United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
JAMES C. FOX, Senior District Judge.
This matter is before the court on Defendant Goldsboro Wayne Transportation Authority's Motion for Summary Judgment [DE-37], as well as its Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Affidavit of Adrienne Deloach Hubbard [DE-46] and Defendant's Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's Responses to Exhibits [DE-48]. For the reasons more fully stated below, the Motion for Summary Judgment is ALLOWED, and the Motions to Strike are DENIED.
I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The pro se Plaintiff Mary Rowe initiated this action by filing motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis [DE-1] on October 28, 2013. Her motion was allowed on November 1, 2013 [DE-3] and her Complaint [DE-1] was filed. In the Complaint, Rowe alleged: "I lost my job because I was trying to help a young lady that said she was being sexual [sic] harass [sic] by the director. I called the Chairman to report him and told the young lady that I would pray for her and get others to also pray." Compl. [DE-1] at 3. She alleged that the acts complained of in the action concerned "Wrongful Termination, " "Retaliation, " and "Discrimination." Rowe included attachments to the Complaint, including a Determination from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") finding, in part, that the evidence supported Rowe's claim that she was discharged in retaliation for complaining of sexual harassment in violation of Title VII [DE-4-2].
On January 20, 2014 Defendant Goldsboro Wayne Transportation Authority ("Gateway") [DE-37] moved for summary judgment on Rowe's claims. The Clerk of Court issued a Notice to Rowe on January 21, 2015 [DE-39] notifying her of, inter alia, the response deadline of February 13, 2015. The day of the response deadline, Rowe filed 331 pages of documents [DE-43], mainly consisting of the exhibits Gateway attached to the Complaint and her interpretation and arguments as to each exhibit. That same day, the Clerk of Court advised Rowe that she seemingly only had filed exhibits, and had failed to provide a response with a case caption, case number, and the title of the document on it. A week later, on February 20, 2015, the Clerk issued a Notice of Deficiency to Rowe.
On February 23, 2015, Rowe filed a document entitled Response to the Defendant's Summary Judgment [DE-44], which more closely resembles a traditional memorandum of law in response to a motion for summary judgment. The next day, Rowe filed a notarized letter from Adrienne Deloatch Hubbard [DE-45]. On February 25, 2015, the Clerk of Court issued another Notice of Deficiency to Rowe, instructing Rowe to "provide to the Clerk's Office a captioned document titled Certificate of Service that indicates service of the response was made on Defendant" and directing her to refer to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5(d)(1)."
Gateway then filed its Motion to Strike the Deloatch letter, Motion to Strike Rowe's February 23, 2015 Response, and its Reply in support of its motion for summary judgment. All these motions are now ripe for ruling.
II. STATEMENT OF THE FACTS
The facts, in the light most favorable to Rowe, are as follows. Although it is not explicitly spelled out in any of the evidentiary materials, Defendant Goldsboro Wayne Transportation Authority ("Gateway") appears to be an agency affiliated with Wayne County and the City of Goldsboro that provides transportation services to citizens and clients of various agencies. Rowe, an African-American, Christian female, was hired by Gateway as a driver on November 5, 2007. Dep. of Mary Rowe [DE-40-2] at 20. She held this position at Gateway from the time of her hire until 2010.
As a driver, Rowe was responsible for transporting clients of Gateway from their homes to other locations for work, medical appointments, and other engagements. The record does not contain all of Rowe's performance reviews as a driver; however, it does contain a 2009 evaluation and other evidence documenting some issues with her performance. On September 2, 2008, a customer made a complaint stating that Rowe "was not friendly and talked very rudely to passengers." Aff. of Guy, Ex. I [DE-41-1] at 41. The customer also reported that Rowe said "no" when he asked her to turn off the air conditioning in the vehicle. Id. On the Customer Complaint Incident Report documenting the complaint, Rowe responded that when the customer asked to turn down the air conditioning, she turned it down as low as it could go, and when he yelled at her to turn it off, she told him no. Id. The record does not indicate that any disciplinary action was taken against Rowe on the basis of this customer in complaint.
On March 5, 2009, Rowe was suspended for three days without pay due to her failure to show up for work after she was denied time off. See Aff. of Guy, Ex. J [DE-41-1] at 43. Rowe testified that she believed her direct supervisor, Yokeisha Wright, suspended her out of meanness. Dep. of Rowe [DE-40-2] at 24. She also received two written warnings in 2009 for not following instructions. See Aff. of Guy, Exs. K & L, [DE-41-1] at 44-47. Rowe also received a June 29, 2009, evaluation noting that she failed to load wheelchairs onto a vehicle directly. See Aff. of Guy, Ex. M [DE-41-1] at 49-50. The evaluation form also indicated, however, numerous items that Rowe was performing correctly. Id. Finally, on August 2, 2010, her supervisor attempted to suspend her for not attending a meeting. Rowe spoke to the then-director of Gateway, Alan Stubbs, who told her what to do to get the suspension dropped. Dep. of Mary Rowe [DE-40-2] at 25-27.
On August 9, 2010, Gateway transferred Rowe from her position as a driver to billing clerk, where her job responsibilities included receiving the bus drivers' logs and converting those into bills sent to the agencies who hired Gateway. Dep. of Mary Rowe [DE-40-2] at 29-30, 76-78, 84-85. Invoices were based on the length of the trip, whether the client was a no-show, or whether the client had canceled. Id. at 77-78. Rowe experienced some difficulties in her new position.
Rowe contends that the former billing clerk refused to train her because she wanted her job back. Id. at 33. She also contends that after she served as billing clerk, she discovered "a lot of stuff" in her personnel file that she had never been shown before, such as reports from the Operations Manager Michael Branch and Director Stubbs. Id. at 34. She also claims that Director Stubbs favored another employee, Eva Pest, over her and treated Rowe unfairly by making her work overtime, making her work during inclement weather, and blaming other employees' deficiencies on her. Id. at 32-36. Rowe also claims that Manager Branch, an African American male, told some employees that he was going to get rid of her and that she was not qualified to do the job. Id. at 36-37. According to Rowe, Branch also did "everything to sabotage" her job performance, by requiring her to do other employee's job duties, like performing dispatch or driving on the road. Id. at 78.
In addition to Operations Manager Branch, Rowe contends other Gateway employees-and even people outside the organization-wanted her gone. For example, she contends that an employee of Wayne County Department of Social Services, Bonnie Clerk, wanted her fired because she wanted another employee, Jeri Teachey, to be placed back in the position as billing clerk. Id. at 67, 93. Rowe also claims that two other Gateway employees-Reservationist Angela Waddell and Administrative Assistant Eva Pest-were actively working with Operations Manager Branch to "build a folder" to get her terminated. Id. at 47. According to Rowe, Operations Manager Branch wanted her terminated because she was a close colleague of Jeri Teachey, whom he did not like; Waddell wanted her terminated because Rowe was highlighting Waddell's own poor performance; and Pest wanted her terminated because Pest was close to Waddell. Id. at 48-51.
Rowe eventually spoke with Clark's superior at DSS about her concern with Clark's objections to Rowe's job performance. Id. at 46-47. According to Rowe, Operations Manager Branch did not like that Rowe spoke to someone outside Gateway because he and others "were just trying to build a folder to [her] terminated, " and by speaking with others, it "irritated their plot and plan.... [t]o get [her] terminated." Id. at 46, -47, 66-67. Rowe later again went outside of Gateway, and met with Sue Guy, the Human Resources Director for Wayne County, and Wayne County Manager Lee Smith about what she saw as Branch's inability to do the job. Id. at 56-57.
Branch emailed Rowe on December 29, 2010 to schedule a meeting with her at 1:00 p.m. that day. Aff. of Guy, Ex. N [DE-41-1] at 52-53. Rowe asked Director Stubbs to attend the meeting with her as a witness, but he declined, saying he had to let Operations Manager Branch do his job. Dep of Rowe [DE-40-2] at 38-39. Rowe then told Branch that she could not meet with him that day, and she rescheduled the meeting for the next day. Id. When she met with Branch the following day, she brought Sylvia Barnes, President of the Wayne County NAACP. According to Rowe, the Chairman of Gateway's Board of Directors, Donnie Chatman, told her it was fine for her to bring Barnes to the meeting with Branch. Id. at 57-58.
According to Gateway, Branch called the meeting with Rowe to discuss her poor job performance and derogatory comments towards coworkers. Aff. of Guy [DE-41-1] ¶ 56. Rowe testified, however, that Branch spoke about her "character" at the meeting, and that he complained about that she kept her door closed and went outside Gateway to talk to the DSS supervisor about her concerns. Dep. of Rowe [DE-40-2] at 40, 62-66. When Branch spoke to her about billing issues, Rowe redirected the conversation to what she perceived to be scheduling problems, which angered Branch. Id. at 62-63. Barnes, who ostensibly was only to be there as a witness, then changed the subject and brought up complaints the NAACP had received about Gateway. Id. at 69-70, 73, 74.
Subsequent to the meeting, Branch composed a written warning to Rowe for unprofessional conduct and poor job performance. The written warning stated, in pertinent part:
On 30 Dec 2010 at 1300 hrs, you approached me concerning the meeting and when I informed you that Alan Stubbs wasn't available to meet at the appointed time, you insisted the meeting still take place. Once I agreed to proceed with the discussion, you introduced me to a lday and informed me that she would be attending the meeting as your witness. Once inside my office, you introduced her as an elected official on [sic] the NAACP. The conversations quickly moved to your perceptions of GATEWAY and the alleged violations that have transpired within the last year. You [sic] accompanied guest quickly threaded [sic] NAACP actions to go "Public" via television and radio that GATEWAY has failed to address or acknowledge the "civil violations and illegal workplace practices by the NAACP.["] After several failed attempts to redirect the conversation to the meetings [sic] intended purpose, I firmly pointed out the inadequacies and job performance you demonstrate on a daily basis. You failed to acknowledge my attempts to resolve/address the negative behavior you exhibit in the work place, but continued to point out the actions and behavior of the past manager, prejudicial behavior Alan Stubbs demonstrates toward his subordinates, and the favoritism he displays towards a select few associates. Mary Rowe, your behavior and deceitful actions will no longer be tolerated in addition [sic], your deliberate inclusion of the NAACP into a minor job related performance matter are [sic] shameful. At no point during the meeting did you acknowledge your own personal behavior and accountability, but you rebuffed my every attempt to come to resolution or to establish a meaningful plan to correct your behavior. Your attempts to include the NAACP, into a minor performance issue, have damages your creditability [sic] and I hear that your values HIGHLY conflict with our organizational goes and objectives. If your performance doesn't immediately improve, I'll immediately levy progressive disciplinary actions upon you.
Aff. of Guy, Ex. O [DE-41-1-] at 54-56. The warning states that a copy was personally delivered to Rowe; however, it is unsigned by her. Id. at 56. Rowe maintains that she never saw the warning until she was later allowed to go through her personnel file. Dep. of Mary Rowe [DE-40-2] at 75.
Soon after her meeting with Branch, Director Alan Stubbs sent a memo to Rowe requesting the status on all the billing by January 10, 2011. Id. at 86. Aff. of Guy, Ex. E [DE-41-1] at 28-29. On January 12, 2011, ...