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McBeth v. Shearer's Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division

September 4, 2014

RHONDA T. McBETH, Plaintiff,


GLEN E. CONRAD, Chief District Judge.

The plaintiff filed this action against her former employer, alleging violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 to 2654, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17. The case is presently before the court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted.

Factual Background

The following facts are either undisputed or, where disputed, presented in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (noting that all evidence must be construed in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment).

On October 28, 2010, Shearer's Foods, Inc. ("Shearer's") hired the plaintiff, Rhonda Taylor McBeth, to work as a Human Resource Generalist at its snack food manufacturing facility in Bristol, Virginia. McBeth received a starting salary of $60, 000. Less than three months later, on January 19, 2011, McBeth was promoted to the position of HR Manager and given a $10, 000 raise. At that time, McBeth was the highest paid HR Manager in the company.

During her employment with Shearer's, McBeth reported directly to Michael Shearer ("Shearer"), the Corporate Director of Human Resources, with a "dotted-line report" to Pam Herman, the Plant Manager of the Bristol facility. Shearer Aft: ¶ 8, Docket No. 25. Shearer, in turn, reported to Walt Fink, the Vice President of Human Resources. Both Shearer and Fink worked primarily from the defendant's corporate headquarters in Ohio.

Around the same time that she was promoted to HR Manager, McBeth began advocating for the vacant position of Safety Specialist to be filled. Her fiance at the time, Richard McBeth ("Richard"), had previously applied for the position. Richard was interviewed at the facility by McBeth, Herman, Sean Mitchell, and Greg Kennedy on February 4, 2011. Neither McBeth nor Richard indicated during the interview that they were engaged.

On February 7, 2011, McBeth sent Shearer an email advising him that Richard had been interviewed for the Safety Specialist position, and that the interview team was of the opinion that Richard would be a good fit for the facility. McBeth noted that Richard's presentation was informative, that he had "experience building a safety program from the ground up, " and that he demonstrated a "passion for safety." Bates No. SF 00076, Docket No. 25. The email provided no indication that McBeth knew Richard on a personal level.

Shortly thereafter, Herman advised Shearer that she had learned that McBeth and Richard were engaged, and that she was of the opinion that this was why McBeth had been advocating for Richard to be hired. Although the defendant contends that McBeth affirmatively "denied knowing [Richard] on a personal level" when she was subsequently confronted by Shearer, Shearer Aff. ¶ 19, McBeth maintains that she "at no time... attempt[ed] to conceal [her] relationship with Richard." McBeth Decl. ¶ 7, Docket No. 38-8.

On February 18, 2011, Shearer advised McBeth and Herman that he was "not overly excited about [Richard's] background and [desired] compensation range, " and that they "should keep recruiting for [the] position." Bates No. SF 00087, Docket No. 25. Several months later, on August 10, 2011, McBeth emailed a number of company officials, including Shearer and Fink, and advised them that she would be getting married the following Saturday, and that she wanted to "introduce the groom, ... Rich McBeth." Bates No. SF 00098, Docket No. 25.

During McBeth's performance review for 2011, Shearer advised her that he had received complaints regarding her ability to work cooperatively with other members of the Bristol management team. Prior to the review, Shearer asked members of the Bristol management team to provide feedback related to McBeth's job performance. McBeth received positive comments regarding her knowledge of HR functions and systems, and her ability to interact with hourly associates. However, the feedback also suggested, as McBeth acknowledged during her deposition, that she was not a "team player" and that she needed to be less confrontational with other members of the management team. McBeth Dep. 125, Docket No. 41. In addition, McBeth "received criticism for providing input into other areas, most notably Safety." McBeth Aff. ¶ 9, Docket No. 38-8. Shearer provided the following summary in McBeth's written review:

As evident by the 360 feedback and conversations throughout the year, Rhonda needs to focus on building better business relationships with her peers at the Bristol, VA facility. The Plant Manager has been vocal at times during the year on Rhonda's demeanor towards her and other members of the leadership team. At times Rhonda is seen as being difficult to work with and is quick to point out why the facility cannot do something instead of helping to find creative solutions to problems. Again the 360 feedback resonates the same sentiments. Rhonda has both the skill and knowledge; however, her delivery and style are perceived to be counterproductive.

Pl.'s Ex. I, Docket No. 37-9.

McBeth was admittedly "taken aback" by the performance review. McBeth Dep. 109, Docket No. 41. After receiving the review, McBeth sent Shearer an email addressing some of the issues that were raised. McBeth emphasized that the review had caught her off guard, but that she was willing to "move forward to do [her] best." Bates No. SF 00104, Docket No. 25. McBeth also noted that her relationship with Herman, the Plant Manager, was improving, and that Herman had provided advice on how to better communicate with her peers. Additionally, McBeth acknowledged that "[t]he safety role [was] not [her] responsibility to manage, " and that she was "working very hard on removing [herself] from any aspect of safety management." Id.

On February 10, 2012, Shearer informed McBeth that the company was considering a headcount reduction. He advised her that Shearer's planned to eliminate either the HR Generalist position in Bristol or the HR Manager position, and create a combined position. Shearer asked her to decide which position should be eliminated, and noted that she might be eligible for a severance package if she elected to nominate herself for the reduction. Because a severance package was not guaranteed, McBeth elected to remain with Shearer's and, over the next few weeks, assisted in eliminating the HR Generalist position held by Janice Herrell.

Soon after Herrell was terminated, McBeth began to express concerns regarding her workload. On March 23, 2012, Shearer traveled to Bristol to meet with McBeth about her new job duties and her objectives for the next 90 days. During the meeting, McBeth suggested hiring a part-time HR clerk to assist her in performing her job duties. Shearer explained that this may be an option down the road, but that he was not in support of hiring anyone at that time.

Nonetheless, the following Monday, March 26, 2012, McBeth emailed Shearer and advised him that she had scheduled a meeting with a candidate for a part-time HR position. In response, Shearer instructed McBeth to focus on the goals and objectives that they had discussed during their meeting. He also reminded her that while he was "not opposed to talking about hiring a clerk, " he was "not... on board" with doing so "at this time." Bates No. SF 00113, Docket No. 25.

The next day, March 27, 2012, McBeth emailed Shearer and Herman, and advised them that she was going to need to have shoulder surgery. She indicated that she did not yet know when the surgery ...

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