Reeder-Baker v. Lincoln Nat. Corp., Civ. No. F 86-26.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Indiana
Writing for the CourtWILLIAM C. LEE
Citation649 F. Supp. 647
Docket NumberCiv. No. F 86-26.
Decision Date09 December 1986
PartiesJuanita E. REEDER-BAKER, Plaintiff, v. LINCOLN NATIONAL CORPORATION, Defendant.

649 F. Supp. 647

Juanita E. REEDER-BAKER, Plaintiff,

Civ. No. F 86-26.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division.

December 9, 1986.

649 F. Supp. 648

Ernest M. Beal, Jr., John S. Knight, Carol J. Bradley, Parrish, Knight & Beal, Fort Wayne, Ind., for plaintiff.

N. Reed Silliman, Lisa T. Hamilton, Baker & Daniels & Shoaff, Fort Wayne, Ind., for defendant.


WILLIAM C. LEE, District Judge.

This matter is before the court for a decision on the merits following a bench trial. The court heard testimony on November 3-6, 1986, and final arguments on November 10, 1986. The court enters the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a), after having examined the entire record and after having determined the credibility of witnesses.


Plaintiff, Juanita E. Reeder-Baker (Baker) is a black female. Baker was employed by defendant Lincoln National Corporation (Lincoln) from August, 1974 to August, 1985. Baker held various positions in the Data Center. She progressed from the entry level position of keypunch operator to various higher positions, until she was promoted to the position of Production Control Consultant, which she held from June, 1983 until August 22, 1985. During her tenure with Lincoln, Baker had superior technical skills, trained new people in the Data Processing Department, and was called on (not infrequently) to help solve computer-related problems. Baker was one of the most skilled employees in the P.C.U.1 Baker's performance was reflected in merit and promotional salary increases which consistently placed her above other Lincoln employees in Fort Wayne, as well as employees in the Data Center.

As a Production Control Consultant, Baker worked in the Production Control Unit (P.C.U.). The P.C.U. is a relatively small area with approximately six computer terminals. The people who work in the P.C.U. are essentially problem solvers. When a computer program which is being used by another Lincoln employee hangs up, the Production Control analyists and consultants have the ability to enter that program and fix it. The P.C.U. employees often

649 F. Supp. 649
become frustrated; they sometimes use profanity and have occasionally kicked chairs. There are times when there is nothing to do in the P.C.U. During these times, they talk about their personal lives, work, management, and various other things. To a greater or lesser degree nearly all of the P.C.U. employees participate in these discussions

In their discussions about management it is not uncommon for the employees to be very critical and to use profanity.2 While Baker participated in these discussions, she was not a ringleader. Baker's conduct did not disrupt the working environment at the P.C.U. at any time, including August 22, 1985, the date of her termination.3

In December, 1983, Baker became Administrative Assistant to David Allen (Senior Vice President of Administrative and Staff Services for Lincoln), after being recommended by Robert Ambrisco (Second Vice President, Director of the Data Center). Allen is the highest ranking Lincoln officer with direct responsibility for data processing operations. Allen offered temporary administrative assistantships to various minority and non-minority candidates to provide a first-hand management experience. Allen explained that while this position offered Baker significant opportunities for advancement, it carried with it significant risks; for example, the risk of immediate termination should Baker disclose confidential information. Allen told Baker that the assistantship would not be included in her 1984 evaluation.4

Baker's ninety-day assistantship with Allen, ending April 3, 1984, proved to be a great disappointment. During this time Baker made remarks about Lincoln's management and her dissatisfaction with the treatment that she had received as an employee. On numerous occasions during Baker's assistantship, Allen counseled with Baker and expressed his dissatisfaction with her behavior.5 On April 3, 1984, Allen and Tom Lasley (Assistant Vice President of Systems Programming for the Data Center) met with Baker to discuss her assistantship. A memorandum was prepared covering Baker's "disruptive and devisive attitude toward Lincoln," and Baker's "public outbursts conveying her negative opinions." The memorandum also outlined a number of guidelines (i.e., do not disparage the Lincoln, cease disruptive behavior) which Baker was to follow. The memorandum also stated that Allen would not support Baker for any management position.

Lincoln provided its employees with annual performance evaluations. Baker's October,

649 F. Supp. 650
1984, annual performance evaluation stated that she was performing at a "high competent level," entitling her to the merit pay increase (5-7%) accompanying that level. The evaluation did not reflect the time Baker spent with Allen. After receiving this increase, Baker learned that her white co-workers had received higher ratings and larger (9-11%) pay increases

Baker told her superiors as well as her co-workers that she felt that her race had affected her annual performance appraisal. Specifically, some time in late December or early January of 1985, Baker went to Henry Dill (Director of Operations at the Data Center) and indicated that the evaluation was racially motivated and that the company maintained two policies — "one for blacks and one for whites." Baker told Ambrisco the same thing. Ambrisco told Baker that her position was "ludicrous." Although Baker mentioned the discrepancy in her evaluation to her co-workers, she did not disrupt the P.C.U. work environment.

On January 14, 1985, Baker applied for the position of Operations Manager. Baker told her co-workers that she thought she would be denied the position because of her race. Baker also told Robert Ambrisco that she had applied for the position. Baker said that she would expect a proper explanation if she was refused the promotion, and further said that if a proper explanation was not given she would complain to the local Human Relations Commission.

Baker's application for Operations Manager was received on January 15, 1985. Anne Easterday (who works in Human Resources) interviewed Baker. On January 28, 1985, the "Job Post Applicant Register" showed that Baker was a final candidate (marked 01). Sometime after February 1, 1985, a change was made on the Job Post Applicant Register. The change reflected that Baker had an unsatisfactory employment record (marked 07), and disqualified Baker from continuing in the interview process. On February 4, 1985, after talking with Ambrisco and Dill, Easterday indicated on the "Job Post Interviewing Form" that Baker would not be referred for a final interview.6

On January 31, 1985, Dill issued a memorandum placing Baker on "permanent probation."7 The memorandum stated that Baker had again disrupted the harmony of the P.C.U. by commenting about her intention to take action against the company if she was not selected for the position of Operations Manager. When Dill referred to disruption he was referring to Baker's complaints about Lincoln's racial policies. In a meeting on February 1, 1985, between Baker, Ambrisco and Dill, Ambrisco told Baker that she would be terminated immediately if she would not sign the probation document. On January 31, 1985, Dill also submitted an addendum to Baker's 1984 performance appraisal (the memo prepared by Lasley), reflecting the April 3, 1984 meeting between Allen, Lasley, and Baker, regarding Baker's administrative assistantship with Allen. Prior to placing Baker on permanent probation, Dill consulted with people from Lincoln's Human Resources Department and talked with Cathy Meeks and Mark Foust. Baker's probation prevented her from proceeding as a final candidate

649 F. Supp. 651
for the position of Operations Manager.8

On February 12, 1985, Baker filed charges with the Fort Wayne Metropolitan Human Relations Commission (FWMHRC) and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) asserting that she had been discriminated against on account of her race and color. On May 17, 1985, those charges were amended to include allegations that the acts also represented retaliation against Baker for her opposition to practices made unlawful by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a).

Sandra Bruce (Lincoln's Affirmative Action Administrator) responded to Baker's charges on March 13, 1985 and June 7, 1985. Bruce stated that Baker's comments regarding her intention to take action against the company generated discussion among her co-workers sufficient enough to cause Mark Foust and Cathy Meeks to express to Dill concern that work was not "getting done." That statement was false.9

On July 31, 1985, the FWMHRC, having completed its investigation, issued a determination that there was probable cause to believe the charges were meritorious. Thereafter, Lincoln suggested to Baker that she remain away from work pending conclusion of the conciliation process. Conciliation proved unsuccessful. Thus, Baker returned to work on August 22, 1985.

When Baker arrived at work on the evening of August 22, 1985, she became aware that a trace had been placed on her terminal, and that the trace was causing her terminal, as well as a general use console, to display unusual messages. Baker was unable to perform ordinary tasks. Baker was amazed at the messages displayed on her terminal and she invited others in the P.C.U. to look at the impact the trace was having in an attempt to understand what was happening. While discovery of the trace caused some commotion in the P.C.U., the employees in that unit were able to get their work done. Any disruption was not caused by Baker's behavior, but rather, by the discovery of the unusual top secret trace.10


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