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Farias v. Great Lakes Credit Union

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 13, 2018




         After Defendant Great Lakes Credit Union (“GLCU”) terminated Plaintiff Elizabeth Farias from her job as a loan sales specialist, Farias filed suit against GLCU for violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. GLCU moves for summary judgment. Because Farias has failed to demonstrate that GLCU terminated her because of her age, the Court grants GLCU's motion for summary judgment.


         GLCU is a state chartered not-for-profit credit union offering financial products to its members. Credit union members remain members for life, meaning that GLCU places a premium on maintaining member relationships.

         In December 1998, GLCU hired Farias as a data entry clerk. From 2002 to 2015, Farias served as a loan sales specialist at GLCU. In this role, she processed loan applications, pulled credit reports, quoted interest rates and loan terms, answered phones, and forwarded documents to GLCU members. Farias acknowledges that, in her role, it was important to ensure that loan applications contained accurate information. Farias had the highest annual sales volume in her department in 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014. In 2015, she increased her sales goal volume by $200, 000 over the previous year.

         During her time as a loan sales specialist, Farias had several supervisors, all of whom counseled her on work performance issues. Between December 5, 2003 and August 31, 2013, Farias reported to Lisa Anderson. On April 24, 2013, Anderson conducted a counseling meeting with Farias because Farias had processed an auto loan with an incorrect interest rate and had not set up automatic payments for a member. From September 1, 2013 to December 2, 2014, Farias reported to Sarah Zaworski, the daughter of GLCU's CEO and president. When Zaworski became Farias' supervisor, Farias, at 52 years of age, was the oldest employee in her department. Farias claims Zaworski told her she made the most money in 2014 but admits that she did so in a positive way. She also admits that she made more money because she had been in the department longer than any other GLCU employee.

         On June 18, 2014, Zaworski had a counseling meeting with Farias to address performance issues that arose on February 28 and May 24, 2014. As documented, the complaints included, among other things, Farias telling a member she would apply a promotional interest rate but did not, causing the member to have to call back and speak to another representative to have it processed, Farias informing a member that documents were in the mail twice but never sending them out, and Farias failing to inform a member that an auto loan had been denied. Farias acknowledged these complaints. In July 2014, Farias received telephone etiquette and member service skills training from Lisa Hopton, a GLCU staff development manager. On August 4, 2014, Zaworski issued Farias a verbal warning for lack of communication and member complaints after she completed an online application without obtaining the necessary documents and quoted an automatic payment discount without setting up automatic payment for the member. Additionally, Farias made a mistake in the processing of an auto loan, having a check for the loan cut at the wrong branch for the wrong amount, causing problems for the member and the staff at the GLCU branch where he went to retrieve his check.

         From December 2, 2014 to June 5, 2015, Farias reported to Melissa Panganiban. On December 23, 2014, Farias received a written warning from Panganiban for rate errors and member complaints that occurred on November 10 and December 12, 2014. Specifically, on November 10, Farias quoted a vehicle loan rate of 2.24% when it should have been 3.99%. The member demanded GLCU honor the lower rate, causing GLCU to lose $888.17 in interest income. A similar error occurred on December 12, when Farias quoted an interest rate of 1.99% on a used vehicle when the proper interest rate was 3.74%, causing GLCU to pay the difference in interest rates, $284.89.

         In January 2015, GLCU used secret shopping services provided by Support EXP to evaluate Farias' sales and service skills. To complete this exercise, Support EXP contacted random members and paid them $15 to $20 per secret shop to evaluate their sales and service experiences with GLCU employees. GLCU set 4.80 as the minimum sales and service rating it expected its employees to receive. In January 2015, when Support EXP conducted secret shopping of Farias, she received scores of 2.45 for service and 1.72 for sales. When this exercise was repeated in March 2015, she received a 4.15 rating for service and 2.67 for sales. Members commented that Farias did not ask them for their names, that she did not offer other products, and that she was slow to answer their phone calls, even allowing the phone to ring as much as eight times before answering.

         Although Farias' secret shop scores did not meet GLCU's minimum expectations, Farias did receive some positive feedback, with notations made in feedback reports that she had busy months, had closed a high volume of loans despite being sick, was productive, had received some compliment emails, and was doing well in learning a new system. But the feedback was not all positive, with additional recommendations included about improving her customer service, accuracy, and communication skills.

         Also during this time period, a member complained that Farias did not set up his account for automatic payments, causing him to receive delinquency notices. And on April 4, 2015, a member tried to pick up a loan check, but Farias had not prepared the check nor delivered it to the local branch for the member to pick up. Farias maintains that this member did not have an appointment and had not alerted her in advance. On April 8 and 11, 2015, Panganiban reviewed Farias' recorded calls, finding that Farias had difficulty instructing members about GLCU's procedures and loan approvals, did not understand member inquiries, and did not transfer members to the appropriate department.

         Based on the secret shop results and additional member complaints, Panganiban gave Farias a final written warning with a three-day suspension on April 20, 2015. When she received this final warning, Farias knew she could be terminated if she made one more mistake. But Farias' problems continued. That same day, a member complained that he did not want to work with Farias or send loan paperwork to her because she “talked to him like she had a chip on her shoulder and was pushy.” Doc. 43-5 at 18. Then, on April 22, a member complained that Farias quoted a vehicle loan rate of 2.74% when the rate should have been 4.49%, meaning GLCU had to reprocess the loan and honor the lower quoted rate, losing $943.60 in interest. This happened again on May 21, when Farias quoted a rate of 4.49% that should have been 7.74%, causing lost interest of $3, 879.22. On May 28, a member complained that Farias did not inform him of a $92 credit card balance transfer fee, which GLCU then waived. These errors in April and May 2015 caused GLCU a loss of $4, 914.82. In light of the errors and because Farias had already been given her final written warning, Panganiban recommended Farias' termination. Zaworski, Panganiban's immediate supervisor, reviewed the termination decision, agreed with it, and forwarded it to Janet Popelka, GLCU's assistant vice president of human resources and staff development. Panganiban, along with Popelka, made the final decision to terminate Farias. GLCU terminated Farias' employment on June 5, 2015.

         At the time Farias was terminated, Zaworski was not her supervisor. Farias does not have any specific information that GLCU fabricated or manufactured member complaints, but she never saw any underlying documents to support the errors.

         LEGAL ...

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