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Angela Staley v. U.S. Bank National Association

August 3, 2012

ANGELA STALEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
U.S. BANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION, U.S. BANCORP, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

The Court has before it Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 31). The Court heard oral argument on August 2, 2012 and took the matter under advisement. For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny the motion.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Angela Staley alleges she was terminated from her position with Defendants U.S. Bank National Association and U.S. Bancorp (together "U.S. Bank") because she was pregnant and scheduled to take paid maternity leave.

Staley was initially hired by U.S. Bank in July 2004 as a teller coordinator at a bank branch in the Boise, Idaho area. In 2008, she was promoted to manager of another Boise area bank branch. While in that position, she had her first child. She took twelve weeks of leave, as allowed by the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). There is no allegation that Staley experienced any discrimination or retaliation related to her first pregnancy.

In January 2009, Staley was promoted to a corporate trainer position within U.S. Bank's Human Resources Department. The position involved training U.S. Bank employees at various branches, and it required Staley occasionally to travel for work. Staley was told by her initial training supervisor, Summer Miller, that she had a $35 per day allowance to use on food, which she was permitted to charge to her corporate credit card. The parties contest the amount of training on the use of the corporate credit card that Staley received.

On approximately four business trips, Staley's family traveled with her. Staley asked and was given permission for them to accompany her. Miller testified that she advised Staley that they were allowed to travel with Staley so long as it did not result in any greater expense for U.S. Bank. On several occasions during those trips Staley used her corporate credit card to purchase food for her husband and daughter, though she never exceeded her $35 daily allotment. Staley estimates the total amount spent on food for her husband and child was approximately $100. Compl. ¶ 29, Dkt. 1.

In late 2009, Staley became pregnant with her second child. Miller announced Staley's pregnancy on a conference call with their training team, and Staley "received a lot of congratulations." Staley Dep. 88:22.

In January 2010, Douglas Strackbein replaced Miller as Staley's immediate supervisor. Staley was planning to take twelve weeks of maternity/FMLA leave beginning on April 26, 2010. Because of the length of Staley's employment at U.S. Bank, her leave would have been fully paid. Staley began working with Strackbein to organize coverage of those trainings that she would be unavailable to conduct.

On April 2, 2010, an anonymous person called U.S. Bank's ethics hotline and reported that Staley had used her corporate credit card to make purchases for her family during business trips. Lawrence Christensen, a Senior Investigator in U.S. Bank's Corporate Security Investigations Department, was assigned to investigate.

Christensen interviewed Staley on Friday, April 9, 2010. Staley acknowledged that she had purchased food for her family while traveling. She told Christensen that her understanding was that she could use the $35 travel allotment as a daily per diem which she could spend on her family. At that time, she estimated that the total amount she had spent on her family was roughly $60. In a follow up report, Christensen wrote that the $60 figure, based on his review of the records, was "a realistic figure." Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. D-3 at 2, Dkt. 32-12. Christensen concluded that Staley had violated the company's Code of Ethics, which provides, "The corporate credit card should be used for business- related expenses only . . . ." Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. A-2 at 8, Dkt. 32-4. Christensen reported his conclusion to Strackbein.

According to Staley, Strackbein called her that evening to "check on how [she] was doing." Staley Aff. ¶ 34, Dkt. 36-13. He told her not to worry because any violation was not severe. They spoke again on the following day, a Saturday, and he told her again that nothing was likely to happen. Staley Dep. 131:5-11.*fn1

On Monday, April 12, 2010 Staley reported to work. Staley's cubicle was directly next to Christensen's office. During the day, Staley overheard Christensen discussing her situation on the phone at least twice. At approximately 1:15 PM, she overheard a phone conversation which she surmised was between Christensen and someone in human resources, based on the context of the conversation. She heard Christensen say, "Yeah, she is two weeks from having a baby. She is pregnant." Staley Aff. ¶ 47. He also mentioned that she was scheduled to take pregnancy leave. Staley testified that the tone of Christensen's comments was negative: "[T]he tone that was used was very different from what I had ever heard before when I was -- had received congratulations." Staley Dep. 89:22-24.

Staley testified that during the course of the day she spoke directly with both Christensen and Strackbein. Christensen stopped by her office at around noon. He told her he had turned the decision over to Strackbein and the human resources department. Strackbein called her shortly afterwards. He told her that no decision had been made and that he could not make the decision because he had not supervised Staley for long enough. Strackbein told her that the decision would be made by Christensen and the human resources department. Staley had a subsequent conversation with both Christensen and Staley, and they each told her again that the other person was responsible for the decision.

During his deposition, Christensen testified that he had no role in determining the discipline imposed; he acted solely as a fact-finder. Strackbein testified that he passed the decision up to his supervisor, Jill Costa, who consulted her boss, Susan Strand, who in turn consulted the head of U.S. Bank's training division, Randy Johnston. Strackbein testified that "ultimately Randy Johnston made that decision [to terminate Staley]" Strackbein Dep. 56:4. Strackbein testified that he did not inform Costa that Staley was pregnant.

At 5:00 PM, Darlene Bills, a local human resources employee, escorted Staley to an office where they dialed into a conference call. Strackbein and Kerry Mitchell, another human resources employee, attended by telephone. Mitchell told Staley she was terminated from her employment for using her corporate credit card for personal expenses in violation of U.S. Bank's Code of Ethics.

U.S. Bank did not fill Staley's former position until early in September 2010, roughly four months after Staley was terminated. At the time Staley was terminated, U.S. Bank had "implemented a broad initiative to reduce costs" as a result of the economic downturn. Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 26, Dkt. 31-2. Strackbein testified, however, that terminating Staley did not save U.S. Bank money because of the expenses of training her replacement and flying in trainers to conduct necessary classes in the interim. However, he acknowledged that he had not "put [expenses and savings] out on a spreadsheet." Strackbein Dep. 90:17-18.

Staley filed this suit on December 1, 2010. Her complaint alleges that she was terminated because of her pregnancy in violation of (1) Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, (2) the federal Family and Medical ...


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