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Slotterback v. Knoebel

April 14, 2009

DONALD H. SLOTTERBACK, JR., PLAINTIFF
v.
RICHARD KNOEBEL, BRIAN KNOEBEL, H.H. KNOEBEL SONS, INC., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Vanaskie

MEMORANDUM

Donald H. Slotterback, Jr., brings this employment discrimination action against Defendants Knoebels Amusement Park-Elys, Knoebel Lumber, H.H. Knoebel Sons, Inc. (referred to as "Knoebels"), President Richard Knoebel, supervisor and manager Brian Knoebel, and Blair Faust, general manager of Knoebels' lumber yard.*fn1 Before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment are Mr. Slotterback's claims that Defendants discriminated against him in the terms and conditions of his employment and in his discharge in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 951, et seq.*fn2 After a careful review of the summary judgment record, I find that Mr. Slotterback has failed to present sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find that Defendants' articulated non-discriminatory reasons for firing him -- poor work performance and violation of company rules -- are not worthy of belief. Accordingly, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Defendant H.H. Knoebel Sons, Inc. owns and operates an amusement park and a lumberyard in Elysburg, Pennsylvania.*fn3 (Defs.' Statement of Material Facts ("SMF"), Dkt. Entry 22, at ¶ 7.) Mr. Slotterback, who was born on June 1, 1957, commenced working for Knoebels in November of 1974 as a laborer performing general cleanup at the amusement park. (Defs.' SMF, ¶ 16.) At the end of the 1970s, Mr. Slotterback transferred to Knoebels' lumberyard as a Yard Foreman. (Defs.' SMF, ¶ 17.) Shortly thereafter, he transferred to a sales position inside the lumberyard store. (Defs.' SMF, ¶ 18.)

In 1997, while Mr. Slotterback worked in the lumberyard store, the general manager position for the lumberyard store became vacant.*fn4 (Defs.' SMF, ¶¶ 20-21.) Defendant Blair Faust was promoted to General Manager of the lumberyard and Mr. Slotterback was not. (Defs.' SMF, ¶ 23.) Mr. Slotterback claims that Knoebels did not permit anyone else within the company to apply for the position. (Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts ("SMF"), Dkt. Entry 28-2, ¶ 22.) He further claims that he did inquire into the position, but never received a response. Mr. Faust was around thirty years old at the time of his promotion. (See Faust Aff., Dkt. Entry 21, 143, ¶ 4. Mr. Faust served as General Manager over the lumberyard from 1997, and served as Mr. Slotterback's immediate supervisor until March 27, 2006, the date of Mr. Slotterback's termination. (Defs.' SMF, ¶ 13.)

In 1999, Mr. Faust created an outside sales position and Mr. Slotterback was promoted to the newly created position. (Pl.'s SMF, ¶ 26; Defs.' SMF, ¶ 27.) Mr. Faust states that he created the new position for Mr. Slotterback with a goal to reinvigorate Mr. Slotterback's interest in the job and to improve his overall work performance.*fn5 (Faust Aff., Dkt. Entry 21, at 144, ¶ 10.) This was the first time that Knoebels had a full-time outside sales person. (Defs.' SMF, ¶ 28; Pl.'s SMF, ¶ 28.)

According to Mr. Faust, the move outside did nothing to improve Mr. Slotterback's work performance. (Defs.' SMF, ¶ 30.) In January of 2000, Mr. Faust and Stacey Knoebel McDonald, Knoebels' Human Resources Supervisor, held a meeting with Mr. Slotterback to discuss certain issues. Shortly thereafter, on January 4, 2000, a "Performance Improvement Plan Form for Progressive Disciplinary Action" was issued to Mr. Slotterback. (Dkt. Entry 21, at 108.) The basis for the disciplinary action was noted as follows: (1) adding unauthorized customer accounts to the commission schedule; (2) overtime abuse; (3) inadequate communication of daily sales calls; and (4) poor productivity in the store. (Id.) Mr. Slotterback refused to sign the form because he did not think it was fair that his commission was being reduced. (Slotterback Dep., Dkt. Entry 21, at 38.) He also thought that he performed well in the store and generated business. (Id. at 39-40.)

Mr. Slotterback claims that only one unauthorized account was added to his commission schedule, and that was the reason for the meeting. Mr. Slotterback testified that, while he was checking on the account, he accidently hit a button. He wasn't sure if it saved the information or not. (Pl.'s SMF, ¶¶ 31 & 33; Slotterback Dep., at 36-37.) The change in accounts resulted in an unauthorized payment of $147.87 in commission to Mr. Slotterback. (Defs.' SMF, ¶ 32.) Mr. Slotterback admits an unauthorized account was added, but claims he did not realize that he changed the account information in striking the button. (Pl's. SMF, ¶¶ 33-34.) At that time, Mr. Slotterback, then forty-two years old, did not think that age was a factor in the decision to issue the written disciplinary action. (Slotterback Dep., Dkt. Entry 21, at 40-41.) In hindsight, however, he now believes that age was a factor. (Slotterback Aff., Dkt. Entry 29-6, ¶ 15.)

Mr. Faust testified that he began to conduct annual formal performance evaluations of lumberyard employees in the year 2000. (Faust Aff., at 145, ¶ 16.) Mr. Faust used a numeric scale of zero through four in fifteen different categories. Each number was assigned a performance level: 0 - unsatisfactory; 1- some deficiencies; 2 - satisfactory; 3 - exceptional; 4 - clearly outstanding. (Evaluation Form, Dkt. Entry 21, 109-12.) Sixty was the maximum score an employee could obtain. (Defs.' SMF, ¶ 40.)

Starting in 2000, Mr. Faust met with Mr. Slotterback on an annual basis to present him with a performance evaluation and discuss his performance. (Defs.' SMF, ¶ 41.) On his employee performance evaluation dated June 15, 2000, Mr. Slotterback received a score of 36 out of 60. (Dkt. Entry 21, at 111.) Deficiencies were noted in the areas of "Quantity" (Level of satisfactory output generated per unit of time), "Innovation" (Imagination and creativity used to lower costs and improve profits), "Cooperation" (Willingness to help others accomplish their objectives), "Initiative" (Voluntarily starting projects. Attempting non-routine jobs and tasks), and "Stability" (Even temperament [and] acceptance of unavoidable tension and pressure). Mr. Slotterback was "clearly outstanding" in other categories, such as "Knowledge" (The blending of job-related education, skills and experience), "Judgment" (Capacity to make reasonable decisions), "Attendance", and "Alertness" (Ability to quickly understand new information and situations). (Dkt. Entry 21, 110-11.)

The report lists his principal strengths as bringing in several good contractors, improving purchases on a few accounts, and having knowledge in the building material industry. (Id. at 112.) Under comments for weaknesses, the report notes that Mr. Slotterback does not prioritize customers in the store; does not answer the phone promptly; leaves the store unattended; does not work well with others; abuses break periods; and does not stand behind company policies. (Id.) Mr. Slotterback disagrees with the evaluation, stating that he answered the phone more times than other employees, other employees left the store, and he was not the only one taking longer breaks. (Slotterback Dep., at 44.)

Some time during the year 2001, Mr. Slotterback began working as a personal financial analyst, selling insurance and investments for the company Primerica. (Defs.' SMF, ¶ 53.) Defendants claim that Mr. Slotterback performed work for Primerica while working for Knoebels, and used a company cell phone to make sales calls for Primerica. (Defs.' SMF, ¶¶ 55 & 58.) Mr. Slotterback does not deny that he did work for Primerica while on company time. In Mr. Slotterback's affidavit, he states that Mr. Faust implicitly allowed him to conduct his personal business because Mr. Faust invested with him. (Pl.'s SMF, ¶¶ 54-55.) He even spoke to some Knoebels' customers about Primerica during working hours. (Slotterback Dep., at 55-57.)

In his June 3, 2003 performance evaluation Mr. Slotterback received a score of 22 out of 60. (Dkt. Entry 21, 114-15.) He did not score a four in any category, and in the majority of categories he received a score of one. (Id.) The evaluation noted his strength in negotiating price inventory purchases. (Id. at 116.) As weaknesses, the report noted that: "Don needs to attempt to help customers waiting for service at the sales counter; while making outside sales calls Don doesn't speak well of our company and its policies; and Don does not keep adequate records of sales calls." (Id.) The evaluation notes that Mr. Slotterback refused to sign it. (Id.)

Mr. Slotterback indicated he refused to sign it because he disagreed with the evaluation. (Slotterback Dep., at 52.)

In his June 8, 2004 performance evaluation he received a score of 21 out of 60. (Dkt. Entry 21, at 118-19.) As with the June 2003 evaluation, he scored a one in most categories. Noted as a strength was Mr. Slotterback's relationship with several customers. (Id. at 120.) His reported weaknesses were listed as follows: needs to follow-up on sales leads; promotes personal business on company time; uses company cell phone for another business; and has unaccountable time both on the road and in the store. (Id.)

Mr. Slotterback contests Mr. Faust's characterization of his cell phone usage. He claims he only used the phone a few times when it was necessary to do so. (Slotterback Dep., at 58-60.) He claims Mr. Faust approached him, and permitted him to use the cell phone for personal use as long as he paid one-half the bill. (Id.) Because Mr. Faust never spoke again to him about the bill, Mr. Slotterback never paid his part.*fn6 (Id.)

In his June 16, 2005 performance evaluation, Mr. Slotterback received a score of 29 out of 60. (Dkt. Entry 21, at 123-24.) This time he received better than a score of one in most categories, but did not receive a score of four in any category. (Id.) The strengths noted in the report were Mr. Slotterback's keeping the inventory stocked and improving on his prior argumentative attitude. (Id. at 125.) The evaluation, however, still noted several weakness. Mr. Slotterback did not generate new business, follow up on sales calls, or take care of accounts; had limited knowledge of the point of sale system; and failed to keep records. (Id.) The evaluation further noted that improvements on these weaknesses should be made by September 1, 2005, or removal from his position would be considered. A follow-up evaluation was to occur on September 1, 2005. (Id.)

When asked whether he followed up on leads, Mr. Slotterback stated he did not because "for the most part I would go see them, but it was too late. They already started building and bought their stuff." (Slotterback Dep., at 68.) Mr. Slotterback also indicated at his deposition that he was not good at taking care of records.*fn7 (Slotterback Dep., at 65.)

Mr. Faust asserts that by September 1, 2005, Mr. Slotterback had not improved on any of the principal weaknesses listed in the June 2005 performance evaluation. (Faust. Aff., Dkt. Entry 21, at 146, ¶ 24.) Mr. Faust states he made numerous sales calls with Mr. Slotterback in order to help him improve his performance, but nothing came of it.*fn8 (Id. at ¶ 22.)

On December 30, 2005, Mr. Faust held a meeting with Mr. Slotterback about the outside sales program. (Defs.' SMF, ¶ 70.) Mr. Faust told Mr. Slotterback that his performance was unsatisfactory and that he would no longer receive commission on his accounts. (Faust Aff., Dkt .Entry 21, at 146, ¶¶ 25, 27.) From that point forward, Mr. Slotterback was required to record his sales and to obtain at least one new contractor customer per quarter who averaged at least $2,000 in monthly purchases. (Id. at 147, ¶ 29.)

Mr. Faust claims that by the end of the first quarter of 2006, Mr. Slotterback had failed to meet the objectives set at the December 30, 2005 meeting. (Id. at 147, ¶ 33.) Mr. Slotterback testified that he failed to add any new customers because the winter months are slow. (Id. at 147, ¶ 34; Slotterback Dep., at 72-76.) He also claims he did not have any literature for the new products that Knoebels was marketing to contractors at the time. (Slotterback Aff., at ¶¶ 198-200.)

Mr. Faust claims that Mr. Slotterback abused overtime in showing up to work early, punching-in, and reading a magazine. (Faust Aff., Dkt .Entry 21, at 147, ¶ 36.) Mr. Slotterback admits that he "might have looked at a few magazines," but states that he was not the only one to do this.*fn9 (Slotterback Dep., at 77.) Mr. Faust also believes that Mr. Slotterback spent significant time at a park in Bloomsburg during his working hours and made non-work-related telephone calls. (Faust Aff. at 147, ¶ 37.) One day, Mr. Faust asked Mr. Slotterback to work a Friday night at the Builder's show and Mr. Slotterback at first refused because he was going to his cabin. (Slotterback Dep., at 78-79.) Mr. Slotterback then reconsidered and offered to go if he could take off the following Monday. (Id.) Mr. Slotterback feels he was being singled out because the previous two years he was not asked to work at the Builder's show.*fn10 (Id. at 79-78.)

In March of 2006, Mr. Faust met with Richard Knoebel and Brian Knoebel to discuss Mr. Slotterback's performance. (Defs.' SMF, ¶ 82.) Those attending the meeting decided to discharge Mr. Slotterback for unsatisfactory performance and conduct. (Id. at ¶ 83.) Mr. Faust listed the reasons for Mr. Slotterback's termination as not meeting sales requirements; a lack of product knowledge and sales technique; failure to learn the lumberyard's point-of-sale system; unwillingness to ...


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