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Bell v. American Greetings Corp.

February 8, 2007

ANDREW BELL, ET AL. PLAINTIFFS
v.
AMERICAN GREETINGS CORP. DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: R. Wilson, Jr. United States District Judge

ORDER

On August 31, 2004, Plaintiff Walter Taylor ("Taylor"), as part of a class, brought this discrimination action alleging that he was wrongfully terminated by Defendant in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1981.*fn1 Pending is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment with Respect to All Claims Brought by Walter Taylor (Doc. No. 111). Taylor has responded (Doc. No. 139).

I. Statement of Facts

Plaintiff, who began working for Defendant in July 1966, argues that he was wrongly terminated from Defendant's packaging department on December 27, 2002 because of his race. Defendant maintains that Plaintiff was dismissed for violating its progressive discipline policy.

Defendant annually gave its employees performance evaluations. Employees in packaging are required to meet a minimum 95% efficiency standard, measured bi-weekly.*fn2 Certain tasks are performed individually and other tasks are performed in groups.*fn3 Individuals and the groups are expected to meet the 95% efficiency standard.*fn4 If the group falls below 95%, each employee in the group will receive the same rating, and each will be warned based on individual history.*fn5

Supervisors are encouraged to provide constructive criticism called "informatives" before issuing a formal written warning.*fn6 Defendant describes the "informatives" as non-disciplinary coaching tools used to notify employees of job-related problems, including, but not limited, to issues of attendance and productivity.*fn7 After repeated low efficiency ratings, a supervisor may issue a written warning.*fn8

In August 2001, Taylor's supervisor, Helen McCoy ("McCoy"), an African-American female, gave him a "needs improvement" on his ability to cooperate. McCoy gave Taylor the same rating in August 2002. In his reviews, McCoy explained that Taylor made "offensive statements" and created a "hostile work environment." However, Taylor contends that McCoy was "highly critical" of him.

On May 20, 2002, Taylor received a final written warning for making threatening statements to a co-worker. Human Resource Manager Frank Richardson ("Richardson") investigated the accusation and determined it was corroborated by several witnesses. Richardson gave Taylor a final written warning and told him that he would be fired if he did not receive professional counseling.*fn9

On September 7, 2001, Packaging Department Supervisor Julie Wakefield ("Wakefield"), a Caucasian female, gave Taylor an informative notifying him of a 55% efficiency rating for August 20, 2001 to September 2, 2001.*fn10 Taylor was told that "if improvement is not made he could be subject to further disciplinary action according to the company policy and the warning system."*fn11

Taylor did not challenge the rating.

Taylor was given a follow-up informative on October 2, 2001, noting that his efficiency had improved to 95% for September 10, 2001 to September 23, 2001.*fn12 He "was encouraged to continue this improvement and continue to work toward 100% efficiency."*fn13

On October 16, 2002, Taylor was given a third informative, but this time his efficiency level had fallen to 91% for September 16, 2002 to September 29, 2002.*fn14 Taylor was told "if improvement is not made, he could be subject to further disciplinary action according to Company policy and the warning system."*fn15 This efficiency rating was performed by Packaging Department Supervisor Mark Newbill ("Newbill"), an African-American.*fn16 Newbill also performed the follow-up informative rating, in which Taylor received a 109% efficiency rating for October 8, 2002 to November 10, 2002.*fn17

In December 2002, Taylor received another informative with a 89% efficiency rating for December 2, 2002 to December 15, 2002.*fn18 On December 18, 2002, Assistant Manager Tommy Baker, an African-American,*fn19 and Newbill recommended to Richardson that Taylor be given a written warning for his continued failure to meet minimum efficiency standards.*fn20 The recommendation was accepted and issued that same day.*fn21 In the warning, Taylor was told that he had received an efficiency rating of 89% and that if he did not meet required efficiency levels, he "could be subject to further disciplinary action according to company policy."*fn22

Defendant's progressive discipline policy provides that if an employee receives any written discipline while on an active final warning, the employee will be discharged.*fn23 Warnings are in effect for one year from the date issued.*fn24 Because Taylor was already on a final warning, the December 18, 2002 warning resulted in his ...


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