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Nelson v. Usable Mutual Insurance Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 22, 2019

Corrie Nelson Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
Usable Mutual Insurance Company, doing business as Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: January 16, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Pine Bluff

          Before BENTON, MELLOY, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          MELLOY, Circuit Judge.

         Plaintiff Corrie Nelson appeals the district court's[1] grant of summary judgment against her 42 U.S.C. § 1981 race-discrimination claim. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

         I. Background

         Nelson, an African-American woman, began working at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield ("ABCBS") in May 2004. She started as a Customer Service Representative, became a Claims Specialist, and now works as a Market Service Representative. As a Market Service Representative, Nelson "is responsible for coordinating and conducting all enrollment activity for new group customers." While working at ABCBS, Nelson was nominated for and participated in ABCBS's Leadership Development Initiative, a program designed to help employees develop management skills. Prior to working at ABCBS, Nelson worked as a salesperson for eleven years in retail clothing stores, including T.J. Max and Nine West. Nelson has a master's degree in management.

         In March 2014, Velma Bearden, ABCBS's Customer Service Supervisor, announced that she was planning to retire in June 2014. In anticipation of the vacancy, ABCBS upgraded the Customer Service Supervisor position to Manager of Operations for the Southeast region and Pine Bluff office. The job description read:

This position is accountable for providing the overall operation of all functions in the region. The incumbent is responsible for providing communication . . . between the Organization and its customers, providers of care and group administrators as well as working with the marketing teams to provide superior service to our existing members and produce exceptional proposal materials for prospective members. The incumbent is responsible for the functions related to purchasing, building management/security, supply requisitions and personnel policy matters.

         The "job requirements" included: (1) A "[c]ollege degree or related experience"; (2) "Two . . . to four . . . years of experience in a supervisory or managerial capacity is desired"; (3) "Two . . . years experience in Customer/Provider Relations is preferred"; (4) "Experience is desired in the personal computer environment"; and (5) "Related experience and education may be substituted for any part of the above requirements."

         Bryan Dorathy, ABCBS's regional executive for the Southeast region, was in charge of filling the position. Dorathy interviewed three employees for the position: Nelson, Melissa Watkins, and Jason Aud. Watkins and Aud are both Caucasian. Dorathy asked each applicant the same questions and scored their responses 1-5 in eleven separate categories. During the interviews, Dorathy told the candidates that he was looking for someone with retail experience because the new Manager of Operations would be responsible for developing a retail storefront concept at the Pine Bluff office where customers could come in, ask questions, and select insurance products. In their respective interviews, Watkins scored a 45 and Nelson scored a 42.5. They were the two highest scoring candidates.

         Watkins had begun working at ABCBS in March 2004 as a Customer Service Representative. She eventually became a Product Specialist and then a Large Group Internal Service Representative. In October 2013, Watkins assumed the position of Regional Financial Risk Manager Trainee for the Southeast region. Prior to working at ABCBS, Watkins had worked for almost three years at Alltell Communications, a wireless service provider, as a Key Account Representative. Her responsibilities in that position included "[a]ssist[ing] customers with billing inquiries, sales, rate changes, rate analysis, [and] equipment deliveries." Watkins has a bachelor's degree in business administration.[2]

         On May 27, 2014, Dorathy selected Watkins over Nelson to be the new Manager of Operations for the Southeast region and Pine Bluff office. In his affidavits, Dorathy states that he chose Watkins because "she scored the highest during the interviews" and her "duties at Alltell" were "extremely similar" to what Dorathy "envisioned for the Pine Bluff location." On April 12, 2016, Nelson filed the present suit alleging race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 based on ABCBS's failure to promote her over Watkins. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of ABCBS. The court found that while Nelson had established a prima facie case of discrimination based on ABCBS's selection of Watkins over Nelson, ABCBS articulated a ...


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