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Sanford v. Comcast Cable Communications Management, LLC

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

August 5, 2019




         Rashad Sanford worked at Comcast Cable Communications Management as a call center supervisor from September 2014 until he was fired in October 2016. R. 71, Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 33.[1] Sanford sued Comcast under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, et seq., alleging that he was fired in retaliation for refusing to improperly discriminate against four of his supervisees. See generally, R. 1, Compl. Comcast has now moved for summary judgment. See R. 62, Mot. Summ. J.; R. 63, DSOF; R. 64, Def.'s Br. For the reasons explained below, Comcast's motion is granted.

         I. Background

         In deciding the Defendant's motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Sanford began his job as a call center supervisor at Comcast in September 2014. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 33. In that role, Sanford oversaw employees, referred to by Comcast as Customer Account Executives (CAEs), who “answer[ed] calls from Comcast customers regarding billing inquiries and technical issues.” Id. ¶¶ 3-4. Supervisors' responsibilities included “providing ongoing performance feedback” to CAEs, “developing [CAEs'] personal performance plans, ” monitoring CAEs' calls and coaching them on their performance, and “recommending and administering discipline when appropriate.” Id. ¶ 4; see also R. 63-4, Def.'s Exh. D, Job Descript. for CAE Supers. Supervisors reported to managers; in turn, managers at Sanford's Comcast call center, located in Tinley Park, Illinois, report to Customer Care Director Andre Brown. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶¶ 5-6. Since 2013, Denise Lugo has been the human resources director at the call center. Id. ¶ 7.

         While Sanford was employed at the call center, all center supervisors received mid-year and year-end performance evaluations from their managers. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 14. Each evaluation included assessments of qualitative leadership skills, id. ¶¶ 16, 24-26, as well as information on quantitative performance indicators, which measured various aspects of CAEs' calls, id. ¶¶ 15, 17-21. The call indicators reflected back on supervisors' performance, because supervisors were responsible for “identify[ing] and coach[ing CAEs'] specific behaviors” to improve the performance indicators. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. Supervisors were also evaluated by the CAEs they supervised via surveys that Comcast refers to as the “Credo Speak” and “Credo Pulse.” Id. ¶¶ 27-29. The two surveys were similar in terms of content; the Credo Pulse survey was a shorter version of the Credo Speak survey. Id. ¶ 30.

         When Sanford first began working at Comcast, he was trained and supervised by manager Hilda Toscano. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶¶ 36-39. Toscano wrote both of Sanford's 2015 evaluations. Id. ¶ 40. In the mid-year evaluation, she noted several problems with Sanford's supervision of his team, including that he did not complete evaluations as required, did not approve payroll timely, managed attendance poorly, failed to complete trainings on time, and did not take initiative on corrective actions for his team of CAEs. Id. ¶ 41; R. 63-8, Def.'s Exh. H, 2015 Perform. Eval. at 12-13; R. 63-12, Def.'s Exh. L, Toscano Decl. ¶¶ 1-5. On the year-end evaluation, Toscano rated Sanford as “unacceptable” or “needs improvement” in several categories. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶¶ 42-43. She noted that Sanford “did not do well” managing his team's trainings throughout the year, and that “[h]e [was] not providing feedback to the agent in a timely manner or following up with the customer if applicable.” Id.; Def.'s Exh. H, 2015 Perform. Eval. at 3, 12. In 2015, Sanford also received a Credo Speak score of 58.5% from his CAEs. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 44. Comcast characterizes 58.5% as a “poor score.” Id. At the end of the year, in December 2015, Sanford was transferred to work under manager Robert Signore. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 45; R. 75, Def.'s Resp. PSOF ¶ 21.

         Sanford's performance problems continued in 2016. The 2016 Credo Pulse survey was administered in January or early February. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶¶ 31, 47; Def.'s Resp. PSOF ¶ 23. According to Comcast, Sanford's results from that survey “were some of the lowest in the Call Center.” Id. ¶ 48. In May 2016, Comcast received two anonymous complaints about Sanford's performance, sent in via the “Comcast Listens” report mechanism. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 54; R. 63-14, Def.'s Exh. N, 5/20/16 Comcast Listens Rep. at 1-2 (identifying Sanford as the complainant's supervisor, and stating that it was “unfair for [the complainant] to have to get wrote up for something [Sanford wasn't] doing, ”-“call[ing] a customer back.”); R. 63-15, Def.'s Exh. O, 5/26/16 Comcast Listens Rep. at 1-2 (similarly blaming Sanford for failing to call customers back); R. 63-16, Def.'s Exh. P, Miller Decl. ¶¶ 3-9 (authenticating the reports and describing the follow-up investigation done on each).

         In June 2016, Signore conducted Sanford's mid-year performance evaluation. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 56. The evaluation identified multiple problem areas for Sanford and gave him “an overall rating of Needs Improvement.” Id. ¶ 57; R. 63-9, Def.'s Exh. I, 2016 Perform. Eval. at 14. Sanford's performance deficiencies included failing to follow up with CAEs on statistics that suggested that they were not “following some of the required steps in the customer interaction process” properly. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 58. He also was not listening to CAEs' calls as he was required to do, or “issuing corrective actions for CAEs with poor behaviors.” Id. The 2016 Credo Speak survey was also administered in June 2016. Pl.'s Resp. Id. ¶ 60. This time Sanford received a 36.3%, which Comcast characterizes as an “‘extremely poor' score.” Id.

         Throughout this process, Sanford met with Signore multiple times. On February 8, 2016, Sanford and Signore met to discuss Sanford's Credo Pulse survey results. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 48; Def.'s Resp. PSOF ¶ 25; R. 63-1, Def.'s Exh. A, Sanford Dep. Tr. at 34:5-11; R. 63-2, Def.'s Exh. B, Signore Dep. Tr. at 92:7-18, 93:8-18, 94:6-95:6. According to Sanford, during the meeting, Signore “singled out specific agents indicating that they were disgruntled, longtime, seasoned, and tenured” based on the survey and asked Sanford “to find calls that he could send through to” human resources. Def.'s Resp. PSOF ¶ 25; Sanford Dep. Tr. at 43:11-22, 217:20-219:14; Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 51 (“At his deposition, Plaintiff testified that Signore allegedly requested during the … meeting that Plaintiff scrutinize the work performance of four CAEs on Plaintiff's team.”).

         Sanford's argument seems to be that he was instructed to ignore usual protocol in his dealings with those four employees and single them out or scrutinize them particularly harshly. See Def.'s Resp. PSOF ¶¶ 25-26 (“[Signore's] directions involved judging over 40 employees []by a different standard rather than the Career Advance Path standard followed nationally by the organization as a whole.”); Sanford Dep. Tr. at 43:11-22, 217:20-219:14; 244:23-246:17 (“A. Okay. So why do you believe … you were being asked to follow protocol for one set of employees but not the other set of employees? A. Because they were tenured, unhappy, and probably marked the scores low.”); see also R. 63-18, Def.'s Exh. R, 8/1/16 Comcast Listens Rep. at 3 (“My training encourages coaching and development based upon a two track predetermined process for conduct or performance.”). He was also upset that Signore's selection of the four employees was based, at least in part, on their responses in the Credo Pulse-a survey Sanford had understood to be confidential. See Def.'s Exh. R, 8/1/16 Comcast Listens Rep. at 3 (“I was being asked to target certain individuals based on what they may have indicated on a confidential survey.”).

         Comcast argues in response that “Signore [simply] instructed [Sanford] to listen to phone calls for all his CAEs because that is part of a Supervisor's job duties and Signore wanted to improve the performance of [Sanford's] team of CAEs.” Def.'s Resp. PSOF ¶ 26; see also Signore Dep. Tr. at 109:1-3 (denying that he asked Sanford to target any employees in particular). Sanford's Rule 56.1 Statement of Facts suggests that he told Signore during the meeting that he would not do exactly what Signore was asking and would instead follow proper (in Sanford's view) protocol for the four singled-out employees. Def.'s Resp. PSOF ¶ 26 (“Plaintiff indicated he would follow Care[e]r Advance protocol, as these agents were performing at the 3.0 to 4.0 level.”). But Sanford points to no evidence to establish that point except a Comcast Listens report that he submitted later in 2016 (discussed further below). See Def.'s Exh. R, 8/1/16 Comcast Listens Rep. at 3 (“I responded that I had little to no history with the team as a whole and was going to implement the two track performance management model.”).

         Importantly, the parties agree that Sanford did not raise concerns about age or race discrimination in that meeting. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 53 (failing to rebut Comcast's statement that Sanford did not raise race or age during the meeting); Sanford Dep. Tr. at 43:15-45:12, 156:20-157:2, 217:20-219:14 (“Q. So you didn't raise any objection to him that you believed his directive might've constituted age discrimination? A. No, I didn't. Q. Okay, Did you raise any objection to him that that corrective in your opinion constituted some type of race discrimination? A. I-I told him that I was going to follow the protocol.”).

         After that, Sanford spoke with Brown on the phone on July 1, 2016 and in person on July 5, 2016. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 61. The conversations were primarily about Sanford's job performance and his management of his CAE team. Id.; Sanford Dep. Tr. at 51:10-55:16. Again, Sanford testified at his deposition that during those conversations he did not raise any concerns about potential discrimination. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 61; Sanford Dep. Tr. at 51:21-24 (discussing the July 1 phone call), 162:20-163:8 (discussing the July 5 meeting); R. 63-3, Def.'s Exh. C, Brown Dep. Tr. at 58:9-61:3 (describing Brown's July 5 conversion with Sanford, in which Sanford explained that he disagreed with Signore's approach because he believed corrective action was not warranted for some employees).

         On July 8, Sanford met with both Signore and Brown, who placed him on a “60-day performance improvement plan, ” set to expire on September 13, 2016. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 62. Under the plan, Sanford and Signore had weekly coaching sessions on Sanford's “leadership ability, and identifying CAEs' behaviors to coach CAEs to improve” their results. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 63. Again, at his deposition, Sanford testified that he did not ...

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