United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division
Marsha M. Arnurius, Johnson City, Tennessee, and Charlton R. DeVault, Jr., Kingsport, Tennessee, for Plaintiff.
Melissa L. Taylormoore and Ronda B. Esaw, McGuireWoods LLP, Tysons Corner, Virginia, for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
JAMES P. JONES, District Judge.
In this employment discrimination case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 (West 2012), the plaintiff claims that her former employer engaged in racial discrimination and subjected her to a retaliatory discharge. The employer has moved for summary judgment in its favor, and for the following reasons, the motion will be granted.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND.
The following facts taken from the summary judgment record are either undisputed, or where disputed, are stated in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
In February 2001, the plaintiff, Tamika Bizzell, also referred to as Coco Bizzell, an African-American, began working for defendant Sprint/United Management Company ("Sprint") at its call center located in this judicial district. She was interviewed and hired by Christine Leonard, a manager, and by Lisa Johnson, a human resources employee. Bizzell points out that during her employment at the Sprint call center, she "regularly received company accolades, awards, vacation trips, including a trip to the Bahamas, and award certificates as a result of [her] superior job performance." (Bizzell Decl. ¶ 5, ECF No. 18-1.) She was also a top-rated "Platinum Performer" in recognition of her excellent attendance record. ( Id . at ¶ 10.)
On the other hand, the plaintiff's personnel file clearly indicates that her tenure had continuing problems relating to rudeness. She was first reprimanded as far back as April 10, 2001, when her supervisor determined she was "loud and rude and inconsiderate to her partner and those around her." (Domer Decl. Ex. B, Bates No. 00247, ECF No. 14-4.)
Feedback of this sort was typical over the course of Bizzell's employment with Sprint. In a July 19, 2005, Letter to the File, supervisor Jimmy Ramsey reprimanded the plaintiff for "Rude Discourteous Behavior" in a call with a Sprint store representative and listed thirteen "prior documentation[s]" concerning tone and rudeness beginning in 2003 until the date of the letter. (Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 10, ECF No. 14-14.) On January 12, 2008, supervisor Michael Robinson gave the plaintiff a First Level Corrective Action Notice "for rude and condescending behavior, " citing two specific calls. ( Id . Ex. 11, ECF No. 14-15.)
On September 26, 2008, Melissa Blaylock recommended Bizzell's termination, based upon three particular calls in which Bizzell displayed a rude tone. According to Blaylock, "[i]n reviewing the first 2 calls listed with Coco, she understood that her tone was bad. Coco stated that it was [because] she has a lot of stress and issues going on in her life." (Bizzell Decl. Ex. A, ECF No. 18-2.) Bizzell, however, asserts that the then-Call Center Director Ted Smith rejected the recommendation that she be fired, telling her that he knew it was simply her "accent"' misinterpreted as rudeness. (Bizzell Decl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 18-1.) Nevertheless, on September 3, 2009, supervisor Janet Mullins gave the plaintiff a Second Level Corrective Action Notice, when she was found "being rude, talking when the customer was talking, and at one point argumentative." (Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 12, ECF No. 14-16.)
Bizzell received a Third Level Corrective Action Notice from Mullins on October 14, 2009, after she was observed "overtalking and having a rude tone." ( Id . Ex. 13, ECF No. 14-17.) On November 5, 2010, the plaintiff received her final Corrective Action Notice, when supervisor David Smith "observed [her] being rude and unwilling to assist our store reps." ( Id . Ex. 14, ECF No. 14-18.) Smith warned Bizzell that "[t]here should be no further calls which can be identified as rude and unwilling to assist.'... Should any further incidences of this nature occur, further corrective action could result, up to and includ[ing] termination." ( Id .)
Bizzell does not deny that she did in fact receive these reprimands but claims that "[t]he white supervisors... used [her] black accent as a basis to fabricate several reprimands for allegedly being rude to customers." (Bizzell Decl. ¶ 9, ECF No. 18-1.) She further contends that "[t]eam leader Blalock and white team leader Jane Mullins periodically ridiculed [her] black accent and [her] habit of talking rapidly." ( Id .)
In 2011, the plaintiff was assigned to supervisor Jim Worley's team. As the only black member of Worley's team, Bizzell believes she was treated differently than her white coworkers, insofar as Worley "began refusing to assist [her] in resolving customer complaints." ( Id . at ¶ 15.) Worley warned Bizzell that she had "no room for mistakes'" and told her to "have a slower pace with [her] accent and the way [she] talk[ed] may sound sarcastic."' ( Id . at ¶ 16.) In May of 2011, Worley informed Bizzell that she did not qualify for a raise due to Ramsey's previous Letter to the File. Bizzell subsequently called Sprint's Ethics Hotline to complain about Worley's actions but made no mention of any racial motivation.
On June 28, 2011, coworker Mary Lawson, who was stationed near Bizzell on the call center floor, reported an incident to manager Christine Leonard. According to Leonard's interview notes, Lawson had "heard Coco  call her store rep a MF, she put him on mute (hold) and was saying that [she was] afraid [Lawson's] customers were going to hear it." (Domer Decl. Ex. D., Bates No. 00258, ECF No. 14-6.) Leonard began questioning other call specialists stationed near Bizzell. Trish Farmer did not hear Bizzell use profanity on June 28 but indicated that the plaintiff used profanity on the floor "multiple times every day. Her favorite word is the MF.'" ( Id . at Bates No. 00254.) Farmer hesitated to report Bizzell's use of profanity "because [Bizzell] is intimidating and [she did not] want to be [a] tattle tale." ( Id .) Leonard's typed notes indicated that Mary Cozart had said that Bizzell "has been using profanity on the phone, uses the MF word a lot." ( Id . at Bates No. 00263.) Heather Richardson and Christine Hensley did ...