The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Gregory L. Frost
Magistrate Judge Terence P. Kemp
This matter is before the Court for consideration of Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 19), Plaintiff's memorandum in opposition (Doc. # 20), and Defendant's reply memorandum (Doc. # 23). For the reasons that follow, the Court finds Defendant's motion for summary judgment not well taken.
Defendant, Pilot Travel Centers LLC, is a nationwide retailer that operates gas stations and fast food restaurant franchises. Plaintiff, Scot May, worked for Defendant since 2000. At the time of the events giving rise to this lawsuit, Plaintiff worked as a restaurant general manager for a Wendy's franchise at one of Defendant's Columbus, Ohio locations.
Plaintiff's duties as general manager included the timely entry of vendor invoice information into a computerized system that would enable the corporate office to pay vendors. Plaintiff was also responsible for complying with Defendant's overtime policy, which provided that all employees who worked in excess of forty hours per week received overtime compensation. To enable Plaintiff to correct timekeeping errors, Plaintiff had access to Defendant's computerized records, which meant that Plaintiff could manually adjust employees' hours. As part of his compensation package for fulfilling these and other duties, Plaintiff was eligible for a bonus that depended, in part, on Defendant's measurement of his performance on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis. One factor involved in the bonus calculation was the restaurant's financial performance, so that a higher quarterly profit produced a higher bonus. Another factor was whether Plaintiff managed labor costs within budget, which meant that preventing overtime pay from exceeding the budget meant a higher bonus for Plaintiff.
While serving as general manager, Plaintiff met with Regional Manager Richard Fletcher in May 2004. Plaintiff submitted a request for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") related to the birth of his son. Fletcher approved the leave--the parties debate whether he did so begrudgingly--and Plaintiff's leave commenced on June 17, 2004.
In July 8, 2004, while Plaintiff was on leave, one of Defendant's food vendors, Sygma, contacted Defendant's accounting department regarding unpaid invoices. Defendant investigated the issue, and on July 9 Fletcher forwarded an e-mail containing the results of that investigation to Plaintiff and facility General Manager Brad Van Fleet. Thereafter, on July 12, Fletcher visited the Columbus facility that Plaintiff helped manage to investigate the complaints. Defendant asserts that after allegedly reviewing invoices and monthly invoice reports, Fletcher discovered a pattern of "rolling" invoices, or delays when entering the costs of delivered goods into the computer until a subsequent time frame in order to artificially inflate a restaurant's apparent weekly profits, so that, for example, an April invoice was not paid until May. The rolled invoices were not paid until July, which was in the next quarter. Fletcher allegedly learned that despite being on leave, Plaintiff was still processing the invoices during periodic visits to work.*fn1 Fletcher also spoke with employees who allegedly complained that Plaintiff had altered their time records by deducting time for breaks they never took and by requiring them to work off the clock in order to avoid overtime compensation.
Fletcher met with Plaintiff on July 13, 2004 and informed Plaintiff of his findings. Plaintiff admitted to entering three late invoices, but denied any overtime impropriety. Fletcher informed Plaintiff to continue his leave without reporting for any work while Fletcher continued the investigation. Fletcher then reported his rolling-invoices findings to Defendant's Human Resources Manager Al Jecker, who approved Fletcher's recommendation to terminate Plaintiff. Fletcher accordingly terminated Plaintiff on August 2, 2004.
Plaintiff subsequently initiated this lawsuit in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on September 19, 2005, asserting claims for FMLA retaliation and interference claims. (Doc. # 1, Ex. A.) Plaintiff claims that, in retaliation for his taking FMLA leave, Defendant falsely accused him of misconduct and terminated his employment. Defendant removed the action to this federal forum on October 5, 2005. (Doc. # 1.) Pursuant to the Preliminary Pretrial Order (Doc. # 9) and the Scheduling Order (Doc. # 10), the discovery period ended on July 14, 2006, and Defendant thereafter filed the pending motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 19). The parties have completed their summary judgment briefing, and the motion is now ripe for disposition.
The Court's decision on that motion has been delayed, however, by the fact that after the parties had concluded briefing on the summary judgment motion, Plaintiff then filed an October 23, 2006 motion for sanctions for spoliation of evidence. (Doc. # 24.) Because disposition of the sanctions motion could affect the summary judgment decision, the Court held its summary judgment decision and ordered expedited briefing on the sanctions motion. (Doc. # 25.) Targeting various items of undisclosed and/or missing evidence, Plaintiff asked this Court to impose any number of sanctions including but not limited to default judgment against Defendant, to an adverse jury instruction concerning destroyed evidence, to the exclusion of testimony, as well as awarding attorneys' fees and costs. In a December 28, 2006 Order (Doc. # 30), the Court dismissed several of Plaintiff's withdrawn arguments, found that Defendant had engaged in sanctionable conduct in regard to the disclosure of invoices, and ordered Defendant to compensate Plaintiff for the filing of his motion and related memoranda.
As noted in the prior Order, the Court was also concerned with Defendant's failure to deliver to Plaintiff month-end invoice reports and with Defendant's evasive comments concerning these reports. Accordingly, the Court ordered Defendant to produce answers and the reports, if available, at the January 18, 2007 final pretrial conference. The Court left open the issue of whether sanctions were warranted for Defendant's behavior until the Court could obtain the answers it sought.