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Taylor v. Abbott Laboratories Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

July 15, 2019

JAMIE TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
ABBOTT LABORATORIES, INC., WENDY NEIL, and JOHN DOES 1-3, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN WEBBER WRIGHT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Jamie Taylor brings this action against Abbott Laboratories, Inc. (Abbott), Wendy Neil, and John Does 1-3, alleging employment discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (RA), 29 U.S.C. § 794, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993 (ACRA), Ark. Code Ann. § 16-123-101 et seq. This action was originally filed in the Circuit Court of Pulaski County, Arkansas, but it was removed to this Court by Abbott on August 31, 2018. The Court subsequently dismissed Taylor's claims against Neil.[1]

         Now before the Court is a motion of Abbott for summary judgment [doc.#23]. Taylor has responded in opposition to Abbott's motion and Abbott has replied to Taylor's response. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Abbott's motion for summary judgment.

         I.

         Abbott hired Taylor as a Sales Specialist on June 2, 2008. Taylor worked in Abbott's Point of Care (APOC) business. The APOC business develops, manufactures, and sells portable, hand-held blood analyzers to provide real-time, lab quality results at the patient's side to speed up decision-making and ensure the appropriate care is provided where and when it is needed.

         As a Sales Specialist, Taylor sold APOC products, such as the i-STAT Analyzer, Cartridges, and Data Management to hospital laboratories within her territory in Arkansas. In that role, Taylor was responsible for maintaining and expanding sales in existing accounts, and developing new business within her territory. As a Sales Specialist, customer relationships are of the utmost importance, and an essential function of Taylor's job was to visit customers at their place of business.

         As a Sales Specialist, Abbott expected Taylor to conduct onsite visits to hospital laboratories within her territory to make sales, to assist with implementation of Abbott's products, and to provide customer-focused service. The Sales Specialist position is an outside sales role, and thus Abbott expected Taylor to spend a significant portion of her time, up to 50%, traveling to visit hospitals within her territory.

         Following a realignment in early 2016, Taylor began reporting to Neil, a Regional Sales Manager. According to Taylor, she and Neil “just didn't click” and “just couldn't communicate very well, ” and Taylor admits that she struggled with timely completion of important administrative and reporting duties.[2]

         Neil states that after she took over supervision of Taylor, one of Taylor's customers, Customer 1, contacted her to have Taylor removed from the account.[3]According to Neil, Customer 1 asked Abbott to assign a different representative to the account, telling Neil that Taylor had been condescending to the customer and failed to respond to the customer in a timely manner on contract negotiations. Abbott states it made the business decision to honor Customer 1's request that Taylor be removed from the account, and that Neil took over responsibility for it. Following Taylor's removal from Customer 1's account, Neil states she counseled and coached Taylor on improving her interactions with customers and being more responsive.

         In early August 2016, Abbott conducted Business Reviews, during which each Sales Specialist presents a business case for a current opportunity and receives feedback from his or her first and second level managers, the General Manager, and other managers within the APOC business. Among others, Taylor's Business Review presentation was attended by Neil and APOC General Manager Mark Klopping.

         Taylor's second-level manager, Central Area Sales Director Brad Cox, provided his own feedback, as well as feedback he received from Klopping, about Taylor's performance at Business Reviews. Cox said that Taylor's Business Review “was the worst one presented out of the 4 regions” and the underlying data made clear that she had thrown it together at the last minute. Taylor, citing only her own deposition testimony, denies this but does admit that her last-minute flurry of activity before the Business Review “looked bad.” According to Cox, Taylor's presentation made clear that her pipeline for growing her business was “nonexistent” and “in the worst shape of all the [APOC Sales Specialists] in the Central Area.” At this point in the year (August 2016), Taylor was the lowest-ranked Sales Specialist on her team and was ranked 75th out of 92 APOC Sales Specialists nationally. Taylor does not address her ranking in the year 2016 but references earlier years in claiming she was in the top 25 of her sales team nationally.

         Following the Business Review, Cox directed Neil to consult with Employee Relations (ER) about Taylor's performance problems and to put together a formal coaching memo with goals designed “to improve [Taylor's] performance in territory management, customer interactions and overall sales and pipeline metrics.” Before a formal coaching memorandum was prepared, however, a second customer sought to have Taylor “banned” from its facilities. In this respect, on September 12, 2016, Cox received an email sent on behalf of a Regional Vice President at Customer 2 that Customer 2 “would like to discuss having [Taylor] banned from his facilities” due to “numerous problems” and her failure to follow “certain procedures when visiting the lab” despite multiple requests. In addition to Customer 2's Regional Vice President, one of its lab directors also raised concerns about Taylor's conduct. Among other things, the lab director reported that Taylor was not scheduling appointments sufficiently in advance and was coming to the lab when the lab director was not there and when the point of care coordinator did not have time to meet with her. Taylor also informed the lab director “that she [Taylor] might be losing her job due to the account changes” at one of Customer 2's hospitals. The Regional Vice President also reported that Taylor had spoken directly with one of the physicians in violation of Customer 2's established protocol. Taylor, citing only her own deposition testimony, denies all this.

         Cox followed up with Customer 2's Regional Vice President who explained that “specific guidelines [were] laid out for [Taylor] to comply as it related to promotional activities and inclusion of the Lab” but that Taylor “disregarded these instructions ...” Customer 2 told Cox that Taylor was “destroying any recent goodwill with Abbott and [Customer 2] relationships and that a change was requested” to the Sales Specialist assignment at Customer 2. According to Taylor, Customer 2 was one of her largest accounts. Abbott honored Customer 2's request and reassigned the account.

         On September 14, 2016, Neil, following Cox's directive, contacted Abbott's ER group for assistance in managing Taylor's performance. Amy Frost, an ER Specialist, was assigned to the matter and assisted Neil in preparing a performance improvement plan (PIP), which was delivered to Taylor on September 28, 2016. The PIP summarized Taylor's performance deficiencies and stated that her performance would be measured over the next 60 days, and that failure to demonstrate immediate, consistent, and sustained improvement could result in disciplinary action during the 60 days. The PIP advised Taylor that she needed to maintain positive customer relationships, improve pipeline development by identifying her top five opportunities in her territory planner and developing specific action steps ...


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