Davidson v. Allsteel Inc, Case No. 09-11308

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
Writing for the CourtPaul D. Borman
PartiesMICHELLE DAVIDSON, Plaintiff, v. ALLSTEEL, INC., an Illinois Corporation, and JAMIE MAY, an individual, jointly and severally. Defendants.
Docket NumberCase No. 09-11308
Decision Date22 February 2011

ALLSTEEL, INC., an Illinois Corporation, and JAMIE MAY,
an individual, jointly and severally.

Case No. 09-11308


Dated: February 22 , 2011.

Paul D. Borman
United States District Judge


This matter is before the Court on Defendants Allsteel, Inc. and Jamie May's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 12.) Plaintiff filed a response (Dkt. No. 19) and Defendants filed a reply (Dkt. No. 20). The Court held a hearing on January 20, 2011. For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion for summary judgment and DISMISSES Plaintiffs Complaint.


Plaintiff claims that her direct supervisor at Defendant Allsteel, Inc. ("Allsteel"), Mr. Jamie May ("May"), disliked working with women and recommended her termination based on her gender. Plaintiff also alleges that she complained about May's discriminatory treatment and was terminated in retaliation for her complaints. Defendants respond that May, who was not ultimately responsible for Plaintiff's termination, harbored no discriminatory animus toward her and that Plaintiff was

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terminated because of poor performance and for her part in losing and failing to regain the trust and confidence of Allsteel's largest dealer in the Detroit market. Defendants also respond that none of the individuals ultimately responsible for Plaintiff's termination were aware that she had complained that May had treated her inappropriately based on her gender and therefore could not have fired her in retaliation for the alleged complaints.


Allsteel, part of the HNI Corporation, is a furniture manufacturer headquartered in Muscatine, Iowa. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 3.) Allsteel does not sell the furniture which it manufactures directly to customers but rather sells its products exclusively through dealers. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 16, Pl.'s Resp. Ex. 19, Deposition of Michelle Davidson, October 16 and November 9, 2009, p. 39.) Plaintiff began working for Allsteel as a Business Development Manager ("BDM") in the Detroit market in 2004, with the responsibility to "develop new business, call on end users, architects, designers, real estate, build brand awareness, do lunch and learns, plan events, work with salespeople... to move the process along with sales." (Davidson Dep. 25, 28-29, 42.) From 20042006 Plaintiff worked as a BDM in the Detroit market, dealing almost exclusively with Allsteel's largest dealer in that market, Interior Environments ("IE"). (Davidson Dep. 38-39; Defs.' Mot. Ex. 19, Pl.'s Resp. Ex. 22, Deposition of Stephen J. Westog, March 24, 2010, p. 52.) Plaintiff shared the Detroit market with another BDM, Christine Harvey. Both were exclusively responsible for the IE account, working toward the same sales goal and both receiving compensation on that collective goal. (Davidson Dep. 42-44.) Sometime in 2006, Plaintiff was promoted to corporate accounts, where she worked to develop new business with Fortune 500 companies and to increase business with existing accounts. (Davidson Dep. 39-40, 46.) During this time frame, Plaintiff received good

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reviews from her supervisors, Doug Farley and Brandon Sieben, both of whom indicated that Plaintiff met or exceeded company expectations in most categories. (Pl.'s Resp. Ex. 1.)

In 2007, Plaintiff requested a transfer to marketing because she "wasn't enjoying the position at corporate accounts and [her] manager was leaving to move to marketing." (Davidson Dep. 46.) Plaintiff was not offered a position in marketing. However, since her old position as a BDM in the Detroit market had never been filled, she ultimately left corporate accounts to return as a BDM in the Detroit market, again responsible for the IE account which remained the largest Allsteel dealer in that market. In addition to IE, Plaintiff was also now responsible for a second, smaller Alsteel dealer, Corporate Express ("CE"). (Davidson Dep. 46, 58.) Prior to accepting her old BDM position, Plaintiff discussed the move with several people, including the two principals of IE, Randy Balconi and Steve Cojei, as well as with May, who was then the regional manager of the Ohio Valley region and would be Plaintiffs direct supervisor. (Davidson Dep. 50-52.) In her discussions with May prior to returning to her BDM position, May never indicated to Plaintiff that he did not want her on his team. (Davidson Dep. 56-57.) Further, although the corporate accounts position was a higher salaried position, Plaintiff did not receive a pay cut when she transferred back to her BDM position. (Davidson Dep. 57.) As in the past, Plaintiff shared the Detroit market with another BDM, this time a male colleague, Dan Pembroke. As with Plaintiffs former BDM partner, Christine Harvey, Plaintiff and Pembroke worked together toward a team goal and received commissions on all sales made by them as a team, regardless of who developed the project. (Davidson Dep. 59-60.)

Plaintiff returned to her BDM position in approximately April 2007, and she and Pembroke had a team goal of approximately $11 million of Alsteel product to be sold in the Detroit market

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through IE and CE in 2008 (the goal had been something slightly less than that for 2007). (Davidson Dep. 59-60.) As BDMs, both Plaintiff and Pembroke were required to input sales opportunities in a program called Sales Logix and to keep track of potential business, represented by projects in various stages of development and with varying prospects for closure. These project opportunities are referred to as the BDM's "funnel." (Davidson Dep. 76-77; Defs.' Mot. Ex. 18, Pl.'s Resp. Ex. 20, Deposition of Jamie May, January 21, 2010, pp. 82-84.) Each BDM's funnel was supposed to be some multiple of the team sales goal, anywhere from three to five times the team goal, with the expectation that a portion of the opportunity represented by the funnel would never be realized. (Davidson Dep. 78.)

At some point prior to October, 2007, Plaintiff was asked to plan and organize a Halloween party for Allsteel and IE, an event which Plaintiff had planned for a prior employer, and also had planned for Allsteel and IE in 2005, during her previous time working as a BDM. (Davidson Dep. 61-65.) Plaintiff spent a significant amount time planning the party but on neither occasion, in 2005 or 2007, were Plaintiffs sales expectations or numbers adjusted in light of the time spent planning the Halloween party. (Davidson Dep. 67, 80-91.) Following the party, which took place sometime shortly before Halloween, Plaintiff spent a small amount of time on follow-up details but her duties relating to the party were largely over. (Davidson Dep. 92-93.)

Plaintiff's first Performance Appraisal following her return to her position as a BDM, completed by her supervisor May, noted areas where Plaintiff needed improvement. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 5.) In particular, the Performance Appraisal noted that Plaintiff needed to "get the funnel overflowing" because Plaintiff was not even half way to her goal. The Performance Appraisal also noted that Plaintiff needed to "seek ways to improve upon the team dynamic both internal and

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external, " and to collaborate more effectively with both the internal and external team. (Id.) Plaintiff concedes that her funnel in this time period was below expectations but points out that she had just started as a BDM a few months prior and had been required to spend a significant amount of time planning the Halloween party, on which she received little help from her fellow employees. (Davidson Dep. 67-76, 80-91, 79, 97.) May was not receptive to these excuses, noting that Plaintiff had spent two years in the Detroit market as a BDM and was expected to "hit the ground running" when rehired one year later in to her old position. (May Dep. 71.)

Following closely on the heels of this less than stellar Performance Appraisal, Plaintiff was involved in a major confrontation with Allsteel's largest dealer, IE, when IE accused Plaintiff of "flipping" a major customer, Federal Mogul, with a potential $1 million dollar deal, from IE to Allsteel's other dealer in the Detroit market, CE. After working with Plaintiff and IE for over a year on the deal, the decision maker from Federal Mogul, Laurie Conn, sent an email to Plaintiff on November 2, 2007 which notified Plaintiff that Federal Mogul wanted to switch the business from IE to Allsteel's other dealer, CE. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 6.) Although the email infers that Plaintiff might be "shocked" by the request, in fact Plaintiff had lunched with Laurie Conn on October 29, 2007 at which time Laurie had informed Plaintiff that Federal Mogul was thinking of switching from IE to CE. (Davidson Dep. 103-104, 113.)

Alsteel policy required Plaintiff to try to hold the IE deal with Federal Mogul together, and to try to work out a resolution that kept the initial dealer involved, and to involve her supervisor to facilitate a resolution. Plaintiff concedes that she did not immediately notify either her supervisor, May, or the principals at IE, Cojei and Balconi, that Conn was thinking of switching dealers. (May Dep. 117; Davidson Dep. 103, 109-112, 121-123.) Plaintiff did have a conversation with Cojei,

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encouraging him to pay more attention to Conn's needs, but never mentioned...

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