275 F.3d 179 (2nd Cir. 2001), 00-7203, Windham v Time Warner Inc.

Docket Nº:Docket No. 00-7203
Citation:275 F.3d 179
Case Date:December 12, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

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275 F.3d 179 (2nd Cir. 2001)




Docket No. 00-7203

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

December 12, 2001

Argued: November 28, 2000

Appeal from the judgment entered January 31, 2000 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Denise L. Cote, Judge) granting defendants motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs' employment discrimination claims.

Vacated and remanded.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Patrick H. Barth, New York, NY for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Katherine B. Forrest, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, New York, NY for Appellee.

Before: McLAUGHLIN and Pooler, Circuit Judges, and Droney, District Judge[*]

Pooler, Circuit Judge

Plaintiffs Ratha Windham, Vernell Curry and Gregory Wilson, all African-Americans, worked in Time Warner Inc.'s ("Time") accounts payable department (the "Department"). A reduction in the Department's workload required jobs be eliminated. Time chose to terminate plaintiffs, who represented three-quarters of the Department's African-American employees. None of the Caucasian employees was terminated. Plaintiffs brought suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Denise C. Cote, J.), alleging, among other things, employment discrimination. The district court granted Time's motion for summary judgment, finding plaintiffs failed to rebut Time's legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for termination. For the reasons given below, we find the district court failed to properly evaluate the evidence, and we vacate and remand.


Rationale for Terminating Plaintiffs

Windham, Curry, and Wilson are all African-American. The three were employed in Time's Department of Accounting Services, which receives, processes and pays bills for Time Warner Corporate and several of its affiliated companies. Mary Harvey, a Caucasian woman, managed the Department with her assistant manager, Fran Buonanoce, also a Caucasian woman.

Curry and Amor Zaide, a Filipina, were both accounts payable supervisors, responsible for processing invoices. Curry was responsible for A through L and Zaide for M through Z. In addition, Zaide handled bills from Warner Communications, Inc. and Time Warner Entertainment, two affiliated

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companies. Kathleen McLoughlin, a Caucasian woman, worked as a senior accounts payable clerk. Wilson and Elba Torres, a Hispanic woman, were the accounts payable clerks. Joyce Sherman, a Caucasian woman, reviewed and processed travel and expense (T&E) reports and invoices. Jack Simmons, a Caucasian male, was the Department's receptionist.

Windham supervised the printing and disbursement of checks to pay vendors. She also supervised the maintenance of accounts payable files and handled vendor inquiries regarding invoices to be disbursed. She was assisted by clerk Jerryl Bell, an African-American male.

In April 1995, Warner Music Group ("WMG") decided to pay its own bills, decreasing the Department's workload. Shortly after WMG made its decision, Joe Morello, Time Warner's chief accountant and Harvey's supervisor, told her she should consider reducing her staff. Harvey began to act on Morello's request in late summer of 1995, eventually deciding to terminate Windham, Curry and Wilson.

On Tuesday, October 10, 1995, Harvey met with Karen Mangione and Michael Watson, Time's corporate human resources managers. She identified the three African-American plaintiffs as the sole candidates for job elimination in the Department. Harvey's choices drew some concern. Priscilla Bijur, Time's vice president for corporate human resources, told Morello in an October 12, 1995 memorandum that "[b]ecause of the composition of the employees who would be affected, I would like to meet with you to review the rationale behind the selection of each employee to ensure that these decisions are being made without regard to race, sex or age."

Harvey outlined her rationale for choosing the plaintiffs in memoranda dated November 7, 1995. Harvey explained Windham's job should be eliminated because the disbursing group had lost work due to three significant changes: conversion from McCormick & Dodge ("M&D") software to Oracle software; elimination of WMG as a consumer of check-issuing services; and a decrease in check printing for two other Time entities. The elimination of the WMG work resulted in a decrease from 5,588 WMG checks printed in 1994 to 1,757 WMG checks printed in 1995. Reductions in work for the two other Time Warner entities resulted in a decrease from 53,175 checks to 44,978 checks.

Harvey initially represented that the Oracle software cut the amount of check disbursing work because each check had to be manually stamped with the M&D software, while the Oracle software printed the signatures on the check at the same time as the other required information. Harvey later admitted, however, that this was untrue and that she knew it to be untrue when Windham was fired. The Oracle software used blank check stock, while the old M&D check stock came pre-printed with the bank routing and check numbers. The risk of forgery, Harvey maintained, was greater with the M&D stock. Converting to Oracle, then, reduced security concerns, which alleviated the need to have a supervisor handle the blank check stock. Harvey said that while Windham and Bell both matched checks to invoices, Bell did most of this group's work. With respect to other functions of the disbursing department, Harvey claimed the disbursing clerk requested all backup, which had decreased since the advent of the Oracle system, and did all filing. Harvey stated she and Buonanoce ordered all check stock, envelope stock and traveler's checks. Finally, she indicated Windham and Bell both perforated check copies. Based on this description of the disbursing group's function and the breakdown

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of responsibilities between the disbursing supervisor and the disbursing clerk, Harvey concluded the group's work could be handled by someone in a clerical position and noted Bell already held that position.

Harvey also concluded that one of the two current invoice processing supervisors, Curry and Zaide, was not needed because of the change from M&D to Oracle and accompanying policy changes. Under the M&D system, Harvey said, the supervisors spent most of their day coding invoices, but management had decided to make each department code its own invoices under the Oracle system. With respect to those invoices that slipped through to accounts payable without codes, Harvey claimed Zaide routinely researched and filled in the appropriate code but Curry refused to do so and left them on Harvey's desk for Harvey to complete. In addition, Harvey said, M&D routinely generated reports which needed to be checked by the supervisors each day. Oracle did not automatically generate the necessary reports. Instead, Harvey ran reports each morning before 9 a.m. so checks could be printed and approved by 11 a.m. Harvey trained Zaide to run these reports, so that she could serve as backup if both Harvey and Buonanoce were absent. Harvey said she did not choose Curry as a backup because Curry was habitually late and thus could not do the job when it needed to be done. Harvey also claimed the Oracle software eliminated other jobs formerly performed by the supervisors, such as voiding checks and placing stop payments. Harvey gave Zaide responsibility for performing these tasks if she and Buonanoce were both absent. Harvey explained she did not ask Curry to do these reports because Curry's knowledge of Oracle was limited. Harvey also noted that since Oracle was installed, management had shifted responsibility for setting up new vendors from the Department to the purchasing department. Harvey concluded the reduced volume of invoices, along with the reduced responsibilities of the accounts processing supervisors, eliminated the need for one of the supervisors in the accounts processing group.

Harvey chose to terminate Curry. Harvey described Curry as chronically late, someone who left the floor without permission or notice, did not take her lunch at assigned times, closed her door when it was supposed to be open, spent an excessive amount of time in Windham's office discussing personal matters, and spent too much time on personal phone calls. As a consequence, Harvey said, Curry rarely finished her work on time and needed help from co-workers. In contrast, Harvey said Zaide often did inputting for clerks in other groups after finishing her own work and always took her lunch at the appointed time.

Harvey also decided that the Department needed only one key punch/data processing operator ("operator"). Harvey said her decision was based on changes in the Department, including: (1) operators no longer inputted WMG invoices; (2) the T&E clerk inputted all T&E reports; (3) Zaide inputted all the taxes and priorities; (4) Zaide or the Department managers inputted all magazine subscriptions; and (5) the decreased volume of invoices. Harvey recommended eliminating Wilson because he had excessive unplanned absences, was often late, made many personal calls and spent too much time talking to co-workers. In contrast, Harvey said, when Torres completed her own work - and Wilson's - she asked if anyone needed help.

Harvey notified all three employees they were to be terminated November 9, 1995. In an unrelated incident, Mangione fired

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Bell on January 23, 1996, after he engaged in unprofessional conduct in her office. Harvey was not involved in the decision. Harvey replaced Bell with Savee Beharry, a Trinindadian woman.

Equal Opportunity Commission

Windham, Curry and Wilson all filed complaints with the United States Equal Opportunity Commission. ("EEOC") in June 1996. Time responded with position statements asserting...

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