Scuderi v. Monumental Life Ins. Co.

Decision Date09 November 2004
Docket NumberNo. 03-CV-73662-DT.,03-CV-73662-DT.
Citation344 F.Supp.2d 584
PartiesElizabeth SCUDERI, Plaintiff, v. MONUMENTAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan

Julian P. Sugameli, and Michael J. Sugameli, Sugameli & Olson, Troy, MI, for plaintiff.

Jamie H. Nisidis, Braun Kendrick, Saginaw, MI, for defendant.


ROSEN, District Judge.


This age discrimination/breach of employment contract action is presently before the Court on Defendant Monumental Life Insurance Company's Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff has responded to Defendant's Motion to which Response Defendant has replied. Having reviewed and considered the parties' briefs and supporting documents and the entire record of this matter, the Court has determined that oral argument is not necessary.1 Therefore, pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(e)(2), this matter will be decided on the briefs. This Opinion and Order sets forth the Court's ruling.


Plaintiff Elizabeth Scuderi is a 48-year-old former employee of Defendant Monumental Life Insurance Company ("Monumental"). Ms. Scuderi worked for Monumental for 22 years until her termination on May 23, 2003.

At the time of her termination, Ms. Scuderi was a Senior Office Administrator in Monumental's Southfield, Michigan office. As a Senior Office Administrator, Ms. Scuderi supervised two less senior office administrators: Cristin Imbronone Costanza, an Intermediate Office Administrator in the Southfield office, and Sue Fern, a part-time office administrator in Monumental's Findlay, Ohio office. Ms. Scuderi reported directly to the District Manager Matthew Balsbaugh, who also worked in the Southfield office.

Throughout the course of her 22-year employment with Monumental, Ms. Scuderi received stellar performance reviews and with the exception of one incident in 1996, prior to the incident which led to her termination, she was never subject to any disciplinary action.2

In 1998, Monumental hired Cristin Imbronone (now "Costanza"), who was a close personal friend of Ms. Scuderi's daughter, Joanne. As indicated, Ms. Costanza worked under the immediate supervision of Plaintiff Scuderi and in the same office; their desks, in fact, were adjacent to one another. Ms. Costanza worked full-time for Monumental while attending Oakland University where she was pursuing a degree in Human Resources.

In her position as an Intermediate Office Administrator, Ms. Costanza qualified for Monumental's tuition reimbursement program which paid 100% of her college tuition on condition that she remain with Monumental for two years following her graduation. (If Ms. Costanza voluntarily terminated her employment sooner, she would be responsible for repayment of any tuition reimbursement paid by Monumental to that point.) Ms. Costanza graduated from Oakland University in December 2002 with a degree in Human Resources.

Notwithstanding that she would have to repay Monumental approximately $11,000 tuition, five months after graduating from college, on May 13, 2003, Ms. Costanza informed Mr. Balsbaugh that she was resigning from her position with Monumental to take a position as a Human Resources Assistant with Federal Mogul. [See Plaintiff's Dep., p. 47.] The Federal Mogul position paid $33,000 per year with comparable benefits to those at Monumental. This was approximately $4,500 more than she was earning at Monumental. [See Costanza Aff., Defendant's Reply Brief, Ex. A.]

Mr. Balsbaugh told Ms. Costanza that he wanted the opportunity to try to keep her with Monumental. After consulting with the Home Office in Baltimore, Balsbaugh made at least two offers to Ms. Costanza. Costanza did not accept either offer because the offers were not financially equivalent to what Federal Mogul had offered her and because she wanted to work in Human Resources.

Accordingly, Monumental set out to fill Ms. Costanza's position. Mr. Balsbaugh and Plaintiff spoke about a number of candidates including Matt Balsbaugh's mother-in-law, Jill Greenman. Plaintiff was opposed to Ms. Greenman's candidacy and she stated so to a number of people in the office. [See Plaintiff's Dep. pp. 115-116.] Although Balsbaugh was later informed by his supervisor that he could not hire his mother-in-law, Plaintiff was not aware of this and, as of May 22, 2003, she thought that Jill Greenman was coming in for an interview that morning. Id. pp. 82-83.

Meanwhile, Plaintiff arranged for an interview on May 21, 2003 with Christina Frenczli, who was referred to Plaintiff by a friend of the family. Id. 58, 61. Part of Monumental's interview process is the administration of a pre-employment test called a "JEPS test," which Plaintiff had administered on a number of previous occasions. The JEPS test has three parts — language usage (which included spelling), comparing and checking, and reading comprehension. Each part of the test is separately timed. Plaintiff gave the test to Christina Frenczli

Ms. Scuderi testified that during the course of the test, she asked Ms. Frenczli how things were progressing and she responded that she was having a bit of trouble. [Plaintiff's Dep. pp. 67-68.] After Ms. Frenczli left, Plaintiff claims that she noticed that some of Ms. Frenczli's answers on the language usage part of the test were light in that the circles were not completely filled in.3 Plaintiff then admittedly took it upon herself to fill in the circles of the answers more fully before overnighting the test to the Home Office for scoring. Id. 75-76.

Ms. Costanza whose desk was adjacent to Plaintiff's desk, saw Plaintiff not only marking with a pencil on the test but also using an eraser. [Costanza Dep. pp. 64-66.] Ms. Costanza also saw Plaintiff take a dictionary from a shelf and look up a word in the Outlook computer program, which was used in the Southfield office for spell-checking. Id. 73-74.4

After witnessing what appeared to Ms. Costanza to be Plaintiff's alteration of the JEPS test, Ms. Costanza spoke to Bill McCormick, a Sales Manager in the Southfield office, and told him that someone else should give the JEPS test to the next day's applicants. [Costanza Dep. p. 77; McCormick Dep. p 17.] Mr. McCormick asked Ms. Costanza why, but she would not answer and instead, just told McCormick to trust her; that it would be a good idea if someone else administered the test. Id. McCormick then demanded to know why, and Costanza finally told him what she had just witnessed. [Costanza Dep. p. 77; McCormick Dep. 17, 19, 21.]

Unaware of the day's events, Matt Balsbaugh and Plaintiff spoke on the telephone that evening and Mr. Balsbaugh informed Plaintiff that he heard that Helen Fiori, an Office Administrator in the Frankenmuth office who had formerly worked in the Southfield office, was interested in Cristin Costanza's position and that it was okay with him. Ms. Fiori is older than Plaintiff and, according to Plaintiff, it was Balsbaugh's idea to offer the position to Fiori. [Plaintiff's Dep. p. 118.]

Later that evening, Balsbaugh spoke with Bill McCormick, as is their usual practice. During the conversation, McCormick related to Balsbaugh what Cristin Costanza had witnessed regarding the JEPS test. Mr. Balsbaugh's response was to ask why Plaintiff would jeopardize her job by doing something like that and then stated that he was going to call Ms. Costanza. [McCormick Dep. pp. 20-21.]

Balsbaugh called Ms. Costanza at home. At first, she told Balsbaugh that she did not want to talk about it because of her close personal relationship with Plaintiff's daughter, Joanne. But, Balsbaugh demanded that she tell him what had occurred. [Costanza Dep. pp. 81-82.] Ms. Costanza then told Mr. Balsbaugh what she had witnessed:

I told him that I saw her with her eraser out, using a pencil, making erasing marks and making marks with a pencil on the test. I told him that I saw her pick up the test and, like, read it, like I saw her looking at it, that she was looking at the dictionary, that she was looking up words on Outlook, and that's pretty much the gist of it, what I saw.

[Costanza Dep. p. 83.]

The following morning, May 22, 2003, Balsbaugh called Plaintiff into his office with his two Sales Managers, Bill McCormick and Roger Vinkemeier, as witnesses. He asked Ms. Scuderi if she had changed the answers on Christina Frenczli's test; Plaintiff responded, "no." Balsbaugh then said that he had a witness, and in response, Plaintiff then stated that all she had done was to darken in some of the circles that were light. [See Plaintiff's Dep. pp. 85-86.] Balsbaugh then informed Plaintiff that she was suspended, pending further investigation, and that she should give her keys to Roger Vinkemeier. Id. at 86.

After Plaintiff was sent home, Balsbaugh continued his investigation. He asked Cristin Costanza to prepare a written statement of what she had witnessed. [See Defendant's Ex. B.] Balsbaugh then contacted Lewis Johnson in the Home Office and asked Johnson to contact him when he received Ms. Frenczli's JEPS test and further asked Johnson if he could tell whether any of the answers had been erased. Johnson complied and after he received the test, informed Balsbaugh that there appeared to be a lot of erasing on the grammar portion of the test. Balsbaugh then spoke with the applicant, Christina Frenczli, who was in the office again on May 22, 2003 for a follow up interview. She said that she had done some erasing on one part of the test.

Balsbaugh then spoke to Phil White, Vice President of Field Operations, regarding the situation. Balsbaugh told Mr. White he did not know what to do because of Plaintiff's many years of service and what he believed to be a spotless work record. [Balsbaugh Dep. p. 88.] Having reviewed Plaintiff's personnel file in the Home Office, White informed Balsbaugh that Plaintiff'...

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