United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
HONORABLE EDMOND E. CHANG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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 ¶
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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
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
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.”).
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).
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