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Heisler v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 30, 2019

Nancy Heisler Plaintiff- Appellant
Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: May 14, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa - Central Division

          Before BENTON, WOLLMAN, and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.


         Nancy Heisler sued her employer, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company ("Nationwide"), alleging discrimination against her on the basis of her sex and her age. The district court[1] granted summary judgment to Nationwide, and Heisler appeals. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Heisler is a Certified Public Accountant who has worked for Nationwide through its subsidiary companies in Des Moines, Iowa, since November 1985. She began in a subsidiary company that was then called Farmland Insurance. From 1986 until 2002, she worked on an hourly contract basis. In the late 1990s, when Nationwide acquired Allied Insurance ("Allied"), Nationwide moved Wendell Crosser from Allied to Farmland Insurance to become the Chief Financial Officer and Heisler's new boss. Eventually, Crosser moved back to a position at Allied and recruited Heisler to join him. Heisler started working at Allied as a special projects employee with varied hours and eventually converted to a full-time salaried position in 2003.

         After Heisler joined Crosser at Nationwide's Allied division, she was gradually promoted. In April 2003, she was a "Director, Management Report Analysis" with an annual salary of $93, 000. In March 2005, Nationwide promoted her to Financial Business Director. In April 2005, Nationwide promoted her to Finance Officer. In March 2008, Nationwide changed all Finance Officer positions, either demoting them to "H-band" titles or promoting them to Associate Vice President ("AVP") depending on the position. It determined that Heisler's position was an AVP position and promoted her accordingly. Her job duties did not significantly change from 2005 through 2012. Her salary, at least as of 2011, was approximately $139, 700.

          In July 2011, Heisler applied to be a vice president ("VP") of multi channel finance. Her interviewers included Crosser. At least two other individuals applied: Angie Klett and Eric Ryan. Nationwide ultimately hired Klett.

         In the fall of 2011, Crosser approached Heisler about a VP job that would be open in Harleysville, Pennsylvania when Nationwide completed an acquisition there. She told Crosser she would want a significant increase in compensation in order to move because the cost of living in Harleysville (a suburb of Philadelphia) was 58% higher than the cost of living in Des Moines. In particular, she indicated she wanted an increase in her base salary from $139, 700 to $220, 000. Crosser discussed salary options with human resources ("HR"), but before any concrete results came from that discussion, the hiring manager hired another employee, Mark Beres, for the position.

         Crosser then attempted to obtain an AVP position for Heisler in Harleysville. Nationwide eventually gave her an offer for the AVP position with a base salary of $150, 879 and $15, 000 in supplemental income. Heisler sent an e-mail to Crosser and Beres indicating she was disappointed the offer was so far below her request and that she would like at least $25, 000 more in base salary or supplemental income before she accepted the offer. Her disappointment was motivated in part by the fact her base income in Des Moines was already set to increase to $146, 688 in the near future. Crosser was upset by her response. He went to her office to angrily tell her, "[i]f you're not going to take the job, don't bother going to Harleysville," and then cancelled her planned trip to Harleysville with him. He also apparently told Beres not to respond to her e-mail and that Heisler was no longer interested in the position. Neither he nor Beres ever formally responded to her request. Crosser also complained about Heisler's e-mail to several people at Nationwide who were not involved in the hiring decisions for Harleysville.

         Nationwide eventually announced it hired Keith Graham, a younger male, for the AVP position in Harleysville. Graham accepted an offer of $132, 000 annual income with no supplemental income. Beres and Graham discussed the option of Graham commuting from Ohio instead of moving to Pennsylvania, but Graham had to accept the offer without any commitment from Beres on the commuting option.

         After Crosser's hostile reaction to Heisler's compensation request, her relationship with him declined. She approached him about future career opportunities. He offered to pay for an executive coach to help improve her career, but Nationwide ultimately refused to pay for Heisler's preferred coach who was not on Nationwide HR's list of approved coaches. Crosser also offered the feedback that Heisler was "too direct" and "lacked political savvy." He recounted an example of her asking the CFO about challenging one of the CEO's decisions not to use comparisons to competitors.[2] Heisler believed (and argues here) that this feedback about her communication was merely code for her being a female who declined Crosser's offer.

         In early 2012, Heisler's attempts to obtain new positions within the company also failed. She applied for a VP level position and three AVP level positions, including an AVP level position where Crosser was the hiring manager. She was rejected from several of them and had to withdraw from the remaining ones due to an intervening family issue.

         In May 2012, the company effectively demoted Heisler. It rearranged the reporting structure in Allied to make several of Crosser's subordinates, including Heisler, report to Ryan. Then, Nationwide's HR department reassessed Heisler's position and reclassified her as a Senior Director, not an AVP. The new classification had an effective date of July 1, 2013. Heisler complained to Connie McVey, an HR employee, about what Heisler believed was inaccurate information involved in the reclassification. HR retained the classification of Heisler's position as Senior Director.

         Over the next two years, Heisler's attempts to transfer to another AVP role were unsuccessful. Between June 2012 and May 2013, Heisler inquired about several AVP roles but was discouraged from applying for various job-specific reasons. Then, she applied to four AVP positions and expressed interest in the CFO position at Nationwide's Titan division between May 2013 and fall of 2014. She was rejected from the four positions, and the Titan CFO job posting was removed shortly after she expressed interest. Crosser was the hiring manager for the Titan CFO position.

         In the fall of 2014, Nationwide reorganized its Property and Casualty Finance Department and scheduled elimination of seven positions, including Heisler's Senior Director position. Nationwide encouraged displaced employees to apply for positions created by the reorganization.

         In October of 2014, Heisler applied for three open AVP positions under Klett: AVP, Finance, Agency Field; AVP, Finance, Property Management & Accounting; and AVP, Product. Several managers, including the relevant supervisor Klett and two other managers who knew Heisler (Crosser and Butler) interviewed candidates for all three positions at once. They hired Peter Rothermel for the first role, Mark Dielman for the second role, and Renae French for the third role. The hired applicants were two younger males and one younger female, respectively. Heisler believed Ryan was wrongly rejected from the AVP, Finance, Agency Field role and should have been hired for that position.[3] Heisler believed she was more qualified than Dielman and French for the second and third roles. She claims all three of these rejections were discriminatory.

         On November 1, 2014, Heisler applied to be an AVP, Staff Administration. She was rejected in favor of a younger female, and she argues this, too, was discriminatory.

         On November 14, 2014, Heisler complained to HR that Nationwide was discriminating against her because of her age and gender. HR's director of the Office of Associate Relations Compliance investigated the complaints. After interviewing several people in the company, he concluded that age and gender had not played a role in the adverse actions toward Heisler.

         Heisler's subsequent applications fared no better. Between the time of her complaint in November 2014 and March 5, 2015, Heisler applied for ten different roles and was apparently rejected from all ten of them. She contests three of those rejections as discriminatory. For two jobs in particular, the hiring ...

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