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Nadeau v. Ecolab, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 25, 2017

TRICIA NADEAU, Plaintiff,
v.
ECOLAB, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          Dominic J. Squatrito, United States District Judge.

         The plaintiff, Tricia Nadeau (“Nadeau”)[1], brings this action against the defendant, Ecolab, Inc. (“Ecolab”), alleging employment discrimination in violation of Connecticut law. Pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by the defendant. For the reasons stated below, the defendant's motion for summary judgment (doc. # 28) is granted.

         I. FACTS

         Before reciting the facts which the Court finds to be undisputed, the Court wishes to address an issue concerning the plaintiff's filings in opposition to the defendant's motion. The Rules of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut contain specific requirements pertaining to papers filed in opposition to a motion for summary judgment. Those papers must include a “‘Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement, ' which states in separately numbered paragraphs meeting the requirements of Local Rule 56(a)3 and corresponding to the paragraphs contained in the moving party's Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement whether each of the facts asserted by the moving party is admitted or denied.” L. Civ. R. 56(a)2.

         In the Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement, each denial of a fact asserted by the moving party “must be followed by a specific citation to (1) the affidavit of a witness competent to testify as to the facts at trial and/or (2) evidence that would be admissible at trial. . . . The ‘specific citation' obligation of this Local Rule requires counsel and pro se parties to cite to specific paragraphs when citing affidavits . . . and to cite to specific pages when citing to deposition or other transcripts or to documents longer than a single page in length.” L. Civ. R. 56(a)3. Failure to provide these specific citations “may result in the Court deeming certain facts that are supported by the evidence admitted . . . .” Id.

         In opposing the Ecolab's motion for summary judgment Nadeau initially filed a document entitled “Plaintiff's Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement.” (Doc. # 37). That document did not comply with the requirements of Local Rule 56. The Court subsequently provided Nadeau with an additional opportunity “to file and serve a Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement that fully complies with all requirements of the Local Rules.” (Doc. # 39, at 3).

         In response to the Court's directive Nadeau filed her Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement. As subsequently pointed out by Ecolab, many of Nadeau's denials of factual allegations “fail[] to cite any evidence to support her denials . . . .” (Doc. # 42, at 1). For example, paragraph 25 of Ecolab's Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement refers to Nadeau's performance review for the year 2012 and quotes specific language from that review. In her Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement, Nadeau states that paragraph 25 is “[d]enied as [the] document speaks for itself.” (Doc. # 40, at 2, ¶ 25). The Local Rules clearly state that “each denial in an opponent's Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement must be followed by a specific citation to (1) the affidavit of a witness competent to testify as to the facts at trial and/or evidence that would be admissible at trial.” L. Civ. R. 56(a)3. “Counsel and pro se parties are hereby notified that failure to provide specific citations to evidence in the record as required by this Local Rule may result in the Court deeming certain facts that are supported by the evidence admitted . . . .” Id. Nadeau's numerous responses stating that facts alleged by Ecolab are “denied as [the] document speaks for itself” fail to comply with the specific citation requirement of the Local Rules. To the extent that the defendant's factual assertions are properly supported by the evidence and the plaintiff's denials fail to provide specific citations to evidence that supports those denials, the Court will deem those assertions admitted.

         The defendant Ecolab, which is a Delaware corporation with a principal place of business in Minnesota, is in the business of providing water, hygiene, and energy technologies and services. Among other things, Ecolab sells cleaning products and equipment to customers in food-related industries, as well as to schools and other facilities. In order to promote its business, Ecolab seeks to develop relationships with distributors that sell Ecolab products to their customers.

         The plaintiff Nadeau, a Connecticut resident, started working at Ecolab on December 5, 2005. At all times relevant to this action, Nadeau held the position of Distributor Sales Development Manager (“DSDM”) at Ecolab, working from a home-based office in Berlin, Connecticut and traveling within her assigned region as necessary.

         On January 1, 2011, Nadeau began reporting to Jason Krisher (“Krisher”), Ecolab's Regional Assistant Vice President for Distributor Sales and Facility Care in the Northeast, and continued to report to him for the remainder of her time at Ecolab. At the beginning of 2011 Nadeau was the DSDM for the New England market and covered sales in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Later that year, Krisher offered Nadeau the opportunity to transfer to an open position in the New York metro territory that would focus on developing a new distributor, Strauss Paper (“Strauss”). Nadeau accepted the New York position but continued to work from her home in Connecticut. The individual who was the DSDM for the New York metro territory prior to Nadeau, a man named Joe Curran, was demoted from that position due to performance issues, i.e., not meeting his sales goals.

         As a DSDM in the New York market, Nadeau was expected to develop a business relationship between Strauss and the Ecolab sales team in New York, which was led by Area Manager Chuck Melnyk (“Melnyk”). When Nadeau began working in the New York territory, she found Melnyk to be a difficult person to work with and a male Ecolab District Manager suggested that she “Google how to deal with a dictator.” (Doc. # 29-1, at 8, p. 23:13-14). Nadeau has no information about how Melnyk treated other Ecolab employees, including another female DSDM, Brigitte McCaughey, who worked with him.

         On one or two occasions, Nadeau complained to Krisher that Melnyk swore at her over the phone. Krisher spoke to Melnyk about this complaint and Melnyk denied swearing over the phone at Nadeau. Krisher did not pursue this issue with Human Resources because Nadeau “had only addressed it once, maybe twice at the most, and it was never addressed again . . . . I did not feel it was something we needed to escalate at the time.” (Doc. # 37-1, at 9, p. 25:6-8, 12-14). Nadeau also complained to Krisher about Melnyk yelling at her. Krisher spoke to Melnyk about this complaint and Melnyk denied yelling at Nadeau.

         In 2011 and 2012, Nadeau was quite successful in establishing a business relationship with Strauss on behalf of Ecolab. For the year 2012 Krisher nominated her for, and she was awarded, DSDM of the Year for Facility Care. Establishing her own individual relationship with Strauss was only one of Nadeau's job responsibilities. As a DSDM she was also expected to foster collaboration between Ecolab and Strauss so that the Ecolab associates and the Strauss associates worked together without the need for Nadeau to always be involved in bringing the two teams together.

         Nadeau's performance review for 2012, which noted that she “outperformed everyone in the role of DSDM in 2012, ” included the following statement under the heading “Improve Distributor Relationships”:

In 2012, significant strides were made to improve the relationship between . . . Strauss Paper and Ecolab. Overall we had a great improvement. This is one area that will need continued focus, though, in 2013 as not all the Ecolab team is engaged with Strauss and their “go-to” person is always Trish. The comfort level between Strauss and Ecolab only exists between a few on both side[s].

(Doc. # 29-5, at 2). One of the expectations for 2013 specified in Nadeau's 2012 performance review was “to have a majority of the Ecolab Field Team that is trained in Facility Care working with Strauss [team members] on a consistent basis.” (Id. at 4-5). Development actions articulated for Nadeau for the year 2013 included developing a monthly newsletter for distribution to Ecolab and Strauss team members highlighting the successes of working together; communicating verbally with Melnyk a minimum of two times per month in addition to sending him a monthly updated distributor report by email; and communicating with District Managers as to when she would be in their markets in order to let them know what was being worked on and what support was needed. (Id. at 6).

         In July 2013, Krisher issued a written warning to Nadeau which specified the following performance issue:

Continually missing due dates and deadlines for Monthly Paperwork and Administrative items. Specifically, failing to send your Monthly Newsletter and Monthly DSDM Scorecard to me by the required due dates.

(Doc. # 29-6, at 1). The written warning also advised Nadeau that further failure to comply with the expectations specified in the warning or incidents resulting in customer satisfaction issues could result in further disciplinary action up to and including termination. Nadeau refused to sign the written warning.

         Nadeau responded to the written warning in an email message sent to Krisher on July 15, 2013. Nadeau acknowledged that her June newsletter was submitted two days late, but also stated that “June is the only month where I have been late and I hardly believe that one month deserves to be written up for.” (Doc. # 29-9). With regard to the monthly scorecard, Nadeau responded that “[n]umbers were not posted prior to me leaving on vacation. The only way I could have done it on time would have been to submit during my vacation.” (Id.).

         Nadeau's performance review for 2013, dated March 4, 2014, included the following summary:

Tricia had another very good year in regards to sales numbers and NBT [new business tracking]. She continued to work personally with all . . . Strauss [personnel] to drive the Ecolab offering. As far as personally working and building a relationship with the Distributor I feel there are few better than Tricia. The area she will need to work on in 2014 if she is going to be successful is collaborating with the Ecolab team. There is still a divide between many of the [team members] and Tricia. She will need to work to find a way to break down this barrier and to get each of the [team members] to work with Strauss on a daily basis. Her communication with the Area Manager, Chuck Melnyk, will need to improve dramatically as well. . . . If the communication does not improve it will dramatically impact the overall growth of Strauss and Ecolab. This will need to take top priority in 2014.

(Doc. 29-10, at 2-3). Nadeau's overall performance rating for 2013 was “Meets Expectations.” (Id. at 3). In the “Employee Comments” section of the performance review, Nadeau indicated that “[w]hile improvement can always be made in regards to the engagement between Strauss and Ecolab I feel this area has improved quite a bit. I was not hesitant on connecting the two teams at all. In fact I encouraged it all the time.” (Id.). She also expressed her view that she “did exceed all targets and numbers that were given to me to make budget and am unsure why these areas were downgraded to a meets expectations.” (Id.).

         Krisher issued a second written warning to Nadeau, dated April 4, 2014, that identified concerns with her performance in the areas of communication, accountability, and sales calls. As to the area of communication, the warning letter indicated a “significant concern” regarding communication with Krisher and other Ecolab employees and stated that some of Nadeau's communications had been “condescending and may be considered insubordinate.” (Doc. # 29-11, at 1). Going forward, Nadeau needed to “communicate with Chuck [Melnyk] either in person or over the phone at least 2x per month to review collaboration and engagement between the two teams.” (Id. at 1-2). Nadeau responded to the second written warning in an April 9, 2014 email to Krisher in which she took issue with some of the performance issues identified in the warning letter, e.g., that some of her communications might be considered condescending. She also expressed her concern that she had not been provided with “specific measurable targets” in order to demonstrate that her performance was acceptable. (Doc. # 29-12, at 2).

         On June 23, 2014, Krisher had a telephone conversation with Ecolab Human Resources Manager Lisa Albright concerning Nadeau. Albright's notes regarding that conversation indicate, among other things, that “[s]he did a nice job until this past week-she sent Chuck [Melnyk] an inappropriate email that shows lack of respect/insubordination” and further indicate that the warning period would be extended for an additional 30 days. (Doc. # 29-13). In a June 26, 2014 email to a group of Ecolab employees that included Nadeau, Krisher instructed the named employees to provide him with certain information by July 11, 2014. His email stated that “[y]our feedback is vital for us to continue to provide our segment with what is needed to be successful.” (Doc. # 29-17, at 1). Nadeau sent her response to Krisher on July 15, 2014. On July 21, 2014, Krisher sent an email to Nadeau asking her for an explanation as to why her response was late. Nadeau's email response, sent on July 22, 2014, stated that “I made the assumption this did not apply to me [because] [m]y book of business is all commercial and/or contractors, and/or non profit agencies. . . . I can offer very little input on accounts that do not fall under this market as I have not sold them in years.” (Doc. # 29-18, at 1).

         On July 22, 2014, Krisher sent an email to Melnyk in which he asked if Nadeau was contacting Melnyk at least twice per month by telephone or in person as she was directed to do in the second warning letter. Melnyk replied that Nadeau had not personally spoken to him at least two times per month. At the request of Krisher, Ecolab Human Resources personnel reviewed Naduea's phone records and concluded that those records corroborated Nadeau's failure to personally contact Melnyk at least two times per month.

         On August 14, 2014, Nadeau and Melnyk attended a meeting at Strauss with the Strauss Vice-President of Sales and a Strauss sales manager. At that meeting the Strauss Vice-President of Sales stated that the relationship between Ecolab and Strauss was “fractured” due to things not being followed up on and issues with equipment. (Doc. # 29-4, at 6, p. 64:17-23). After the meeting, Melnyk told Nadeau that these were issues that should have been brought to Krisher's and his attention and “the fact that it wasn't communicated put us in a bad spot with the distributor.” (Id. at 7, p. 65:9-13). In a written summary of the August 14, 2014 meeting, Melnyk stated that Nadeau had arrived at the meeting, which he described as a “lead generation meeting, ” unprepared. (Doc. # 29-21, at 2). He went on to indicate that the lead prospect list “had not been updated for some time” and “was about 50% completed with inaccurate data.” (Id.). He further stated that he asked Nadeau why he hadn't been informed prior to the meeting of the issues raised by the Strauss Vice-President of Sales, and that her response was “I don't handle the field and that she thought this meeting would be a good time to discuss.” (Id.). At her deposition, Nadeau testified as follows regarding the August 14, 2014 meeting:

[T]he meeting went well. It was with Strauss managers and myself and him [Melnyk] and the goal was to talk about leads. Strauss had brought up some issue that they were having with installations. Some of the guys were showing up late, some of the guys were showing up unprepared for an install. A Strauss manager took it upon himself to come out and say these things and I didn't know he was going to do it and . . . it was ...

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