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Bruno v. RBS Citizens, NA

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

May 30, 2017

RBS CITIZENS, NA, et al. Defendants.


          Timothy S. Black United States District Judge.

         This civil action is before the Court on the motion of Defendant Citizens Bank, N.A., a subsidiary of Citizens Financial Group, Inc. (“Citizens”), for summary judgment (Doc. 20) and the parties' responsive memoranda (Docs. 21, 30).


         This is an employment dispute. Plaintiff Bridget Bruno worked for Citizens as a Group Underwriting Manager at Citizens' Home Lending Solutions (“HLS”) site in Cincinnati (“Cincinnati Site”) from November, 2009, to October 7, 2014.

         Citizens' HLS division offers residential mortgage and home equity loans. Ms. Bruno was authorized to approve loans of $1, 000, 000 or less. In 2014, Ms. Bruno requested an increase in lending authority. Citizens ultimately denied her request. On May 23, 2014, Ms. Bruno's attorney Jason Matthews (“Attorney Matthews”) wrote a letter to Citizens alleging this denial was the result of age and sex discrimination (the “May 23, 2014 Letter”).

         In the fall of 2014 Citizens “spun off” from its corporate parent, the Royal Bank of Scotland. As part of this transition, Citizens underwent a corporate initiative aimed at reducing its workforce to eliminate redundant positions; specifically, Citizens endeavored to eliminate a layer of management where possible (the “Reduction in Force”).

         At the Cincinnati Site, prior to the Reduction in Force, underwriters reported to Regional Underwriting Managers, the Regional Underwriting Managers reported to the Group Underwriting Manager (Ms. Bruno), and the Group Underwriting Manager reported to the Regional Operations Group Manager/Cincinnati Vice President (William Terry). Accordingly, there were two layers of management between the underwriters and Mr. Terry.

         During its 2014 restructuring, Citizens decided that the two-layer management structure utilized at the Cincinnati Site was unnecessary for a group of its size. As a result, in October, 2014, Citizens eliminated the Group Underwriting Manager Position at the Cincinnati Site and Ms. Bruno lost her job. Ms. Bruno found another job in November, 2014.

         On October 21, 2014, Ms. Bruno filed a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (“OCRC”) alleging she was terminated in retaliation for the May 23, 2014 Letter. On September 30, 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) sent a separate right-to-sue notice (the “Right-to-Sue Notice”). On January 19, 2016, Ms. Bruno commenced this lawsuit, alleging unlawful retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Ohio Rev. Code § 4112.02.

         On January 20, 2017, Citizens filed the instant motion for summary judgment, arguing that Ms. Bruno's Title VII claim is barred by the applicable statute of limitations, and her retaliation claims fail on the merits.


         1. Citizens is one of the leading commercial banking companies in the United States. Its HLS division offers residential mortgage and home equity loans based out of four locations- Warwick, Rhode Island (“Rhode Island Site”); Glen Allen, Virginia (“Virginia Site”); Melville, New York (“New York Site”); and the Cincinnati Site. (Doc. 26 at 28:24- 29:10).

         2. Ms. Bruno began working for Citizens in November 2009 as a Group Underwriting Manager and remained in this position throughout her employment with Citizens. (Doc. 24 at 67:19-22; 223:6-10).

         3. Ms. Bruno's immediate supervisor was Mr. Terry, the HLS Regional Operations Group Manager/Vice President in the Cincinnati office. (Doc. 25 at 8:24-9:23).

         4. Mr. Terry reported to Matthew Egan, the HLS National Operations Manager, who is based near Philadelphia. (Doc. 26 at 10:9-11:11).

         5. Mr. Egan reported to Cheryl Nolda, who was involved in the Reduction in Force at a high level but did not participate in individual, site-level determinations regarding which positions would be eliminated at each location. (Doc. 26 at 60:17-61:11).[2]

         6. When Ms. Bruno began at working at Citizens, she was the sole manager within the Cincinnati underwriting department, and individual underwriters reported directly to her. (Doc. 24 at 68:18-21).

         7. In 2010, Bruno hired two Regional Underwriting Managers. The individual underwriters then reported to one of the Regional Underwriting Managers, who in turn reported to Plaintiff. (Doc. 24 at 70:8-19).

         8. In 2014, the Cincinnati Regional Underwriting Managers were Greg Barton and Janine Dabney-Battle. (Doc. 25 at 39:20-24; Doc. 20-10).

         9. At the HLS location in New York, there were only a few underwriters, all of whom reported directly to Group Underwriting Manager Peggy Miceli, with no intervening layer of Regional Underwriting Managers. (Doc. 24 at 100:23-101:8; Doc. 26 at 35:3-6, 51:6-12).

         10. At the HLS Virginia location, there was one Group Underwriting Manager, Chip Owens, and one Regional Underwriting Manager. (Doc. 26 at 34:25-35:2).

         11. Roughly half of the Virginia underwriters reported directly to Mr. Owens, the Group Underwriting Manager, and the remainder reported to the Regional Underwriting Manager (who in turn reported to Mr. Owens). (Doc. 26 at 34:25-35:2).

         12. Ryan Gausland, the Group Underwriting Manager in Rhode Island, had three Regional Underwriting Managers who reported to him. (Doc. 26 at 35:11- 15).

         13. Underwriters and underwriting managers at Citizens have a preset lending authority that limits the maximum size of a loan that he or she can approve unilaterally. (Doc. 24 at 27:8-19).

         14. An underwriter may underwrite loans in excess of his or lending authority, but the work is subject to a further level of review. (Doc. 24 at 32:7-21).

         15. Ms. Bruno's lending authority was set at $1, 000, 000. (Doc. 24 at 28:6-9).

         16. Ms. Bruno requested higher credit authority beginning in the summer of 2010, less than a year after she joined the bank. (Doc. 24 at 85:17-21).

         17. A higher lending authority would not have changed Ms. Bruno's title or her pay. (Doc. 24 at 83:6-14).

         18. Both Mr. Egan and Mr. Terry supported Ms. Bruno's request for a higher lending authority. (Doc. 24 at 43:9-14, 51:13-52:1; Doc. 25 at 43:2-8).

         19. Lending authority limits are not set by Ms. Bruno's direct supervisors. (Doc. 26 at 66:22-67:4).

         20. Those limits are set by Citizens' Consumer Credit Risk Administration, a separate and independent business unit with the authority to adjust limits on an individual-by-individual basis. (Doc. 24 at 44:17-45:8; 54:3-13).

         21. In January 2014, Ms. Bruno renewed her request for higher lending authority and was asked to complete a series of “test cases, ” which is common industry practice when an underwriter requests increased lending authority. (Doc. 24 at 86:25-87:23, 88:18-89:1).

         22. To complete these test cases, Ms. Bruno was asked to underwrite loans of over $1, 000, 000, which would then be audited and graded. (Doc. 24 at 87:18- 88:4, 120:14-17).

         23. Ms. Bruno responded that she had previously completed other test cases, but Citizens informed her that those cases were not recent enough to evaluate. (Doc. 24 at 86:25-87:14; Doc. 20-9).

         24. All but one of the test cases date from 2011, meaning they were between two and three years old at the time of Ms. Bruno's e-mail. (Doc. 20-9).

         25. In addition, some of these earlier test cases received a “red mark, ” which represents a “very serious defect” in the underwriting process that may affect the salability of the loan. (Doc. 24 at 118:22-119:14).

         26. Citizens created a formal plan for Ms. Bruno to complete several test cases to justify her increased authority. (Doc. 24 at 86:25-87:23, 88:10-17). She refused to complete even a single test case. (Doc. 24 at 91:20-92:1). As a result, her lending authority remained the same. Peggy Miceli, who like Ms. Bruno is a female over the age of 40, did complete her assigned test cases, and her lending authority was increased to $1, 500, 000. (Doc. 24 at 99:11-100:5).

         27. In May 2014, Attorney Matthews wrote a letter alleging “age and sex discrimination” based on Ms. Bruno's allegedly insufficient lending authority. (Doc. 24-1 at 3-4).

         28. Attorney Matthews also made a vague complaint of a hostile work environment. (Doc. 24-1 at 3-4).

         29. The May 23, 2014 Letter was not directed at Mr. Terry or Mr. Egan; they had no control over Ms. Bruno's lending authority. (Doc. 24 at 43:14-16; Doc. 26 at 66:22-67:4).

         30. The May 23, 2014 Letter was directed at “people that worked in the bank that were above [Ms. Bruno] in other departments…” (Doc. 26 at 29:1-2).

         31. Citizens conducted an investigation regarding Ms. Bruno's allegations. (Doc. 24 at 35:19-36:14).

         32. Citizens ultimately concluded that there were a few “curt” e-mails between Ms. Bruno and various sales employees- with Ms. Bruno both sending and receiving such emails-but there was no finding of wrongful conduct. (Doc. 24 at 37:10-38:2).

         33. No discipline was issued, and Citizens considered the matter closed. (Doc. 25 at 12:11-21, 15:11-24; Doc. 26 at 25:1-8).

         34. Prior to 2014, Citizens was known as RBS Citizens, N.A., and was a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Around September 2014, Citizens separated from the RBS umbrella. (Doc. 26 at 8:22-9:8).

         35. As part of this spin-off, Citizens underwent a broad corporate-wide restructuring to reduce expenses and eliminate redundant positions across its ...

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