United States District Court, D. Arizona
Gail L. Rush-Shaw, Plaintiff,
USF Reddaway Incorporated, Defendant.
JAMES A. TEILBORG, Senior District Judge.
Pending before the Court is Defendant USF Reddaway, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 63) on Plaintiff Gail L. Rush-Shaw's single Title VII sex discrimination claim. Plaintiff filed a Response (Doc. 67) and Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. 71). The Court heard oral argument on April 22, 2014. The Court now rules on the Motion.
For purposes of the Court's resolution of the pending summary judgment motion, the Court considers the relevant facts and background, viewed in Plaintiff's favor,  to be as follows.
Defendant USF Reddaway Incorporated is a service company with operations in Arizona and the West Coast: it carries and delivers its customers' freight. (Defendant's Statement of Fact ("DSOF"), Doc. 64 at ¶¶ 1, 3; Plaintiff's Separate Statement of Facts ("PSOF"), Doc. 68 at ¶¶ 1, 3). Defendant maintains numerous terminals where the freight it ships for its customers is handled and loaded on trailers for delivery. (DSOF ¶ 4; PSOF ¶ 4). In 2007, Defendant merged with another freight carrier, Bestway. (DOSF ¶ 11; PSOF ¶ 11). Prior to the merger, Plaintiff Gail L. Rush-Shaw had been employed by Bestway since 1978 and, in July 2006, had assumed the position of Phoenix ("PHX") terminal manager. (DSOF ¶ 12; PSOF ¶ 12). Post-merger, Defendant employed Plaintiff, "at-will, " as the PHX terminal manager from January 2007 until her termination on March 25, 2011. (DSOF ¶ 13; PSOF ¶ 13).
As terminal manager, Plaintiff bore the ultimate responsibility for all operations of the PHX terminal, including day-to-day operational and supervisory responsibilities over customer service, meeting customer specifications regarding deliveries and pickups, administration, employee hiring and discipline, sales, claims, safety, and facility maintenance. (DSOF ¶ 14; PSOF ¶ 14). Plaintiff reported to Doug Schuster ("Schuster"), Defendant's Divisional Vice President, Southern Division. (DSOF ¶ 17; PSOF ¶ 17). Both Plaintiff and Schuster considered PHX to be an "impact" terminal, meaning that the terminal had relatively high operations and revenue, such that events at the PHX terminal could affect the company and be visible. (DSOF ¶¶ 9-10; PSOF ¶¶ 9-10).
Post-merger and through the economic recession that followed, Defendant significantly downsized its staffing levels company-wide. (DSOF ¶¶ 146-153, 156, 162, 173; PSOF ¶¶ 146-153, 156, 162, 173). In fact, between 2007 and March 25, 2011, the number of employees at the PHX terminal was reduced from 170 to approximately 70. (DSOF ¶¶ 148-150; PSOF ¶¶ 148-150). Additionally, unlike most of Defendant's terminals, the PHX terminal employed union labor, which affected Plaintiff's ability to hire and fire some classes of employees. (DOSF ¶¶ 15, 155; PSOF ¶¶ 15, 155).
Following the 2007 merger, Defendant learned of significant customer service failures and various internal complaints at the PHX terminal under Plaintiff's management. (DSOF ¶¶ 19-22, 66; PSOF ¶¶ 19-22, 66). In January 2008, following an audit of the PHX terminal, Plaintiff was issued a "Notice of Corrective Action" ("NOCA") regarding serious performance concerns, including significant customer dissatisfaction with the Phoenix terminal. (DSOF ¶ 23; PSOF ¶ 23). The NOCA warned Plaintiff that "should similar or other performance problems or misconduct occur at any time in the future, [Plaintiff] will be subject to discharge." (DSOF ¶ 24, Ex. 14; PSOF ¶ 24). Plaintiff's performance improved and her 2008 and 2009 annual performance evaluations rated her as "meets expectations." (PSOF at Exs. 37-38).
In 2010, however, the PHX terminal's customer service drastically worsened. (DSOF ¶¶ 29-33, 38-40, 91; PSOF ¶¶ 29-33, 38-40, 91). During the first three months of 2011 (January through Plaintiff's termination on March 25, 2011), Defendant received at least fourteen serious customer complaints about the PHX terminal and Plaintiff, including several threats that customers would cease hiring Defendant. (DSOF ¶¶ 41-65; PSOF ¶¶ 41-65). Defendant repeatedly stressed to Plaintiff that such complaints were unacceptable and could not continue. (DSOF ¶¶ 41, 44, 45, 47, 49-51, 53, 54, 57; PSOF ¶¶ 41, 44, 45, 47, 49-51, 53, 54, 57). After Schuster's supervisors expressed a "total lack of confidence" in Plaintiff's management due to the numerous serious customer complaints, on March 25, 2011, Schuster terminated Plaintiff's employment. (DSOF ¶¶ 65, 95-96, 102; PSOF ¶¶ 65, 95, 102).
On May 3, 2012, Plaintiff filed the instant suit alleging a single Title VII claim of sex discrimination in the termination of her employment. (Doc. 1).
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Summary judgment is appropriate when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support that assertion by... citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits, or declarations, stipulations... admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, " or by "showing that materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Id. at 56(c)(1)(A)&(B). Thus, summary judgment is mandated "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
Initially, the movant bears the burden of pointing out to the Court the basis for the motion and the elements of the causes of action upon which the non-movant will be unable to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the non-movant to establish the existence of material fact. Id. The non-movant "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts" by "com[ing] forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586B87 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (1963) (amended 2010)). A dispute about a fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The non-movant's bare assertions, standing alone, are insufficient to create a material issue of fact and defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 247B48. Further, because "[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge, ... [t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor" at the summary judgment stage. Id. at 255 (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970)); Harris v. Itzhaki, 183 F.3d 1043, 1051 (9th Cir. 1999) ("Issues of credibility, including questions of intent, should be left to the jury.") (internal citations omitted).
Moreover, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals "has set a high standard for the granting of summary judgment in employment discrimination cases." Schnidrig v. Columbia Mach., Inc., 80 F.3d 1406, 1410 (9th Cir. 1996). As the Ninth Circuit has explained, "[w]e require very little evidence to survive summary judgment in a discrimination case, because the ultimate question is one that can only be resolved through a searching inquiry'-one that is most appropriately conducted by the ...