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Duncan v. Coopervision, Inc.

United States District Court, Second Circuit

December 6, 2013

BRENDA DUNCAN, Plaintiff,
v.
COOPERVISION, INC., Defendant.

DECISION ORDER

MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Brenda A. Duncan ("Duncan"), brings this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, (codified at 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e) claiming that Defendant, CooperVision, Inc. ("CooperVision"), discriminated against her on the basis of her race, and in retaliation for her complaining of unlawful discrimination against her. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that she was denied promotions and advancement opportunities because of her race. She also claims that she was terminated from her employment because she is African American, and in retaliation for her complaints of workplace discrimination.

Defendant denies plaintiff's allegations and moves for summary judgment on grounds that plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation. Defendant further argues that even if Duncan has stated a prima facie case of discrimination, she has failed to demonstrate that CooperVision's reason for terminating her is pretextual.

For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted, and Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

In October 2006, Plaintiff, Brenda Duncan, became employed by Defendant, CooperVision, as an employee in the Distribution Department. CooperVision is a manufacturer and distributor of contact lenses. In October 2007, Plaintiff moved to the Packaging Department. Her position was Distribution Associate I ("Packaging Associate.") As a Packaging Associate, Plaintiff was responsible for routine activities in packaging lenses received at the Distribution Center. Plaintiff was one of thirteen individuals working third shift (from 11:00 p.m. to 7:30 a.m.) in the Packaging Department. The third shift employees reported to the Packaging Supervisor, who in turn reported to CooperVision's Director of Packaging Operations, Gary Viele.

In 2009, CooperVision rolled out a training and advancement program for the Packaging Department called the Job Level Progression ("JLP"). This replaced the previous, less formal, method of promotion in the department. All Packaging Associates, including Plaintiff, attended a slideshow explaining JLP. The slideshow outlined the steps that needed to be taken to move from a Level I Packaging Associate to a Level II Associate. The program required employees to be trained in five or more operations prior to being eligible for advancement. Additionally, to be eligible to advance, an employee must meet additional criteria including having no active disciplinary actions pending. Plaintiff was aware of the requirements for advancement.

After the rollout of JLP, in October, 2010, Plaintiff spoke to her supervisor as well as the department trainer, and the Director of Packaging Operations, Viele, about wanting to advance to Level II. At that point, Plaintiff was on disciplinary action for attendance issues, and therefore would not be eligible for promotion until October 2011 (barring any further disciplinary actions). Additionally, Plaintiff was trained on only three operations, and thus would need to be trained on two more in order to be eligible for advancement. Plaintiff thereafter trained on her fourth operation, and CooperVision offered to have Plaintiff trained on her fifth operation by a temporary worker. Plaintiff, however, refused to be trained by a temporary employee as she preferred to be trained by a facility trainer.

In October 2010, Plaintiff also spoke to Viele about how she believed she saw preferential treatment in CooperVision promotions. She stated that it "didn't look right" and asked Viele to "work with [her]." She said nothing about race. Plaintiff had seen three employees get promoted before her, but none were promoted after the JLP rollout. Additionally, none were on active discipline when promoted.

CooperVision employs a progressive model of corrective management to address employee deficiencies. For attendance problems, CooperVision utilizes corrective action automatically if the employee has more than six unexcused absences in twelve months. The first step of discipline is counseling. This remains active for six months. If there is another attendance or performance problem during this six months, the employee receives the next level of discipline, a written warning. Written warnings are active for twelve months. If there is another performance issue during the twelve months, a final written warning is issued. Any further occurrences while on a final warning (which runs for twelve months) results in immediate termination.

In June 2010, Plaintiff was given counseling for missing sixteen days of work in seven and a half months. In October 2010, Plaintiff was placed on a written warning for an unexcused absence resulting in three consecutive missed days of work. In December 2010, Plaintiff was issued a final written warning for failing to sign off on package labels (a production issue). In May 2011, CooperVision issued Plaintiff another warning for six unexcused absences in five months. On June 22, 2011, Defendant terminated Plaintiff for failing to initial, date, and sign off on labels.

DISCUSSION

I. The Defendant's Motion for ...


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