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Rigo v. Apex Remington, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

September 13, 2017




         I. Background

         In this employment discrimination action, plaintiff, Brittany Rigo, alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, on the basis of gender discrimination and unlawful retaliation. Plaintiff, a female, began working as a receptionist at Remington Pipe & Supply Company (Remington) in September 2008. At the time, Remington was owned by co-founder, president, and chief executive officer Colby Forrester, who was plaintiff's brother-in-law. Plaintiff's sister also worked at the company and was plaintiff's supervisor. Mr. Forrester hired plaintiff, and she worked in a number of different positions. In the fall of 2009, Forrester sold the company to Apex Distribution, Inc., and it was renamed Apex Remington, Inc. (Apex). Apex was subsequently purchased by Russell Metals, Inc. (Russell Metals) in November 2012, and Forrester resigned as president of the company in April 2013 and departed on May 17, 2013. At that point, plaintiff was working as a Special Projects Coordinator in the company's Human Resources Department (HR), under the new HR head, Lucy Cravens.

         Plaintiff generally alleges that, after the management changes in 2013, she was treated differently than her male co-workers and was subjected to stereotyping. (Doc. 26 at 1). She specifically alleges that, when she pointed out grammatical errors in a brochure, Calvin Cannon, who was the President of Apex at the time, said she was “acting like a woman.”[1] For her retaliation claim, plaintiff asserts that, after she submitted a written complaint about gender discrimination to her HR supervisor (on June 25, 2013), she was terminated and was “given no legitimate reason for her termination. . . .” (Doc. 2-3 at 3, ¶¶ 14-16).

         Apex asserts that plaintiff was discharged from employment based upon a history of insufficient work performance and attitude problems. Apex has submitted evidence to support its position that plaintiff was terminated because she frequently failed to finish assigned tasks, exerted minimal efforts, maintained a terrible attitude towards others at the office, complained about every job that was assigned to her, frequently avoided work, played on her iPad, did shopping online, worked on homework while at work, and fell asleep at her desk when she was supposed to be working. (See Doc. 20-6, 20-7, 20-8, 20-11). Apex asserts that, during the time that plaintiff's brother-in-law (Forrester) ran the company, plaintiff's behavior was tolerated, and such behavior continued after Forrester left.

         Plaintiff's supervisor, Lucy Cravens, testified to the reasons that she terminated the plaintiff's employment. Ms. Cravens indicated that, when plaintiff was assigned a new job duty in electronic billing, plaintiff appeared uninterested in learning and, in the days that followed, plaintiff kept her office door closed. (Doc. 20, 20-5 at 1). Plaintiff then complained about covering the phones, even though Cravens had already given instructions as to covering the phones when the receptionist was away from her desk for more than a few minutes. (Id.). Plaintiff had informed other employees that she did not have to cover the phones, and she argued with Cravens as to why she had to cover the front desk while having to do other tasks, and plaintiff complained that the assignment was ridiculous. (Id.). According to Cravens, “[w]hen plaintiff goes into this mode she talks 90 miles an hour, and [Cravens told] her that the issue . . . was not just covering the front desk but . . . was [plaintiff's] attitude. Everything we bring to her she complains about or doesn't want to do or never does the job completely.” (Id.). Three days later, Cravens noticed plaintiff's door was again closed even though she was not completing much electronic invoicing. Cravens then sent plaintiff an email to confirm a conversation with plaintiff and to outline what was expected of her. Among other things, in her email, Cravens identified a “goal” for plaintiff to complete 30 to 50 invoices daily, and Cravens instructed plaintiff to keep her office door open so that other team members would know plaintiff was in the office and available to assist when needed. (See id.; see also Doc. 20-5 at 19).

         Cravens encountered “pushback” in a response email from the plaintiff, who questioned the setting of the goals and wanted clarification of exactly how far “open” her door must be. (See Id. at 19-20). Cravens explained that such pushback “is just an example of how every instruction with [plaintiff] goes.” (Id. at 17). Shortly after plaintiff sent the response, she sent an email to Cravens and Cannon, complaining about several instructions, job assignments, and supervisory issues. (See Id. at 22). Cravens further explained her decision to terminate plaintiff as follows:

Q. Okay. So what led to her termination? Why was she terminated?
A. This. Having to deal with this [referring to the communications and pushback from plaintiff on June 21-25] on a regular basis. Any other employee that I gave specific instructions to, I don't get this much pushback on everything. It - [the email] plainly states [the 30-50 invoices per day] is a goal. [Plaintiff] questions it again. The door open. She wants to know how far it has to be open. If it says the door is to be open, open the door. You want to argue with how far it has to be open? You can see the stuff that I - I dealt with on a daily and a weekly basis, anything. Anytime anything changes, anytime anything was expected, anytime there was an issue, this is what I dealt with. . . .
Q. Okay. Then why did you terminate her instead of just issuing a written warning?
A. The attitude and the drama, I was not going to deal with it anymore. I was done. Everything was a fight. Everything was a pushback. I couldn't before. Colby Forrester resigned on April 9th. He didn't physically leave until May 17th. I couldn't do anything with her before then.
Q. Why not?
A. [Plaintiff is] his wife's sister.

(Doc. 20-5 at 7, 9 [Dep. pp. 27-28, ...

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