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Cook v. Brooks Sports

February 11, 2009

BILL E. COOK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BROOKS SPORTS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sean J. McLaughlin

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court upon Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Bill E. Cook ("Cook" or "Plaintiff"), is an adult individual residing in Erie, PA. (Complaint ¶4). In August, 2001, Cook began working for Defendant, Brooks Sports, Inc., a company that designs and markets running shoes, athletic apparel and accessories. (Complaint ¶5). Cook worked as a "Sole Tech," meaning that he acted as a sales liaison between Brooks and Finish Line, Inc., an athletic retailer specializing in name brand footwear and athletic apparel. (Deposition of Bill E. Cook (hereinafter, "Cook Dep."), p. 77). The Sole Tech program was new at that time and Cook played a significant role in determining its development and direction. (Id.)

At the time of his initial interview, Cook disclosed to Brooks that he suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that he had been diagnosed with at the age of 7. (Cook Dep., pp. 66, 71, 73). Prior to his interview, his last significant flareup from his arthritic condition occurred in approximately 1993-94. (Cook Dep., p. 96). The position did not require Cook to be an active runner, and Cook did not actively run as a hobby while employed by Brooks. (Cook Dep., p. 68-69).

As a Sole Tech, Cook traveled to Finish Line stores to meet with and train Finish Line salespersons, help sell Brooks products to customers in those stores, and offer informational clinics concerning Brooks products. (Cook Dep., p. 77). Cook began working as a Sole Tech in Brooks' Cincinnati market, but requested and received a transfer to the new Pittsburgh market in 2002. Cook testified that he requested the transfer because he wanted to conquer new territory and build the new market to further his career. (Cook Dep., pp. 14, 47-48). In addition to opening the Pittsburgh territory, Brooks also expanded its markets to include the Carolinas and Florida around this time.

In late December, 2004, Cook suffered a significant flare-up of his arthritic condition that required him to be hospitalized on three occasions between December, 2004 and March, 2005. (Cook Dep., pp 100-101). As a result of his relapse, Cook worked part-time for several months and "redesigned" his job in many ways to accommodate his illness. (Cook Dep., pp. 103-04). These modifications included working a reduced schedule of four hours per day, communicating with his stores by email or phone rather than in person, and relying upon an assistant to perform the physical tasks involved in the job, such as taking inventory. (Cook Dep., pp. 102-04, 108-09). In early 2005, Cook was diagnosed with Still's Disease, a severe form of rheumatoid arthritis. (Cook Dep., pp. 89-90).

Throughout his tenure with Brooks, Cook was considered a good performer by management. Despite servicing a smaller market, the sales generated in the Pittsburgh area exceeded that of some other regions. (Cook Dep., pp. 60, 87-88). His performance review of April 15, 2005, reflected that Cook met Brooks' expectations even during the period of his illness. (Brooks' Concise Statement of Material Facts, Droke Declaration, Exhibit F).

In early 2005, Finish Line notified Brooks that it intended to scale back its partnership with it. Specifically, Brooks was informed that Finish Line intended to reduce the number of "doors"*fn1 where the Brooks product was stored from approximately 120 to 50 stores. (Sheridan Dep., pp. 12-13). Shortly thereafter, a decision was made by Brooks to reduce its Sole Techs by one and eliminate Cook's position.

Don Sheridan, who at various times held the positions of Marketing Manager, Team Sales Manager, National Sales Manager, and Director of National Accounts during the period of Cook's employment, testified as follows concerning the reasons for terminating Cook:

Q: Can you tell me why Mr. Cook's position was terminated?

A: The reason that Bill's territory was terminated was we had a shift in our national account business at Finish Line, one of our national accounts.

Q: When you say, "shift," what does that mean?

A: Our revenue and our doors, number of doors being covered, was being decreased.

Q: Who decided that decrease?

A: The Finish Line.

Q: How did you become aware of this decrease in revenue and doors?

A: They -- in a meeting they let me know.

* * * * * * * **

Q: Do you recall when this occurred, the meeting?

A: Sometime at the end of -- sorry, the start of 2005.

Q: Do you recall what was said to you?

A: I don't.

Q: Who made the decision to eliminate the sole tech position in Pittsburgh?

A: It was a group decision between myself and David Bohan of Brooks Sports.

Q: David Bohan?

A: Uh-huh.

Q: Can you spell that for me?

A: B-O-H-A-N. Just to be clarify that, I made the decision to eliminate it, but there was a conversation to bounce ideas and goals off of each other.

Q: Okay. And why did you decide that was the appropriate decision to make?

A: I think there were probably two reasons; one was our revenue was going to be decreased from somewhere around one and a half million dollars -- that's the decrease we were going to take -- and the number of doors that our product was going to be in was going to be decreased roughly from 120 doors to 50 or 60 doors, is how I remember it.

Q: And when you say, "doors" -

A: Physical Finish Line ...


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