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Williams v. Union Underwear Co., Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

October 10, 2014

DAVID WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNION UNDERWEAR COMPANY, INC. d/b/a FRUIT OF THE LOOM, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

THOMAS B. RUSSELL, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket #16). Plaintiff David Williams has responded, (Docket # 20) and Defendant has replied. (Docket #. 23). This matter is now fully briefed and ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

David Williams was employed by Fruit of the Loom ("FOL") from March of 1983 through June of 1998, and then again from March of 2007 through his termination on December 31, 2011. He alleges disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). FOL rehired Williams in 2007 because he had experience with the Audit Compliance Language ("ACL") software that FOL was planning to implement as it launched its Office of Foreign Asset Control ("OFAC") compliance program. This program ensures that FOL does not trade with any prohibited entities. In his position as Senior Manager, Williams was responsible for maintaining the accuracy of the company's information, ran an OFAC compliance analysis two to three times a year, and conducted two to three licensee audits each year, which often required week-long travel.

In 2008, FOL engaged an accounting firm of Ernst & Young LLP to assess its Internal Audit Department. The accounting firm issued the FOL Internal Audit Blueprint for Improvement, which identified performance deficiencies in several areas. In response, the Audit Department was directed to "move away from manufacturing audits and to become more involved in process-oriented audits and to focus more on the overall strategic objectives of FOL." (Crossland Dep., p.11-12). "Members of the department, including Williams, were told they needed to increase standards, improve audit preparation, follow through more clearly, and produce work on a more timely basis." Id.

During his employment with FOL, Williams's performance was reviewed by his supervisors on a 15 month cycle. His May 2008 evaluation reviewed his performance from March of 2008 through June of 2008, before Ernst & Young identified deficiencies in the department. This evaluation, completed by Roger Smith, indicated that Williams had no performance deficiencies and "meets expectations." (Docket No. 20, p. 9). Following the release of the FOL Internal Audit Blueprint for Improvement, however, supervisors Jimmy Woodall and Tony Crossland noticed that Williams was struggling to improve his work. His evaluation in August of 2009, completed by Crossland, indicated that he needed improvement in many areas, but that he nevertheless still "meets expectations." Id. Following this review, Woodall noticed that Williams continued to lag behind his co-workers, and that Williams came to Woodall frequently in need of assistance. Williams's next evaluation, completed in January of 2010 by Crossland, indicated additional areas where Williams needed improvement. At this point, his overall rating was that of "needs improvement" as opposed to "meets expectations, " because Crossland felt that his performance had not improved since August of 2009. In this evaluation, Crossland wrote, among other comments:

[Williams has] difficulty evaluating the impact of observations that do not comply with the process control environment. Determining the implications of these occurrences and recommending improvements has also been an issue in reports David has initiated. He tends to recommend what he believes the reader wants to hear versus providing objective evaluations based on his audit findings. In summarizing his findings, he has difficulty clearly analyzing process flows and relating errors noted to the general population of like activities. Accordingly, it is often difficult for an objective reader to understand the basis of recommendations David might propose. In many cases, when challenged during the review process, analysis needed to be revised and recommendations ultimately altered. In these cases, additional time was needed for managerial review and rewriting of reports, which negatively impacted the department's productivity and efficiency levels.

(Docket No. 16).

Williams's wife has a medical condition that made her immune system susceptible to disease. He originally informed his supervisor about her condition in 2010, but requested no accommodations, and did not experience any adverse reactions. (Docket No. 20). In February of 2011, Williams told Woodall that he could not travel out of the country because of his wife's medical condition. Williams asked that the trip be rescheduled, but was unable to advise Woodall on when his wife would improve sufficiently to allow him to travel safely. (Docket No. 20). Woodall allowed Williams to miss the trip, but did not agree to reschedule it. Williams's wife improved and he was able to travel on the next audit trip.

Because Williams received a rating of "needs improvement, " Woodall was required to initiate the Managing Performance Process for Salaried Employees ("MPI Process") for him. This process is designed to give employees whose performance is not in alignment with expectations a period of opportunity to improve. Woodall prepared an Employee Feedback Form with Crossland and Vickie Gibson, the senior director of human resources. The Form listed deficiencies in Williams's work and included eighteen examples to illustrate his problem areas. Woodall, Crossland, and Gibson met with Williams on June 2, 2011 to review the Form, however his performance had not improved sufficiently to conclude the MPI Process. He was then presented with a PIP Performance Improvement Plan, which constituted a final warning in the Process. Williams was informed that his continued employment was not guaranteed. He was given the option to transition out of FOL with salary benefits for seven weeks, or to continue trying to improve by following a further action plan, with the knowledge that he could be terminated. Williams chose to stay, and attended nine weekly meetings from August 29, 2011 through November 15, 2011.

In November of 2011, Williams was still unable to improve his performance, and Gibson recommended to her supervisor George Fields, the Senior Vice President of Human Resources, that Williams' employment be terminated consistent with the MPI Process. (Gibson Dep., p. 26-27). FOL decided to eliminate Williams' senior manager position and restructure the Internal Audit Department, because it had a high number of senior managers as compared to lower-level auditors. (Newton Dep., p. 12). When Williams' senior manager position was eliminated, Williams' position was not filled but his duties were distributed within the Department. (Newton Dep., p. 18; Crossland Dep., p. 30-31; Cagle Dep., p. 36; Crossland Dep., p. 30-31). In terms of new hiring, the Department hired a staff auditor, Amanda Brown, in August 2011, before Williams was terminated. In February of 2012, FOL hired Corey Higgins as an entry-level staff auditor. The Department did not hire a new senior manager.

Plaintiff alleges that "Newton told [Williams] they were going to replace him with a less experienced person." (Pl. Dep.) Plaintiff interprets this "to mean someone younger." Id. He claims that he "was replaced as senior manager in internal auditing by two staff auditors, one just out of school and the other with a few years' audit experience. [Williams] doesn't know their names but was at a restaurant last year and the audit department was there having lunch." Id. . Williams also alleges that, "after [he] was terminated up to five individuals were sent for training in OFAC indicating that up to five people were necessary to perform the job duties that Plaintiff had been expected to do." Defendant notes that this information is inadmissible hearsay that it is unsupported by the record, but nevertheless explains that Charles Sanders, the Vice President of the Custom & Trade Compliance Department "decided that it would be beneficial for several within the department to attend the training and have some familiarity with the software since the cost of the training would be the same. None of the individuals who attended the training subsequently used the software...." (Docket No. 20; Sanders Aff.).

Finally, in support of his claims, Williams alleges that many of his mistakes were due to computer formatting issues, Woodall's constant supervision and management style, and the tight deadlines outlined in his Plan. He alleges that he started working seven days a week to meet deadlines. (Docket No. 20). Williams told his supervisors that he could not quit because he needed the insurance for his wife. Finally, he alleges that Woodall came into his office once and said, "Well, I really don't want to hire Cagle, he's older than the other guys, they are forcing me to because these younger guys ...


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