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Hunt v. Monro Muffler Brake, Inc.

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

July 11, 2018

JEFFREY HUNT, Plaintiff,
v.
MONRO MUFFLER BRAKE, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND OPINION

          DONALD C. NUGENT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court upon a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant, Monro Muffler Brake, Inc. ("Monro")- (ECF #57). Plaintiff, Jeffrey Hunt ("Mr. Hunt") timely filed a Brief in Opposition, (ECF #62), and Monro filed a Reply (ECF #63).[1] This matter is fully briefed and ripe for review. For the reasons set forth herein, Monro's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF #57) is GRANTED.

         I. Factual History[2]

         Mr. Hunt was hired by Monro on August 31, 2016 to work as an Automotive Technician in its Service Store in Medina, Ohio. Monro Service Stores offer general automobile maintenance, repair, and brake services, and operates approximately 539 stores in 15 states. (ECF #62, p.7). As an Automotive Technician, Mr. Hunt was responsible for diagnosing and repairing vehicles, was required to operate lifts, welders and brake lathes, and regularly lift up to 50 pounds. (See ECF #57-2, Hunt Deposition at Ex. M)(hereafter referred to as "Hunt Dep."). Mr. Hunt has indicated that at the time he was hired, he received the Employee Handbook and a copy of the overtime policy, both of which he reviewed and understood. (Hunt Dep. pp. 53-54; Exs. OandP).

         Monro technicians also earned a commission/incentive each time an invoice was generated for a customer in Monro's Point of Sale ("POS") computer system and the technician performed work for that customer. (ECF #57-1, p.3) Monro set Mr. Hunt's commission rate at 11.5% of regular sales and 4% of tire sales. Mr. Hunt was paid a guaranteed hourly rate of $9.00 per hour, and he was eligible to be paid time and one half for all hours worked over forty per week. However, Monro's overtime policy prohibits an employee from working overtime without the express authorization of his Store Manager.

         In order to record employee hours, Monro's policy mandates that employees accurately enter all hours worked into the POS system at the beginning and end of each shift. The Employee Handbook indicates, in part, that employees who engage in unauthorized work or falsely record their time will be disciplined and could be terminated. (See Hunt Dep. Ex O). Monro's Vice President of Human Resources, Ed Mullen ("Mr. Mullen"), provides that Mr. Hunt was disciplined on several occasions for violating this policy by "inflating his time entries" into the POS (i.e., failing to clock out during lunch or personal time, clocking in too early, etc). (ECF #57-3, Mullen Declaration at ¶ 18)(hereafter "Mullen Dec"). For example, in January of 2017, Assistant Manager David Turner completed an "Employee Warning Report" regarding Mr. Hunt's inflated time entries, and Mr. Hunt testified that Dave Turner directed him to stop clocking in early. (Hunt Dep. Ex X; p. 140). Another Assistant Manager, Alex Brandt, ("ASM Brandt") also reduced Mr. Hunt's inflated time entries, and Mr. Hunt testified that those reductions accurately depict the time that he worked. (Hunt Dep. p. 113; Mullen Dec. at ¶ 13). Mr. Hunt also testified that Market Manager Frank Fazio ("Manager Fazio") warned him after Mr. Hunt "clocked in like ten minute early a couple of days." (Hunt Dep. p. 139).

         On January 4, 2017, Mr. Hunt called Monro's Direct Access Whistleblower Hotline to complain that "me and my fellow technicians are being shorted our hours that we have worked, [and] overtime." (See ECF #57-1, p. 7). Mr. Hunt was informed by Monro that they would investigate the complaint.[3]

         Mr. Hunt's complaint was still being investigated by Monro on April 3, 2017, when Mr. Hunt was injured after an air compressor slipped and lacerated the palm of his hand. (Hunt Dep. p. 19). Mr. Hunt filed a worker's compensation claim for the injury and was advised he could return to work with light duty restrictions from May 1, 2017 until October 27, 2017. However, "Monro does not maintain light duty positions at the Medina Services Store, nor has Monro provided light duty to any employee who was assigned to that facility." (Mullen Dec. ¶20).

         In May or June of 2017, a random audit of store purchases found that Mr. Hunt purchased four specialty tires on December 1, 2016, and signed for their receipt on December 7, 2016. (See ECF #57-1, pp. 9-10). However, these tires were not attached to a customer invoice, could not be located in the Store's inventory and there was no record that the tires had been installed on a customer vehicle. Furthermore, the tires were incorrectly purchased through a "supply purchase order," rather than an "equipment purchase order." (Mullen Dec. ¶24). When Manager Fazio asked Mr. Hunt about the tires on June 15, 2017, Mr. Hunt admitted he signed for the delivery of the tires and installed them onto a car5 but failed to "credibly account for the [whereabouts of the] missing tires." (Hunt Dep. Ex. S, Mullen Aff., ¶ 25). According to corporate policy, Monro reported the tires as missing to the Medina Police Department on July 3, 2017. Manager Fazio told Mr. Hunt not to return to the Medina Service Store until the investigation into the missing tires was complete. (ECF #57-1, p. 10).[4]

         During a subsequent audit of outbuy purchases, Monro found that ASM Brandt also ordered specialty tires in December 2016 that were not tied to a customer invoice or able to be located. (See ECF #55-1, Fazio Deposition, p. 199). Monro filed a police report for these missing tires as well. (Id. at p. 201).[5] Some time after this was discovered, ASM Brandt was terminated from his employment at Monro. (Fazio Dep. p. 138).

         Monro terminated Mr. Hunt's employment on November 15, 2017. In the termination letter, Monro informed Mr. Hunt that "[a] 11 employees in your region, who purchase and receive equipment, merchandise or products that cannot be accounted for, are immediately separated from their employment." (ECF #57-1, p. 11, Hunt Dep. Ex U). In fact, a separate random outbuy audit showed that another employee in the region, Jay Dean, ordered four tires that could not be located. A police report was filed and Jay Dean resigned during Monro's investigation. (Fazio Dep, pp. 173-74).

         Mr. Hunt's Amended Complaint (ECF #27) sets forth claims for breach of contract, failure to pay overtime wages, unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel, federal and state disability discrimination, workers' compensation discrimination, and defamation.[6] Monro argues that it properly terminated Mr. Hunt for violating various corporate policies and for allegedly committing theft of Monro property.

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate when no genuine issues of material fact exist and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)(citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). The burden of showing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact rests with the moving party:

[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits," if any, which it ...

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