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Lincoln v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

February 12, 2018




         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant State Farm Automobile Insurance Company's Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. 15. The Court has considered the pleadings filed in support of and in opposition to the motion and the file herein.

         I. BACKGROUND


         Plaintiff filed this employment action in Pierce County, Washington on October 6, 2016. Dkt. 1-3. Defendant removed the case to this Court on March 10, 2017. Dkt. 1. Defendant has cited diversity jurisdiction as the basis for this Court's subject matter jurisdiction, because Plaintiff resides in the State of Washington, Defendant is incorporated in the State of Illinois, and Plaintiff has asserted general damages “between $200, 000 and $250, 000.” Dkt. 2 at ¶4; Dkt. 1-13 at ¶¶4.1, 4.2.

         The Amended Complaint (Dkt. 1-13), which controls, alleges gender, disability, and age discrimination in violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD). Dkt. 1-13 at ¶¶6.1-6.4. See RCW 49.60 et seq. The Amended Complaint alleges three WLAD discrimination claims, for Disparate Treatment, Hostile Work Environment, and Unlawful Retaliation. Id. at ¶¶6.1-6.3. The Amended Complaint also alleges a common law claim for Wrongful Discharge. Id. at ¶6.4.

         B. FACTS

         The Court recites the relevant facts substantiated by the record in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.

         1. Ms. Lincoln's initial employment under Team Manager Matt Dyk.

         State Farm hired Ms. Marianne Lincoln as a Claims Associate, level PA2, in September of 2013. Dkt. 16-1 at 60. As a Claims Associate, Ms. Lincoln processed insurance claims, a task that involved gathering information from policyholders and auto repair shops by phone and making liability determinations up to a certain amount. Dkt. 16-1 at 13-15. Prior to going “live” on December 9, 2013, Dkt. 16-1 at 209, Ms. Lincoln received about two months of training. The training explained various State Farm policies, including the Standard Claim Procedures (SCPs), an internal, written database used by claims associates to handle certain situations in a certain way. Dkt. 16-1 at 8, 9.

         Ms. Lincoln began work under Team Manager Carolyn Price. Dkt. 16-1 at 64-67. State Farm transferred Ms. Lincoln to a team managed by Mr. Matt Dyk at some point prior to September 25, 2014. See Dkt. 16-1 at 74. In addition to receiving annual reviews, see, e.g., Dkt. 16-1 at 64-72, Ms. Lincoln received work performance feedback from Customer Interaction Reviews (“CIRs”), evaluations from non-team members listening to conversations without notice, Dkt. 16-1 at 11, and from “one-on-one” observation sessions with Team Managers. Dkt. 16-1 at 12. Mr. Dyk's notes from a September 25, 2014 one-on-one session with Ms. Lincoln state: “We talked about AHT [Average Handling Time] and trying to get it down a bit. Talked about sticking to the SCPs [Standard Claim Procedures] and not giving any other advice during the call.” Dkt. 16-1 at 74.

         Ms. Lincoln asked Mr. Dyk for a promotion from Claims Associate level PA2 to PA3, a promotion that would increase wages but not responsibilities. Dkt. 23 at 2. Mr. Dyk denied the request but told her that she was “within a couple weeks” of the promotion. Id. at 2, 3.

         2. Ms. Lincoln's employment under Team Manager Rosa Kong.

         Ms. Lincoln was transferred to a team managed by Ms. Rosa Kong on May 18, 2015. Dkt. 16-1 at 6. Within the first month of Ms. Kong's tenure as team manager, Ms. Lincoln recalls Ms. Kong commenting at a team meeting that older team members “were used to being more ‘friendly' on the phone and therefore took longer on calls than younger employees [sic] since they had not developed that habit yet, ” a fact supported by “HR studies conducted.” Dkt. 23 at 4. See also, Dkt. 21-1 at 4.

         Ms. Kong began weekly one-on-one meetings with Ms.Lincoln a couple weeks after the transition, on May 28, 2015. Dkt. 16-1 at 209. Ms. Kong relied upon several metrics to evaluate the performance of her team, including the Standard Claim Procedures; Average Handling Time (AHT), the average the length of calls; and Task Productivity Rate (TPR), the total number of “tasks” accomplished per day. See, e.g., Dkt. 23-14. According to Ms. Lincoln, on July 10, 2015, and again on July, 2015, Ms. Kong's one-on-one meetings singled out Ms. Lincoln for technical violations of the Standard Claim Procedures not also enforced against others. Dkt. 23 at 6. Ms. Kong's notes to the July 10, 2015 session state that Ms. Lincoln “continues to demonstrate remarkable behaviors with every interaction per CIR scores, ” but “we have discussed quality concerns and the importance of SCP adherence. AHT has improved[.]” Dkt. 16-1 at 99.

         On July 20, 2015, another manager emailed Ms. Kong that he had received a complaint by an associate of an “outburst” incident by Ms. Lincoln, where Ms. Lincoln pounded her fist on her desk and loudly stomped her feet. The manager had handled the situation by asking Ms. Lincoln to “be more self-aware and conscientious of those around her.” Dkt. 16-1 at 106. On July 21, 2015, Ms. Kong spoke with Ms. Lincoln about the incident, and according to Ms. Kong, Ms. Lincoln acknowledged personal stress, but stated that “personal issues . . . have not affected her quality production and the lack of focus.” Dkt. 16-1 at 108.

         On July 22, 2015, Ms. Kong sent an email to recap the “conversation of yesterday July 21st, 2015 and to highlight a few sequence of events that have led up to our performance discussion.” Dkt. 16-1 at 112. Ms. Lincoln responded to Ms. Kong's email and expressed that receiving Ms. Kong's email “caused me to panic . . . [i]n the light of 2 women over 50 on our team being let go recently . . . [because] I, too am similar in profile (over 50).” Id. 110-112. Ms. Kong sympathized that Ms. Lincoln “fe[lt] singled out, ” but doubled down on her opinion that Ms. Lincoln's was “completely unprofessional and unacceptable.” Id. at 114. Ms. Kong commented that “[a]s for terminations in the past, it has nothing to do with your allegations and due to private reasons I'm not at liberty to discuss their performance[.]” Id. at 114.

         On September 24, 2015, Ms. Kong “[c]ompleted file reviews to measure [Ms. Lincoln's] SCP adherence due to her PA3 interest, ” but “file reviews completed indicated she was not consistently adhering to SCPs.” Dkt. 16-1 at 211. Ms. Kong “advised I would continue to monitor [Ms. Lincoln's] SCP adherence[.]” Id. Ms. Kong's notes to a September 25, 2015 one-on-one meeting similarly state, “advised we were going to review her PA3 candidacy.” Dkt. 16-1 at 131.

         On October 2, 2015, Ms. Kong emailed Ms. Lincoln about a Customer Interaction Review (CIR), where the CIR team had flagged an inappropriate conversation between Ms. Lincoln and a customer. Dkt. 16-1 at 133. According to the CIR, “[d]uring this call, the customer mentioned he would take the [customer satisfaction] survey if this would help with a raise for the associate, ” and Ms. Lincoln responded to the customer by stating, “I'm kinda hanging on the edge of my seat on that one. They opened up this center two years ago and there's a bunch of us[.]” Id. at 135. Ms. Lincoln emailed Ms. Kong at 2:52pm, apologizing for the negative CIR and conveying that she was “not in a good place to discuss [the CIR] at this time” because she felt overwhelmed. Dkt. 16-1 at 139. Ms. Lincoln reported “trying to keep [herself[ together . . . to get [her] affairs in order regarding logics for the surgery.” Id. A 3:36pm email from another manager to Ms. Kong reported Ms. Lincoln venting frustration about the negative CIR and meager prospects of a PA3 promotion, because, “who would promote someone who's about to go on medical leave.” Id. at 141. Ms. Lincoln first notified Ms. Kong of her need for medical leave on October 2, 2015. Dkt. 23 at 9; Dkt. 21-2 at 33.

         While out on leave, which began on October 6, 2015, on October 20, 2015, Ms. Lincoln called Ms. Holly Williams (HR). Ms. Williams' notes reflect that Ms. Lincoln expressed her frustrations with Ms. Kong and requested a new manager. Dkt. 16-1 at 148. According to Ms. Williams' notes, she discussed with Ms. Lincoln State Farm's “expectation that she is to work for any manager.” Id. The conversation also included discussion of Plaintiff's medical leave, and Ms. Williams “discussed ADA and if [Ms. Lincoln] needed anything to let Rosa [Kong] know when she returns[.]” Id.

         Ms. Lincoln returned to work from leave on November 16, 2015. Dkt. 23 at 9, 10. On December 9, 2015, Ms. Kong drafted a work performance memo about Ms. Lincoln, referred the parties as a “drop file memo.” Dkt. 16-1 at 154-155. The drop file memo outlined a series of work performance concerns by Ms. Kong. Id. Ms. Kong signed the memo, but Ms. Lincoln refused to sign. See id. Cynthia Jones, HR, and “Supervisor Drop File” were copied in the correspondence. Id. Ms. Lincoln comprehensively responded to the drop file memo by email on December 17, 2015. Dkt. 16-1 at 164-167. Around that time, on December 6, 2015, Ms. Kong also informed Ms. Lincoln that she was no longer authorized to take overtime shifts. Dkt. 23 at 10, 11.

         On December 17, 2015, Ms. Kong reprimanded Ms. Lincoln for typing on her personal laptop. Ms. Kong recalls that Ms. Lincoln responded by raising her voice and saying, “Go away and leave me alone! Do you want me to finish the training or not?” Dkt. 16-1 at 214. Ms. Kong “[c]onsulted with leadership and Human Resources who made the decision to place [Ms. Lincoln] on Paid Administrative Leave.” Dkt. 16-1 at 214.

         Ms. Lincoln was placed on paid administrative leave from December 17, 2015 until January 6, 2016. Dkt. 23 at 14, 15. At a January 13, 2016 one-on-one meeting, Ms. Kong reprimanded Ms. Lincoln for “cherry picking” tasks to improve the appearance of her speed, though in Ms. Lincoln's view, she was exercising discretion to economize her tasks. Id. Ms. Kong sent an email on January 13, 2016 recapping her view that Ms. Lincoln had made no progress in improving her adherence to the SCPs. Dkt. 16-1 at 205-206. Ms. Lincoln responded to the email by rejecting Ms. Kong's accusations. Dkt. 16-1 at 206.

         3. State Farm's termination of Ms. Lincoln's employment.

         On January 20, 2016, Ms. Kong by email recommended terminating Ms. Lincoln to “upper leadership, ” comprised of Ms. Jones (HR), Don Bright, and Javier Ray. Dkt. 21-2 at 33. According to Ms. Kong, her recommendation was based “strictly on performance, ” as well as misconduct, to wit, Ms. Lincoln's disruptive and insubordinate behavior. Dkt. 21-2 at 38, 41. In Ms. Kong's view, three incidents supported the misconduct ...

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