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Beckloff v. Amcor Rigid Plastics USA, LLC

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth District, Sandusky

June 23, 2017

Michael Beckloff Appellant
v.
Amcor Rigid Plastics USA, LLC and Chris Robinson Appellees

         Trial Court No. 15 CV 1026

          Francis J. Landry and Katherine A. Pawlak, for appellant.

          Margaret Mattimoe Sturgeon, John F. Birmingham, Jr. and Felicia S. O'Connor, for appellees.

          DECISION AND JUDGMENT

          MAYLE, J.

         {¶ 1} In this accelerated appeal, plaintiff-appellant, Michael Beckloff, appeals the September 16, 2016 judgment of the Sandusky County Court of Common Pleas, granting summary judgment in favor of defendants-appellants, Amcor Rigid Plastics USA, LLC and Chris Robinson (collectively "Amcor"). For the reasons that follow, we affirm the trial court judgment.

         I. Background

         {¶ 2} On February 27, 2012, Amcor hired Michael Beckloff, then 61, as a production supervisor at its Bellevue, Ohio facility. Amcor's human resources manager, Thomas Hall, and its operations manager, Chris Robinson, participated in the decision to hire Beckloff. As a production supervisor, Beckloff reported to Robinson.

         {¶ 3} Beckloff had extensive past experience as a supervisor, however, problems arose with his performance. On October 4, 2013, Robinson placed Beckloff on a performance improvement plan ("PIP"). Under the terms of the plan, Beckloff was required to show improvement in the areas of quality and housekeeping, developing employees, addressing employee issues, and contributing to best practices and ideas. The plan provided that Beckloff had 90 days to meet the objectives identified in the plan, and that Robinson would meet with him twice during that period to assess his progress. A November 15, 2013 follow-up note indicated that Robinson was not satisfied with Beckloff s progress, but no further disciplinary action was taken at that time.

         {¶ 4} In November of 2014, supervisors, including Beckloff, were asked to complete a survey ranking their team members' proficiency in safety, quality, and startup/shutdown skills. Beckloff ranked his team members the lowest. These results prompted follow-up conversations with Beckloff to discuss his concerns, particularly in the area of safety where his team scored the worst. Beckloff identified a number of safety failures that he had observed. His superiors questioned why he had not issued written corrective action notices upon observing safety violations, and they impressed upon him the importance of doing so. They perceived Beckloff s failure to discipline employees for safety violations as a lack of leadership and refusal to take ownership of his supervisory responsibilities.

         {¶ 5} In the months that followed, Beckloff himself received a number of corrective action notices. On January 7, 2015, Robinson issued Beckloff a corrective action notice for failing to properly report and resolve product defects that arose during one of his shifts. On June 24, 2015, Robinson issued another corrective action notice because Beckloff failed to have his production line ready for a planned trial, thereby setting the trial back by four hours, interrupting the schedules of several corporate engineers, and delaying production. And on August 19, 2015, Robinson issued another corrective action notice after 170, 430 defective bottles were produced during Beckloff s shift.

         {¶ 6} Beckloff received sub-par mid-year and annual evaluations in 2015. In February, in his mid-year performance evaluation, Beckloff was rated as "significantly below expectations" or "improvement needed" in a number of categories, including implementing team concept, contributing to the facility's palletizer staffing project, leading self, leading teams, interpersonal savvy, operational execution, teamwork, social responsibility, and innovation. Similar deficiencies were identified in his annual performance evaluation in August. His performance was rated as "significantly below expectations" or "needs improvement" in the areas of "reduction in HFI[1] in both injection and blow molding, " contributing to the facility's palletizer staffing project, implementing team concept, leading self, leading teams, interpersonal savvy, operational execution, teamwork, social responsibility, and innovation.

         {¶ 7} Because of his score of 2.0 out of 5.0 on his annual evaluation, Beckloff was placed on another PIP on August 31, 2015. Under the terms of this PIP, Beckloff was expected to achieve the following objectives:

1. Zero Customer Complaints as a result of operator mistakes.
2. Reduction in HFI.
3. 35% reduction in product making it to the warehouse without tickets or incorrect ticket.
4. Successfully run a Process Improvement Team with the goal of creating a Palletizer Training Program.

         {¶ 8} The PIP provided 90 days for Beckloff to meet these objectives, and progress meetings were scheduled for October 2, 2015, and December 2, 2015. The PIP specified that "[i]n addition to meeting the specific objectives outlined in this plan, during this 30/60/90 day period, and then thereafter on an ongoing basis, you must demonstrate a commitment to your job and to the Company's values." It also warned:

If you fail to make the required improvement in the areas identified at each interval, your employment will be terminated at the end of your plan period. However, the Company reserves the right to terminate your employment during the period if it becomes clear you are not making sufficient progress, or for business reasons unrelated to your performance (e.g., misconduct, lack of work).

         {¶ 9} On September 3, 2015, Beckloff gave his team approval to run "12 totes of 51.2 gm preforms with a barrier defect." That same day, Beckloff observed a pallet operator walking on the rollers on a section of pallet conveyor, yet failed to discipline him. On September 8, 2015, Beckloff noted in his end-of-shift report that there had been a fire at one of the presses, but he failed to notify anyone, perform an investigation, or complete an incident report. And also on September 8, 2015, Beckloff gave approval for his team to run 32-ounce bottles "with out of spec section weights."

         {¶ 10} According to Amcor, these four incidents, occurring just days after Beckloff s second PIP was issued, led it to terminate Beckloff s employment on September 11, 2015. Beckloff claims, however, that these incidents were merely pretext for discrimination.

         {¶ 11} On October 16, 2015, Beckloff filed a complaint against Amcor and Robinson alleging four claims: (1) age discrimination in violation of R.C. 4112.02(A); (2) wrongful discharge in violation of public policy; (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (4) as against Amcor only, negligent hiring, retention, and supervision. He sought punitive damages.

         {¶ 12} After several witnesses were deposed and discovery was exchanged, Amcor moved for summary judgment on all of Beckloff s claims. In a decision journalized on September 16, 2016, the trial court granted summary judgment in Amcor's favor on all claims. Beckloff appealed. He assigns the following four errors for our review:

I. The trial court committed reversible error in granting summary judgment to defendants Amcor and Robinson when questions of material fact remained over the existence of a prima facie case of age discrimination.
II. The trial court committed reversible error in granting summary judgment to defendants Amcor and Robinson when questions of material fact remained over whether Appellant's termination was in violation of the public policy of the State of Ohio.
III. The trial court committed reversible error in granting summary judgment to defendants Amcor and Robinson when questions of material fact remained over whether Appellant's termination and the treatment of him on the job, rose to the level of outrageous conduct required by the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
IV. The trial court committed reversible error in granting summary judgment to defendant Amcor when questions of material fact remained over whether Defendant was negligent in hiring, retaining, and supervising Defendant Robinson.

         II. ...


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