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Stone v. McGraw Hill Financial, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 15, 2017

Micah Stone Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
McGraw Hill Financial, Inc., formerly known as McGraw-Hill Companies Defendant McGraw-Hill Global Education Holdings, LLC, a New York Corporation Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: December 13, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before WOLLMAN, SMITH, [1] and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

          WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge.

         Micah Stone filed suit against McGraw-Hill Global Education Holdings, LLC (McGraw-Hill), asserting claims of employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), Mo. Rev. Stat. § 213.055. Stone appeals from the district court's[2] order granting McGraw-Hill's motion for summary judgment. We affirm.

         I. Background

         In February 2007, Stone, who is African American, was hired as a Sales Representative for McGraw-Hill in Miami, Florida. He sold textbooks and other educational products to instructors and administrators at Florida colleges. He was paid a base salary of $59, 384.

         Stone applied for a promotion to the position of Learning Solutions Consultant (LSC) in St. Louis, Missouri, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Columbus, Ohio. He contends that his applications for the positions in Charlotte and Columbus were not considered and that he was considered for the St. Louis position because he contacted McGraw-Hill's Vice President of Training and Professional Development. He had an in-person interview for the St. Louis position with Irene McGuinness, Vice President of Learning Solutions, and Elizabeth Wildes, Learning Solutions Manager for the Central Region. Stone claims that the parties agreed during this meeting that his starting salary would be $95, 000. Stone sent a follow-up email to McGuinness purporting to confirm this agreement, to which McGuinness replied that Stone should not "get ahead of [himself]" because he had two more interviews. According to Stone, when he was ultimately offered the position with a salary of $85, 000, he protested the reduction and asked Wildes if it was on account of his race, but accepted the offer after Wildes replied that Stone must "[t]ake it or leave it."

         Five other LSCs in the Central Region reported to Wildes, all of whom were white. Anni Schleicher was promoted to the LSC position in July 2011, after working for approximately five years as a McGraw-Hill Sales Representative, at a salary of $83, 600. Bridget Hannenberg was hired as an LSC at a salary of $85, 000, after having worked as a Publishing Representative for Pearson Education for two years and one month. Christy Rybak was hired as an LSC at a salary of $85, 000; the record is silent regarding her prior experience. Brad Ritter was hired as an LSC in the Columbus, Ohio, area and was paid a higher salary than Stone. Ritter had worked as a Solutions Consultant for Pearson Education for one year and eight months. Robert Scanlon was hired as an LSC in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area and was paid a higher salary than Stone. Scanlon had worked as a Sales Director for Pearson Education for three years and six months, and had worked for Cengage Learning for six years and nine months, first as a Sales Representative and then as a Technology Specialist.

         Stone was paid his $85, 000 LSC salary during his transition from the Sales Representative position to the LSC position, but claims that he was required to perform the work of both positions. He requested, but did not receive, a "Spot Bonus" to compensate him for performing this dual role. Wildes's affidavit states that Schleicher had also worked as both a Sales Representative and an LSC following her promotion and had received only her LSC salary. Stone responds that McGraw-Hill has offered no evidence showing that Schleicher was required to work in both positions; that even if she was required to do so, she was not required to travel as extensively as Stone; and that her work load would have been less than Stone's because she was promoted to LSC during the summer, when schools are closed, whereas Stone was promoted in September. Stone reported the alleged reduction in his salary and the requirement to work both positions to McGraw-Hill's human resources department.

         Stone disputes McGraw-Hill's claims that his performance as an LSC was deficient. Stone's position as an LSC required him to work with Wildes, the Learning Solutions Manager for the Central Region and his direct supervisor; Kim Nentwig, the District Sales Manager; and the Sales Representatives in his territory. Wildes states that she received complaints from Sales Representatives that Stone had communicated with them in an arrogant and offensive manner, that he was late to meetings with them, and that "[n]o one in the district is happy with Micah." Stone contends that these statements, as reported by Wildes in a December 28, 2011, email to McGuinness, reflect the complaints of only one Sales Representative. Wildes and McGuinness discussed Stone's alleged performance deficiencies with him during a national sales meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, on January 7, 2012. On January 15, 2012, Wildes sent Stone an email memorializing the January 7 discussion. This email instructed Stone to be on time when meeting with Sales Representatives and customers; to work all day on college campuses with Representatives; to notify a Representative in advance before contacting a professor on the Representative's campus; to avoid discussing royalties in a manner that seems to "buy[] adoptions"[3]; and to respond to Representatives' phone calls and emails within twenty-four hours.

         Wildes gave Stone a written warning on March 8, 2012. The warning identified specific instances in which Stone had exhibited "Problematic Communications and Working Relationships with Key Collaborators": on January 13, Stone had walked out of a meeting with Nentwig and another employee; the employee at the January 13 meeting reported that she hung up on Stone during a February 6 phone call, during which Stone used an aggressive tone and tried to coerce her into agreeing with Stone's perspective on the meeting; communication between Stone and his colleagues had broken down because Stone used a "hostile or condescending tone"; Stone had placed an excessive number of phone calls to Wildes and another employee without leaving messages; and several Representatives had complained that Stone was arrogant and belligerent. The warning identified instances in which Stone had displayed "Punctuality and Attendance Issues": on January 31, Stone failed to attend a dinner meeting without advance notice; on February 23, Stone emailed that he would be unable to attend a dinner meeting thirty minutes after he was supposed to have met his colleagues to walk to the dinner; and several Representatives reported that Stone had been late to on-campus meetings, in one case by an hour. The warning stated that had Stone displayed "Follow-up and Response Time Delays" in responding to phone calls and emails. Finally, the warning stated that Stone had shown "Organization of Work Issues" by failing to complete trip reports for campus visits and relying heavily on others to complete large projects. The warning set forth actions to improve Stone's performance, including that Stone should copy Wildes on all his communications with customers and colleagues and that Stone should work three to four days a week on campus with Sales Representatives. It also instructed Stone to provide Wildes a plan of his weekly activities on Monday of each week and to inform Wildes at the end of each day what he had accomplished that day. The warning stated that failure to meet the expectations set forth therein would lead to further disciplinary action, including possible termination. Wildes subsequently informed Stone, in emails and phone calls, that Stone was not meeting the goals set forth in the written warning.

         Stone disputes that his performance was deficient. He claims that he walked out of the January 13 meeting because Nentwig forcibly grabbed his arm. When asked why Nentwig did this, Stone replied that Nentwig is aggressive; he had heard that Nentwig had thrown water bottles at Representatives in the past. Nentwig denies that she grabbed Stone's arm. She sent Stone an email the day after the meeting, apologizing for "upsetting" him. Stone contends that he missed or arrived late to meetings only with good reason and that he had good working relationships with Representatives. He argues that the requirements to work three to four full days on campus with Representatives and prepare trip reports for every campus visit were overly burdensome and were not enforced against other LSCs.

         Stone also alleges that during a conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on January 31, he overheard Hannenberg ask Wildes, "What are you going to do about Micah?" and Wildes reply, "I wish I had never hired his ...


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