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White v. Smiths Medical ASD, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 27, 2017



          Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Anthony White (“White” or “Plaintiff”) brings his unlawful employment termination action, alleging discrimination based on disability in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. 46a-60(a)(1), as well as interference and retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq.[1] Defendant Smiths Medical ASD, Inc. (“Smiths” or “Defendant”) has moved for summary judgment on all grounds. For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS summary judgment as to the federal claims and withholds from exercising jurisdiction as to the state claim.

         I. Factual Background[2]

         Smiths is a “leading global provider of medical devices for the hospital, emergency, home and specialist environments.” [Dkt. 31-2 (D. Conn. L. R. 56(a)(1) Stmt.) ¶ 1; Dkt. 34-2 (D. Conn. L. R. 56(a)(2) Stmt.) ¶ 1]. Smiths has a manufacturing facility in Southington, CT, which manufactures a variety of devices, including intravenous catheters. [Dkt. 31-2 ¶¶ 4-5; Dkt. 34-2 ¶¶ 4-5]. White was employed at the Southington facility from 1976 until October 2014. See [Dkt. 31-2 ¶¶ 10, 14; Dkt. 34-2 ¶¶ 10, 14]. In 1976, he began working for Johnson & Johnson as a machine operator but was promoted over the years and worked as a manufacturing team leader when Smiths Medical took over the facility in 2005. See [Dkt. 31-2 ¶ 10; Dkt. 34-2 ¶ 10]. Although Smiths' job description for the team leader position required a Bachelor's Degree, which White did not have, Smiths grandfathered White into the position due to his many years of experience. [Dkt. 31-2 ¶¶ 12-13; Dkt. 34-2 ¶¶ 12-13]. White remained at this position until his termination on October 24, 2014. [Dkt. 31-2 ¶ 14; Dkt. 34-2 ¶ 14].

         In 2009, White's performance began to fall below a satisfactory level. See [Dkt. 31-2 ¶ 15; Dkt. 34-2 ¶ 15]. This poor performance was documented in his 2009/10 annual performance review, wherein he received an overall score of 2 out of 5 from his evaluator, Richard Girard (“Girard”). [Dkt. 31-10 (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. G, 2009/10 Performance Review) at SM 000212, -25]. The overall score is measured as follows:

1. “Performance does not meet the requirements of the position in several area and immediate improvement is required (Objectives & Behaviors).”
2. “Performance meets the requirements of the position, but improvement is needed in one or more areas (Objectives & Behaviors).”
3. “Performance consistently meets the requirements of the position (Objectives & Behaviors).”
4. “Performance exceeds the requirements of the position in one or more areas (Objectives & Behaviors).”
5. “Performance consistently exceeds the requirements of the position in all areas (Objectives & Behaviors).”

Id. at SM000225-26; [Dkt. 31-11 (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. H, 2010/11 Performance Review) at SM 000241; Dkt. 31-12 (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. I, 2011/12 Performance Review) at SM 000255-56; Dkt. 31-13 (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. J, 2012/13 Performance Review) at SM 000271]. White commented, “Even though I am not 100% agreeable with my overall rating of (2), I understand the rational[e] behind this decision. The rating reflects that as a ‘Team' we did not hit our ‘Smiths Southington' overall objectives for the 2009/2010 fiscal year.” [Dkt. 31-10 at SM 000225].

         White's overall performance ranking declined to 1 in his 2010/11 annual review, which Girard also administered. [Dkt. 31-11 at SM 000229, -41]. White indicated in the Reviewee's Comments section,

I have received feedback regarding my fiscal year performance, my response can only be that of deep hurt and utter disappointment. Although I could respond to all of the observations documented related to my performance, I realize that it would be futile, it [sic] just difficult for me [to] understand that with all the responsibilities that have been assigned to the MTL's over the many years, it appears that know [sic] one is paying attention to the accomplishments, at least in my case. Furthermore, it is without any doubt that over the past thirty-five years of service, I have developed a deep appreciation for this organization and I will do whatever necessary to maintain our successful [sic] in the business, if this requires that I submit to participating with a “Improvement Plan” then I welcome it.

Id. at SM000240. The following year, 2011/12, Jeff Bowen (“Bowen”) reviewed White and gave him an overall rating of 2. [Dkt. 31-12 at SM 000244, -255]. White did not provide any written comments. See Id. at SM000254. White also received an overall score of 2 in his 2012/13 review, administered by Daniel Garcia

         (“Garcia”). [Dkt. 31-13 at SM 000259, -70]. White commented, “Although I am not in agreement with my final ra[t]ing for 2012/2013, I understand the challenges we face in our leadership position here at Smiths. It is quite clear to me that it is critical to work one-on-one with my manager weekly to determine if I am meeting the organization needs required to drive this business forward.” Id. at SM000269.

         Garcia and Jim Goodrich (“Goodrich”) from the Human Resources department, placed White on a performance improvement plan (“PIP”) on January 16, 2014. [Dkt. 31-14 (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. K, PIP 1/16/14)]. The PIP cites White's four consecutive years of scoring a 1 or 2 on his overall annual performance. Id. at SM000377. The PIP identified several “areas of opportunity” from the performance reviews that consistently needed improvement: (1) completing documentation for the Quality Department; (2) following company safety incident reporting procedures; (3) clearly communicating to staff and management; and (4) improving behavioral competencies by quickly developing a knowledge of company procedures and policies, increasing productivity, and meeting deadlines. Id. at SM000377-80. White refused to sign this document. Id. at SM000381.

         On May 2, 2014, Garcia issued a 90-day follow-up of White's PIP from January. [Dkt. 31-16 (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. M, 90-day Follow-Up PIP 5/2/14)]. White received a “meets” rating for the first three areas of improvement, but he received a “needs improvement” for the fourth. Specifically, Garcia noted that White (1) submitted all documentation to the Quality Manager by his deadline; (2) reported safety incidents in a timely fashion; and (3) participated in Gemba meetings and made positive contributions, and timely communicated quality issues to Garcia. Id. at SM000382. However, with respect to his behavioral competencies, Garcia noted White overscheduled “PTO time, ” which impacted component inventories; he continuously erred in entering his payroll data; and he “still needs to work on driving self-directed productivity/quality initiatives while balancing day to day work activities.” Id. at SM000382-83. He did, however, volunteer to take a “6s project in the Extrusion dept., ” which “was well organized an on time.” Id. at SM000383. Overall, Garcia opined that “[d]uring this 90 day time frame, Tony has improved in some of the categories but has also slipped on others, ” and elected to extend the 90-day PIP until the end of July. Id. The parties did not submit into evidence an additional 90-day PIP follow-up from July.

         White received an injection for his back pain in at some point prior to August 2014. [Dkt. 34-3 at 154:25-155:24 (testifying he received a shot in June or July of 2014); Dkt. 35-1 (Reply Ex. Y, Medical Records) at WHITEPSR000011 (documenting on 8/4/14 that White had previously received a cortisone shot)]. He went to Rehab Dynamics on August 4, 2014, wherein he was recommended for physical therapy 2-3 times a week for 4-6 weeks. [Dkt. 35-1 at WHITEPSR000011- 12]. Dr. Hilary Onyiuke, MD and Larua LaBarbera, PA-C, referred White to Rehab Dynamics. Id.

         On August 11, 2014, Garcia emailed Goodrich and Bowen suggesting two options for White: termination or “re-assignment to a Team Tech position with a reduction of pay to the higher end of the scale or wage freeze.” [Dkt. 31-18 (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. O, Email 8/11/14)]. In early September 2014, Goodrich began communicating with Mary Ranalla, who was Human Resources Manager Delivery Lead at Smiths' headquarters in Minnesota during this time. See [Dkt. 31-4 (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A, Ranalla Decl. and Attachments) ¶ 3, Attachment 1 at SM 000398]. With respect to the pending PIP, Ranalla stated, “I am a little confused why a January PIP has gone on through August. I see there was a 90 day extension given but still, it's disappointing this has taken so long to have action plus the rationalizing for the extension is weak.” [Dkt. 31-4 at SM 000398]. Ranalla also stated,

He appears to meet most of the expectations but there is the lone comment at the end that he has slipped in some areas. There is no explanation as to what has slipped. That should have been caught and coached to explain more there. Under driving productivity the final notice states there were no self-directed projects however in the 90 day it references how he volunteered for a 6s projects and it went well. That doesn't seem to align, or what am I missing? What exactly is meant by a self-directed productivity project as it seems like that may not be clear. If the PTO and payroll issues are the biggest deal, can we move him into a role where he's not responsible for that? If not, please explain what the true issues are.

Id. Goodrich did not respond, and Ranalla followed-up on September 21 requesting a report on White. Id. at SM000394.

         Smiths created a Performance Employee Evaluation for 2013/14 (undated), which evaluates White on competencies similar to the aforementioned annual reviews. See [Dkt. 31-17 (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. N, 2013/14 Review)]. The report indicates White received a range of ratings from 1 to 3 on specific categories and an overall ranking of 1: “Does not meet the requirements for the role.” Id. at SM000290. White circulated on September 29, 2014, an email to Garcia, Goodrich, and Bowen, attaching a document titled “Performance Accomplishments, ” [Dkt. 31-19 (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. P, Email 9/24/14)], wherein he acknowledged his receipt of a 2014 review, stating,

Gentlemen, again for the 2014 review period I have been given a less then [sic] acceptable review, I have mention[ed] in past reviews that it feels as if I have been placed in a “Pigeon Hole” and regardless of what I accomplish in my present role, the end result will be an identical “O.” The verbal communication given to me pertaining “Why” I was rated as “needs improvement in more than one area” is not substantial enough to rate me so low. Below, you will find what I feel are great accomplishments for this for the business and my team.

Id. at SM000373. White then listed his perceived accomplishments in sectors of “Productivity, ” “Quality, ” and “Other Project work / Safety ...

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