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Stone v. McGraw-Hill Global Educ. Holdings, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

August 26, 2015

MICAH STONE, Plaintiff,

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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          For Micah Stone, Plaintiff: Melvin L. Raymond, St. Louis, MO.

         For McGRAW-HILL GLOBAL EDUCATION HOLDINGS, LLC, a New York Corporation, Defendant: Gregory I. Rasin, LEAD ATTORNEY, PROSKAUER ROSE, LLP, New York, NY; Nathaniel M. Glasser, LEAD ATTORNEY, PROSKAUER ROSE LLP, Washington, DC; Stephen H. Rovak, LEAD ATTORNEY, DENTONS U.S. LLP - ST. LOUIS, St. Louis, MO.

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         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 32). The motion is fully briefed and ready for disposition. Upon review of

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the motion and related documents, the Court finds that summary judgment in favor of the Defendant is appropriate.

         I. Background

         In February 2007, Defendant McGraw-Hill Global Education Holdings, LLC (" McGraw-Hill" ) hired Plaintiff Micah Stone as a Sales Representative in Miami, Florida. (First Amended Complaint (" FAC" ) ¶ 8, ECF No. 15; Stone Dep. 16:15-21, ECF No. 33-4) His duties included calling on instructors in Florida schools, visiting their departments, finding out their needs, and ultimately selling college textbooks and educational products to the instructors and schools. (Stone Dep. 18:20-24; Wildes Aff. ¶ 3, ECF No. 33-6) Plaintiff's salary in 2011 was $59,384. (Williams Aff. ¶ 3, ECF No. 33-28) Also in 2011, Plaintiff applied for a position of Learning Solutions Consultant (" LSC" ) in various locations, including St. Louis, Missouri. (Stone Dep. 30:3-15) Plaintiff interviewed with Irene McGuinness, Liz Wildes, Jim Kelly, Tom Malek, and Brian Kibby. (Stone Dep. 30:16-31:8) He had several in-person and phone interviews throughout the process, and eventually McGuinnes and Wildes recommended Plaintiff for promotion to the LSC position in St. Louis. (Stone Dep. 30:16-31:17; 35:25-36:22; Wildes Aff. ¶ 12) Both McGuinness and Wildes were aware that Plaintiff's race was African-American. (Wildes Aff. ¶ 13)

         During the in-person interview with McGuinness and Wildes, they discussed Plaintiff's salary. (Stone Dep. 33:5-35:11) Plaintiff believed that they had agreed, and shook, on a starting salary of $95,000. (Stone Dep. 33:7-10) After the interview, Plaintiff sent an email to McGuinness incorporating this salary and accepting the job offer. (Stone Dep. 35:4-5; Stone Aff. Ex. 2, ECF No. 40-4) However, McGuinness told Plaintiff not to get ahead of himself because he still had two more interviews. (Stone Dep. 35:8-11; Stone Aff. Ex. 2) Kibby ultimately determined that $85,000 was an appropriate starting salary, and Wildes extended an oral offer of employment to Plaintiff, which he accepted. (Wildes Aff. ¶ ¶ 16, 17; Stone Dep. 36:20-25; 38:1-7; Williams Aff. Ex. A, ECF No. 33-29) White employees in LSC positions in the Central Region had starting salaries either less than or equal to Plaintiff's base salary of $85,000. (Stone Dep. 40:20-41:10; Wildes Aff. ¶ ¶ 22-23, Ex. B-D) The other two LSC employees in the region, Brad Ritter and Bob Scanlon, received higher salaries but had prior experience in positions similar to the LSC position at a competing company. (Wildes Aff. ¶ ¶ 26-28) Plaintiff protested the salary and also complained to human resources. (Stone Dep. 37:1-23, ECF No. 40-1; Pl.'s Ex. 5, ECF No. 40-16)

         Plaintiff began working as an LSC in the fall of 2011, when he transitioned from Sales Representative in Miami to LSC in St. Louis. (Stone Dep. 51:15-55:8, ECF No. 33-4) Plaintiff was paid the higher salary during this transition period. (Stone Dep. 51:15-22) His direct supervisor was Wildes, and McGuinness was Plaintiff's second level supervisor. (Stone Dep. 57:22-58:2; Wildes Aff. ¶ 19)

         The LSC position was a leadership position, requiring Plaintiff to work with Sales Representatives in his territory; their District Manager Kim Nentwig; and his direct supervisor, Learning Solutions Manager for the Central Region Liz Wildes. (Williams Aff. Ex. B, ECF No. 33-30; Wildes Aff. ¶ ¶ 4-7) The position also required Plaintiff to lead, coach, develop, motivate, and manage his assigned team sales. (Williams Aff. Ex. B) Plaintiff did not feel part of Wildes' team because she had not worked with Plaintiff in his territory, unlike other LSCs in the Central

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Region. (Stone Dep. 120:10-14; 121:19-23; Stone Aff. ¶ 11, ECF No. 40-2)

         On January 7, 2012, while attending a national sales meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, Wildes and McGuinness met with Plaintiff and mentioned that he had been late to meetings. (Stone Dep. 187:20-190:20; Wildes Aff. ¶ ¶ 33-34) Prior to the meeting, Wildes had received complaints from Sales Representatives about Plaintiff. (Wildes Aff. ¶ 30, Ex. H, ECF No. 3314) On January 15, 2012, Wildes sent an email to Plaintiff recapping the January 7 meeting and listing four job expectations, including the need to be on time for meetings and the expectation that he work all day on campus with his reps and have a 24 hour turnaround time on email and phone calls to reps. (Wildes Aff. Ex. I, ECF No. 33-15) Plaintiff contends that he had good reason for being late to two meetings, namely he was stuck in traffic due to a snow storm and a rep's failure to send a text in advance of picking him up. (Stone Dep. 181:4-14; 190:14-192:5) However, he testified that he was he was not otherwise late to meetings. (Stone Dep. 192:6-8; Brauchie Aff. ¶ 7, ECF No. 40-38)

         Around January 31, 2012, Plaintiff, Wildes, and Bridgette Hannenberg attended a conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (FAC ¶ 15B) Plaintiff alleges that he overheard Wildes tell Hannenberg that she wished she never hired " his black ass." (FAC ¶ 15B; Stone Dep. 99:1525) Wildes denies making said statement. (Wildes Aff. ¶ 37)

         On March 8, 2012, Plaintiff received a written warning stating that Plaintiff was not meeting expectations and that his performance was inadequate. (FAC ¶ 17; Stone Dep. 235:1325, 245:11-14; Wildes Aff. Ex. K, ECF No. 33-17) In particular, the warning identified four areas of concern: (1) " problematic communications and working relationships with key collaborators" ; (2) " punctuality and attendance issues" ; (3) " follow-up and response time delays" ; and (4) " organization of work issues." (Wildes Aff. Ex. K)

         The written warning referenced a meeting on January 12, 2012, where Plaintiff left a breakfast sales-strategy meeting after Nentwig allegedly grabbed his arm by force. (Wildes Aff. Ex. K; Stone Dep. 185:2-24) Plaintiff attributed this to her aggression. (Stone Dep. 185:21-24) While not specifically asked whether the action was motivated by race, Plaintiff never testified that the act was racially motivated. (Stone Dep. 180:17-187:19) Nentwig sent an email apology the following day. (Pl.'s Ex. 9, ECF No. 40-20) However, Plaintiff alleges that this, along with other actions created a hostile work environment based on race. (FAC ¶ 15)

         The written warning of March 8, 2012 further noted that since the January 12, 2012 meeting, there had been a breakdown in communication between Plaintiff, Nentwig, and others in his district. (Wildes Aff. Ex. K) Specifically, the warning noted that co-workers indicated that they found it difficult to communicate with Plaintiff because he responded in a hostile or condescending tone, and, therefore, almost no direct communication existed between Plaintiff and his colleagues. ( Id. ) The warning included guidance and instructions for Plaintiff to follow for performance improvement. ( Id. ) Further, the warning advised that a failure to improve could result ...

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