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Tingle v. Merchants & Marine Bank

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

December 4, 2019

CHRISTINE D. TINGLE PLAINTIFF
v.
MERCHANTS & MARINE BANK DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION [48] FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION [50] FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          HALIL SULEYMAN OZERDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         BEFORE THE COURT are Defendant Merchants and Marine Bank's Motion [48] for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff Christine D. Tingle's Motion [50] for Summary Judgment. This suit arises out of Plaintiff's termination from her employment with Merchants and Marine Bank. Plaintiff asserts that she was discharged because of her age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 (2012).

         Defendant has filed a Motion [48] for Summary Judgment, asking the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's suit in its entirety. Plaintiff has filed her own Motion [50] for Partial Summary Judgment, requesting that the Court dismiss Defendant's affirmative defense of failure to mitigate. Having considered the parties' submissions, the record, and relevant legal authority, the Court is of the opinion that Defendant's Motion [48] for Summary Judgment should be granted and that Plaintiff's Motion [50] for Partial Summary Judgment should be denied. Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Christine D. Tingle (“Tingle”) was hired by Defendant Merchants and Marine Bank (“M&M Bank”) in 1982 to work in its Pascagoula, Mississippi, office. See Compl. [1] at 2. At the time of her September 11, 2017, termination, Tingle was employed hourly by M&M Bank as an insurance imaging specialist in the loan department. Pl.'s Resp. Mem. [59] at 1. On September 7, 2017, M&M Bank hosted a bridal shower for one of its employees. Id. Loan department manager Lisa Adams (“Adams”) emailed the department's employees, including Tingle, advising them that the department would be closing at 4:00 p.m. that day for the shower and instructing all employees to clock out at that time. Id. at 2. Employees used their desktop computers to record their hours through the Bank's web-based timekeeping system. Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Summ. J. [49] at 2. It is undisputed that Tingle did not follow Adams's instructions and, instead, attended the bridal shower and changed into tennis attire before clocking out at 4:30 p.m. Id. at 4. After the bridal shower, Adams checked her department's time records to confirm that all of her employees had clocked out at 4:00 p.m. as directed. Pl.'s Resp. Mem. [59] at 2. Once Adams learned that Tingle did not clock out at 4:00 p.m., Adams wrote a letter to M&M Bank's Human Resources department to report the matter. Id.

         Sheryl Wolfe (“Wolfe”), M&M Bank's Human Resources Director, received Adams's letter and asked Tingle to meet in her office on September 11, 2017. Id. In anticipation of the meeting, Wolfe prepared both a final warning and a termination memorandum. Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Summ. J. [49] at 4. During the meeting Wolfe asked Tingle why she did not clock out at 4:00 p.m. as she was instructed. Id. Tingle initially told Wolfe that she “just got [her] hours in” and decided to clock out at her normal time of 4:30 p.m., despite Adams's instructions to clock out earlier. Id. Later in the conversation, Tingle told Wolfe that she simply forgot about the instruction to clock out at 4:00 p.m. and asked Wolfe if she could change her time record.[1] Pl.'s Resp. Mem. [59] at 3. Wolfe explained that such a correction should have been made by Tingle earlier and that presently making it would be fraudulent, especially in light of Tingle's admission that she intentionally disobeyed instructions. See Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Summ. J. [49] at 5; Pl.'s Resp. Mem. [59] at 3. Based on their conversation, Wolfe decided to terminate Tingle for falsifying her timecard. Pl.'s Resp. Mem. [59] at 3. M&M Bank later hired Carissa Scott, who was under the age of 40, to replace Tingle, who was over the age of 40. Id.

         Tingle filed this lawsuit on April 30, 2018, claiming that her termination was in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 (2012), and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461 (2012). Compl. [1] at 1. Tingle's ERISA claims were voluntarily dismissed with prejudice on March 18, 2019. Order [44]. M&M Bank then filed the instant Motion [48] for Summary Judgment seeking dismissal of Tingle's remaining ADEA claim. It argues that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that summary judgment is proper. Tingle opposes the Motion and has filed her own Motion [50] for Partial Summary Judgment requesting that M&M Bank's affirmative defense of failure to mitigate be dismissed.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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). If the movant carries this burden, “the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc).

         To rebut a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the opposing party must show, with “significant probative evidence, ” that there exists a genuine issue of material fact. Hamilton v. Segue Software, Inc., 232 F.3d 473, 477 (5th Cir. 2000). “A genuine dispute of material fact means that evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Royal v. CCC&R Tres Arboles, L.L.C., 736 F.3d 396, 400 (5th Cir. 2013) (quotation omitted). If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment is appropriate. Cutting Underwater Techs. USA, Inc. v. ENI U.S. Operating Co., 671 F.3d 512, 517 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986)). In deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate, the Court views facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. RSR Corp. v. Int'l Ins. Co., 612 F.3d 851, 857 (5th Cir. 2010).

         B. Plaintiff's ADEA Claim

         Tingle asserts that M&M Bank's conduct in terminating her employment constituted intentional discrimination on the basis of Tingle's age in violation of the ADEA. The ADEA prohibits an employer from discharging an employee on the basis of the employee's age. Goudeau v. National Oilwell Varo, L.P., 793 F.3d 470, 474 (5th Cir. 2015). “Because it is unlikely that there will be direct evidence of an employer's thought process, ADEA claims typically rely on circumstantial evidence evaluated under the burden-shifting framework outlined in McDonnell Douglas Co. v. Green.” Campbell v. Zayo Group, L.L.C., 656 Fed.Appx. 711, 713 (2016) (internal citations omitted); see also McDonnell Douglas Co. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-03 (1973). Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, the initial burden is on the employee to establish a prima facie case of age discrimination. Goudeau, 793 F.3d at 474. Once the employee establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to show that there was a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating the employee. Id. If the employer meets this burden, the employee must then prove that the employer's reason for termination was pretextual. Id.

         “Under McDonnell Douglas, a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of age discrimination by showing that (1) he was discharged; (2) he was qualified for the position; (3) he was within the protected class at the time of discharge; and (4) he was either i) replaced by someone outside the protected class, ii) replaced by someone younger, or iii) otherwise discharged because of his age.” Id. (quoting Machinchick v. PB Power, Inc., 398 F.3d 345, 350 (5th Cir. 2005)). M&M Bank does not dispute that Tingle can establish a prima facie case of discrimination ...


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