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Payne v. Great Plains Coca-Cola Bottling Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

December 21, 2017




         This is an employment discrimination case arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (Title VII). Now before the Court is defendant Great Plains Coca-Cola Bottling Company's motion to dismiss (Dkt. # 11).

         I. Background

         In her complaint, plaintiff Samantha Payne alleges the following facts: on August 14, 2012, defendant, a beverage bottling company, hired plaintiff, a female. Dkt. # 2-1, at 2-3.[1] On January 31, 2015, plaintiff began working as an inventory control supervisor at defendant's plant in Okmulgee, Oklahoma; she held this position until defendant terminated her on January 19, 2017. Dkt. # 2-1, at 3, 9. As an inventory control supervisor, plaintiff reported directly to Brian Caldwell, the inventory control manager at the Okmulgee plant. Id. at 3. Caldwell, in turn, reported directly to Rick Randleman, who was the Okmulgee plant manager until defendant transferred him to another plant in August 2016. Id. In her position, plaintiff had the authority to discipline employees, and if there were a need to do so she would consult with Caldwell and Nancy Cummings, a human resources (HR) manager for defendant. Id. During plaintiff's five years of employment with defendant, she received performance appraisals only in 2015 and 2016, and they were both positive. Id. At all times relevant to this lawsuit, plaintiff was (and still is) married to Lyle Payne, a driver who worked for defendant when the events that form the basis of plaintiff's complaint took place. Id.

         In the beginning of January 2013, Bobby Sadler (a person plaintiff identifies only by name, but who the Court presumes was plaintiff's colleague) harassed Payne and several other women. Id. Plaintiff reported this to HR, and defendant gave Sadler a “verbal counseling.” Id. After this counseling, Sadler “became obsessed with wanting to know” who reported him to HR, and while the harassment stopped for “about two weeks, ” it then “began again and continued.” Id. at 3-4. In “March or April of 2013, ” plaintiff again reported Sadler to HR, but “instead of disciplining him, [defendant] promoted [him] to warehouse supervisor and he became [plaintiff's] boss.” Id. at 4. As plaintiff explains further, “Sadler and Caldwell were best friends and now Sadler was reporting to his best friend and [m]anager of the [w]arehouse at the time, Caldwell.” Id.

         In the summer of 2013, plaintiff was required to work two hours extra every day. Id. One day, Caldwell claimed falsely that she left early without telling him. Id. As a consequence, Sadler gave plaintiff a corrective action, which she “took . . . to Randleman, ” who “removed it.” Id.

         In “June or July of 2014” Caldwell tried to have plaintiff and a coworker fired for time clock fraud, and both plaintiff and her coworker received a “final warning.” Id. A “few months later, however, ” another employee “left the [Okmulgee plant] to go to the store while still on the clock, [and] Caldwell only gave him a verbal discussion.” Id.

         On January 31, 2015, defendant promoted plaintiff to inventory control supervisor. Id. “Caldwell was always upset about the reports of sexual harassment against Sadler and he always suspected it was [plaintiff] who had made these reports . . . .” Id. Accordingly, “[f]rom the very beginning” of plaintiff's tenure as inventory control supervisor, Caldwell would “load her up with work” and repeatedly complained to HR about her. Id. In April 2015, Sadler was “fired for sexually harassing more women.” Id. at 5.

         In November 2015, “Caldwell disciplined [plaintiff] for failing to discipline an employee who did not report to [plaintiff] for being on his cell phone. While [plaintiff] did not directly discipline this employee, she did report his violation of policy to his direct supervisor.” Id.

         In addition, Caldwell (at a time that plaintiff does not specify) “reported his suspicions that something untoward was going on between plaintiff and Randleman.” Id. While Randleman was the Okmulgee plant manager, he “repeatedly stalked” and “attempted to have a romantic relationship” with plaintiff. Id. Specifically, “he insisted [plaintiff] join him for lunch almost daily, ” “sent her more than 5, 000 text messages (including at times when she was not at work), ” and drove “past her home for no reason.” Id. On one occasion, Randleman's wife went to defendant's HR office, “causing . . . a scene” and “demanding [plaintiff] be terminated.” Id. at 6. Mrs. Randleman did this because she found the text messages between plaintiff and her husband and was suspicious of their relationship. Id. As a result of this incident, in August 2016 defendant transferred Randleman to another plant, and Heather Johnson replaced him as manager of the Okmulgee plant. Id. Immediately after Randleman was transferred, Caldwell “began his efforts to terminate [plaintiff]” because he felt Randleman could no longer protect her. Id.

         In December 2016, plaintiff reported Caldwell to Johnson because plaintiff “discovered that Caldwell and Phil Bosnick [the other inventory control supervisor] were taking time off from work without utilizing their paid time off, thus stealing from the company.” Id.

         On December 9, 2016, Jennifer Mitchell, the Okmulgee plant's night supervisor, told plaintiff that “she was worried about [plaintiff] because [plaintiff] was married to a driver and the drivers were bringing in the Union.” Id. at 7. Plaintiff did not know about the drivers' effort to unionize, but after her conversation with Mitchell, plaintiff “learned that her husband was in support of the Union.” Id. Plaintiff was never “in support of the Union, but she did think the drivers needed to go outside of [defendant] to get change because management wasn't listening to the drivers.” Id. On December 30, 2016, defendant's drivers “voted for the Union.” Id. On December 31, 2016, Randy Bullard, a transport bulk driver, told plaintiff he thought her job was in jeopardy because “the Union election was successful.” Id.

         After the union election, plaintiff's relationship with Caldwell was “more chilly than usual, ” and he “stopped replying to her texts and emails.” Id. On January 4, 2017, Caldwell texted plaintiff and asked her to meet in Johnson's office. Id. There, Caldwell and Johnson told plaintiff that on December 31, 2016, while conducting an end of year inventory audit, plaintiff said, in front of hourly employees, that two other employees who had been recently transferred had “gotten what they deserve.” Id. Plaintiff denied making that statement, but Johnson and Caldwell insisted that she would be “getting a corrective action in her file” for making it. Id. at 7-8.

         On January 19, 2017, Johnson and Cummings met plaintiff in her office and stated that “they had learned she was discussing her corrective action with hourly employees.” Id. at 8. Plaintiff denied doing so, but admitted to telling her husband about the corrective action. Id. In response, Johnson and Cummings stated, “this has nothing to do with [your husband]” and that “they didn't believe her;” Johnson and Cummings then fired plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff received no termination paperwork. Id. Plaintiff “believes Caldwell wanted her terminated because she reported Sadler's harassment to [HR] and because of Randleman's infatuation with [plaintiff]. Coupled with the successful election of the Union . . . it was time to get rid of [Plaintiff].” Id. at 9. Upon plaintiff's termination, “Caldwell and Johnson asked an hourly associate, Kelly Hardenger, to make a list of anything in the past that [plaintiff] may have done that was against policy.” Id. In addition, “several other former coworkers of [plaintiff] have stated that [Caldwell] was questioning them about [plaintiff] after her termination.” Id.

         After defendant terminated plaintiff, plaintiff contacted “as many employees as she could who had been in the break room the night of the audit, ” and “none of them were interviewed by Johnson, Caldwell, or Cummings.” Id. at 8. In addition, plaintiff contacted Millie Bennet “in the Coca-Cola corporate office and asked her to investigate her corrective action and termination.” Id. After Bennet investigated, she told plaintiff that plaintiff was “in the wrong, ” but Bennet admitted that the only people she spoke with were Johnson and Cummings. Id. “Several male managers and supervisors at [defendant] have discussed their own discipline and the discipline of others with hourly employees and have not been terminated.” Id. In addition, defendant has a “progressive discipline policy which was not followed in [plaintiff's] case.” Id.

         Also after defendant's termination of plaintiff (at a time plaintiff does not specify), Randleman's wife contacted her and “threatened to tell [plaintiff's] husband about the text messages” between plaintiff and Randleman. Id. “Apparently, someone had made a complaint to Bennet after [plaintiff's] termination . . . about plaintiff's relationship with Randleman, which prompted an investigation . . . .” Id. And Mrs. Randleman was afraid defendant would fire her husband if defendant learned that he had harassed plaintiff. Id at 8-9. Plaintiff told Mrs. Randleman to “go ahead” and tell her husband, however, because plaintiff's husband already knew of Randleman's “infatuation” with her. Id. at 8. Mrs. Randleman then told plaintiff that if plaintiff denied any relationship with Randleman, he would help plaintiff get her job back. Id. at 9. Plaintiff agreed to this, and “[w]hen Bennet called [plaintiff] to ask if Randleman had kissed her, [plaintiff] denied this had occurred, even though it had, but only once and against [plaintiff's] protests.” Id. Plaintiff denied Randleman's conduct “because of the communications she had with Mrs. Randleman and her promise to have Randleman help her get her job back if she denied any inappropriate behavior on [Randleman's] part.” Id.

         On June 2, 2017, plaintiff submitted an intake questionnaire to the EEOC stating, inter alia, that the bases for her claim of employment discrimination were sex and retaliation. Dkt. # 13-1, at 2. Attached to her intake questionnaire was a narrative statement describing the discriminatory conduct. Id. at 5-7. On July 24, 2017, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination against defendant with the EEOC, alleging sex discrimination and retaliation. Dkt. # 11-1. Attached to the charge was the same narrative statement that was attached to her intake questionnaire. Id. at 3-5. On September 26, 2017, plaintiff filed this ...

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