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Georges v. Dominion Payroll Services, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

May 4, 2018



          M. Hannah Lauck, United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Dominion Payroll Services, LLC's ("Dominion") Motion for Summary Judgment, filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.[1] (ECF No. 41.) Plaintiff Angela Georges responded, (ECF No. 54), and Dominion replied, (ECF No. 57). The Court heard oral argument on May 3, 2018. Accordingly, the matter is ripe for disposition. The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.[2] For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         A. Procedural History

         Georges filed her Complaint against Dominion on September 19, 2016. (ECF No. 1.) Georges's Complaint alleges one count: "Violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act [the 'ADEA']."[3] (Compl. 5, ECF No. 1.) Georges asserts membership in the class of people protected by the ADEA because she is over forty years old. She contends that Dominion wrongfully terminated her by intentionally discriminating against her on the basis of age. Georges claims to have suffered damages, including embarrassment, inconvenience, humiliation, severe mental anguish, pain, suffering, loss of income, litigation expenses, consequential damages, and statutory damages.

         Dominion filed a Motion to Dismiss, contending that Georges failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, which the Court denied. The Court held an Initial Pretrial Conference and set the case for a three-day jury trial to begin May 1, 2018. Discovery proceeded in accordance with the Initial Pretrial Order. After an extension of time based on difficulties Georges had with her proposed expert, Dominion timely filed the Motion for Summary Judgment. Dominion contends that no genuine issues of material fact exist, and it is entitled to summary judgment on Georges's claim of age discrimination.

         B. Factual History[4]

         1. The Process of Hiring Georges

         Dominion hired Angela Georges as a Benefits Implementation Specialist on April 21, 2015. Georges was fifty-one at the time Dominion hired her. The position was full-time, Georges was salaried at $21.15 per hour, and she reported to Laura Johnson, [5] Director of Benefits. Johnson also was the person who decided to hire Georges.

         Before being hired, Georges applied for the position online, and Lora Meade, [6] Vice President of Human Resources, contacted Georges and scheduled an interview. Georges went through four separate interviews: she interviewed with Meade, Johnson, David Gallagher, Chief Executive Officer, and David Fratkin, President. Johnson ultimately decided to hire Georges because, after interviewing Georges and reviewing her resume, Johnson believed Georges was qualified for the position.[7] On April 21, 2015, Georges signed her offer letter and accepted the position.

         2. The Benefits Administration Department and the Benefits Implementation Specialist Job Requirements

          The Benefits Implementation Specialist position was a newly-created position, and was part of the Benefits Administration Department, a new department of Dominion. The Benefits Implementation Specialist position's purpose was to provide Dominion clients with payroll and human resources support related to implementing regulations under the Affordable Care Act (the "ACA"). Because the Benefits Administration Department and the services it provided were new, the Benefits Implementation Specialist position involved utilizing technology and products new to Dominion's clients and Dominion's employees. Before working at Dominion, Georges, like the other members of the Benefits Administration Department, had no experience either implementing the ACA regulations or using the software Dominion used to support its clients.

         The requirements for the Benefits Implementation Specialist position included:

(1) [An] Associate Degree from an accredited school with a minimum of three years of experience in employee benefits or equivalent combination of education and experience ....;
(2) [Understanding of] the functionality and intention of benefits administrative systems;
(3) Knowledge of all pertinent federal and state regulations affecting employee benefits;
(4) Strong analytical and problem solving skills;
(5) [Ability to be a s]trategic thinker who works well in a team environment, brings innovation, creativity and critical thinking to the table;
(6) [Ability to be] motivated, proactive and exhibit strong project management skills in order to meet client deadline in a timely manner;
(7) Excellent communication skills verbal and written;
(8) Strong presentation skills for online and on site client training when necessary;
(9) [Flexibility] to [work] overtime when necessary;
(10) Demonstrated ability to provide high level of customer service;
(11) Proficient knowledge of Microsoft Office programs, advanced knowledge in Excel; [and, ]
(12) Must be tech savvy.

(Job Description 1, ECF No. 54-5.)

         At the time Georges began working at Dominion, the Benefits Administration Department had been in existence for approximately two months, and had two members other than Georges. When the Benefits Administration Department began in March of 2015, Johnson was the only person working in the department.[8] That same month, Johnson hired Leanna Follis as a Benefits Implementation Specialist. Follis was fifty-three years old when Johnson hired her, and Follis worked at Dominion until May 2017, when she voluntarily resigned.

         While Georges worked at Dominion, she and Follis held the same job title and had approximately the same workload. Georges and Follis also went through the same training process. Johnson trained Georges and Follis in various ways, including "walk[ing] them through step by step how to work the system, [and] how to build the system" during weekly team meetings. (Johnson Dep. 20, ECF No. 54-2.) Much time during the team meetings was "spent on the technical aspect of building the system and some of it was spent on turnaround times, workloads." (Id. at 21.) Johnson also used the meetings as an "open forum" for her employees to ask questions. (Id.) Johnson "gladly answered" questions about how to perform the job functions when asked, and as part of her training process, Johnson spent time "sitting at [Follis's and Georges's] desk[s]... and answering questions." (Id. at 20-21.) Johnson also "always made it a point to seek out anybody that did not feel comfortable or [she] sensed ... did not feel comfortable, " and she would "help and protect [her] employees [who] made mistakes." (Id. at 22.)

         In April 2015, soon after the Benefits Administration Department had been formed, Johnson began "ha[ving] conversations [with her supervisors] about bringing" Jesica Gleason, [9] a Dominion employee working in another department, to the Benefits Administration Department. (Id. at 13.) Sometime between May and June of 2015, when Gleason was twenty-six years old, she became a Benefits Implementation Specialist. When she transferred to the Benefits Administration Department, Gleason underwent the same training that Follis and Georges had. Gleason worked alongside Georges for approximately two months before Dominion terminated Georges's employment. However, Johnson gave Gleason "probably five times the work" that she gave Georges and Follis because Gleason "asked for it, and she was completing the jobs and getting positive feedback from clients." (Id. at 36.)

         3. Problems with Georges's Job Performance and the Decision to Terminate Her Employment

         In addition to the training that all Benefits Implementation Specialists received, Johnson gave Georges extra training when she noticed Georges making mistakes. Johnson would "[s]it[] at [Georges's] desk, going over exactly what was done incorrectly, why it was done incorrectly, [and] how it could be done differently." (Id. at 22-23.) Johnson also gave Georges positive feedback for some of the work Georges performed. Specifically, Johnson testified that she recalled Georges completing one of the first tasks Johnson gave her, and Georges "completed the first few steps correctly and [Johnson] told [Georges] she was doing a good job." (Id. at 26.)

         During the two-and-a-half months that Georges worked at Dominion, Johnson received complaints from three of Georges's clients-the first one in May, the same month of Georges's hiring. Johnson did not document or discuss with Georges the first complaint she received, and instead "protected [Georges] about that initial complaint, gave her the benefit of the doubt, ...

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