Logan v. Denny's, Inc.

Decision Date26 January 2001
Docket NumberNo. 99-4395,99-4395
Citation259 F.3d 558
Parties(6th Cir. 2001) Eileen A. Logan, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Denny's, Inc., Defendant-Appellee. Argued:
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Dennis P. Zapka, MAGUIRE, SCHNEIDER, ZAPKA & LEUCHTAG, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant.

Keith A. Ashmus, Brian J. Kelly, Keith A. Ashmus, FRANTZ & WARD, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee.

Before: JONES, BATCHELDER, and CLAY, Circuit Judges.

CLAY, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which JONES, J., joined. BATCHELDER, J. (pp. 36-51), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.

OPINION

CLAY, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff, Eileen Logan, f/k/a Eileen Clark, appeals from the district court's order granting summary judgment to Defendant, Denny's Inc., on Plaintiff's race discrimination claim brought under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Because we believe that the district court erred in finding that Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of race discrimination, and erred in concluding that no genuine issue of material fact remained as to whether Defendant's proffered reason for its disciplinary action was a pretext for discrimination, we REVERSE the district court's order granting Defendant's motion for summary judgment and REMAND the case for trial.

BACKGROUND
Procedural History

On June 9, 1998, Plaintiff, Eileen Logan, an African-American female who had been employed by Defendant as a server for more than ten years, filed a seven-count complaint in the district court alleging, among other things, that Defendant violated her civil rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, by engaging in discriminatory treatment which led to Plaintiff's constructive discharge. On July 29, 1998, Defendant filed an answer in response to counts one, two, six, and part of count seven of Plaintiff's complaint; and filed a motion to dismiss as to counts three, four, five and part of count seven of the complaint. The district court thereafter granted Defendant's motion to dismiss these counts which included "Plaintiff's claims of discrimination in violation of Ohio Rev. Code § 4112 (barred by period of limitation), tortious interference with an employment contract, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and a superfluous claim for willful and wanton conduct." (J.A. at 17 n.3). The district court's decision in this regard is not at issue on appeal.

Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on April19, 1999, with respect to the remaining counts. Defendant maintained that Plaintiff did not establish a prima facie case of discrimination under Title VII inasmuch as Plaintiff failed to demonstrate the elements of a constructive discharge, and therefore failed to establish that she suffered the requisite adverse employment action for a prima facie case. Plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition to Defendant's motion for summary judgment Defendant filed a reply; and Defendant thereafter filed a supplement to its motion.

On October 12, 1999, the district court issued its memorandum opinion and order granting Defendant's motion for summary judgment on the basis that Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of race discrimination under Title VII. Specifically, the court found that Plaintiff failed to establish a constructive discharge for purposes of demonstrating an adverse employment action. The district court recognized that "[a] claim that the adverse employment action was accomplished via constructive discharge is cognizable under Title VII;" however, the court opined that Plaintiff failed to come forward with sufficient evidence to establish that she suffered a constructive discharge because she failed to show that the "working conditions were so difficult or unpleasant that a reasonable person in plaintiff's shoes would feel compelled to resign," or that "Defendant intended to cause the employee to resign or that [her] resignation was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the Defendant's action." (J.A. at 25, 28.) The court added in a footnote that "[e]ven if Plaintiff could muster a prima facie case, she could not - based on the evidence in the record - show that Defendant's reason for changing her job classification (Plaintiff's work performance) was a pretext for intentional racial discrimination." (J.A. at 28 n.9.) Regarding Plaintiff's remaining state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the district court found that no genuine issue of material fact remained for trial that Defendant's actions did not rise to the level of extreme and outrageous behavior for purposes of satisfying the requirements of this claim.

The district court entered its corresponding judgment granting Defendant's motion for summary judgment and dismissing Plaintiff's case, and it is from this judgment that Plaintiff now appeals challenging only the dismissal of her Title VII claim.

Facts

Plaintiff began working for Defendant in August of 1985 at its restaurant located in North Randall, Ohio. In 1995, Plaintiff transferred to Defendant's restaurant located in Highland Heights, Ohio because Defendant closed the North Randall facility. The record indicates that throughout Plaintiff's tenure at the North Randall location, all but one of her performance evaluations bears an overall rating of "AT STANDARDS - Performance is overall equal to or better than the standard required," or "ABOVE STANDARDS - Performance is noticeably better than required." (J.A. at 236-56.) The evaluation forms themselves are standardized forms which list various duties attendant to the respective job position, and require the reviewer to rate the employee's performance as to these duties as "Below Standards," "At Standards," or Above Standards." At the end of the evaluation, the reviewer rates the employee's overall performance using the same rating scale. As indicated, only one of Plaintiff's eleven evaluations included in the joint appendix bears an overall rating of "BELOW STANDARDS," although at times she was rated below standards regarding various aspects of her job.

In addition to the standardized ratings, the evaluations also provide a space for the reviewer to include handwritten comments. For example, on what appears to be Plaintiff's six-month evaluation, dated February 24, 1986, the reviewer, Assistant Manager Timothy J. McGuire, rated Plaintiff as "AT STANDARDS" overall, and provided the following handwritten comments In Eileen's first 6 months she has been a reliable and efficient, & concerned employee. Her pleasant attitude and her professional manner do not go unnoticed by management nor guests. Eileen has shown flexability [sic] with her hours on the weekend. She has worked both 1st and 2nd shift[s] and on many occasions she has helped magmt. [management] when we have been short staffed. Recently Eileen had her hours changed at her other job. She thought that she might have to leave Denny's. Management worked around her new schedule to assure that Eileen could continue to work for #1851. Her willingness to be flexible showed management that that [sic] she is a caring employee and to lose an employee with this type of attitude would have been a disservice. As shown above Eileen is not weak in any areas. She is competent in service, team work and the other aspects of the job code, server.

Eileen, I would like to take this time to thank you for your efforts and I suggest that you continue to do the things that you have done in the past to continue to grow with both the unit and Denny's.

(J.A. at 239-40.)

Plaintiff's next evaluation, dated August 20, 1986, six months after the first evaluation, indicates that a different assistant manager rated Plaintiff's overall performance as "AT STANDARDS," and he provided the following handwritten comment: Eileen, overall your performance is "at standards". All your work with training new hires, with also your x-tra efforts in working over/ and assuring good guest service is appreciated. You are diffently [sic] a big help to our units [sic] operations. A few areas to consider for your next review. (A) seggustive [sic] sell, sell up etc. (B)you may want to go an extra step to help out co-workers when in need (C) cleaning as you go a little more throughly [sic] (windows, seats, ledges etc.[)]. Eileen, continue to improve, thanks for all your good efforts.

(J.A. at 241-42.)

The next evaluation provided in the joint appendix is dated February of 1988; it is from the same assistant manager and rates Plaintiff as "AT STANDARDS" overall, but does not bear any handwritten comments. (J.A. at 243-44.) The following evaluation dated May 26, 1989 from Assistant Manager Michael A. Lewis, also rates Plaintiff as "AT STANDARDS" overall, and provides a handwritten comment indicating areas in which Plaintiff needed to improve as well as the comment: "You have a [sic] good customer relations; keep up the good service." (J.A. at 246.) Plaintiff's next evaluation dated October 1, 1989, from Assistant Manager Gina Hinde, rates Plaintiff as "ABOVE STANDARDS" overall, and provides suggested areas of improvement in the comments section along with the notation, "Overall you're doing great - Keep it up!" (J.A. at 248.) Similarly, Plaintiff's evaluation dated October of 1991, from a different assistant manager, rates Plaintiff as "ABOVE STANDARDS."

Plaintiff's next two evaluations dated August 26, 1992, and January 26, 1993, each rate Plaintiff's overall performance as "AT STANDARDS." Plaintiff's evaluation in August of 1993 from yet a different assistant manager rates Plaintiff as "AT STANDARDS," and is embellished with comments such as "Good Job!!" and "We need you more !!" in the margins of the evaluation, along with the following comment:

Eileen thank you for helping and being a member of our weekend team, it's encouraging to know that we can depend on you consistently on weekends. One big area to focus on is sidework duties completed in...

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