United States District Court, D. Idaho
ALEXIA T. HIGGINS, Plaintiff,
NORTHWEST FARM CREDIT SERVICES, ACA; NORTHWEST FARM CREDIT SERVICES, PCA; and NORTHWEST FARM CREDIT SERVICES, FLCA, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
C. NYE, U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
employment discrimination case comes before the Court on
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff Alexia
Higgins alleges Defendants discriminated against her because
she was female and pregnant. She also alleges Defendants
failed to accommodate her in violation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act, failed to provide her benefits under the
Family Medical Leave Act, and did not pay her the same amount
as her male colleagues. The Court held oral argument on the
Motion on April 4, 2018. After reviewing the briefs, record,
and statements made at oral argument, the Court finds good
cause to GRANT the Motion for Summary Judgment and DISMISS
this case in its entirety.
Northwest Farm Credit Services, ACA, Northwest Farm Credit
Services, PCA, and Northwest Farm Credit Services, FLCA
operate as a single employer or joint employer and
collectively do business as Northwest Farm Credit Services
(collectively “Northwest FCS”). Northwest FCS is
a financial cooperative that provides financing and related
services to farmers, ranchers, agribusinesses, commercial
fishermen, timber producers, rural homeowners, and crop
insurance customers in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington,
and Alaska. Northwest FCS hired Higgins in 2011. Higgins
began working in Northwest FCS's Blackfoot office in
early December 2011 as a “Financial Specialist”
(“FS”). As a FS at Northwest FCS, Higgins
provided administrative support to Northwest FCS's
“Relationship Managers” (“RM”) by
interfacing with clients and ensuring the appropriate loan
documentation and paperwork was completed.
fall of 2012, Higgins discovered she was pregnant with twins.
In January 2013, Higgins' doctor placed her on bedrest
for the remainder of her pregnancy. At the time, Higgins
immediate supervisor was Kara Welch, who was the Operations
Manager for the eastern Idaho region. Welch remained
Higgins' supervisor until mid-February
2015. Welch helped Higgins complete the
necessary medical leave paperwork and assisted Higgins in
making modifications to her position requirements so she
could continue working from the hospital.
fall of 2013, Northwest FCS transferred Higgins to the Idaho
Falls office. There, she acted as support staff for Cody
Hendrix and Steve Smith. Around this time, Higgins began
performing duties that were outside of what was typically
required for a FS. For example, she engaged in Country Home
Loan sales training, completed the training necessary to
become a Credit Officer (“CO”), managed projects,
trained new staff, and performed a variety of other tasks
necessary to assess, assemble, and close loan packages.
of 2014, Higgins applied for an open CO position. Lance
Zollinger, the Senior Vice President of Lending for eastern
Idaho, would supervise the position. During the first round
of interviews, Higgins interviewed with Zollinger, Welch,
Hendrix, and Smith. Zollinger recommended that Higgins and
two male candidates advance to the second round of
interviews. During the second round, Higgins interviewed with
Idaho President Blair Wilson and Executive Vice President
Fred DePell. Zollinger was also in the room during the
interview. DePell made the final decision as to who would
fill the position. Northwest FCS hired an outside candidate
named Matt Macedeo for the CO position. Northwest FCS says it
selected Macedo because he expressed a strong interest in
moving into a RM position in the future and that was a
quality it likes COs to possess. In contrast to Macedo,
Northwest FCS states that Higgins clearly indicated in her
interview that she did not have any interest in moving into a
was very interested in seeing Higgins advance within
Northwest FCS. Accordingly, after Northwest FCS did not hire
Higgins for the CO position, Welch asked Higgins if she would
be interested in a new position in which she would be
responsible for marketing and producing Country Home Loans
(“CHL”). They had previously discussed that CHLs
were a severely underutilized product at Northwest FCS. After
Higgins and Welch conceptualized what would eventually become
the CHL RM position, Welch approached Zollinger and proposed
that Higgins transition into marketing and producing CHLs for
eastern Idaho. Zollinger approved of the proposal. Wilson and
DePell then also approved the proposal.
August 2014, Higgins moved into a FS II role as part of her
transition into the CHL RM. Higgins received a mid-year 15%
raise to $44, 160. On March 1, 2015, Northwest FCS promoted
Higgins into the CHL RM position (an RM I position) and gave
her a raise to $50, 000.
alleges Northwest FCS treated her differently than the other
RMs in eastern Idaho. Higgins did not have any designated
support staff on site in her new RM position. Rather,
Northwest FCS assigned Jaime Oliver, a woman working at a
different branch who was already supporting three other RMs,
as support staff. All of the other RMs in eastern Idaho had
designated support staff on site. Higgins was also required
to travel much more, and cover a larger geographic region,
than the other RMs in eastern Idaho to service loan inquires
and customers. Northwest FCS initially assigned Cody Hendrix,
an RM in the Idaho Falls office, to answer Higgins questions
as she transitioned into the RM role. Hendrix was unable to
answer Higgins' questions about CHLs, so Higgins
requested an off-site mentor. Northwest FCS assigned Alison
Jenkins, an RM based in Nampa, Idaho, to act as Higgins
off-site mentor. However, Higgins' attempts to
“reach out and get answers from Alison Jenkins were
unfruitful.” Dkt. 25-1, at 19. When Higgins complained
to Zollinger about the relationship, Zollinger encouraged
Higgins to continued reaching out to her.
summer 2015, Higgins learned that she was pregnant. At the
time, Northwest FCS was in the process of adding a CHL RM
position in northern Utah. Higgins was supposed to train the
new CHL RM, Cody Montgomery, starting in the late fall/early
winter of 2015. When Higgins told Zollinger she was pregnant,
Zollinger told Higgins that the timing was
“unfortunate” and “less than favorable
conditions” because Higgins was supposed to provide
support to the new Utah CHL RM soon. Dkt. 25-1, at 17.
Zollinger also questioned whether it was in Higgins'
family's best interest for her to return to work after
having a third child. Id. at 22.
September 8, 2015, Northwest FCS notified Higgins and
other employees via email that they were required to complete
and return a form authorizing Northwest FCS to obtain
information about their criminal background, financial
responsibility, character, and general fitness in order to
comply with the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer
Protection Act of 2010 (“Dodd-Frank Act”). Dkt.
23-3, at 33. Northwest provided these employees with the
authorization form, a list of answers to frequently asked
questions, and an FCRA Summary of Rights. Id. at 5.
Previously, in January of 2014, Northwest FCS had required
208 employees to complete this form. All 208 employees had
complied. Following a “comprehensive assessment of job
duties, ” after Northwest FCS completed a structural
“realignment” in late 2014, early 2015, it
determined that the additional 155 employees also needed to
complete the form. Northwest directed the 155 employees to
complete and return the form by September 21, 2015. Dkt.
23-3, at 33.
was one of 28 employees that did not complete the form by the
deadline. Id. at 5. On October 2, 2015, Jeff Brown,
Northwest FCS's Assistant General Counsel, emailed these
28 employees a written reminder to complete the form at their
“earliest convenience.” Id. at 44.
responded to Brown's email that day. Id. at 47.
She expressed her concern that there was no requirement for
Northwest FCS “to provide prior notification or
justification” for any future credit requests and did
not provide an employee with an opportunity to object to
future requests or revoke the credit authorization.
Id. Higgins' email did not mention concerns she
had over providing her social security number. Id.
However, Higgins asserts generally that she had some
trepidations about completing the form because she had
previously had her identity stolen and she had concerns about
whether Northwest FCS would adequately protect her personal
information. Brown responded to Higgins' email shortly
thereafter, indicating he could not change the form and
directing Higgins to speak with Zollinger or Wanda Todd in
Human Resources if she still had concerns. Id. at
October 20, 2015, Brown sent an email to the last seven
employees who had not returned the form, including Higgins,
instructing them to complete the form by October 21, 2015.
Id. at 51. Brown warned that he would “elevate
th[e] matter to higher authorities after that time” if
any employee failed to meet this deadline. Id.
November 9, 2015, three employees, including Higgins, had
still failed to fill out the form. Id. at 53. Brown
emailed these employees and their supervisors, instructing
them to return the forms “immediately.”
Id. One of these employees had left Northwest
FCS's employment and the second employee completed the
form within minutes. Id. at 7. Thus, as of November
9, 2015, Higgins was the only employee who had not completed
and returned the required form. On November 10, 2015,
Zollinger emailed Higgins telling her to complete the
authorization form and to copy him when she emailed it to
Brown. Dkt. 23-6, at 50.
November 17, 2018, Todd asked Zollinger if Higgins had
completed the form. Zollinger followed up with Higgins
regarding the form. Higgins told him she had not yet
submitted the form. Zollinger sent Higgins an instant message
stating, “Come back to my office before you leave. I
have been in discussion [sic] with both HR and Legal
regarding the gravity of not signing the authorization. Much
more vital to your continued employment than I think you are
assuming . . .” Id. at 53. Zollinger then met
with Higgins and communicated that “the authorization
document is not subject to change and that it is a
non-negotiable requirement of her employment.”
Id. at 56. He communicated that if it was not signed
and submitted by November 18, 2015, “then she has
deliberately chosen not to comply with a requirement of
employment and would be subject to termination.”
November 18, 2015, at 2:27 p.m. Higgins emailed Human
Resource Generalist Scott Carver a signed authorization form
that did not provide her social security number, date of
birth, or driver's license number. Id. at 62-63.
Higgins maintains that she submitted an incomplete form
because she did not have her wallet with her and did not have
her prior address available at the time. At 3:38 p.m., Carver
replied to Higgins' email and copied Zollinger, directing
Higgins to “complete the form in its entirety and
resend to me by the end of the day today.” Id.
at 65. Zollinger replied to the email chain at 3:54 pm
stating, “I'll need to confirm that you have
completed the form in its entirety and signed before you
leave the office today.” Id. at 67.
contacted her husband, who was able to locate her wallet and
provide the requested information. Dkt. 25-1, at 14. At 3:59
p.m., Higgins responded to Carver's email with another
copy of the authorization form. Dkt 23-6, at 70. On this
form, Higgins included her former address, date of birth, and
driver's license number. Id. at 71. Higgins
still did not include her social security number.
Id. In her email she explained, “The form
states that my SSN is requested and not
required.” Id. at 70. Higgins left the
office on November 18, 2015, without providing a form with
her social security number, despite Zollinger's
“direct instruction to Higgins that she must complete
the form in its entirely before she left the office.”
Dkt. 23-5, at 22.
November 19, 2015, Zollinger attempted to contact Higgins in
order to end her employment. Id. at 23. Zollinger
sent Higgins a text message and email, and called her and
left her a voicemail. Id. Higgins did not respond to
any of these communication attempts. Id.
Higgins's statement of disputed facts does not dispute
that Zollinger attempted to contact Higgins. Dkt. 24-1.
had a scheduled prenatal appointment at 10:00 am on November
19, 2015, with Dr. Margaret Huggins. She worked from home for
two hours that morning prior to the doctor's appointment.
Higgins maintains that she did not want to admit to herself
or her doctor that she was struggling with anxiety,
headaches, and “other symptoms.” Dkt. 24-3, at 4.
Accordingly, she did not report this information to her
doctor at that appointment. Id. Higgins' blood
pressure was normal and Dr. Huggins noted that she was
“doing well.” Dkt. 23-7, at 91.
returned to Dr. Huggins' office that afternoon for an
unscheduled appointment. Higgins states she returned to Dr.
Huggins' office because she decided she needed to be
honest with her doctor about her mental state and overall
well-being. Dkt. 25-1, at 16. Dr. Huggins recalls Higgins was
crying, distraught, and anxious, and that she reported
suffering from insomnia. Dkt. 23-7, at 86-92. Dr. Huggins
provided Higgins with a note that stated, “Please
excuse from work for 2 weeks. Any questions please contact
our office.” Dkt. 24-6, at 3. Higgins emailed this note
to Zollinger at 4:30 pm that day. Id. at 1. In this
email she stated, “I know there are matters pending on
customer files and need to figure out how you would like me
to handle them, hand them off, etc. while I am out.”
afternoon of November 20, 2015, Northwest FCS sent Higgins an
email regarding her termination. It stated as follows:
Based on your failure to respond to Lance Zollinger's
multiple attempts to reach you by email, voice mail, and text
yesterday, your failure to answer a call from Lance at 8:45
am MST this morning, and your subsequent email to Lance after
that call asking that any urgent matters be emailed to you,
this email is to notify you that your failure to fully and
timely comply with the requirement to authorize Northwest FCS
to obtain an investigative consumer report, including a
credit check, by the extended deadline of 5:00 Mountain time
on Wednesday, November 18, 2015, demonstrated your decision
to resign from Northwest Farm Credit Services. Therefore,
your final day of employment was November 18, 2015.
Dkt. 25-2, at 33. The parties disagree as to whether
Higgins' last day of employment was November 18, 2015, or
November 20, 2015. Northwest FCS paid Higgins through the end
of November 2015.
filed this lawsuit on September 2, 2016. On September 12,
2017, Judge B. Lynn Winmill transferred this case to the
undersigned. On January 24, 2018, Northwest FCS filed the
pending motion for summary judgment on all claims. Higgins
asserts nine causes of action: (1) gender discrimination in
violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
(“Title VII”); (2) gender discrimination in
violation of the Idaho Human Rights Act (“IHRA”);
(3) pregnancy discrimination in violation of Title VII; (4)
pregnancy discrimination in violation of the IHRA; (5)
failure to accommodate in violation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (“ADA”); (6) failure to
accommodate in violation of the IHRA; (7) disability
discrimination in violation of the ADA; (8) disability
discrimination in violation of the IHRA; and (9) violation of
the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).
judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). This Court's role at summary judgment is not
“to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the
matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for
trial.” Zetwick v. Cty. of Yolo, 850 F.3d 436,
441 (9th Cir. 2017) (citation omitted). In considering a
motion for summary judgment, this Court must “view
the facts in the non-moving party's favor.”
Id. To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the
respondent need only present evidence upon which “a
reasonable juror drawing all inferences in favor of the
respondent could return a verdict in [his or her]
favor.” Id. (citation omitted). Accordingly,
this Court must enter summary judgment if a party
“fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party's case,
and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at
trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322 (1986). The respondent cannot simply rely on an
unsworn affidavit or the pleadings to defeat a motion for
summary judgment; rather the respondent must set forth the
“specific facts, ” supported by evidence, with
“reasonable particularity” that precludes summary
judgment. Far Out Prods., Inc. v. Oskar, 247 F.3d
986, 997 (9th Cir. 2001).