180 F.3d 598 (4th Cir. 1999), 98-2035, Brinkley v. Harbour Recreation Club

Docket Nº:98-2035.
Citation:180 F.3d 598
Party Name:Elizabeth K. BRINKLEY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. HARBOUR RECREATION CLUB, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:June 14, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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180 F.3d 598 (4th Cir. 1999)

Elizabeth K. BRINKLEY, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

HARBOUR RECREATION CLUB, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 98-2035.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

June 14, 1999

Argued Jan. 25, 1999.

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ARGUED :

William Joseph Austin, Jr., WARD & SMITH, P.A., New Bern, North Carolina, for Appellant.

Sharon L. McConnell, Kilpatrick Stockton, L.L.P., Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF :

Carrie D. Storer, Kilpatrick Stockton, L.L.P., Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

Before WILKINSON, Chief Judge, and WILLIAMS and MOTZ, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge WILLIAMS wrote the majority opinion, in which Chief Judge WILKINSON joined. Judge MOTZ wrote a dissenting opinion.

OPINION

WILLIAMS, Circuit Judge:

Elizabeth Brinkley appeals the grant of summary judgment in favor of her former employer, Harbour Recreation Club (HRC), on her Title VII, 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-2(a) (1) (West 1994), and Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 206(d) (West 1998), claims. Brinkley, who was general manager (GM) of HRC, argues that she created a

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genuine issue of material fact on her Title VII claim when she put forth evidence that demonstrated that some of her superiors on the HRC Board of Trustees (Board) favored her termination because they lamented the loss of a particular greens superintendent who had publicly stated that he was not pleased to work for a woman. Brinkley also asserts that the district court made two errors in addressing her Equal Pay Act claim. First, she alleges that the district court based its summary judgment ruling on an affirmative defense that was improperly raised. Second, she contends that the district court erred when it granted summary judgment to HRC on the basis that HRC had established the "factor-other-than-sex" defense, 29 U.S.C.A. § 206(d) (1) (iv), because HRC had produced insufficient evidence that such a factor motivated HRC's decision to pay her male successor a higher salary. Because we determine that summary judgment was appropriate, we affirm. 1

I.

These facts, drawn from Brinkley's pleadings, affidavits, and depositions, are expressed in the light most favorable to her as the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) (stating that an appellate court reviewing a grant of summary judgment is required to view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom).

In October 1993, a group of homeowners in the Fairfield Harbour development in New Bern, North Carolina, having purchased their residential community's country club during Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, organized HRC as a member-owned club. The officers of the HRC Board hired Brinkley to be the club's business manager on October 7, 1993. Brinkley possessed a bachelor's degree in business administration from Ithaca College, but at the time she took the position as HRC's business manager, she had no previous country club experience. 2 Brinkley received a starting salary of $30,000. Her duties as business manager included: setting up and supervising the business office; organizing and maintaining membership records; coordinating insurance coverages; implementing contracts; maintaining corporate documents such as bylaws; assisting the Board in establishing budgets; supervising accounting, record-keeping, and reporting procedures; communicating with members; and selecting and maintaining a computerized point-of-sale system. 3

In January 1995, after a vote by the HRC Board, Brinkley was promoted to the position of GM of HRC. Shortly before they voted on promoting Brinkley, members of the Board discussed during a meeting

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with the club staff the possibility of promoting Brinkley to GM. Board members asked the staff whether anyone would have difficulty working with Brinkley in that capacity. One staff member, Dick Brandel, the greens superintendent, stated that he wasn't sure he could work for a woman.

HRC and Brinkley entered into an employment contract prepared by Brinkley on February 16, 1995. The initial term of the contract was three years and provided that her starting salary was $50,000. 4 Brinkley was eligible for cost-of-living increases as well as merit raises over the term of the contract. 5 Further, the contract provided that a two-thirds majority of the Board could vote to terminate Brinkley without cause. In the event of such an occurrence, the Board would be obligated to pay Brinkley for the remainder of the contract term. If, however, a two-thirds majority of the Board determined that Brinkley was guilty of fraud and abuse in the performance of her duties or of gross negligence, the employment contract could be terminated immediately.

At the end of Brinkley's first year as GM, the club had lost $166,111. At the same time, the Board became concerned about the poor working relationship that had developed between Brinkley and Brandel, the greens superintendent. Brinkley and Brandel became embroiled in a dispute regarding expenses Brandel had incurred. Brinkley concluded that Brandel had incurred unauthorized personal expenses and requested that he reimburse HRC. Brandel refused to reimburse HRC; Brinkley considered the refusal to be an act of insubordination and requested that the Board support Brandel's termination. A majority of the Board did not support Brandel's termination. Instead, the Board altered the reporting relationship between Brandel and Brinkley. After the Board's vote, Brinkley and Brandel were instructed that henceforth Brandel was to report to the golf pro rather than to Brinkley. Additional concerns over her job performance arose among members of the Board when Brinkley led a membership forum meeting in February 1996 during which the Board members concluded that Brinkley had made inappropriate comments about HRC's management and her relationship with the Board.

Dick Brandel eventually resigned from HRC in May of 1996. Later, Brinkley was informed that "you did not win with Dick Brandel leaving." (J.A. at 393.) Also in May, a Board member circulated a memorandum proposing that golf operations be made a separate autonomous operation headed by the director of golf and suggesting that Brinkley be demoted back to the position of business manager. Although this plan was never formally implemented, on June 5, 1996, Brinkley was instructed "not to micro manage golf." (J.A. at 393-94). A few days later, during a discussion with the golf pro, Brinkley expressed her anger with the fact that the golf pro had been communicating directly with the Board. Brinkley complained that this behavior was undermining her authority as GM. At the conclusion of their meeting Brinkley said, "If this [is] the way you're going to do it, you can sink or swim on your own." (J.A. at 37.)

On June 11, 1996, the Board had a meeting with the golf pro. After the meeting, representatives of the Board approached Brinkley and told her that they would have to abide by her decision to relinquish management of the golf operation on a temporary basis, but that the Board wanted a cohesive management team and was disturbed by the division of management. After considering their options, the Board informed Brinkley that her employment contract for the GM position would not be renewed as a result of her decision to give up managing HRC's golf operation. On July 9, 1996, the Board proposed that

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Brinkley continue at HRC as restaurant manager. On July 11, 1996, Brinkley informed that Board that she would not accept the position of restaurant manager.

Nevertheless, the Board decided to hire someone new to take over management of HRC. After an interview on July 13, 1996, James Paschal, who had eleven years of country club management experience, was hired to take on the position of chief operating officer 6 (COO) on a temporary, ninety-day basis while the Board decided how to proceed. On July 19, 1996, Paschal signed a ninety-day contract providing that his salary would be $1,200 per week plus free meal privileges. 7 This salary represented a mutually agreeable temporary arrangement based upon what the Board felt it could afford.

Prior to the termination of his ninety-day contract, the Board decided to hire Paschal as the permanent COO. On September 1, 1996, Paschal and HRC entered into a contract that provided for a salary of $75,400 per year. Under the contract, Paschal's free meal privileges continued. Additionally, the contract provided that Paschal would be compensated in the amount of $300 per month as an automobile allowance. The Board determined that $75,400 would be an appropriate salary on the basis of Paschal's prior salary history and information it sought from the Country Club Managers Association regarding the average salary figures at similar-sized clubs. At about the same time, on August 30, 1996, Brinkley took three weeks of vacation at the direction of Paschal. Upon her return, on September 23, 1996, the Board terminated Brinkley's employment contract for cause. The Board determined by a unanimous vote that Brinkley had been grossly negligent in the performance of her duties. Specifically, the Board noted that Brinkley unilaterally had terminated her management of the golf operation, had exercised poor judgment handling two problematic contracts, had failed to consult with the Board over personnel matters, had promoted an unqualified employee to the position of restaurant manager, had given misinformation regarding a capital equipment purchase, and had publicly aired her opinion that she did not...

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