

         In October 2011. Calico was demoted and Davis began reporting to a new supervisor. Cristin Adinolfi who is Caucasian. ECF No. 35-7 at 4; ECF No. 40-1 at 3. Adinolfi took over the supervisory duties of the same DTS employees that Calico had previously supervised. ECF No. 35-7 at 9-10. Shortly after she began working as the DTS supervisor. Adinolfi and Calico met to discuss the performance of the DTS employees. Adinolfi recalled that Calico had a favorable view of the group as a whole, but could not recall any impressions Calico had of the individual employees. Id. at 27-28. Although Calico no longer had supervisory power over the DTS employees, in her new role, she maintained daily contact with the DTS team. See ECF No. 35-5 at 14: ECF No. 40-1 at 2-3. Additionally, although Calico reported to a different manager. Adinolfi oversaw Calico's day-to-day responsibilities, as well. ECF No. 40-1 at 4.

         In one incident in November 2011. Adinolfi disciplined Davis for what she perceived to be an improper use of a corporate credit card.[5] See ECF No. 32-3 at 6-8. Davis had been out on personal leave in California and used his company card to put gas in a vehicle that he was driving. See Id. at 54. According to Davis, he was driving a buy-back vehicle for a fellow DTS. Id. at 54; see also ECF No. 35-7 at 33. thus, in his view, he was on a work assignment when he used his corporate card, despite the fact that he used it while on approved leave. See ECF No. 35-5 at 12-14; see also ECF No. 35-1 at 15. Adinolfi agreed that DTS employees are permitted to use the company credit card when putting fuel in a buy-back vehicle as long as it was being driven during the normal course of business, and she also agreed that it was possible for employees to do business work while out on approved leave. ECF No. 35-7 at 31, 34. Adinolfi contacted the manager in California, however, who had no knowledge of Davis being in California. Id. at 34. Adinolfi ultimately rejected Davis" expense report for that charge, as well as for other instances in which Davis made a fuel purchase on weekends. See Id. at 44. Davis subsequently reimbursed Nissan for those fuel expenses. Id. at 42: see also ECF No. 32-3 at 9, 55.

         Adinolfi then reported the fuel charge issues to a Nissan human resources representative and. on January 4. 2012. issued Davis a Final Written Warning, informing him that "[a]ny future actions by [him] during the balance of [his] employment that reflect substandard judgment, integrity concerns, violation of policy or behavior that would warrant corrective action will be grounds for immediate termination ....” ECF No. 32-3 at 54-55.[6] On January 8. 2012, Davis wrote a letter to Adinolfi explaining his position with respect to the credit card charges, specifically, that he was unaware of any Nissan policy preventing an employee from using a company card to pay for fuel put in a company vehicle on weekends. Id. at 56. He noted, however, that he was willing to "work as hard as [he] can to improve communication, provide feedback, and help [Adinolfi] bestow the best service that we can to Nissan and Nissan's customers." Id. at 57. Shortly thereafter, however. Davis wrote an email to Adinolfi arguing that "[t]his hazardous and hostile series of events must be explained and stopped." though he did not indicate in that email that he believed he was being singled out because of his race. Id. at 58.

         Adinolfi also accused Davis of not completing a work assignment in December 2011. On November 2. 2011, Adinolfi informed all of the DTS employees she supervised that they were required to visit certain Nissan dealers by December 2. 2011. ECF No. 35-8 at 4. Davis, however, was on his approved leave in California for part of that time, so Adinolfi granted him an extension to complete the dealer visits until December 22, 2011. ECF No. 35-7 at 45-46. In her deposition. Adinolfi testified that Davis did not complete the assignment. ECF No. 40-2 at 11, but in an email from Davis to Adinolfi dated December 22. 2011, Davis reported that he completed the necessary dealer visits. ECF No. 35-9 at 2.

         In March or April of 2012. when Adinolfi was preparing to give annual performance reviews to the DTS employees, she spoke with Calico to get her input, considering that Calico had been the DTS supervisor for the first half of that fiscal year. ECF No. 35-7 at 16-17. Adinolfi recalled that Calico had a favorable view of Davis' performance, but Adinolfi had a different impression of the quality of his work and, among other issues, had concerns about Davis' time management. hi at 27-28. Despite these perceived performance issues and the reported misuse of his corporate credit card, for the 2011 performance year. Adinolfi gave Davis a performance rating of 2.5. indicating that his performance "meets expectations." ECF No. 32-3 at 62. A rating of 1.75 or below is one that would result in an employee being placed on a 90-day performance improvement plan ("PIP"). See ECF No. 35-7 at 22; ECF No. 35-5 at 9. In that performance appraisal. Adinolfi commented:

While [Davis] seems to be very knowledgeable about his job. the focus on completing] tasks and closing the loop leaves room for improvement. [Davis] has missed customer appointments or rescheduled appointments] frequently. He does not always communicate these changes in a timely manner to internal and external customers. [Davis] does not regularly provide feedback emails as requested. Manager also feels [Davis] does not always understand the importance of tasks/duties assigned. [Davis'] performance will be monitored closely during the next fiscal year.

ECF No. 32-3 at 62.

         In August 2012. according to Adinolfi, Davis was late to a meeting with a customer at a dealership in Tysons Corner. Virginia. An employee of the dealership called Adinolfi to inquire about Davis' whereabouts, because, although Davis had confirmed the appointment, he was unreachable. Adinolfi attempted to contact Davis, as did other Nissan employees, to no avail, but Adinolfi eventually learned that he arrived late for the scheduled inspection. ECF No. 40-2 at 16-17; ECF No. 35-7 at 47; ECF No. 35-8 at 5. Then, in March 2013. Davis was instructed to inspect a vehicle owned by the general manager of one of Nissan's dealers who had complained that the vehicle smelled of mold after it had a water leak. Although Davis reported that he uncovered no issue, after the general manager complained that he felt his concerns were being dismissed, a second DTS was sent to inspect the vehicle and found evidence of mold. ECF No. 40-2 at 18-21. 27: ECF No. 35-8 at 5. Adinolfi. however, could not recall or confirm whether an inspection by an independent third party company verified that there was indeed mold or mildew in the vehicle. ECF No. 35-7 at 53.

         When Adinolfi was completing her performance evaluation of Davis" work for the 2012 fiscal year, she did not consult with Calico, and she ultimately gave him a rating of 1.75. meaning that his performance was below expectations. ECF No. 32-3 at 82 83. Adinolfi placed Davis on a PIP in April 2013. Id. at 64-65.

         According to the PIP. the issues on which Davis needed improvement included that he lacked appropriate time management, his written work was of substandard quality, and that he engaged in "unprofessional and insolent behavior" toward Adinolfi. Id. at 64. The PIP required that Davis meet with Adinolfi once per week, typically by telephone conference, to discuss Davis' progress on the PIP objectives. Id. Davis was also required to provide a weekly summary of his work, including a brief description of each dealer visit. Id. The PIP warned that Davis was required to "demonstrate immediate and sustained improvement in the areas ...

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