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Gable v. Horton Emergency Vehicles

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

January 9, 2016

DAVID GABLE, Plaintiff,


          OPINION & ORDER


         This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendant Horton Emergency Vehicles (“Horton”). For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES Horton's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises from the alleged disability discrimination of Horton against Plaintiff, a former employee. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated Ohio and federal discrimination laws when it fired him eleven days after he began his employment and two days after he informed a Human Resources Director that he had blood cancer.

         A. Factual History[1]

         Horton is a manufacturer of ambulances in Grove City. Horton hired Plaintiff David Gable (“Mr. Gable” or “Gable”) on May 11, 2015, to be a Paint Manager. (Gable Aff't at ¶ 2.) Prior to working for Horton, Mr. Gable had been a manager for twenty-five years, “supervis[ing], train[ing] and develop[ing] employees, supervisors, engineers and other managers.” (Id. at ¶ 3.)

         Mr. Gable was hired to address issues in the paint shop, which had been “let go for quite some time[.]” (Id. at ¶¶ 2, 4.) Upon his arrival, Mr. Gable inspected the facility and found numerous OSHA violations, which he worked diligently to address. (Id. at ¶ 2.) These violations included “air purifier equipment for employees to breath [sic] fresh air [that] had not been working properly which could cause chronic and acute breathing issues; exposed live wires only a couple feet away from paint booth door, several open solvent containers that were not grounded, unlabeled containers with paint and solvent in them, VOC log was not being filled out for months, and several other violations[.]” (Id.) Mr. Gable showed all three shifts of employees the violations, and took pictures of them for future training opportunities. (Id. at ¶¶ 2-3.) He asked for, and received, additional employees to help him address these violations over his first weekend on the job. (Id. at ¶ 2.) Horton denies having any OSHA violations. (Doc. 25-1.)

         Mr. Gable wanted to observe every shift at Horton, to inspect properly the ambulances, and to keep up production by making sure that he had three to four ambulances in the queue. (Gable Aff't at ¶ 7.) Therefore, on most days, he worked from 5:30 a.m. until 3:30 or 4:30 p.m. (Id.) Although Mr. Gable had only been working at Horton for a few days, at the request of Horton, he completed appraisals of several employees. (Id. at ¶ 3.) Because he had not met many of the employees that Horton had asked him to appraise, he enlisted the help of Jeffrey Gillespie, a newly-appointed supervisor. (Id.) He discussed the appraisals with any employees who disagreed with his assessment, and everyone left satisfied. (Id.)

         Mr. Gable alleges that his superiors were happy with his work. Donald Meister, Vice President of Operations, told Mr. Gable twice that he was doing a good job. (Id. at ¶ 8.) For example, in response to his showing employees the OSHA violations, Mr. Meister said: “Good job. This is what needs to be done. These people need direction.” (Id. at ¶ 3.) Human Resources Director Rebecca Baciak told him he was doing a good job “at least three times.” (Id. at ¶ 8.) President John Slauson also told him he was doing a good job. (Id.) Mr. Slauson, for example, was “happy that [Mr. Gable] had been hired” because “they were impressed with what [he] had accomplished so far” and “they were lucky to have found [him, ]” because “the Company had searched for a long time for someone with production, technical paint, and leadership experience to come to Horton and turn things around.” (Id. at ¶ 4.) Mr. Slauson then invited Mr. Gable and his wife to a round of golf. (Id.)

         Everything changed on May 20, 2015 when Mr. Gable told Ms. Baciak that he had cancer. (Id. at ¶ 10.) Mr. Gable had gone into Ms. Baciak's office at her request to discuss supervisor Jeffrey Gillespie's work performance. (Id.) Ms. Baciak had apologized for being late to the meeting, and explained that she had just been to the doctor because she was being treated for cancer. (Id.) Mr. Gable empathized, divulging that he, too, had polycythemia vera-a form of blood cancer that could, but usually did not, develop into leukemia. (Id.) He mentioned that he was taking chemotherapy pills, and that he also took blood thinners to treat a blood clot that ran from his ankle to his mid-thigh. (Id.) He “disclosed his history because [he] wanted the Company to know in case [he] ever had another blood clot or started to bleed from an injury.” (Id.) Ms. Baciak sympathized, mentioning that her uncle had a similar issue. (Id.)

         After that meeting, Mr. Gable drove to Pennsylvania to finish making arrangements to move to Columbus, Ohio. (Id. at ¶ 11.) The next day, on May 21, 2015, Ms. Baciak called “to inform [him] that [he] was being terminated effective the next day, Friday, May 22.” (Id.) The reason given: they “were going in a different direction.” (Id.) Mr. Gable would not be paid after May 22, eleven days after he was hired. (Id.) Mr. Gable threatened to sue. (Id.)

         Horton now tells Mr. Gable that he was fired, in part, because of allegations that he told employees that it would be “[his] way or the highway.” (Id. at ¶ 3.) Mr. Gable denies making any such statement. (Id.) Mr. Meister, on the other hand, had heard complaints about the “my way or the highway” comment, though he does not divulge the source of these complaints. (Meister Decl., Doc. 25, at ¶ 5.) His reaction? He “determined that it would be best for the company to immediately terminate David's employment before he could do any more damage.” (Id.) He consulted his immediate supervisor, Horton President Jon Slauson, and recommended that Mr. Gable be terminated immediately. (Id.) Mr. Slauson approved. (Id.) Mr. Meister then called Ms. Baciak to “inform[ ] [her] of the decision.” (Id.)

         Horton has a progressive discipline policy that, “[u]nder normal circumstances, ” “attempts to provide associates with notice of deficiencies and an opportunity to improve.” (Employee Handbook, Doc. 33-2, at 3.) The progressive discipline policy provides for Horton to give an offending associate a verbal warning, followed by a written warning, a final warning, and then, finally, discharge. (Id. at 3-4.) Horton may bypass its progressive discipline policy only under certain circumstances:

In cases involving serious misconduct, or anytime management determines it is necessary, such as a major breach of policy or violation of law, the steps described above may be disregarded. With some serious violations, the associate may be suspended immediately until such time that an investigation can be conducted to determine what further action, if any, should be taken.

(Id. at 4.) Neither Mr. Meister nor Ms. Baciak conducted any investigation of Mr. Gable before it fired him. (Baciak Decl. and attachments, Docs. 24 and 24-1; Meister Decl., Doc. 25.) Nor did they provide him with verbal or written warnings, a final warning, a suspension pending investigation, or a chance to refute the allegations. (Id.; Gable Aff't at ¶ 3.) After Ms. Baciak called to terminate Mr. Gable, she took the statements of three employees who allegedly heard and felt intimidated by the “my way or the highway” comment. (Baciak Decl. and attachments, Docs. 24 and 24-1.) For his part, after Mr. Gable threatened to sue, Mr. Meister prepared a statement of reasons for the termination. (Meister Decl. and attachments, Docs. 25 and 25-1.)

         Other employees at Horton had issues and they were not fired. Mr. Meister “was unprofessional in his conduct at manager meetings. He made fun of employees.” (Gable Aff't at ¶ 5.) EHS manager Jason Painter told Ms. Baciak that Horton employees liked her “because [she had] big tits. They like anybody with tits.” (Id.) Mr. Meister overheard this comment, and did nothing. (Id.) Mr. Painter also made a racist remark in front of two African-American employees and Mr. Gable. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Mr. Gable spoke about the incident with Ms. Baciak, who did nothing. (Id.) Another employee, Roby Salyer, took several days off work because he was angry he did not receive a promotion that he had been promised. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Mr. Gable spoke with Mr. Salyer, explained that these actions were inappropriate, and promised to “help develop him.” (Id.) ...

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