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NOBLES v. NALCO CHEMICAL CO.

March 2, 2004.

WAYNE NOBLES, Plaintiff,
v.
NALCO CHEMICAL COMPANY, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: REBECCA PALLMEYER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Wayne Nobles ("Nobles") filed this suit against his former employer, Defendant Nalco. Chemical Company ("Nalco"), alleging that he was the victim of sex and race discrimination and retaliation in violation of 42 U, S.C. § 2000e et seq. Specifically, Nobles, who was the only African-American male working in Nalco's Procurement Department, claims he was subjected to a hostile work environment and was denied training, promotions, transfers, and salary increases because of his race and sex. When he complained to Nalco's Human Resources Department, Nobles alleges, Nalco. officials retaliated against him and ultimately terminated his employment in April 2001. Nalco denies that any discrimination or retaliation occurred. Nalco. now moves for summary judgment, arguing that the undisputed facts show that Nobles cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

 A. Nobles' Job Duties and Performance Expectations

  Nobles is an African-American male. (Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Uncontested Material Facts (hereinafter "Def.'s 56.1") ¶ 6.) Although he attended colleges in Mississippi, Kansas, and Wisconsin, Nobles has never earned a college degree. (Employment Application and Personal History Data Form, Exs. 2, 4 to Nobles Dep.; Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 7.) He did, Page 2 however, receive a certification as a transportation manager from Johnson City College in Kansas. (Nobles Dep., at 73-74.) Nobles also possesses a trade school certificate as a locomotive engineer and has a professional license as a gospel preacher. (Id. at 74.)

  In October 1999, Nobles received a letter from Rosemary NaTreffa ("NaTreffa") at Nalco, offering him a position as Clerical Specialist in the Procurement Department. (Id. at 71-72; Ex. 3 to Nobles Dep.) From the time of his hire on November 1, 1999, until his termination on April 30, 2001, Nobles worked as a Clerical Specialist. In that position, he was responsible for performing complex clerical duties with minimal supervision, which required independent analysis, exercise of judgment, leadership responsibility, and a detailed knowledge of company procedures. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 13; Ex. A to Jane Tinker Declaration.)

  Until early November 2000, Nobles reported directly to Hadley Hurford ("Hurford"). (Id. ¶ 5.) Following a reorganization in November 2000, Jane Tinker ("Tinker") became Nobles' supervisor. (Id.) As Purchasing Manager, Tinker was responsible for managing processes in the Procurement Department, as well as supervising administrative staff and some professional level staff in the Department. (Id. ¶ 8.)

  On or about November 13, 2000, Tinker met with Nobles to discuss Nobles' responsibilities for processing corrective action requests ("CARs"). (Id. ¶ 14.) CARs are used by Nalco. to notify suppliers about, and correct problems with, quality, quantity, or delivery of goods and services purchased by Nalco. (Id.) Nobles was responsible for recording all CARs received by the Procurement Department on a spreadsheet. (Id. ¶ 15.) He was also expected to identify the Nalco. Purchasing Manager assigned to the good or service in question, follow up with that person to ensure that the problem was resolved, and then make an entry in the spreadsheet to show the CAR matter was closed. Finally, Nobles was required to notify the person who originally requested the correction that the CAR was closed. (Id.) Tinker explained to Nobles in the November 13 meeting that she expected the entire CAR process to be completed in thirty days. (Id.) Page 3

  Tinker and Nobles met again on December 27, 2000, to further discuss Nobles' job responsibilities. (Id. ¶ 18; Nobles Dep., at 163-64.) Tinker was aware that Nobles had not received any salary increase under Hurford's supervision. She stated in her Declaration that she wanted to be certain that Nobles understood his responsibilities and had appropriate training. (Id.; Ex. 3 to Def.'s 56.1, Tinker Declaration ¶ 15.) At the December 27 meeting, Tinker gave Nobles a typed list of his job responsibilities, in which she again explained that CARs should be completed within thirty days. (Id.; Nobles Dep., at 164; Ex. 19 to Nobles Dep.)

  Plaintiff had additional job responsibilities, which included creating and sending purchase orders for products such as office supplies, business cards, and computer equipment. (Id. ¶ 19.) Nobles was also responsible for creating and maintaining what the parties refer to as "outline agreements" for the "Portafeed group." Portafeeds are reusable containers that Nalco. uses to ship its water treatment products to suppliers. (Id, ¶ 20.) Nobles' responsibilities for maintaining the outline agreements required him to update product numbers, prices, and specifications. (Id.) Tinker explained these job responsibilities to Nobles during the December 27 meeting. (Id. ¶ 18.) She also informed him that she expected to meet with him again in mid-January to discuss transferring some of Nobles' responsibilities to staff inside the Portafeed group. (Id. ¶ 21.) Tinker requested that Nobles review certain materials in preparation for that meeting. (Id.)

  As anticipated, Tinker did meet with Nobles on or about January 17 or 19, 2001 to discuss his job responsibilities and his work relating to the Portafeed group. (Id. ¶ 23.) According to Tinker, Nobles was not prepared for the meeting. (Id.; Tinker Declaration ¶ 20.) Nobles admits that he was not prepared, but explains this was because he was unsure of the date and time of the meeting due to Tinker's fluctuating schedule. (Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts (hereinafter "Pl.'s 56.1") ¶ 23; Nobles Aff. ¶ 6.) During this meeting, Nobles requested additional training in order to achieve the performance expectations for his position. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 24.) Tinker explained to Nobles that he would receive training from Nalco Page 4 employee Mary Cepek regarding the necessary computer programs; Tinker further suggested materials for Nobles to review on his own. (Id.; Tinker Declaration, Ex. E.) It is unclear from the record whether Nobles did in fact receive the training or review the materials on his own. In his 56.1 Response, Nobles asserts that any training he received was inadequate because it was casual and informal in nature. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 24.) Later in his 56.1 Response, however, Nobles admits that he received all training necessary for him to perform his job duties. (Id. ¶ 34.)

 B. Nobles' Probation and Termination

  Throughout late 2000 and 2001, Tinker monitored all Procurement Department administrative staff job performance. (Def.'s 56.1 26.) Tinker observed that Nobles was not processing CARs or purchase orders as quickly as necessary. She explained in her Declaration, further, that Purchasing Managers and other Nalco. personnel requesting CARs and purchase orders complained about Nobles' performance and advised her that they often had to `re-do" Nobles' work. (Id.) In his Affidavit, Nobles claims that his performance was as good as other individuals within the department, though he offers no explanation as to how he became aware of his co-workers' performance. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 26; Ex. 3 to Nobles Aff.)*fn1 In response to these complaints, Tinker conducted an investigation on or about February 12, 2001. (Def.'s 56.1 27.) She discovered that Nobles had not made any new entries on the spreadsheet or closed any CARs since November 28, 2000. Nobles' performance in this respect was unacceptable in Tinker's opinion. (Id.) In his Affidavit, Nobles claims that any deficiencies in his work were caused by staffing shortages and shifting duties and priorities. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 27; Nobles Aff. ¶ 5.)*fn2 He explains Page 5 that the department was short staffed because of absences and unfilled positions. (Nobles Aff. ¶ 5.) He acknowledges that Tinker offered him the assistance of temporary employees, but explains that he thought they would not be useful because they would have to be trained. (Id.)

  Tinker reviewed Nobles' performance problems with her superiors, who authorized her to terminate Nobles' employment in February 2001. Tinker decided instead, however, to place him on probation to give him a chance to improve his performance. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 26.) Tinker informed Nobles of his probationary status on February 13, 2001, and explained that it was due to his failure to fulfill his job responsibilities with respect to the CARs. (Id. ¶ 29.) In this meeting, Nobles admitted that he had not updated any CARs since November and had declined Tinker's offer of assistance from temporary employees. (Id.) Tinker followed up with a memo confirming that Nobles was on probation and that his failure to process CARs within the guidelines could result in termination. (Id. ¶ 31; Ex. G to Tinker Declaration.) Nobles responded to Tinker's memo with a memo of his own, explaining that he had not entered any new CARs in the previous six weeks because the department was shorthanded and because processing CARs was only a small part of his daily responsibilities. (Id. ¶ 32; Ex. H to Tinker Declaration.) Within a day or so after that, Nobles began an extended sick leave; he was absent from February 19, 2001, through March 15, 2001. (Id. ¶¶ 32, 35.)*fn3 Nobles testified that as of February 19, 2001, there were at least six CARs that had come in during 2001 that had not been completed. (Id. ¶ 33; Nobles Dep., at 387.) Page 6

  On or about January 27, 2001, Tinker began her performance review process for the administrative staff by sending each staff member a blank performance review form, a portion of which was to be completed by the employee. (Id. ¶ 25.) This was the first such formal performance review anyone in the Procurement Department administrative staff had received since August 2000 and the first review Nobles had received since he began working for Nalco. in November 1999. (Id.; Tinker Declaration ¶ 22.) Nobles had not completed the form before going on sick leave, so when he returned to work on March 16, 2001, Tinker asked him to return the completed portion of the performance review form to her by March 21, 2001. (Id. ¶ 36.) On March 20, 2001, Nobles gave Tinker a letter discussing his job performance, but did not return the completed portion of the performance review form. (Id. ¶ 37; Tinker Declaration ¶ 31; Ex. I to Tinker Declaration.)

  Tinker met with Nobles on or about March 29, 2001 to discuss his performance review. Due to his problems processing CARs and purchase orders, Tinker rated Nobles as needing improvement in the categories of job skills, quality of work, teamwork, and attitude. (Id. ¶ 38.) Tinker discussed with him specific problems mentioned in the review, as well as his failure to follow procedure with CARs and the effects his poor performance could have on the Procurement Department's objectives. (Id.) Nobles refused to sign his performance review. (Id. ¶ 39.)

  Throughout the latter part of March and April 2001, Tinker says she continued to monitor Nobles' performance. (Id. ¶ 40; Tinker Declaration ¶ 34.) She observed that "Mr. Nobles continuously failed to process CARs in accordance with the guidelines we had discussed and continued to fail to fulfill his job responsibilities in other respects." (Tinker Declaration ¶ 34.) Nobles denies this; he asserts that Tinker did not properly monitor his performance and that he did satisfactorily perform his job responsibilities, though he offers no explanation as to how Tinker's monitoring of him was deficient. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 40.) In April 2001, Tinker recommended to her supervisor, John Williams ("Williams"), that Nobles' employment with Nalco. be terminated. (Def.'s Page 7 56.1 ¶ 40.) On April 30, 2001, Williams and Tinker met with Nobles to inform him that he was being discharged. (Id. ¶ 41.)

  Tinker was unaware that Nobles thought he was being discriminated against or harassed during his employment on the basis of his race or sex. (Id. ¶ 43.) She first learned of Nobles' allegations of race an'd sex discrimination and harassment after Nobles' termination from employment. (Id.) Nobles believes Tinker was aware of his discrimination complaints, but he has offered no evidence in support of his ...


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