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GUMBS v. HALL

June 1, 1999

BRENDA D. GUMBS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BRIAN HALL, DONALD J. SHEEHAN, THOMSON INFORMATION SERVICES, INC., A/K/A THOMSON LEGAL PUBLISHING, INC., A/K/A LAWYERS COOPERATIVE PUBLISHING, WEST PUBLISHING CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Larimer, Chief Judge.

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Brenda D. Gumbs, commenced this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). Gumbs alleges that defendants discriminated against her on account of her race and sex in certain matters pertaining to her employment. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a black female, began working for defendant Lawyers Cooperative Publishing ("LCP") in September 1993 as Senior Vice President, Human Resources. At the time, LCP was one of three legal publishing companies owned by defendant Thomson Legal Publishing Inc. ("TLP"), the other two being Clark Boardman Callaghan and Bancroft-Whitney. When plaintiff was hired, each of these three companies was operating as a separate unit, with its own human resources department. LCP was the largest of the three, with about 1000 employees and annual gross sales of $166 million.

In January 1995, TLP hired defendant Brian Hall as its President and Chief Executive Officer. He soon decided to combine all of TLP's legal publishing companies into a single unit. One result of this decision was that there would be only one human resources department for all the legal publishing companies, and therefore a single Vice President of Human Resources position. The new Vice President would oversee all of TLP's legal publishing human resources functions, and would report directly to Hall.

Hall asked several people at TLP for advice concerning filling the new position. One of them, Kathryn Downing, the then-President of LCP, testified at her deposition that she "highly recommended [Gumbs] to him. . . ." Affirmation of Thomas S. Gill (Item 39), Ex. A at 9. Downing, who left LCP in September 1995, testified that she spoke to Hall about Gumbs on more than one occasion that summer, and that Hall indicated that, based on the opinions of some other people within TLP, he had some reservations about selecting Gumbs for the position, although Downing stated that at the time she resigned, she had the impression from what Hall had said to her that he did intend to interview Gumbs for the position. Id. at 10-11.

Hall states that he also asked Anthony Vasile, who was the Chief Financial Officer ("CFO") of LCP and who had also worked with plaintiff, for his opinion about her capabilities. Vasile allegedly told Hall that although Gumbs had performed well at LCP, he did not think she had the experience to handle the new position, particularly since by that time, the late Summer of 1995, it was known that TLP was acquiring West Publishing Company ("West"), which then had 7500 employees and annual sales of around $800 million. Hall Affidavit (Item 31) ¶¶ 2, 4; Vasile Affidavit (Item 35) ¶ 4. The new Vice President, then, would have responsibility for human resources functions covering a far greater number of employees than plaintiff had dealt with at LCP.

Hall also sought the advice of Steven Mower, who was the Vice President of Human Resources for Thomson Professional Publishing, an entity to which TLP then reported. Hall asked Mower for his opinion of four persons, including plaintiff, all of whom were human resources managers within TLP. Mower states that he had been involved in the hiring of plaintiff, and had worked with her on a number of occasions since then. Mower sent Hall an e-mail message that was critical of Gumbs, saying that "she seemed very unsure of herself," that she had "dropped the ball big time" with respect to a number of matters, that she had "a total lack of credibility outside of LCP," and that "[s]he [wa]s not seen as a team player by any definition." Mower Affidavit (Item 34) Ex. A. Mower told Hall, "I don't think you have the horses to pick from inside," and that "it would be a mistake" to do so. Id. Mower did identify another one of the four persons addressed in the message as "the one I would recommend if you are determined to select from inside," but clearly he believed that it would be wiser to look for a candidate from outside TLP. Id.

Hall then directed Vasile to begin a search for external candidates. Vasile engaged the services of an outside agent, defendant Donald Sheehan, a professional executive search consultant. Sheehan's contract with TLP provided that he would receive $10,000 at the outset of his search, and an additional $10,000 if TLP hired one of the candidates located by Sheehan. Vasile Affidavit Ex. A. Plaintiff does not dispute that Sheehan was specifically instructed only to search for external candidates. Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 1.

Hall was apparently impressed by Greenawalt's credentials, for he eventually offered him the position. Hall did interview plaintiff on October 10, 1995, but she alleges that this meeting was a sham, as Hall had already made the decision to hire Greenawalt. Plaintiff claims that Hall simply wanted to give the appearance of considering her for the job in order to avoid a discrimination charge.

At any rate, Hall met again with plaintiff on October 12, 1995, and informed her that he had decided to offer the position to Greenawalt. Plaintiff's immediate reaction was to accuse Hall of discrimination, which he vehemently denied. Hall told plaintiff that he did not view his hiring of Greenawalt as a vote of no-confidence in plaintiff. Hall told plaintiff that he hoped she would remain at TLP, and she agreed at least to stay on for a few months.

Greenawalt began working at TLP in October 1995. In Spring 1996, TLP's West acquisition agreement had been signed. TLP then combined all its legal publishing operations into a unit known as West Group. West Group was in turn divided into two units, Publishing Operations (responsible for editorial work) and "Market Center Operations" (responsible for sales and marketing). Both of these two units were to have their own Vice President of Human Resources, who would report to Greenawalt.

Greenawalt offered plaintiff her choice of the two new positions, but she turned both of them down. Plaintiff states that she viewed both of them as lower-level positions than her LCP position because in those new positions, she would be reporting to Greenawalt, who in turn ...


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