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Hoover v. Allstate Insurance Co.

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

August 22, 2013

JIMILEE HOOVER Plaintiff,
v.
ALLSTATE INSURANCE CO., Defendant.

ORDER AND DECISION

JOHN R. ADAMS, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This case arises out of the termination of Plaintiff Jimilee Hoover's (Plaintiff) employment from Allstate Insurance Company (Defendant). (Compl. ¶ 3.) Plaintiff brings suit under Ohio Rev. Code Ann § 4112.02(N) for violation of age discrimination protections contained in Ohio Rev. Code Ann § 4112.02(A). (Compl. ¶ 47.) Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages and attorney fees and costs. Id. at 6. Defendant now moves for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

II. SUMMARY OF FACTS AND BACKGROUND

Defendant hired Plaintiff as a Records Clerk on March 8, 1978. Throughout her career at Allstate Plaintiff held positions as Records Clerk, Claim Representative, Staff Claims Adjuster, Senior Staff Claims Adjuster and Staff Claims Service Adjuster. (Johnson Aff. ¶ 3.) At the time of her termination, Plaintiff held the position of Represented Staff Claims Service Adjuster at Defendant's Hudson, Ohio office. Id. at ¶ 5. Her position placed Plaintiff in the highest salary band, Band C, and Plaintiff earned an annual salary of $80, 451.00. The ages of Band C employees in Plaintiff's work unit from March 2010 to December 2010 were: 37, 39, 43, 50, 50, 51, 51, 51, 56 and 63. Id. at ¶ 8. Deborah Devereux-Pryor served as Plaintiff's direct supervisor and Mark Wegener served as the overall office supervisor at time of Plaintiff's termination. Id. at ¶ 7.

As a Represented Staff Claims Service Adjuster, Plaintiff's duties included evaluating insurance claims from initial report through final disposition; organizing work flow and managing claims in a timely and productive fashion; assessing and determining the value of a claim; negotiating settlement of denial of a claim; documenting the claim file with notes, evaluations, and the decision making process; and serving as a resource for other employees. Id. at 6. Plaintiff's position also required her to prioritize and handle multiple tasks; possess advanced knowledge and abilities to assess coverage, liability and damages; and have extensive negotiation skills. Id., (Defense Ex. A.)

Plaintiff's claim arises out of allegations that Defendant terminated her due to age in violation of Ohio statute. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 11, 15, 43, 48.); Ohio Rev. Code § 4112.02(A). Plaintiff alleges that sometime in the 2000s, Defendant began to take steps targeted at causing the termination of all highly compensated senior claim adjusters. (Compl. ¶ 11.) In furtherance of this plan, Plaintiff claims that Defendant purposely increased her workloads, shortened time frames for claim closure, introduced and inadequately trained her on new technology and became overly critical of her work. Id. ¶ ¶ 14, 33-36; (Pl. Tr. 45, 50.)

Defendant maintains that standards and production expectations were increased for all employees, including employees that are similarly situated as Plaintiff. (Pl. Tr. 45, 46). Both parties agree that the increase in workload and expectations coincided with the arrival of Mark Wegener as the new manager of the Hudson, Ohio office. Id. at 39-40. Plaintiff recognizes that "[Wegener] was very tough on everyone." Id. at 39. Also, Plaintiff admits that deadlines were shortened across the entire [represented] unit." Id. at 40.

Plaintiff then contends that the introduction of new technology, the NextGen and Colossus software programs, led to an untenable work environment. NextGen is a tasked based program designed to track files and give adjusters set tasks to do in order to complete a claim. Id. at 45-46; (Devereux Aff. ¶ 8.) Colossus is a program designed to set parameters for the settlement of claims and guide the adjusters in determining a settlement amount. (Pl. Tr. 42-43.) Defendant required all adjusters to use these programs regardless of age. Id. at 45, 50. Plaintiff maintains that these technological changes "added to the workload" and made her job more demanding. Id. at 41, 45, 50.

Plaintiff argues these changes explain her lack of concentration, anxiety and depression. Id. at 147, 150. Plaintiff's deposition cites these factors as inhibiting her performance at work. Id. at 147, 150. In response to Plaintiff's medical issues, Defendant explains that management reduced Plaintiff's workload. (Devereux Aff. ¶ ¶ 10-11, 16.) Through job counseling, Defendant also tried to help Plaintiff get back up to speed and adapt to the new changes. Id. Plaintiff represents the amount of assistance she received as different from what the Defendant portrays, contending that her managers rarely gave her any assistance beyond a few quick walk-bys. Plaintiff alleges that her managers were ineffective at providing her assistance. (Pl. Tr. 54, 106-10.)

Defendant issued Plaintiff with an Unacceptable Performance Notification (UPN) on September 10, 2010 due to her observed pattern of poor performance. (Devereux Aff. ¶ 12-13.) The UPN is part of Defendant's business practice meant to give an employee notice of his or her unacceptable' performance and provide the employee time (90 days) to improve. Id. ; (Wegener Aff. ¶ 4.) Along with the issuance of the UPN, the employee's superiors are to provide extra counseling and coaching to encourage improved performance from the employee. (Devereux Aff. ¶ 12.) Defendant cites, "3 customer complaints, 4 attorney complaints, 4 default judgments against insureds and 7 additional pending review concerns" as incidents of poor performance and justification for issuing the UPN. Id. at ¶ 13. Plaintiff contests the information in the UPN, but at no point formally objected to issuance or contents of the UPN to her superiors. (Pl. Tr. 87, 91.)

Based on her increased workload and the stress it induced, Plaintiff went on shortterm disability leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for medical reasons including high stress, anxiety and panic attacks. Id. at ¶ ¶ 22-27; (Compl. ¶ ¶ 26-27.) On December 8, 2010 Defendant informed Plaintiff that her short-term disability had ended because of an evaluation done by Defendant's insurance company and she could either return to work or continue her leave by using Paid Time Off (PTO). (Devereux Aff. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff chose to return to work on December 9, 2010 and management gave her a new 90 day period of her UPN. Id. at ¶ ¶ 19-20. Plaintiff returned to work at full strength and did not request reduced hours or any accommodations for reduced workload after her short-term disability. (Pl. Tr. 125, 134, 138.)

Upon returning to work, Plaintiff's job performance continued to be unsatisfactory in comparison to her peers. (Devereux Aff. ¶ 21.); (Def. Ex. B.) Defendant cited Plaintiff's continued unsatisfactory performance and proceeded with Plaintiff's termination in March 2011 after the UPN 90 day period expired. Id. at ¶ 23; (Wegener Aff. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff was 51 years old at the time of her termination. (Johnson Aff. ¶ ¶ 3, 8.) (Pl Tr. 9.)

Plaintiff filed her Complaint against Defendant on September 26, 2011 alleging improper termination based on age discrimination prohibited under Ohio Rev. Code § 4112.02(N). (Compl. ¶ 47.) Defendant filed for and was granted removal to Federal District Court. Defendant timely answered Plaintiff's Complaint and denied Plaintiff's allegations of discriminatory ...


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