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Robinson v. Southern Bank and Trust Co.

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

April 9, 2015



JAMES C. FOX, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the court on the Motion for Summary Judgment [DE-21] filed by Defendant Southern Bank and Trust Company ("Southern"). Plaintiff Ordean Watson Robinson ("Robinson") has responded, and Southern has replied. For the reasons stated below, Southern's Motion for Summary Judgment [DE-21] is ALLOWED.


Robinson, initially proceeding pro se, initiated this action claiming Southern violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. Section 1981 ("§ 1981"), and 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, by discriminating against her because of her race, African American. See Compl. [DE-4]. Specifically, Robinson alleged that Southern discriminated against her when it failed to rehire her after she voluntarily retired from employment. Robinson is now represented by counsel.

A. Southern Bank & Trust Company

Southern is a regional bank headquartered in Mount Olive, North Carolina, with branch offices throughout Eastern North Carolina and Hampton Roads Virginia. See Declaration of Valerie Roberson ("Roberson Decl.") [DE-21-3] ¶ 3. At the time of her retirement, Plaintiff worked as an escrow specialist in Southern's affiliated mortgage services division ("mortgage division"). Id. ¶¶ 4, 6. The mortgage division offices are located at 230 Sunset Avenue, Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Id. ¶ 4. The mortgage division is separate and apart from Southern's four Rocky Mount branch offices: Westridge, Oakwood, Franklin Street, and Benvenue. Id.

B. Robinson's Employment, Retirement, and Attempts to be Rehired

Southern, or its predecessor, employed Robinson for twenty-six (26) years prior to her voluntary retirement in January 2012. Robinson Dep. [DE-21-1] at 44. Robinson worked as a customer service checking representative for roughly one year, a management accountant for seven years, and for approximately eighteen years, Robinson held the position of escrow specialist. Id. at 32-33. In the escrow specialist role, Robinson paid the escrow insurance portion of the mortgages serviced by the bank. Id. at 32.

By letter dated September 9, 2011, Robinson submitted notice of her intent to retire effective January 31, 2012. Id. at 44; Roberson Decl. Attachment A [DE-21-3]. Robinson decided to retire because she found her work overwhelming. She found herself working late at night and on the weekends; she also asked for help but did not receive any from her co-workers. Robinson Dep. [DE-25-2] at 46. Prior to tendering her notice of retirement, Robinson asked Brian Joyner[5] whether, instead of retiring, she would work part-time as an escrow specialist after Joyner hired a replacement for her full-time position, but was told that was not an option in that position. Id. at 47; Declaration of Ordean Robinson ("Robinson Decl.") [DE-25-1] ¶ 2.[6] Robinson trained one of her replacements, a Caucasion woman, before she retired. Robinson Dep. [DE-21-l] at 32.

Shortly after Robinson retired, she started drawing pension payments, which she continues to receive monthly. Id. at 48-49. A few months into her retirement, Robinson began working three days a week providing dispatch-type support for a friend's landscaping company. Id. at 49-51. The temporary position lasted from April through June of 2012. Id. at 49. After leaving the landscaping company, Robinson did not seek regular employment again until roughly nine-months later. Id. at 51.

On or about March or April 2013, Robinson visited Southern's Rocky Mount-Franklin Street branch ("Franklin Street") office to conduct personal banking business. Id. at 56. While Robinson was at the Franklin Street office, Gloria Williams, a customer service representative at that branch and a friend of Robinson's, told Robinson about a part-time "loan officer assistant" vacancy at the Rocky Mount-Benvenue branch ("Benvenue"). Id. at 56, 59. The Benvenue office is near Robinson's home. Id. at 56. Williams telephoned Regional Administrative Assistant Marci Credle in Robinson's presence and told Credle that Robinson used to work for Southern and wanted to speak with her about the "loan officer position."[7] Id. at 61. Williams then handed the phone to Robinson who stated that she was interested in applying for the position at the Benvenue branch. Id. According to Robinson, Credle responded "oh great.... let me get your number and I will find out what we need to do and I'll give you a call back." Id at 61. A little more than a week later, Credle called Robinson and informed her that Southern does not rehire retirees because of the effect on pension payments. Id. at 62, 75. Robinson thought what Credle said was strange, because she was aware of Southern retirees who had been rehired, but she did se not ask Credle questions because she just assumed that Southern had changed its policy regarding retiree rehiring. Id. at 62.

According to Southern, there was no opening for a loan officer assistant position. Declaration of Bryan Huff ("Huff Decl.") [DE-21-4] ¶ 3; Roberson Decl. [DE-21-3] ¶ 12. Rather, there was a part-time teller vacancy at the Benvenue branch. Robinson explains that she and Williams labeled the position "Loan Officer Assistant" is because she and Williams were aware that Vicki Crone had vacated the position of Loan Officer Assistant/Teller at that branch. In any event, the part-time teller position was filled by a Caucasian internal candidate, Brenda Adkins. According to Southern, its policy is to give hiring preference to internal candidates who apply for vacant positions. Second Decl. of Roberson [DE-26-1] ¶ 3.

On or about May 2013, Robinson called Southern's Mount Olive branch to speak with an employee named Susie Holmes who had assisted Plaintiff previously. Robinson Dep. [DE-21-1] at 67. The receptionist informed Robinson that Holmes, a Caucasian, had retired in April, but would come back to work in June. Id. The receptionist transferred Robinson to a woman named Lisa Ferrell who told Robinson that Southern's rule is that an employee must be retired for thirty (30) days prior to returning to work. Id. The record reflects that Ferrell is an Operations Clerk, and in that role she possesses no supervisory authority and is not involved in the development of Bank policies. Roberson Decl. [DE-21-3] ¶ 11.

On June 3, 2013, Robinson emailed Credle, copying Senior Vice President and Human Resources Manager Valerie Roberson. Robinson Dep. [DE-21-1] at 80, Ex. 3 ...

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