297 F.3d 438 (6th Cir. 2002), 00-5946, Prebilich-Holland v. Gaylord Entertainment Co.

Docket Nº00-5946.
Citation297 F.3d 438
Party NameCindy D. PREBILICH-HOLLAND, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. GAYLORD ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY, d/b/a WSM Radio, Defendant-Appellee.
Case DateJuly 18, 2002
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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297 F.3d 438 (6th Cir. 2002)

Cindy D. PREBILICH-HOLLAND, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

GAYLORD ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY, d/b/a WSM Radio, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 00-5946.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

July 18, 2002

Submitted: Dec. 6, 2001.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Mathew R. Zenner (briefed), Blackburn & McCune, Nashville, TN, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

J. Scott Hickman (briefed), Stephen P. Spann (briefed), Sherrard & Roe, Nashville, TN, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before SILER and BATCHELDER, Circuit Judges; HOOD, District Judge.[*]

OPINION

ALICE M. BATCHELDER, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Cindy Prebilich-Holland ("Prebilich") appeals the district court's grant of the defendant's motion for summary judgment in this action claiming a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). Specifically, Prebilich claimed that her employer, Gaylord Entertainment Company ("WSM"), discriminated against her on the basis of sex when it terminated her employment two days after she informed her supervisor that she was pregnant. The district court found that Prebilich had established a prima facie case of pregnancy discrimination as well as pretext, but granted summary judgment to WSM because WSM did not have knowledge of her pregnancy when it decided to terminate her employment. We agree with the judgment but not the reasoning of the district court. Accordingly, we will affirm, but for reasons different from those offered by the district court.

BACKGROUND

Cindy Prebilich-Holland began her employment with Gaylord Entertainment Company on March 14, 1995, and worked at the defendant's WSM radio station until November 26, 1997. Originally, Prebilich was employed as New Business Assistant to Ginny Speaks. On January 1, 1997, both she and Speaks were promoted, and Prebilich assumed the position of New Business Development Coordinator.

In July 1997, Speaks resigned her position to start her own business, and Prebilich decided to resign at this time as well. Until this point in her employment with WSM, Prebilich had received satisfactory performance evaluations, and none of her supervisors had expressed any concerns about her ability to perform her job.

Because WSM supervisors were concerned that the contemporaneous resignations of Speaks and Prebilich would disadvantage the clients with whom they worked, Supervisor John Padgett offered Prebilich some incentives to remain, including what he labeled as a $600 monthly

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"override" above her normal salary in exchange for her accomplishing a list of five extra goals, and $100 additional per month out of his personal funds. Padgett said that this arrangement would be reevaluated after approximately four to five months.

Prebilich accepted the offer, and almost immediately WSM began to receive complaints about her performance. Padgett learned, for example, that Prebilich had socialized rather than performing her duties at a WSM-sponsored Vanderbilt tailgate party; had failed to appear at a celebrity race to open the gate for a client; generally arrived late to meetings; missed deadlines; and took excessively long lunch breaks. Padgett also received reports that clients and support staff refused to work with her. In spite of these performance problems, Prebilich received all of her monthly bonuses.

At an unspecified time in late September or early October 1997, Padgett and another supervisor, Tom Laffey, met with Prebilich to discuss her performance. The three met again in late October or early November, at Prebilich's prompting. At that meeting, Prebilich admitted that she had "checked out for a short period of time" and that "[her] head was not 100 percent in the game," but that she would try harder. She also conceded that she had been interviewing with another radio station.

WSM's normal discipline procedure involves a four-step process. First, the employee is given a verbal warning; the next offense results in a written warning; for a third offense, the employee receives a final written notice. If there is another offense, the employee is terminated. Prebilich received a verbal warning, but WSM did not follow steps two through four of this procedure with her. Rather, when Prebilich's performance did not improve, her supervisors met privately to discuss initiating termination procedures. Prebilich's personnel file reveals that Padgett called the human resources department on November 20, 1997, to begin the termination process. The stated reason for termination was "work quality," and the discharge was scheduled to occur on November 25, 1997. Prebilich admits that she does not know when the decision to terminate her was made.

Sometime during the week prior to the Thanksgiving holiday week, roughly between November 15 and 17, Prebilich learned that she was pregnant. She shared this news with her co-workers Lisa Kay and Jim Knott, but she does not believe that they told Padgett or Laffey or anyone else at WSM.

On Monday, November 24, 1997, Prebilich informed Padgett of her pregnancy and told him that she would be needing time off for doctor's appointments. Padgett discharged her on November 26, 1997. In a memo dated November 26, Padgett states that Prebilich was terminated for failure to improve her performance, for untimely work product, and for lack of attention to her projects.

After he discharged Prebilich, Padgett placed at least three memoranda in her file. The first is a two-page, undated document detailing specific dates and instances of Prebilich's insubordination. The second is dated December 1, 1997, and reflects unsolicited comments by WSM salespeople who were unsatisfied with Prebilich's work ethic and product. The third memo, dated December 16, 1997, details sixty-seven accounts on which Prebilich had failed to complete work. Prebilich's file also contains a memo dated November 26, 1997, provided by another supervisor, which lists nine areas of concern over Prebilich's performance.

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Prebilich subsequently filed a claim with the EEOC and brought suit in federal district court alleging pregnancy discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). The district court found that the proximity in time between Prebilich's disclosure of her pregnancy and her discharge, coupled with WSM's failure to follow its internal discipline procedures, were sufficient to establish a prima facie case and pretext. However, the district court held that Prebilich's claim was meritless because WSM articulated undisputed facts proving that its decision to terminate Prebilich's employment was made before any supervisors were aware of the pregnancy. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of WSM...

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