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Bryant v. Coventry Health Care

December 17, 2009

RENITA BRYANT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COVENTRY HEALTH CARE, AGENT FOR FIRST HEALTH GROUP CORP., AND DOES 1-30, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Dana M. Sabraw United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

[Docket No. 15]

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff has filed an opposition to the motion, and Defendant has filed a reply. For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendant's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Renita Bryant is a "very tall, large, older black woman." (Pl.'s Separate Statement of Disputed Facts in Opp'n to Mot., Fact No. 86.) In 1989, she began working as a Hospital Service Representative for Community Care Network ("CCN"). (Def.'s Separate Statement of Uncontroverted Facts in Supp. of Mot., Fact No. 1.) CCN was acquired by First Health Group Corporation ("First Health") in 2001, which was subsequently acquired by Defendant Coventry Health Care ("Defendant" or "CHC") in January 2005. (Id., Fact No. 2.)

Defendant's Employee Handbook includes sections on "Diversity Awareness and the Workplace" and "Equal Employment Opportunity." (See Decl. of Jeanette M. Kang in Supp. of Mot. ("Kang Decl."), Ex. A at 157-60.) It also states that employment is:

"at will." This means you have the right to terminate your employment with CHC, with or without reason and with or without notice, at any time. CHC also has the right to terminate or lay off employees, with or without reason and with or without notice, at any time, too, except as prohibited by law.

(Id. at 178.) This portion of the Handbook also goes on to say: No individual other than the Chief Executive Officer of CHC, Inc., has the authority to alter this arrangement, to enter into an agreement for employment for a specific time, or to make any agreement contrary to this policy. Further, any such agreement must be in writing and signed by the Chief Executive Officer or his designee.

(Id.) Plaintiff acknowledged that she was notified of the Employee Handbook on June 28, 2005. (Id. at 133.)

Plaintiff's job duties at CCN and First Health involved customer service and sales. (Def.'s Separate Statement of Uncontroverted Facts in Supp. of Mot., Fact No. 3.) After Defendant acquired First Health, Plaintiff transitioned into a position focused solely on sales. (Id., Fact No. 4.) Plaintiff began working in this position in February 2005. (Id., Fact No. 19.) Plaintiff's duties in this position included building and retaining relationships with existing customers as well as providing revenue forecasting, and identifying and pursuing new sales opportunities. (Id., Fact No. 20.)

Plaintiff's initial supervisor at CHC was Jonathan Wechsler. (Id., Fact No. 25.) Ms. Wechsler completed a Competency Assessment Form for Plaintiff in 2006. (Kang Decl., Ex. A at 99-101.) His Overall Review Rating was that Plaintiff was performing successfully. (Id. at 101.)

In February 2007, Lindsay DeYoung became Plaintiff's direct supervisor. (Def.'s Separate Statement of Uncontroverted Facts in Supp. of Mot., Fact No. 31.) This was DeYoung's first job supervising sales people. (Pl.'s Separate Statement of Disputed Facts in Opp'n to Mot., Fact No. 34.)

In addition to supervising Plaintiff, DeYoung supervised Lori Meyer, who joined CHC in April 2007. (Decl. of Paula S. Rosenstein in Opp'n to Mot.("Rosenstein Decl."), Ex. FF.) Meyer is white and younger than Plaintiff. (Pl.'s Separate Statement of Disputed Facts in Opp'n to Mot., Fact No. 75.)

Plaintiff's relationship with DeYoung was unremarkable until May 21, 2007. (Def.'s Separate Statement of Uncontroverted Facts in Supp. of Mot., Fact No. 32.) On that date, DeYoung first accompanied Plaintiff to a sales meeting. (Pl.'s Separate Statement of Disputed Facts in Opp'n to Mot., Fact No. 34.) After the meeting, DeYoung handed Plaintiff a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP I"). (Id., Fact No. 38.) PIP I listed nine performance issues on which Plaintiff needed improvement. (See Kang Decl., Ex. A at 102-04.) Plaintiff disputes the accuracy of the issues listed in PIP I, and filed a written response thereto on June 1, 2007. (Id.)

PIP I was scheduled to last from May 21, 2007, through July 20, 2007. (Id. at 102.) However, on July 11, 2007, PIP I was extended for an additional 60 days to September 21, 2007. (Id. at 105.) The extended PIP ("PIP II") reflects that Plaintiff had completed seven of the nine issues listed in PIP I. (Id. at 105-07.)

During the period of PIP II, DeYoung observed Plaintiff in two client pitch meetings. (Def.'s Separate Statement of Uncontroverted Facts in Supp. of Mot., Fact No. 62.) DeYoung was unhappy with Plaintiff's performance at those meetings, (see Decl. of Lindsay DeYoung ("DeYoung Decl.") at ¶ 9), and she told Plaintiff so in a phone call and an e-mail after the meetings. (Kang Decl., Ex. A at 112.) DeYoung thereafter revised PIP II to include additional performance issues ("PIP III"). (Id. at 115-18.)

Two weeks later, DeYoung recommended to her supervisor and Gail Baker in Human Resources that Plaintiff's employment be terminated due to performance issues. (Def.'s Separate Statement of Uncontroverted Facts in Supp. of Mot., Fact No. 94.) DeYoung's supervisor, Baker and Kevin McKenna, Vice-President of Human Resources, supported DeYoung's recommendation, and confirmed her request to terminate Plaintiff's employment. (Id., Fact Nos. 95-96.)

A few days later, Plaintiff took a medical leave of absence. (Id., Fact No. 97.) While she was on leave, Plaintiff sent a letter to Baker about how DeYoung was treating her. (See Decl. of Renita Bryant in Opp'n to Mot. ("Bryant Decl."), Ex. V.) In that letter, Plaintiff stated she felt DeYoung was "biased and she shows favoritism towards Lori which is disparate treatment." (Id.) Plaintiff also stated she felt she was "being discriminated against by Lindsay." (Id.)

Plaintiff returned from medical leave on September 24, 2007, at which time she was terminated from her job. (Def.'s Separate Statement of Uncontroverted Facts in Supp. of Mot., Fact Nos. 103, 107.)

On July 30, 2008, Plaintiff filed the present case against Defendant in San Diego Superior Court. The Complaint alleges claims for discrimination, harassment, retaliation and failure to prevent same in violation of California Government Code ยง 12940, et seq., intentional infliction of emotional distress, wrongful termination, breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Defendant removed the case to this Court on September ...


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