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Carpenter v. Renfro Valley, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

March 2, 2015

AUDREY CARPENTER and SANDRA RAMSEY, Plaintiffs,
v.
RENFRO VALLEY, LLC, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE, District Judge.

Renfro Valley is a destination for live music, dining, shopping, lodging, and entertainment in the heart of Central Kentucky. In July 2010, shortly after taking the helm as Renfro Valley's Chief Executive and Operating Officer, Vicki Kidd terminated employees Audrey Carpenter and Sandra Ramsey. Carpenter and Ramsey now sue Renfro Valley, alleging they were discriminated against on the basis of both their age and sex/gender in violation of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. As neither plaintiff has presented a genuine issue for a jury to consider as to the question of pretext, summary judgment will be GRANTED in favor of Renfro Valley.

I

After Vicki Kidd was hired as Renfro Valley's Chief Executive and Operating Officer, her first task was to assess Renfro Valley's property, employees and entertainment. [R. 34-3 at 1; R. 35-6 at 17.] Carpenter recalls Kidd saying that "she had 90 days to make some changes, " including "eliminat[ing] some things that would help save money" and also increasing accountability in the various departments, with the ultimate aim of making Renfro valley more profitable and efficient. [R. 34-4 at 30, 35-36.] As Ramsey put it, Kidd was "trying to help Renfro Valley to make a profit because it was financially, you know, unstable." [R. 34-5 at 5.] During this period of evaluation, Kidd determined that Carpenter and Ramsey needed to be let go.

Audrey Carpenter worked in personnel and payroll between 2006 and the date of her termination. [R. 34-4 at 14.] Shortly after coming on board, Kidd actually promoted Carpenter to the post of Human Resources manager. [R. 34-4 at 17-18.] In this capacity, Carpenter's responsibilities remained generally the same but Carpenter was also tasked with preparing an employee handbook. [ Id. ] After spending some time at Renfro, Kidd "found fault" with Carpenters "work ethic and skill level in her accounting/human resources position." [R. 34-3 at 2-3.] Kidd also stated that the personnel files that Carpenter was responsible for keeping were "very poor and disorganized, " Carpenter seemed unable to do payroll without the help of others, and that the personnel manual Carpenter had been tasked with preparing was not satisfactorily completed. [ Id. ] Finally, Kidd noted that Carpenter made mistakes in preparing tax documents that resulted in Renfro having problems with the IRS. [ Id. ] Ultimately, Kidd recommended to the owners of Renfro Valley that Carpenter be discharged. [ Id. ]

Sandra Ramsey worked at Renfro from 2003 to 2007, left, and then was rehired in August of 2007. [R. 34-5 at 16-18.] Ramsey was primarily responsible for marketing, graphic design and producing a newsletter, titled The Bugle. [R. 34-5 at 18-22.] Kidd similarly evaluated Ramsey, finding "fault with [her] work ethic, " and noting that her work product was not of the "professional quality" that she expected. [R. 34-3 at 2.] Additionally, Kidd determined that The Bugle was "outdated, not cost-effective and would be discontinued after the December 2010 issue." [ Id. ] "Based on [Kidd's] analysis of [Ramsey's] job performance, the fact that "The Bugle" was being discontinued, [Kidd's] mandate to make the company more efficient and profitable, and the needs and goals for the sales and marketing department in the future, " Kidd recommended that Ramsey be discharged. [R. 34-3 at 2.]

On January 25, 2011, Kidd called Carpenter, Ramsey and Tammy Clontz, a contract employee and the supervisor of Carpenter and Ramsey, into her office and let them all know they were being terminated. [R. 34-4 at 37; R. 34-5 at 35.] At the time, Kidd's stated reason for terminating them was because Renfro Valley was "going in a different direction." [R. 34-4 at 38; R. 34-5 at 63.]

Kidd never issued a written reprimand to Carpenter, never performed a formal performance review or evaluation, never disciplined Carpenter, nor did she speak with her supervisor, Tammy Clontz, about her performance prior to her termination. [R. 35 at 5 (referring to R. 35-7 at 10-11; 18).] Similarly, Kidd did not meet with Ramsey nor did she discuss Ramsey's performance, position, or responsibilities with Clontz prior to Ramsey's termination. [R.35-6 at 6.]

On May 6, 2011, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint in Rockcastle Circuit Court, alleging discrimination due to both age and gender. [R. 1-2.] The case was subsequently removed to this Court. [R. 1.] Carpenter was fifty-three years old at the time of her termination [R. 1-2 at 3; R. 34-4 at 17] and Ramsey was fifty-one. [R. 1-2 at 3; R. 34-5 at 14.]

When initially asked why she was terminated, Carpenter responded, "I really don't know." [R. 34-4 at 44.] She did not know who decided to terminate her and had heard nothing about the reason for it. [ Id. at 45.] According to Carpenter, the man that replaced her, David Brummett, is probably about forty years old. [R. 34-4 at 47.] When Carpenter was asked more pointedly why she believes that her termination was due to age she said, "[b]ecause I've never been reprimanded before..." [R. 34-4 at 52.] When again asked why she believed she was terminated due to gender, she replied, "[t]his is just what I feel inside my heart. Ms. Kidd got along better with the male gender than she did the female gender." [R. 34-4 at 53.] In support of this perceived disparity, Carpenter notes that Kidd's tone and voice were different in staff meetings depending on whether Kidd was talking to men or women. [ Id. ]

When Ramsey was asked why she believed that she had been terminated, she also said, "I really don't know." [R. 34-5 at 45.] When pushed to provide more detail, she explained that she thought her termination was due to her age and gender because a younger man replaced her. [ Id. ]

II

A

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986). "A genuine dispute exists on a material fact, and thus summary judgment is improper, if the evidence shows that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Olinger v. Corp. of the President of the Church, 521 F.Supp.2d 577, 582 (E.D. Ky. 2007) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)).

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must review the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Logan v. Denny's, Inc., 259 F.3d 558, 566 (6th Cir. 2001) ( citing Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255). The moving party has the initial burden of demonstrating the basis for its motion and identifying those parts of the record that establish the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Chao v. Hall Holding Co., Inc., 285 F.3d 415, 424 (6th Cir. 2002). The movant may satisfy its burden by showing "that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. Once the movant has satisfied this burden, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and come forward with specific facts to demonstrate there is a genuine issue. Hall Holding, 285 F.3d at 424 ( citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.) Moreover, "the nonmoving party must do more than show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material fact. It must present significant probative evidence in support of its opposition to the motion for summary judgment." Id. (internal citations omitted).

The trial court is under no duty to "search the entire record to establish that it is bereft of a genuine issue of material fact." In re Morris, 260 F.3d 654, 655 (6th Cir. 2001) ( citing Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479-80 (6th Cir. 1989)). Instead, "the nonmoving party has an affirmative duty to direct the court's attention to those specific portions of the record upon ...


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