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PRITCHETT v. GREEN BAY FOOD CO.

June 1, 1989

WILLIAM A. PRITCHETT, PLAINTIFF
v.
GREEN BAY FOOD COMPANY, A Division Of DEAN FOODS COMPANY, DEFENDANT


Elsijane T. Roy, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROY

Elsijane T. Roy, United States District Judge

 Plaintiff, William A. Pritchett, filed suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., alleging the defendant, Green Bay Food Company, A Division of Dean Foods Company ("Green Bay"), terminated him on the basis of his age. Trial to the Court was held on this matter, and post-trial briefs have been received.

 Plaintiff was born on August 9, 1928. At the time of his termination, he was 58 years old. Plaintiff began working in the pickle industry in September of 1949 with Brown-Miller Pickle Company, where he attained the position of regional sales manager. He worked for Brown-Miller from September of 1949 until approximately June 25, 1975, when he was hired by Atkins Pickle Company as vice-president of sales and director of marketing.

 As part of his salary with Atkins Pickle Company, plaintiff received a company automobile; payment of dues in the Russellville Country Club; hospitalization and major medical plan; life insurance to $ 40,000.00 and a disability policy to cover $ 500.00 per month for life. He was also to receive an annual bonus based on sales. At the time of termination on February 27, 1987, plaintiff's salary, excluding benefits, was $ 48,048.00. Plaintiff's duties at this position included working with the general manager, handling all sales, determining marketing procedures, packaging program, and pricing.

 Atkins Pickle Company was purchased by defendant Green Bay on or about February of 1984. Plaintiff's direct supervisor was Regional Marketing Vice-President Roy Stuckmeyer, whose birth date is June 11, 1935 and who assumed his duties at the Atkins plant in January 1985. Mr. Stuckmeyer's direct supervisor was Mr. Dennis Purcell, National Senior Vice-President, who is 48 years of age. At the time of plaintiff's discharge, Robert Antoine was defendant's president and was in his early 60's. Plaintiff was a Regional Sales Manager, responsible for a six-state area which included Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Louisiana and New Mexico. Defendant sells its products (pickles and relishes) by arranging with food brokers in various cities; their job is to place defendant's products in the food warehouses and retail stores in that market area and to utilize the broker's best efforts to promote the sales of defendant's products. The sales manager, such as plaintiff, trains, evaluates and supervises the performance of the brokers and makes sales presentations to stores and retail store chains. Defendant holds its sales managers responsible for making sure that the local brokers represent defendant properly and try to sell defendant's products.

 In order to induce a new account (such as a retailer) to begin carrying defendant's products, a sales manager puts together a sales program. This can include financial assistance from defendant to the store in the form of offering price reductions to enable the retailer to introduce defendant's products to the public at a reduced price, or reimbursing retailers for promotional advertisements and for redemption of newspaper coupons for introductory price reductions on defendant's products. Defendant must then maintain its products in a given retailer's stores for a substantial period of time in order to make back the monetary outlays already expended in acquiring the account.

 If sufficient sales are not realized to enable the retailer to continue carrying defendant's products for over a year, defendant can fail to recoup its introductory monetary outlay and there will be a net loss on that particular account.

 From time to time accounts are lost in the pickle business to competitors who undercut prices or who offer enhanced introductory sales promotions. An important way to minimize lost accounts is to have a close relationship with brokers and customers so that a manufacturer such as defendant is made aware of competitor's offers and can react to them before accounts are lost.

 On January 15, 1986, plaintiff's performance was reviewed by Roy Stuckmeyer, at which time several items were discussed. With respect to salary, Mr. Stuckmeyer stated in the review that "Because of Bill's salary being much more than other regional managers within Green Bay Food Company, we informed him that he will not be getting a salary increase this year." In the documented review, it states that plaintiff was told to be more involved with the customers and to follow up more closely with new accounts. It also states that he was told that defendant cannot continue to pay large sums of upfront money and then get thrown out within a year. He was told he wasn't making enough personal contact with the customers, but was leaving that up to the brokers. Plaintiff doesn't recall any mention of lost sales.

 On November 17, 1986 Dennis Purcell wrote a memorandum to Roy Stuckmeyer inquiring about the lost account of Safeway-Oklahoma City. In the memo, Purcell states:

 
I believe Bill Pritchett mismanages his territory. This is probably the sixth or seventh time I have seen Bill offer big money to an account to get in, then within a year, we lose the business. This kind of thing has got to stop.

 A November 21, 1986 memo was introduced wherein it was stated that Bill Pritchett was told of Purcell's concern. On February 2, 1987 Dennis Purcell wrote Stuckmeyer another memo regarding the lost Cullum account. He tells Stuckmeyer "One more such incident anywhere in his region and he will be gone." Plaintiff did not recall ever being told this.

 At a company Christmas party in 1986, Don Slack, defendant's comptroller, said that the sales department had done an outstanding job in 1986, particularly plaintiff. However, Slack was not involved with the Sales Department. In January of 1987, Roy Stuckmeyer indicated to the plaintiff they were upset with the accounts lost and that plaintiff should prepare a report showing ...


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