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Ralph F. Rentzell v. Dollar Tree Stores

March 5, 2012

RALPH F. RENTZELL
v.
DOLLAR TREE STORES, INC.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Surrick, J.

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendant Dollar Tree Stores, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 15.) For the following reasons, the Motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

Plaintiff Ralph F. Rentzell is a former employee of Defendant Dollar Tree Stores, Inc. In 2002, he was hired by Defendant to serve as a Store Manager in Defendant's Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Allentown, Pennsylvania locations. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 4, ECF No. 16.)

Prior to Plaintiff's hire, the management style at these two stores was "less than professional [which had] resulted in non-profitable operations." (Id. at ¶ 8.) When Plaintiff arrived as Store Manager, he "introduced professional management principles." (Id. at ¶ 9.) Some of Plaintiff's subordinate employees "grumbled because [he] was making them work." (Id.) While Plaintiff was Store Manager, monthly sales increased at Defendant's Bethlehem location. (Id. at ¶ 6(b).) Monthly sales were higher than sales from previous years. (Id. at ¶ 6(c).) Plaintiff and his Assistant Managers received monthly bonuses as a result of the store's increase in productivity. (Id. at ¶¶ 6(b)-(c).) In light of the increased productivity of the Bethlehem store, Plaintiff was transferred to Defendant's Allentown location with the goal of increasing sales there. (Id. at ¶ 6(e).) While Plaintiff was Store Manager at the Allentown location, monthly sales increased, and he and his Assistant Managers received monthly bonuses as a result. (Id.) Plaintiff received the maximum monthly bonuses when working in the Allentown store. (Id. at ¶ 6(f).)

In May 2007, Marianne Holohan became Plaintiff's District Manager. (Id. at ¶ 23.) As Plaintiff's supervisor, she became aware of several complaints against him. On June 5, 2007, Defendant received a customer complaint about Plaintiff. (First Assoc. Form, June 8, 2007, Def.'s Mot. Ex. D, ECF No. 15-5.) The customer claimed that she received poor customer service when she requested to purchase an item. Plaintiff received a written warning and was notified that continued "poor customer service could lead to disciplinary action" and result in termination. (Id.; Holohan Dep. 66-68, Pl.'s Opp. Ex. C, ECF No. 20.) On July 14, 2007, Plaintiff received a complaint for violating Defendant's smoking policy, as well as another customer complaint. (Second Assoc. Form, Aug. 13, 2007, Def.'s Mot. Ex. D; Holohan Dep. 61-62.) The July 14, 2007 Associate Form, signed by Holohan on August 13, 2007, noted that Defendant had received "numerous customer complaints" with regard to his "customer service level." (Second Assoc. Form.) It also stated that further violation of the smoking or customer service policies would result in termination. (Id.) On August 13, 2007, Holohan issued a written warning to Plaintiff because he went home early on August 8, 2007 because of an illness, was not at work on August 11, 2007, and failed to notify Holohan that he was out sick. Holohan stated that further violation would result in termination. (Fourth Assoc. Form, Aug. 13, 2007, Def.'s Mot. Ex. D; Holohan Dep. 65-66.) On August 26, 2007, there was another customer complaint filed against Plaintiff for "unsatisfactory customer service, [and] miss representation[sic] of Dollar Tree dealing with customers, outside vendors, banks[,] etc." (Fifth Assoc. Form, Aug. 28, 2007; Holohan Dep. 69-74.)*fn2 This resulted in Plaintiff's termination. (Fifth Assoc. Form; Pl.'s Aff. ¶¶ 14, 23.)

After Defendant terminated Plaintiff, several employees sent Holohan a card thanking her for firing Plaintiff. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 12; Card, Def.'s Mot. Ex. E, ECF No. 15-5.) Some of the employees who signed the card were subsequently fired by, or left, Defendant. They were "difficult employees who were not serious about their work." (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 13; see also Holohan Dep. 45-49 (testifying that various individuals who signed the card left the company or were terminated).)

After being terminated, Plaintiff diligently and conscientiously applied for many jobs, without success. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 14; see also Job Search List, Pl.'s Opp. Ex. B, ECF No. 19-3.) He sent his resume to over 1,000 potential employers. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 15.) Based on his work experience, Plaintiff believed he was qualified, and should have received offers, for many jobs. (Id. at ¶ 16.) While Plaintiff received responses from employers, and initial and call-back interviews, he was not receiving offers for employment despite having what he believed to be positive interviews. (Id. at ¶ 17.) Plaintiff became suspicious that he was being "sabotaged" by someone from Defendant. (Id. at ¶ 18.) He hired a private investigator from Totally Confidential Investigations, Inc. ("TCI") to investigate his suspicion. (Id.) The private investigator contacted "specific people" working for Defendant and reached Holohan. (Id. at ¶ 19.)

In March 2010, the private investigator called Holohan at 12:51 p.m. On that same day, Holohan returned his call at 1:32 p.m. (TCI Report 1, 3, Pl.'s Opp. Ex. A, ECF No. 19-2.) Holohan did not know the name of the person to whom she was speaking over the phone. (Holohan Dep. 32, 74-75.) The private investigator told her than he "was investigating a background." (Id. at 32, 34, 40-41.) She began the conversation with the private investigator by notifying him that Defendant had "specific rules on what we are suppose[d] to say," then proceeded to answer the investigator's questions. (TCI Report 3.) Holohan said that since she had only known Plaintiff from May 2007 to August 2007,*fn3 she had limited information about Plaintiff and should not be commenting on his job performance. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 23.)*fn4

Nevertheless, when asked whether she could provide a reference with respect to Plaintiff, Holohan said that she preferred not to and "kind of chuckled." (Holohan Dep. 32.)

Holohan stated that Plaintiff's strengths included "annoying people." (TCI Report 1.) Holohan stated that Plaintiff had no problem solving skills and no technical skills, that Plaintiff had conflicts with employees and customers, and that Plaintiff was terminated because he could not deal with customers. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 20; TCI Report 2.) In addition, Holohan stated that Plaintiff was "a strange person and hard to deal with" and that she would not rehire him. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶¶ 20-21; TCI Report 2-3; Holohan Dep. 35.) Holohan understood that these comments were negative. (Holohan Dep. 37, 40.) When asked whether Plaintiff worked on multiple projects simultaneously, Holohan responded that she did not know since she did not work with him for long enough. (TCI Report 2.)*fn5

Plaintiff is presently sixty years old. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 1.) Up until the point when he was terminated by Defendant, Plaintiff had been, for the most part, employed continuously in the retail sales industry since the age of eighteen. (Id. at ¶¶ 2-3.)*fn6

Plaintiff testified that he does not know whether any of the employers to which he submitted a job application contacted anyone at Defendant. (Rentzell Dep. 100, Def.'s Mot. Ex. B, ECF No. 15-2.) Plaintiff identified some thirty-seven different employers to which he has submitted job applications. Defendant contacted these employers. None had any record or recollection of having employment reference conversations with Defendant with regard to Plaintiff. (See Subpoena Resp., Def.'s Mot. Ex. C, ECF No. 15-3.)

Plaintiff commenced this action on August 23, 2010, alleging causes of action for defamation, negligence and tortious interference with a contract. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) On September 29, 2011, we granted Defendant's motion to dismiss the negligence count. (ECF Nos. (Holohan Dep. 31-32; see also id. at 34 (testifying that other than this one telephone conversation with the private investigator, Holohan never discussed ...


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