United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT (DOC. 20)
Timothy S. Black United States District Judge.
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.
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.
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”).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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;
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).
Terry reported to Matthew Egan, the HLS National Operations
Manager, who is based near Philadelphia. (Doc. 26 at
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
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
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).
2014, the Cincinnati Regional Underwriting Managers were Greg
Barton and Janine Dabney-Battle. (Doc. 25 at 39:20-24; Doc.
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).
the HLS Virginia location, there was one Group Underwriting
Manager, Chip Owens, and one Regional Underwriting Manager.
(Doc. 26 at 34:25-35:2).
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).
Ryan Gausland, the Group Underwriting Manager in Rhode
Island, had three Regional Underwriting Managers who reported
to him. (Doc. 26 at 35:11- 15).
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
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).
Bruno's lending authority was set at $1, 000, 000. (Doc.
24 at 28:6-9).
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).
higher lending authority would not have changed Ms.
Bruno's title or her pay. (Doc. 24 at 83:6-14).
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).
Lending authority limits are not set by Ms. Bruno's
direct supervisors. (Doc. 26 at 66:22-67:4).
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).
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).
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).
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.
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).
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
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).
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).
Attorney Matthews also made a vague complaint of a hostile
work environment. (Doc. 24-1 at 3-4).
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).
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).
Citizens conducted an investigation regarding Ms. Bruno's
allegations. (Doc. 24 at 35:19-36:14).
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).
discipline was issued, and Citizens considered the matter
closed. (Doc. 25 at 12:11-21, 15:11-24; Doc. 26 at 25:1-8).
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).
part of this spin-off, Citizens underwent a broad
corporate-wide restructuring to reduce expenses and eliminate
redundant positions across its ...