Kriss v. Sprint Communications Co., Ltd. Partnership

Decision Date01 April 1994
Docket NumberCiv. No. 4-92-272.
Citation851 F. Supp. 1350
PartiesRhonda KRISS, Plaintiff, v. SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS COMPANY, LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota

Susan M. Robiner, Kathleen M. Graham, Leonard Street & Deinard, Minneapolis, MN, for Rhonda M. Kriss.

Sarah D. Halvorson, David Alan Allgeyer, Lindquist & Vennum, Minneapolis, MN, Lee J. Hollis, Sprint Corp., Kansas City, MO, for Sprint Communications Co., Ltd. Partnership.

FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW, AND ORDER FOR JUDGMENT

DIANA E. MURPHY, Chief Judge.

This action arises out of the decision of defendant Sprint Communications Company (Sprint) not to transfer plaintiff Rhonda Kriss to the New Business Management Group (New BMG) in September 1990. Plaintiff brought this action for gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minn. Stat. § 363.03, alleging that Sprint did not transfer her to the new organization because she was a woman. Trial was held on 11 days with 24 witnesses and numerous exhibits.1 The parties subsequently submitted briefs and proposed findings. After carefully considering the evidence at trial and the legal arguments made, and based upon observation of the witnesses and their credibility, the court now submits its findings of fact and conclusions of law in memorandum form pursuant to Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

I.

Before her employment with Sprint, plaintiff Rhonda Kriss was a National Account Representative with Copy Duplicating Products (CDP) selling facsimile products. She had also worked for six months as a sales representative for Fujitsu, a PBX manufacturer2, two years with NORSTAN a PBX distributor, and three and one-half years as a sales representative for Honeywell's telecommunications division. Plaintiff thus had more than six years of experience in the telecommunications industry when she was hired by Sprint.

Sprint is the third largest provider of long distance service in the United States. It has an office in Minneapolis that markets its services in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas. Prior to September 1990, the sales force was divided into two groups: 1) the National Accounts Division (NAD) which sold to the largest customers that billed over $100,000 dollars per month; and 2) the Business Market Group (BMG) which marketed to customers who billed over $1,000 per month.

Margie Bingham was the manager of the NAD. She began her employment as a National Account Manager salesperson in April 1986 and was promoted to be the NAD Manager for Minneapolis in January 1988. Bingham reported to her Regional Director, Marilyn Deas.

The BMG was divided into two districts, each with its own manager. In 1988, the manager for District I was Scott Miller. Miller began with Sprint as a Major Account Representative (MAR) in Omaha in 1987 and was promoted to manager of the Minneapolis District I in April, 1988. The manager of District II was Debbie Malinski. When she left the position in late 1988, Bob Spears became the manager of District II. Spears was subsequently replaced by Jay Anders in approximately April, 1990. Both district managers reported to the Regional Sales Director, Ryan Sothan, who was also based in Minneapolis.

The NAD and BMG were separate organizations. In the NAD, sales representatives called National Account Managers (NAM), had their own sales support staff. NAD also had its own technical support personnel in Minneapolis. The NAMs worked from a list of identified customers and prospects.

The BMG consisted of sales people called Account Representatives or Major Account Representatives who were responsible for both selling and maintaining accounts not on the NAD list. The BMG representatives shared support staff, and all customer service support came from Star Representatives located outside of Minnesota. In 1988, all the BMG representatives were assigned geographic territories by zip codes. Later, some BMG representatives became "list driven reps" and worked from a list of designated accounts. The relationship between the NAD and the BMG was strained. Disputes over accounts sometimes developed, and tension existed regarding NAD's more extensive support staff and the prestige associated with calling on the largest accounts.

The Minneapolis BMG hired 8 new sales representatives in 1988, including Major Account Representatives Mary Nagle, Rick Berg, Sherry Piscazio, Steve Conlin, Randy Bryson, Jay Anders, and the plaintiff, Rhonda Kriss. Jim Lysinger was also hired as an Account Representative.

Kriss was hired by Scott Miller and was assigned to his sales team. Kriss was a successful salesperson in the BMG and consistently exceeded her quotas. In 1989, her first full year with Sprint, she was ranked second in the Minneapolis office in real revenue as her sales reached 164% of her real revenue quota. Real revenue represents revenue actually received, as opposed to booked revenue which is credited when the order is written but is not necessarily all realized. Kriss performed at 360% of booked revenue in 1989, ranking her fourth in the entire West Division (United States west of the Mississippi). Through July 1990, shortly before the reorganization, Kriss was first in the Minneapolis office at 444% of booked revenue and second in real revenue at approximately 160% of quota.

Kriss was recognized for her performance in a number of ways. In 1989 she was selected for the President's Club, an achievement club based on sales performance. Selection included a free trip to Florida to attend the club meeting. She also won an incentive trip to Vail, Colorado for her booked revenue performance. In 1990, Kriss was again eligible for the President's Club, and won an incentive trip to Palm Springs, CA for the "Western Pro Bowl" in the Sprint "Fantasy Football League", a sales incentive promotion based on sales performance. During her time with Sprint Kriss received letters of appreciation from Scott Miller, Ryan Sothan, and several customers for outstanding performance.

Like the accounts of other BMG representatives, Kriss's accounts did experience some problems. Billing problems were a major issue a Sprint at this time. All the representatives at trial testified that billing problems such as incorrect charges or the failure of bills to reflect certain credits were commonplace and an issue of great concern to customers. Some problems were caused by Sprint's billing system, while others were the result of human error in either writing the orders or in processing. Part of the representative's job was to coordinate with Sprint management and support staff to resolve such problems and keep the customers happy.

Kriss was responsible for some of the problems on her accounts. For example, customer A.M. Miller experienced a situation where all of its 800 calls were routed into the main console. This caused the calls to stack up, and calls were lost or rang numerous times before being answered. The misrouting of the calls was caused by an incorrect phone number on the order form. There was also at least one instance of miscommunication with a customer. The president of Real Estate Support Services, Bruce Frimerman, wrote a memo to Sprint's president, Ron LeMay, expressing its dissatisfaction with Sprint and accusing Kriss of unethical sales tactics and misrepresentations regarding eligibility for certain discount programs. Sprint's own investigation cleared Kriss of any misrepresentation, but concluded there may have been a miscommunication between Kriss and the customer that caused problems.

On the whole, however, Sprint has not shown that the problems associated with Kriss' accounts were significantly different from those associated with the accounts of the other representatives. The evidence indicating problems on her accounts is offset by the evidence of positive relationships with customers and evidence indicating that all the sales representatives had accounts with billing problems. While some of Kriss' customers expressed concern over problems, others praised Kriss for her support and timely response to issues. Her revenue numbers show Kriss was very successful in sales performance and consistently exceeded her quotas. Her sales ranked her in the top 2 or 3 in the Minneapolis office. The court observed her to be a bright, intelligent and articulate person. Her success as a salesperson in the old BMG demonstrates that she had comparable skills to the representatives eventually chosen to transfer, and that she was qualified for a position in the New BMG.3

Part of the district manager's job is to mentor the representatives and provide assistance for sales presentations and resolution of customer problems and complaints. Scott Miller was plaintiff's manager. The evidence shows that Miller was not as supportive of Kriss as he was of male representatives. The testimony established that Miller was less available to women representatives in both professional and social settings, and support staff resources were unequally distributed between the male representatives and Kriss. Support staff was often unavailable when sought by Kriss. Miller also had a poor record of retaining women sales representatives. Of the 4 women who were assigned to his team while he was District Sales Manager in Minneapolis, none was promoted while in his group and all have left the company.

Miller contributed to a male dominated atmosphere in the workplace. Testimony shows he often discussed sports with the men representatives but not the women. Miller had the "tie lady", a woman that worked at a men's clothing retailer, bring samples of ties into sales meetings, and offered as a sales incentive a gift certificate for a men's clothing store.

Miller also made comments showing a stereotypical attitude toward the roles of men and women. At the Western Pro Bowl awards dinner, Miller...

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