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Fields v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Co.

April 19, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garnett Thomas Eisele United States District Judge


Presently before the Court is Defendant Shelter Mutual Insurance Company's Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. Background & Facts

Plaintiff Sheila Fields applied for and was hired by Shelter Mutual Insurance Company (hereafter "Shelter") into a Claims Adjuster position on July 6, 1999, with a base salary of $2,736 per month.*fn1 Plaintiff states that she worked for seven years with State Farm as a senior claims representative before coming to Shelter.*fn2 Ms. Fields' salary was determined under Shelter's Salary Administration Program, and she never complained that the position into which she was hired or the amount of her initial salary were unfair or discriminatory.*fn3 Mr. Klenke, who became the Branch Manager in the Little Rock, Arkansas, Shelter office on May 1, 2002, states that the base salary is important because each raise that a Shelter employee receives is calculated by taking a percentage of the employee's current base salary, translating that percentage into a dollar amount, and then adding that amount to the employee's current base salary, creating a new base salary.*fn4 However, Plaintiff states that performance reviews, in which a higher rating results in a larger percentage merit raise, and promotions to supervisor positions, which entitle an employee of a pay raise of up to 10 percent, also impact an employee's salary.*fn5

Ms. Fields' Employee Record demonstrates that she received raises on February 1, 2000, and February 1, 2001, resulting in new base salaries of $2,872.80 per month and $3,002.08, respectively.*fn6 On August 1, 2001, Ms. Fields was promoted to the position of Senior Claims Adjustor with a new base salary of $3,302.29.*fn7

On June 16, 2002, within two months of Mr. Klenke's arrival at the Little Rock office, Mr. Klenke promoted Ms. Fields to a classification E-4 Supervisor and acquired a 9.99 percent*fn8 raise for her, resulting in a new base salary of $3,632.20 per month. Upon promotion to an E-4 or E-5 Supervisor position, Shelter's promotional increase policy allows an employee to receive up to a 10 percent raise, which will be calculated using the employee's current base salary, resulting in a new base salary.*fn9

In January of 2003, Mr. Klenke gave Ms. Fields a "4," or "meets expectations" rating, on her performance evaluation, resulting in a 2.75 percent merit raise and a new base salary of $3,732.08.*fn10 In July of 2003, Mr. Klenke promoted Ms. Fields to E-5 Supervisor and acquired for her the maximum 10 percent raise, resulting in a new base salary of $4,105.28 per month.*fn11

Mr. Klenke states that all subsequent evaluations of Ms. Fields were a "3" rating.*fn12 She received a raise on July 1, 2004, resulting in a new base salary of $4,248.68.

Mr. Klenke states that at some time after Ms. Fields' promotion, Shelter changed its hiring practice regarding Claims Supervisor positions by allowing for the hire of outside candidates, as opposed to only inside candidates, into these positions.*fn13 Mr. Klenke asserts that to attract lateral hires and remain competitive in the marketplace, Shelter began offering higher salary amounts than it was previously willing to give.*fn14

On February 14, 2005, Ms. Fields made a written complaint concerning her evaluation form.*fn15 She wrote that she did not believe that she had any availability problems and that she did not agree with the evaluation.*fn16 However, she did not inform Mr. Klenke, or anyone else at Shelter, that she believed she was being discriminated against on account of her race.*fn17 After this evaluation, on July 1, 2005, Ms. Fields received a 4.5 percent raise, resulting in a base salary of $4,439.87.

Also in 2005, Ms. Fields requested an equity raise because she believed the newly-hired supervisors received higher salaries.*fn18 She approached Mr. Charles Allen, an African-American and Director of Compensation for Shelter Human Resources Department, who suggested that she discuss the issue with Mr. Klenke.*fn19 Ms. Fields spoke with Mr. Klenke, who reviewed her salary and determined that there was no equity problem.*fn20 Mr. Klenke states that during his tenure with Shelter, he knows of no Claims Supervisor in the Little Rock office to ever receive an equity increase and that he has never granted an equity increase to any supervisor.*fn21 Matt Moore, Regional Claims Director, also reviewed her salary and determined that there was no equity problem.*fn22 She then approached Mr. Ken Nivens, Vice-President of Shelter's Human Resource Department, and asked him to confidentially review her salary as it related to other supervisors with similar background and experience.*fn23 According to Ms. Fields, Mr. Nivens advised her that Pat Gruber and Matt Moore made a decision that she was not entitled to an equity increase and did not give a basis for that decision.*fn24

On February 10, 2005, Ms. Fields filed an EEOC Charge of Discrimination alleging discrimination based upon her race and sex. She alleged that she complained of a wage disparity between other supervisors and herself to upper management, but was told that she would not receive an increase in pay.*fn25 Plaintiff's right to sue letter is dated September 28, 2005.*fn26 On October 10, 2005, Plaintiff resigned from Shelter. On December 28, 2005, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this Court alleging discrimination on account of her race. On December 8, 2006, Ms. Fields filed an Amended Complaint adding a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. As Plaintiff recognizes, "Title VII and § 1981 set forth parallel, substantially identical, legal theories of recovery in cases alleging intentional discrimination in employment on the basis of race." Kim v. Nash Finch Co., 123 F.3d 1046, 1063 (8th Cir. 1997) ("The elements of claims alleging disparate treatment on the basis of race under Title VII and intentional employment discrimination on the basis of race under § 1981 are identical.").

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate only when, in reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, so that the dispute may be decided solely on legal grounds. Holloway v. Lockhart, 813 F.2d 874 (8th Cir. 1987); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The Supreme Court has established guidelines to assist trial courts in determining whether this standard has been met:

The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for trial-- whether, in other words, there are genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).

The Eighth Circuit set out the burdens of the parties in connection with a summary judgment motion in Counts v. M.K. Ferguson ...

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