United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER ON DEFENDANT STATE FARM AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE
COMPANY'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
J. BRYAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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
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.
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
Court recites the relevant facts substantiated by the record
in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.
Ms. Lincoln's initial employment under Team Manager Matt
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.
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
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.
Ms. Lincoln's employment under Team Manager Rosa
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
State Farm's termination of Ms. Lincoln's
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