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Nickel v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc.

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

July 25, 2018

RONALD S. NICKELL, Plaintiff,
v.
OLD DOMINION FREIGHT LINE, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION & ORDER [RESOLVING ECF NO. 20]

          BENITA Y. PEARSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 20. Plaintiff Ronald Nickell responded. ECF No. 22. Defendant replied. ECF No. 23. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Defendant's motion.

         I. Background

         A. General Background

         Plaintiff applied for employment with Defendant on June 10, 2009. ECF 17-1 at PageID #: 151.[1] His application included a statement acknowledging that, if he were employed by Defendant, his employment would be at will. Id. at PageID #: 418. Defendant hired Plaintiff as a driver in March 2010. Id. at PageID #: 157. He obtained a position as a line-haul driver in August 2015. Id. As a line-haul driver, Plaintiff was responsible for driving trailers between Defendant's terminals in Girard, Ohio and Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Id. at PageID#: 159.

         B. Employment with Defendant

         As the start of his employment with Defendant in February 2010, Plaintiff received a copy of the Employee Handbook, which stated the following: "I understand this handbook does not constitute a contract of employment with Old Dominion either express or implied, but that my employment is an 'employment at will' which may be terminated at any time by Old Dominion." ECF No. 17-1 PageID #: 151; ECF No. 20-2 at PageID #: 740. In March 2015, Plaintiff received a revision to the Employee Handbook, which stated, "... [Old Dominion's] relationship with its employees is and always will be one of voluntary employment 'at will.'" ECF No. 17-1 at PageID #: 154, 423. The revised Handbook also provided that:

Neither this handbook nor any other company document confers any contractual right, either express or implied, to remain in the company's employ or places any limitations on its right to terminate the employment relationship. Employment for a specific term cannot be guaranteed or promised except pursuant to an employment contract separate from this handbook. Only the Chief Executive Officer (and no other company representative) has the authority to enter into any agreement for employment for any specific duration. Moreover, no such separate agreement is enforceable unless it is signed by the employee and by the Chief Executive Officer.

Id. at PageID#:423.

         C. Termination Incident

         On September 29, 2015, Plaintiff drove from Girard to Carlisle. ECF No. 17-1 at PageID #: 167; ECF No. 1-1 at PageID #: 7, ¶¶ 7-8. Plaintiff felt the need to urinate when he arrived, but "decided he could wait" until he had finished picking up the return trailers. Id. at ¶ 12. After preparing the first of the trailers his need to urinate became overwhelming, and he believed he could not wait to use a restroom. Id. at ¶ 13. Plaintiff stepped behind his truck and urinated in the terminal yard. Id. at¶ 14.

         On September 30, 2015, the Girard terminal supervisor called Plaintiff into his office about a complaint that Plaintiff had urinated in the yard. ECF No. 17-1 at PageID#: 176. Upon questioning, Plaintiff admitted he had urinated and was terminated. Id.

         D. Post-Termination

         Plaintiff made several calls to Defendant's management, including Human Resources Director DeeDee Cox, Vice President of Operations David Bates, and Chief Executive Officer David Congden. ECF No. 17-1 at PageID #: 178-80. All three told Plaintiff that the decision to terminate him was final. Id. at 179-80. Plaintiff states he had the impression that if he performed his duties professionally and did not receive customer complaints, his employment would continue. Id. at PageID #: 150. He was unable, however, to identify any specific promise made to him by an employee of Defendant that informed this belief. Id. at PageID #: 156.

         Defendant has a policy of terminating drivers "when there is sufficient evidence and/or the driver admits he or she urinated in public...." ECF No. 20-1 at PageID #: 738-739. Defendant has terminated at least eleven drivers for such behavior between April 2014 and November 2017. Id. at PageID #: 739.

         In February 2017, Plaintiff was diagnosed with an enlarged prostate (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia) and an "agitated bladder." ECF 17-1 at PageID #: 525.

         Plaintiff filed suit in the Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas. ECF No. 1-1. Defendant removed the action. ECF No. 1. Plaintiffs complaint contains two claims, each under Ohio law: (1) wrongful termination in violation of public policy; and (2) breach of implied contract.

         II. ...


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