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McNamee v. Starbucks Coffee Co.

United States District Court, W.D. New York

December 19, 2012

Sharon McNAMEE, Plaintiff

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Sharon McNamee, Gates, NY, pro se.

Margaret A. Clemens, Esq., Littler Mendelson, P.C., Rochester, NY, for Defendant.


CHARLES J. SIRAGUSA, District Judge.


This is an action in which Sharon McNamee (" Plaintiff" ) alleges that her former employer, Starbucks Coffee Company (" Defendant" ), discriminated against her, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (" Title VII" ), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (" ADEA" ), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. [1] Now before the

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Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Docket No. [# 51] ). For the reasons that follow, the application is granted.


Unless otherwise noted, the following are the facts of this case, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. Defendant operates a well-known chain of coffee shops. In 2004, Plaintiff began working for Defendant as a " coffee barista" in the State of Florida. In 2007 Plaintiff was promoted to Manager of a Starbucks shop in Naples, Florida. During this period of her employment with Defendant, Plaintiff received " consistent merit increases and promotions by meeting performance objectives." Pl. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 17.

On April 1, 2008, Plaintiff made a lateral transfer to become the Manager of a Starbucks shop in Gates, New York. At that time, Plaintiff was approximately 44 years of age. Pl. Dep. at p. 60. Plaintiff's District Manager and immediate supervisor was Ron Aylward (" Aylward" ). In or about July 2008, " as a result of a decline in consumer confidence and a reduction in comparable store sales," Defendant " closed more than 600 stores and laid off over 6,000 employees." Pl. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 9. At that time, Defendant terminated Aylward and replaced him with Joseph Rizzo (" Rizzo" ), who was younger than Aylward. However, Plaintiff remained as the manager of the Gates location.

Plaintiff did not have a good working relationship with Rizzo. Sometime during 2008, Plaintiff contacted Rizzo's supervisor, Zeta Smith (" Smith" ), and expressed her " concerns about [Rizzo's] leadership." Pl. Dep. at pp. 36-37, 89-90. Plaintiff again complained to Smith about Rizzo after Rizzo made certain changes to the work schedule at Plaintiff's shop without consulting her. Id. at pp. 93-97. Plaintiff also made complaints about Rizzo's management style directly to him. Id. at p. 75. On one occasion, Plaintiff had a dispute with Rizzo because he told her that she could not have a toaster in her shop pursuant to company rules, and rather than remove the toaster, Plaintiff contacted a former supervisor in Florida and asked for an explanation for why she had been allowed to have a toaster at the Florida shop. Pl. Dep. at pp. 75-83. Upon learning that Plaintiff had contacted the former supervisor, Rizzo told Plaintiff that she was being insubordinate. Id. Plaintiff eventually removed the toaster after Rizzo gave her a direct order to do so. Id.

In or about March 2009, Defendant transferred the female manager of another Rochester-area shop, Jacqueline Melia (" Melia" ), to a " lower sale volume store," and replaced her with a younger female employee. Pl. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 14. Plaintiff contends that such transfer was discriminatory, but she admits that she does not know why Melia was " demoted." Pl. Dep. at pp. 208-209. However, Melia's performance evaluation for 2009 listed a high number of areas in which she had problems, including the cleanliness of her shop, and gave her an overall rating of " must improve." Pl. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. T.

In April 2009, Rizzo gave Plaintiff a six-month performance evaluation, which indicated that she " met expectations." Pl. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 15. However, Rizzo's review indicated various areas in which Plaintiff needed to improve. In that regard, a few months earlier Rizzo had used one of Defendant's form questionnaires to poll the nine employees who were being supervised by Plaintiff, and they expressed dissatisfaction with her. See, Rizzo Aff. ¶¶ 6-7 and Ex. A. For example, none of the nine agreed that Plaintiff was " trustworthy" or that she " achieve[d] results." Rizzo Aff. at Ex. A. Rizzo had discussed

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the survey with Plaintiff, and she had agreed that she needed to improve her performance. Id. at ¶ 7.

In April 2009, Plaintiff became interested in making a lateral transfer to a Starbucks shop in Newport, Rhode Island. After expressing her interest in the position, Plaintiff was contacted by the hiring district manager for Rhode Island, Alida Kronsberg (" Kronsberg" ), who explained the application process and indicated that Plaintiff would eventually be interviewed by a five-person panel. According to Plaintiff, in order to make such a lateral transfer, she needed her District Manager, Rizzo, to give his approval and to provide her with a letter of recommendation. Plaintiff maintains that Rizzo permitted her to apply for the Rhode Island position and indicated that he would provide her with letter of recommendation. Plaintiff also asked one of her former District Managers, Sheryl Oltmans (" Oltmans" ), a female, to provide a letter of recommendation. Plaintiff contends that Rizzo spoke with Kronsberg about her by telephone, but that neither Rizzo nor Oltmans sent Kronsberg a written letter of recommendation.[2] A few days after speaking with Rizzo, Kronsberg conducted a telephone interview with Plaintiff. Kronsberg told Plaintiff that she would not be interviewed by the five-person panel, and that she was not being selected for the Rhode Island position. Starbucks instead hired a female who was under age forty. However, according to Kronsberg, at the time she made that decision she did not know the candidates' ages.

Kronsberg indicates that she made the hiring decision based on her perception of Plaintiff's qualifications, and not on Plaintiff's age or gender. In that regard, Kronsberg states that she told Rizzo that the position for which Plaintiff was being considered involved certain " complexities," and Rizzo indicated that he did not think Plaintiff was " ready to take on a store with [those] types of complexities." Aff. of Lida Walusiak (Krongsberg) at ¶ 11. Kronsberg further states that apart from anything that Rizzo told her, Plaintiff's answers to her questions indicated that Plaintiff was not a good candidate for the Rhode Island managerial position. Id. at ¶ par 6-7 (" Based on Plaintiff's responses to my questions, I did not believe that it was within Plaintiff's ability to consistently hold employees accountable for meeting Starbucks' standards.... I felt she did not use corrective action as a tool to maintain and implement Starbucks' standards and help employees understand what is expected of them. I also felt that Plaintiff had difficulty managing her direct reports and would opt to transfer an employee as opposed to working to improve the employee's behavior.... I did not have similar concerns with the two female employees whom I recommended for the next step in the process." ). In addition, Plaintiff admits that she and Kronsberg discussed the fact that the Gates shop, which Plaintiff was managing, " wasn't producing financially," and was " $50,000.00 in the hole." Pl. Dep. at pp. 180-181.

In May 2009, " as a result of Starbuck's downturn in business and corporate-wide restructuring," Defendant closed the Gates shop that Plaintiff managed. Pl. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 20. At that time, Rizzo was still Plaintiff's supervisor. Rizzo terminated certain employees at that time, some of whom were female or over the age of forty. For example, a female manager, Kathleen Amico (" Amico" ), was terminated and replaced by a younger female. Rizzo contends, though, that in connection with this restructuring, he merely ranked store

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managers based on age-neutral and gender-neutral factors, and terminated the managers with the lowest rankings. See, Rizzo Aff. at ¶ 13. [3] Rizzo did not terminate Plaintiff, but instead, transferred her to the position of Manager of the Starbucks shop at the Marketplace Mall in Henrietta, New York. As a result of that transfer, Rizzo no longer supervised Plaintiff. Plaintiff's new District Manager was Charles Robbins (" Robbins" ).

Defendant indicates that Plaintiff's performance problems continued at the Marketplace Mall location. Varino Aff. ¶ 9. For example, several employees complained directly to Robbins about Plaintiff's management style. See, Varino Aff. ¶ 9 and Ex. G. One employee, after receiving a negative performance review from Plaintiff, stated that the Marketplace Mall location had declined since Plaintiff's arrival. Id. (" We are losing customers left and right, or morale is at an all-time low, and our staff in general has turned into a revolving door. Since Sharon's arrival, we have lost 3 partners, and will soon lose more." ). However, Plaintiff contends that Robbins never told her that he was dissatisfied with her job performance.

In August 2009, Plaintiff became interested in applying for a lateral transfer to a Starbucks shop in Massachusetts. It is undisputed that under Starbucks' procedures, in order to be eligible for such a transfer, store managers " must be performing at ‘ Meets Expectation’ level or better, as determined by the partner's [employee's] manager." ). Varino Aff. Ex. H, P1191. Robbins told Plaintiff that he did not think that their Regional Director, Zeta Smith (" Smith" ), a forty-year-old female, would allow Plaintiff to transfer to Massachusetts, because of the problems that Plaintiff had with Rizzo at the Gates shop. Pl. Dep. at p. 130 (Robbins referred to the fact that Plaintiff and Rizzo had " gotten off on the wrong foot." ). Subsequently, Smith refused to grant Plaintiff permission to interview for the Massachusetts position.

Plaintiff maintains that such decision violated Defendant's policies, since her last performance review had indicated that she " met expectations," and Robbins had not expressed " any concerns" about her performance. However, Defendant maintains that Plaintiff's performance at that time was not satisfactory, for the reasons already mentioned. See, Aff. of Joyce Varino at ¶ 11 (" At the time of her request to transfer, Plaintiff was not meeting minimum performance expectations as determined by her manager, and thus, she was ineligible to apply." ).

In August 2009, immediately after denying Plaintiff's request to apply for the Massachusett's position, Defendant placed her on a 90-day performance improvement plan (" PIP" ). The PIP indicated that Plaintiff's " current performance rating" was " MI," meaning " must improve," and that she had to improve her performance in ...

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