561 F.3d 38 (1st Cir. 2009), 08-1685, Chadwick v. WellPoint, Inc.

Docket Nº:08-1685.
Citation:561 F.3d 38
Party Name:Laurie CHADWICK, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. WELLPOINT, INC.; Anthem Health Plans of Maine, Inc., Defendants, Appellees.
Case Date:March 26, 2009
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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561 F.3d 38 (1st Cir. 2009)

Laurie CHADWICK, Plaintiff, Appellant,

v.

WELLPOINT, INC.; Anthem Health Plans of Maine, Inc., Defendants, Appellees.

No. 08-1685.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit.

March 26, 2009

Heard Dec. 4, 2008.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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David W. Webbert with whom Matthew S. Keegan and Johnson & Webbert, LLP, were on brief for appellant.

Margaret Coughlin LePage with whom Katharine I. Rand, William P. Saxe, and Pierce Atwood LLP, were on brief for appellees.

Rae T. Vann and Norris, Tysse, Lampley & Lakis, LLP, on brief for amicus curiae Equal Employment Advisory Council.

Before TORRUELLA and STAHL, Circuit Judges, and GARCÍA-GREGORY, [*] District Judge.

STAHL, Circuit Judge.

Laurie Chadwick brought a claim of sex discrimination under Title VII,

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42 U.S.C. § § 2000e et seq., against WellPoint, Inc. and Anthem Health Plans of Maine, Inc. (collectively, " WellPoint" ), after she was denied a promotion.1 She alleged that her employer failed to promote her because of a sex-based stereotype that women who are mothers, particularly of young children, neglect their jobs in favor of their presumed childcare responsibilities. Having carefully reviewed the record, we are convinced that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of WellPoint and therefore reverse and remand for further proceedings. As to the second issue presented on appeal, we find that the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the expert testimony proffered by Chadwick.

I. Background

It is elementary that at summary judgment a court must view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the same. See, e.g., Flowers v. Fiore, 359 F.3d 24, 29 (1st Cir.2004). We emphasize this basic rule here because the district court's grant of summary judgment was due in part to a misapplication of this rule. Thus, we relate the factual basis for Chadwick's claim against WellPoint with this dictate in mind.2

Chadwick was a long-time employee of WellPoint, an insurance company, in its Maine office. She was hired by WellPoint in 1997, and was promoted in 1999 to the position of " Recovery Specialist II," which involved the pursuit of overpayment claims and claims for reimbursement from third parties. In 2006, encouraged by her supervisor, she applied for a promotion to a management position entitled " Recovery Specialist Lead" or " Team Lead." In this position, the successful candidate would be responsible for the recovery function for the region encompassing Maine, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. Because Chadwick was already performing several of the responsibilities of the Team Lead position and based on her supervisor's comments, Chadwick believed she was the frontrunner for the position. In addition, on her most recent performance evaluation in 2005, she had received excellent reviews, scoring a 4.40 out of a possible 5.00 points.

There were two finalists for the Team Lead position, Chadwick and another in-house candidate, Donna Ouelette. While Chadwick had held the Recovery Specialist II position for seven years, Ouelette had only been promoted to that position about a year earlier. In addition, Ouelette had scored lower than Chadwick, though satisfactorily, on her most recent performance review, receiving a 3.84 out of a possible 5.0 points.

Three managers interviewed the two finalists: Linda Brink, who had previously supervised and worked closely with Chadwick; Dawn Leno, the Director of Recovery; and Nanci Miller, Chadwick's immediate supervisor. Nanci Miller was the ultimate decisionmaker for the promotion but she considered input from Brink and Leno in reaching her decision. Based on her own perceptions and those of Brink and Leno, Miller graded Ouelette's interview performance higher than Chadwick's.

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Miller subsequently offered the promotion to Ouelette over Chadwick.

At the time of the promotion decision, Chadwick was the mother of an eleven-year-old son and six-year-old triplets in kindergarten. There is no allegation, insinuation, or for that matter evidence that Chadwick's work performance was negatively impacted by any childcare responsibilities she may have had. Indeed, Miller, the decisionmaker, did not know that Chadwick was the mother of young triplets until shortly before the promotion decision was made. Apparently, Chadwick's husband, the primary caretaker for the children, stayed home with them during the day while Chadwick worked. He also worked off-hour shifts, presumably nights and weekends, when Chadwick was at home with the children. During the same period, Chadwick was also taking one course a semester at the University of Southern Maine.

Chadwick alleges that WellPoint denied her the promotion based on the sex-based stereotype that mothers, particularly those with young children, neglect their work duties in favor of their presumed childcare obligations. To support this claim, Chadwick points to the fact that she was significantly more qualified 3 for the promotion than was Ouelette, and also highlights three statements made by management around the time of the promotion decision.

First, on May 9, 2006, two months before the decision was reached, Miller, the decisionmaker, found out that Chadwick had three six-year-old children (in addition to an eleven-year-old son). Miller sent an email to Chadwick stating, " Oh my-I did not know you had triplets. Bless you!"

Second, during Chadwick's interview with Brink, her former supervisor, she was asked how she would respond if an associate did not complete a project on time. Unhappy with Chadwick's answer, Brink replied, " Laurie, you are a mother [.] [W]ould you let your kids off the hook that easy if they made a mess in [their] room[?] [W]ould you clean it or hold them accountable?"

Third, and most important, when Miller informed Chadwick that she did not get the promotion, Miller explained:

It was nothing you did or didn't do. It was just that you're going to school, you have the kids and you just have a lot on your plate right now.

In the same conversation, Miller said that, " if [the three interviewers] were in your position, they would feel overwhelmed." Finally, Miller also told Chadwick that, " there would be something better down the road," and that Chadwick would look back and say " it's a good thing that that opportunity didn't work out because I'm happier with this down the road."

In her deposition, Miller said that she decided not to promote Chadwick because she interviewed poorly, and that she (Miller) only told Chadwick that she had " too much on her plate" in an ill-advised attempt to soften the blow. In addition, in its brief, WellPoint makes much of its assertion that Ouelette was apparently the mother of two children, ages nine and fourteen. However, unlike the district court, we do not give weight to this assertion.4

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Procedurally, WellPoint moved for summary judgment following discovery. A magistrate judge recommended the motion be granted, and the district court, in a separate opinion, agreed. The district court concluded that Chadwick's claim could not proceed to a jury because " [n]othing in Miller's words show[ed] that" Chadwick was not promoted because of her sex, nor was there a " general atmosphere" of sex-based assumptions in the workplace. Chadwick v. Wellpoint, Inc., 550 F.Supp.2d 140, 147 (D.Me.2008). Chadwick now appeals.

II. Discussion

1. Summary Judgement Motion

We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Whitman v. Miles, 387 F.3d 68, 70 (1st Cir.2004). Summary judgment is granted where " there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is genuine if " the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Importantly, as we explained above, we view the summary judgment record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, here Chadwick, and also draw all reasonable inferences in her favor. Flowers, 359 F.3d at 29.

a. Legal Background

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on sex. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Notably, the Act does not prohibit discrimination based on caregiving responsibility.5 Chadwick's claim can be characterized as a " sex plus" claim. This denomination refers to the situation where " an employer classifies employees on the basis of sex plus...

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