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Geer v. United Precast

February 7, 2007

DONNIE L. GEER, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED PRECAST, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: George C. Smith, Judge United States District Court

JUDGE SMITH

Magistrate Judge Abel

OPINION AND ORDER

Two claims are pending before this Court on behalf of Plaintiff Donnie Geer ("Geer") against the Defendant United Precast, Inc. ("United Precast"). The first claim is an Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") claim in which Geer alleges that UPI wrongfully terminated his employment for the purpose of interfering with Geer's right to participate in the United Precast self-funded health insurance plan in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 1140, Section 510 of ERISA. Geer's second claim alleges that United Precast discriminated against him because of his association with his spouse, Kathy Merrill-Geer, a known disabled person in violation of the Americans with Disability Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12102, et seq. This matter is before the Court on Defendant United Precast's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc 77). Based on the following, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

I. FACTS

Defendant United Precast is a manufacturer of precast concrete products used for the construction of highways, streets, bridges, and septic systems. (Geer Depo. at. 32). John Ellis has been the President and General Manager of United Precast for the past 36 years. (Ellis Depo. at 7). Plaintiff Geer began working for United Precast as a general laborer on June 4, 1984. (Geer Depo. at 27). Throughout Plaintiff Geer's employment, he received a number of promotions and was serving as the production foreman/plant manager at all times relevant to this action. (Geer Depo.at 28; Streby Depo. at 8). In that capacity, he reported directly to the production manager, Jim Streby. (Geer Depo. at 31; Ellis Depo. at 7; Streby Depo. at 7-8). Plaintiff Geer consistently received good performance evaluations including his last evaluation on August 3, 2001.

At all relevant times, United Precast offered health care benefits to its employees and their families througha self-funded insurance plan ("Plan"). (Beveridge Depo. at 9). By virtue of Plaintiff Geer's employment with United Precast, Plaintiff Geer's wife, Kathy Merrill-Geer ("Merrill-Geer") became a beneficiary of the Plan. E.S. Beveridge (hereinafter "Beveridge") serves as the administrator for the United Precast Plan. (Beveridge Depo. at 13-14; Ellis Depo. at 8). In early 2002, Beveridge recommended that United Precast do a re-enrollment of its employees for health insurance to determine what other coverage was available to its employees and their dependents. (Beveridge Depo. at 9-10). Beveridge had received information concerning Merrill-Geer that was not consistent with the information which Beveridge had on file and recommended that a re-enrollment of all employees be done to verify that Beveridge had accurate information relating to other insurance coverage available to United Precast's employees and their dependents. (Johns Depo. at 31; Beveridge Depo. at 10-11).

United Precast employees routinely signed similar forms on an annual basis; however, in 2002, the forms were revised to request information regarding whether dependents were receiving Medicare or Social Security benefits. (Geer Depo. at 50). Geer's wife, Merrill-Geer, had a number of medical conditions which were diagnosed sometime in the 1990s and was receiving Social Security Disability Benefits and Medicare. (Geer Depo. at 52-53). Geer had confided in his supervisor, Jim Streby, about his wife's medical condition and acknowledged that both Mr. Streby and Mr. Ellis were aware that his wife was receiving Social Security Disability Benefits. (Geer Depo. at 57, 59).

On February 28, 2002, Plaintiff Geer completed the Employee Dependent Information Form which included questions concerning other insurance coverage. (Geer Depo. at 47-48, Ex. 2). The form signed in 2002 included the following question: "Do you or any of your dependents have other group medical insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security Disability benefits?" Geer checked the box marked "Yes" and indicated that his wife was covered. (Geer Depo. at 49, Ex. 2). However, he claims that he did not mark the form to indicate the specific type of benefits that his wife was receiving. (Geer Depo.at 49). Nevertheless, he acknowledges that the form accurately reflects the type of benefits which his wife was receiving. (Geer Depo. at 52).

The Plan documents for United Precast's self-funded insurance plan included a provision for terminating coverage for insured dependents on the occurrence of the earliest of several specific events, including six months from the date the insured dependent becomes totally disabled. (Beveridge Depo. at 15). Accordingly, based upon the information provided by Geer on the Employee Dependent Information Form, Geer was notified that his wife's insurance coverage was being terminated.

Plaintiff Geer was upset when his wife's health insurance was terminated and attempted to speak with Mr. Ellis about it, but was unsuccessful. (Geer Depo. at 34-36). Geer met with Mr. Streby regarding the insurance issue in March of 2002, but nothing was changed. Id.

Geer had a reputation for running his mouth and bad-mouthing the company. (Ellis Depo. at 15; Streby Depo. at 9-10; Johns Depo. at 12). Mr. Streby had previously talked to Geer about running his mouth in the shops and told him that they just could not have that. (Streby Depo. at 10, 19). Mr. Streby was aware that the insurance for Geer's wife had been terminated because Geer had told Streby that he felt he was being shafted. Id. In addition, other employees had come to Mr. Streby to complain that Geer had been telling them that it was the goal of the company to shaft people out of their insurance. (Streby Depo. at 20).

Geer had also approached Mr. Streby about his wages. Apparently, Geer had not yet received his annual bonus and wanted a raise. Geer asked Streby if he would talk to Mr. Ellis about it and, when Mr. Streby did, Mr. Ellis said that nothing was going to be done about it. (Streby Depo. at 21). When Streby told Geer about his conversation with Mr. Ellis, he also asked Geer not to discuss his wages with the employees in the shops. Id. Following this discussion, on March 25, 2002, Mr. Streby prepared an Employee Disciplinary Record documenting the conversation. (Streby Depo. at 20-21, Ex. B).

In addition, Geer had approached Tad Johns, the Office Manager and Credit Manager for United Precast, to voice his complaints about his wages and benefits and the direction of the company. (Johns Depo. at 7, 10-11, 13). Mr. Johns did not supervise Geer and made no decisions with respect to his wages or benefits. (Johns Depo. at 10-11). Mr. Johns testified that Geer should have gone to Mr. Streby with these issues and typically Mr. Johns just let him vent. (Johns Depo. at 11-14). However, two incidents occurred which Mr. Johns felt had to be addressed with Mr. Ellis. (Johns Depo. at 21). On March 29, 2002, Geer approached Mr. Johns in the plant and told Mr. Johns that "he was telling the men in his plant, especially the ones that he felt were pretty good workers, that they should probably move on, that they would never be appreciated here." (Johns Depo. at 14-16). Plaintiff Geer denies telling other United Precast employees that they should leave United Precast. (Geer Depo. at 84). Several days later, Mr. Johns overheard Geer complaining to Doug Pillow, one of United Precast's salesmen, that "the company was f____ing him." (Johns Depo. at 14). Geer told Mr. Pillow that "because of the change in benefits, that he deserved to get at least two or three more dollars an hour or he was being screwed out of two or three dollars an hour because he had to go to COBRA or do something different as far as his wife. (Johns Depo. at 14).

On April 3, 2002, Mr. Ellis met with Mr. Johns and Mr. Streby and discussed the fact that Geer was talking badly about the company and had been encouraging the laborers to leave. (Johns Depo. at. 19). They discussed the fact that Geer had already been asked not to carry on these types of conversations and create a work stoppage when he is on the clock and trying to run a crew. Id. Although Mr. Ellis was very concerned about the situation, no strategy was discussed during that meeting. Id.

On April 4, 2002, early in the workday, Mr. Ellis summoned Geer to the conference room for a meeting to discuss the issues he had discussed with Mr. Streby and Mr. Johns the previous day. (Johns Depo. at 21-22). When Mr. Geer arrived, Mr. Johns, Mr. Streby, Ray Harris, Adam Perkins, and Monica Pryor were present. (Geer Depo. at 86). When Mr. Ellis was questioned during his deposition concerning the reason he decided to have the meeting, he explained:

I think that his disposition and attitude got to the point that we had to do something with him in the plant. He was disturbing other employees. And if you understand that one rotten apple can spoil a lot of rotten apples, it just got to the point that he was running interference and degrading the company and it wasn't a healthy situation. So, we had to do something. We had to remove him from the plant. We had to get him away from the employees. Geez, you just can't let something like that continue. (Ellis Depo. at 17). When asked for an example, Mr. Ellis indicated that it had been brought to his attention that Geer was telling people something to the effect that United Precast was not a good place to work. (Ellis Depo. at 18). Geer was causing so much trouble in the plant that Mr. Ellis did not know what to do. (Ellis Depo. at 27-28).

On April 4, 2002, when Geer was brought into the office, Plaintiff Geer testified Mr. Ellis told Geer that he "was a bad influence on his co-workers," that he "was not to go out in the shop for no reason whatsoever," that he was not to "talk to anybody, socialize with anybody," and that he was to stay in the conference room for eight hours a day and do nothing. (Geer Depo. at 87). Plaintiff Geer was only permitted to leave to get a drink of water and go to the bathroom. Id. Geer did not challenge anything that was said. (Johns Depo. at 22-23).

Mr. Ellis testified that he did not want to fire Geer, but did not want him in the plant, so he decided to just put him in a holding pattern. (Ellis Depo. at 18). Mr. Ellis further testified that, at the time, he did not know and did not tell Geer how long he intended to have Geer in the conference room. (Ellis Depo. at 18-19). Plaintiff Geer testified that he asked Mr. Ellis how long the arrangement was to occur and that Mr. Ellis responded "forever." (Geer Depo. at 87). Plaintiff Geer also testified that ...


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