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McLaughlin v. Fifth Third Bank, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington

June 7, 2018

KELLY A. MCLAUGHLIN, et al., Plaintiffs,



         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment (DE 55) by Defendant Fifth Third Bank, Inc. (“Fifth Third”). Plaintiffs McLaughlin and Raniero have responded, and the motion is ripe for review. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS the motion (DE 55).


         Plaintiffs are both former employees of Fifth Third Bank at its Newport, Kentucky location. (DE 1). Kelly McLaughlin was an employee of Fifth Third for approximately one and a half years, and was last employed as a Personal Banker. Janet Raniero was an employee of Fifth Third for approximately thirty-two years, and was last employed as a Customer Service Representative. On February 17, 2015, both McLaughlin and Raniero were discharged from their employment with Fifth Third. Id.

         Fifth Third alleges it fired McLaughlin and Raniero because they violated its dual control policy regarding entry to its cash vault. (DE 1 at 3). Opening the cash vault at the Covington location required the simultaneous use of two separate keys, and the required keys were assigned to different level employees. (DE 55-1 at 4). Other than an exception for a designated vault teller that is not at issue in this case, Fifth Third contends that a written policy required its employees to follow a system of dual control. As part of the policy, it was mandated that no less than two employees enter the vault at a time, and both remain present while the cash vault was open to observe the transaction. Id. at 4-5. When the transaction was completed, both employees were required to sign the dual control vault log to record their participation in the transaction. Id. Fifth Third contends that, due to a cash outage and a missing ATM key at the Newport Branch, it initiated an investigation into violations of the policy in January 2015, including through review of surveillance video and employee interviews. Id. The investigation concluded with Fifth Third firing several employees and issuing performance counseling to several others. Relevant here, Fifth Third fired three females: Kelly McLaughlin, Janet Raniero, and Alana Dillon. (DE 56 at 5). Fifth Third retained and provided performance counseling to three males: Randall Dreyer, Blake Hoover, and Joseph Durrett. Id. Fifth Third claims that its investigation also led to the recommendation that employees Will Sekula and Caitlyn Beagle be fired, but that the two resigned prior to termination. (DE 51 at 41, Gehlauf).

         On April 19, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a complaint against Fifth Third alleging sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Raniero also brought a claim for age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. (DE 1). Neither McLaughlin nor Raniero deny having entered the vault alone during the time they were employed by Fifth Third. (DE 47 at 33-34, McLaughlin; DE 46 at 11-12, Raniero). Instead, they argue that violation of the policy was widespread, and that, while they were fired, similarly-situated male employees who also broke the policy were retained. (DE 56 at 4-9).

         Fifth Third has moved for summary judgment, alleging that Plaintiffs cannot prove a prima facie case of discrimination, and also cannot show that Fifth Third's purported reason for firing the Plaintiffs was pretext. (DE 55-1). The Plaintiffs argue that they can show a prima facie case based on the differing treatment of similarly-situated male employees, and that there exists a genuine dispute of material facts regarding whether the firing was motivated by sex, rather than violation of the dual control policy. (DE 56 at 13-21). The Court reviews the arguments below.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standards

         Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that 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 bears the initial burden and must identify “those portions of the pleadings...which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal citation omitted).

         Once the movant meets the initial burden, the opposing party “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). In the Court's consideration of the motion, “the evidence should be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Ahlers v. Schebil, 188 F.3d 365, 369 (6th Cir. 1999) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

         B. Title VII Sex Discrimination Claim

         To establish a Title VII employment discrimination claim, a party is required to either “present direct evidence of discrimination or introduce circumstantial evidence that would allow an inference of discriminatory treatment.” Carter v. University of Toledo, 349 F.3d 269, 272-73 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Johnson v. Kroger Co., 319 F.3d 858, 864-65 (6th Cir. 2003)). When a party fails to put forth evidence of direct discrimination, the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas applies. Id. at 273; see also McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817 (1973). In this case, the Plaintiffs have not alleged direct evidence of discrimination, and both parties argue under the burden shifting framework. The framework requires the plaintiff to first present a prima facie case of discrimination, which creates a rebuttable presumption that discrimination occurred, and shifts the burden to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for taking the challenged employment action. Carter, 349 F.3d at 273. If the defendant satisfies this burden, the plaintiff must then prove that the proffered reason was actually a pretext to hide unlawful discrimination. Id. (quoting Johnson, 319 F.3d at 865-66).

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