United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.
Plaintiff Vickie Tuggle alleges that her former employer, Defendant Goodwill Industries of Kentucky, Inc. (Goodwill), discriminated against her because of her age when it declined to promote her and terminated her. Goodwill moves for summary judgment, arguing that it did not promote Tuggle because other candidates were more qualified and that it terminated her because she failed to show up to work for three days after her personal leave expired. Because Tuggle has not shown that there is an issue of material fact whether Goodwill's legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions were a pretext for age discrimination, the Court will grant Goodwill's Motion for Summary Judgment
I. Factual and Procedural Background
Tuggle worked for Goodwill from 1994 until her termination on September 27, 2011. (Doc. # 22, Ex. 1). At the time of her termination, Tuggle was sixty-seven (67) years old. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 24). Goodwill originally hired her as Center Manager for its London, Kentucky store, which is part of its Cumberland division. As Center Manager, Tuggle's tasks included supervising the store, training employees, handling personnel matters, and promoting Goodwill's mission. (Doc. # 22, Ex. 2). The London store received several performance awards during Tuggle's time as Center Manager. (Doc. # 22, Ex. 3). Goodwill eventually opened a larger location in London and made Tuggle Center Manager of that store.
In February 2011, Tuggle applied for two open Regional Donated Goods Manager (RDGM) positions. (Doc. # 22, Ex. 5 at 34). RDGMs are responsible for supervising Center Managers. (Doc. # 22, Ex. 3 at 56). To assist in the hiring process, Kristel Fryman, then Vice President of Goodwill's Cumberland Division, created a three-person committee. (Doc. # 22, Ex. 5 at 35). The committee interviewed Tuggle for the RDGM positions, but it did not recommend her. Id. at 36-37.
The committee members indicated, both in their interview notes and during conversations with Fryman, that they did not suggest Tuggle for the position because she demonstrated a lack of respect for supervisors and did not answer interview questions. (Doc. # 22, Ex. 4 at 36, Ex. 5 at 36, Ex. 6 at 1-2). Instead, the committee recommended two other individuals who were ultimately hired: David Schult and Christine Wilson. (Doc. # 22, Ex. 5 at p. 36-37). Both received a higher overall interview score than Tuggle - a twenty-three (23) compared to a fifteen (15). (Doc. # 22, Ex. 6 at 3-6). Schult and Wilson were both in their fifties at the time of their promotions. (Doc. # 22, Ex. 5 at 37).
Shortly thereafter, on March 31, 2011, Tuggle informed Goodwill that she wanted to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) so that she could have an operation on her foot. (Doc. # 22, Ex. 9). Fryman responded by providing Tuggle with Goodwill's FMLA policy and the required forms. (Doc. # 22, Ex. 10). On April 7, 2011, Tuggle made a formal request for FMLA leave. (Doc. # 22, Ex. 11). Two weeks later, Goodwill granted her leave from April 19, 2011 through July 25, 2011. (Doc. # 22, Ex. 3 at 129-30).
Tuggle states that in the time period between her March 31 informal request for leave and her April 19 leave date, she began to experience harassment from fellow Goodwill employees. (Doc. # 23 at 3). Specifically, she asserts that fellow employees lodged false reprimands and complaints against her. (Doc. # 25 at 80-84). She further contends that when she returned to work her duties changed from doing "paperwork" to working in the "back." Id. at 129-30. According to Tuggle, working in the "back" was in violation of her medical restrictions. Id. at 92.
Tuggle returned from her FMLA leave on July 27, 2011. She then took some additional personal leave, but when her leave ended, she failed to return to work. (Doc. # 22, Ex. 13). On August 11, 2011, Fryman wrote Tuggle a letter notifying her that she had exhausted her FMLA leave and that she therefore needed to submit a request for additional "personal leave." Id. Fryman informed Tuggle that she did not follow Goodwill's policy of obtaining prior approval for the additional leave time and that if she did not make an appropriate request within three days Goodwill would terminate her. Id. Tuggle responded by making a request for leave until September 22, 2011 (Doc. # 22, Ex. 14), which Goodwill granted (Doc. # 22, Ex. 15).
In the letter granting the additional time off, Fryman informed Tuggle that Goodwill would not grant her any further leave. Id. She also warned Tuggle that Goodwill could have terminated her for failing to seek prior approval before missing work and that Tuggle should contact her supervisor (at that time Schult) before her leave expired to confirm her intent to return. Id. She also noted that based on Goodwill policy, when Tuggle returned to work she would no longer be a Center Manager, but would instead be placed in a position that met Goodwill's needs. Id.
On September 22, 2011, the day her leave ended, Tuggle called and left Fryman a message, telling her that she was being referred to another doctor and that her appointment would "probably be next week one day." (Doc. # 22, Ex. 3 at 15). In her message, she did not request additional leave or inform Fryman that her doctor had not yet released her to work. Id. at 15-16. Tuggle never did return to work, and on September 27, 2011, Fryman sent her a letter terminating her employment. (Doc. # 22, Ex. 18). The letter referenced Fryman's previous warning that failing to receive prior approval before missing work could result in termination, as well as her previous admonition that Goodwill would not grant Tuggle additional personal leave beyond September 22, 2011. Id.
On November 8, 2012, Tuggle and Glenna Bargo, another former Goodwill employee, filed suit against Goodwill, alleging age and gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq.; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA),  29 U.S.C. § 621 et. seq.; and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 344.040. (Doc. # 1). Tuggle and Bargo also brought state-law claims against Goodwill and several of its employees for intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and invasion of privacy. Id. In response, Goodwill and its co-defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 3) all claims, except for Tuggle's ADEA and state civil rights claims against Goodwill alleging age and gender discrimination. On August 27, 2013, this Court granted the Defendants' motion. (Doc. # 6). Goodwill now moves for summary judgment of Tuggle's federal and state age discrimination claims. (Doc. # 22). The matter is fully briefed (Doc. ## 22, 23, 24) and ripe for review.
A. Standard of review
Summary judgment is appropriate when "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party has the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must cite to evidence in the record upon which "a reasonable jury could return a verdict" in its favor; a mere "scintilla of evidence" will not do. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248-52 (1986). At summary judgment, a court "views the ...