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Fontenot v. Republic National Distributing Co. LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

October 13, 2017

WILBER L. FONTENOT
v.
REPUBLIC NATIONAL DISTRIBUTING CO., LLC

          MAG. JUDGE KATHLEEN KAY

          RULING

          ROBERT G. JAMES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is an action brought by Plaintiff Wilber L. Fontenot (“Fontenot”) against Defendant Republic National Distributing Co., L L C (“RNDC”). Fontenot asserts a claim of age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9 U.S.C. § 621');">21, et seq., and its state counterpart, the Louisiana Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“LADEA”), La. Rev. Stat. § 23:311, et seq. [Doc. No. 1].

         Pending before the Court is RNDC9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 17');">7]. For the following reasons, RNDC9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Fontenot worked for Magnolia Marketing as a sales representative and supervisor for the Lake Charles, Louisiana market for roughly 9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9 years starting in or about 19');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">97');">76. [Doc. No. 17');">7-7');">7, 1');">p. 1; Doc. No. 21');">21-9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9, 1');">p. 1]. A couple years after leaving for other employment, Fontenot returned to Magnolia Marketing, as a sales representative in the Lake Charles market. Id. Shortly after returning, Fontenot was promoted to a supervisory position over the same market. Id. Magnolia Marketing became Republic Beverage Company in 19');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">99');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">97');">7, and Fontenot remained employed through the transition. [Doc. No. 17');">7-7');">7, 2');">p. 2; Doc. No. 21');">21-9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9, 1');">p. 1]. In 2007');">7, Republic Beverage Company merged with National Distributing Company, Inc., to form Republic National Distributing Company, LLC, and Fontenot became an employee of RNDC at that time. Id. Fontenot was sixty-one years old at the time RNDC formed. [Doc. No. 17');">7-7');">7, p. 4');">p. 4; Doc. No. 21');">21-9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9, 2');">p. 2].

         Throughout his time with RNDC, Fontenot held a supervisory position in the Lake Charles market over sales representatives who reported to him and who performed the everyday servicing of RNDC9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s accounts. [Doc. No. 17');">7-7');">7, 2');">p. 2; Doc. No. 21');">21-9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9, p. 1]. During the years most pertinent to this litigation, 2009');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9 to 2013, Fontenot held the position of District Manager in Lake Charles with responsibilities including direct oversight of the Lake Charles sales representatives. Id. Prior to 2009');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9, Fontenot reported to Steve Brignac (“Brignac”), Division Manager for the mid-Louisiana territory. [Doc. No. 17');">7-2, p. 3');">p. 38; Doc. No. 17');">7-3, p1');">p. 1, 2]. In 2009');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9, RNDC created two “Area Manager” positions and hired Brandon Richard (“Richard”) for one of the positions; Richard was in his late twenties at the time. [Doc. No. 17');">7-7');">7, p2');">p. 2, 3; Doc. No. 21');">21-9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9, 2');">p. 2]. In this position, Richard was Fontenot9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s direct supervisor. [Doc. No. 17');">7-4, 2');">p. 2; Doc. No. 21');">21, p. 3');">p. 3]. Richard reported to Brignac. [Doc. No. 17');">7-7');">7, p. 3');">p. 3; Doc. No. 21');">21-9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9, 2');">p. 2]. Brignac was in his early sixties between 2009');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9 and 2013. Id.

         As District Manager, Fontenot9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s responsibilities included, inter alia: “the discrete execution of sales initiatives; training and developing his sales associates; directing his sales associates9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9; achievements in regards to sales goals, blitzes, and promotional programs; meeting with key accounts; ensuring that his sales team serviced their accounts; and making sure his sales associates performed satisfactorily; monitoring the Lake Charles market; and preparing and maintaining required paperwork, reports and records.” [Doc. No. 17');">7-7');">7, pp. 4');">p. 4-5; Doc. No. 21');">21-9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9, p. 2].

         Starting in 2010, RNDC began documenting areas in which Fontenot needed to improve his job performance. On March 15, 2010, Brignac issued Fontenot a written warning concerning Fontenot9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s poor job performance stating that Fontenot was not, inter alia, “using preplans to give goals to his team; filling out weekly time management forms; following up on suppliers; following up on his sales representatives; and turning in information when asked.” [Doc. No. 17');">7-7');">7, p. 5; Doc. No. 21');">21-9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9, p. 3');">p. 3]. Fontenot received annual performance reviews for the years 2010 through 2012[1" name="FN1" id= "FN1">1]in which he received an overall rating of “meets expectations, ” with a “needs improvement” rating as to certain areas of his job performance including: “develop talent at all levels” (2010 and 2011); “attract, coach and promote/develop new talent” (2010 and 2011); “demonstrate continuous improvement” (2011); “negotiate conflict through collaboration” (2011); and “implement continuous improvement” (2011 and 2012). [Doc. No. 17');">7-4, Exhs. 1-3].

         On August 18, 2013, six months after Fontenot9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s 2012 performance review, RNDC placed Fontenot on a ninety-day Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”), identifying specific performance goals to improve during that time period, including communication between management and sales team; market performance on new item launches and special initiatives; and management style to grow new sales reps into management positions. [Doc. No. 17');">7-7');">7, p. 7');">7; Doc. No. 21');">21-9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9, p. 3]. During that ninety-day period, Brignac, Richard and two other RNDC managers accompanied Fontenot9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s sales representatives on their sales calls. [Doc. No. 17');">7-7');">7, p. 7');">7; Doc. No. 21');">21-9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9, p. 3');">p. 3].

         RNDC claims that after the “ride alongs” the managers concluded that Fontenot9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s territory “was in need of immediate change.” [Doc. No. 17');">7-7');">7, p. 7');">7]. RNDC further claims that over the ninety-day period Fontenot did not satisfactorily improve in the areas identified in his PIP. Id. at p. 8. According to RNDC, Brignac and Richard met with Fontenot at the thirty-day and sixty-day mark to review Fontenot9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s progress and offer examples of performance deficiencies and ways to improve. Id. at pp. 7');">7-8. Fontenot, on the other hand, claims that one of the four managers involved told him that the “ride alongs” were a “witch hunt.” [Doc. No. 21');">21-9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9, p. 3');">p. 3]. Fontenot further claims, without citation to the record, that Richard and Brignac did not offer examples or recommendations at the PIP review meetings. Id. at p. 4');">p. 4.

         At the end of the ninety-day PIP period, in November 2013, RNDC claims that Brignac and Richard determined that Fontenot9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s employment should be terminated. [Doc. No. 17');">7-7');">7, p. 8; Doc. No. 21');">21-9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9, p. 4');">p. 4 (admitted to the extent that Fontenot was terminated in November 2013)]. At the time of his termination, Brignac told Fontenot that he was being discharged based on his performance. [Doc. No. 17');">7-7');">7, p. 8; Doc. No. 21');">21-9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9, p. 4');">p. 4].

         In late April 2014, Fontenot filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging discrimination on the basis of age in violation of the ADEA and retaliation for having reported alleged violations of state laws and regulations governing the sale of alcohol by Richard before he became Fontenot9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s supervisor. [Doc. No. 1, p2');">p. 2, 6]. The EEOC issued Fontenot a notice informing him that it was closing its file on Fontenot9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s charge and informing Fontenot of his right to sue, which Fontenot received on or about March 7');">7, 2015. Id. at p. 6');">p. 6, Exh. 1. Fontenot filed suit against RNDC on May 28, 2015, alleging that: (1) RNDC discriminated against him based on his age by terminating his employment, in violation of the ADEA and the LADEA, and (2) that his termination violated Louisiana9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s Whistleblower Statute, LA. REV. STAT. § 23:9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">967');">7. Id. The case was assigned to Judge Minaldi in the Lake Charles Division of the Western District of Louisiana.

         On July 27');">7, 2015, RNDC filed a motion to dismiss Fontenot9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s retaliation claim under Louisiana9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s Whistleblower Statute as time-barred. [Doc. No. 4]. On March 24, 2016, the Court granted the motion and dismissed the retaliation claim. [Doc. No. 11]. A jury trial was set in this matter for June 19');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9, 2017');">7. [Doc. No. 15]. On March 21');">21, 2017');">7, RNDC filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment, alleging that Fontenot cannot make out a prima facie case of age-discrimination and cannot rebut RNDC9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating him, or otherwise show that, but for his age, Fontenot would not have been terminated. [Doc. No. 17');">7]. Fontenot filed an opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment on April 28, 2017');">7, alleging there is evidence which presents a genuine dispute as to material facts and further suggesting that Fontenot was awaiting discovery responses from RNDC that would support his claims. [Doc. No. 21');">21]. On May 3, 2017');">7, the trial was continued due to the pendency of the Motion for Summary Judgment. [Doc. No. 22]. On May 5, 2017');">7, Fontenot filed a Motion to Compel RNDC9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s discovery responses. [Doc. No. 23]. The motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Kay. [Doc. No. 24]. RNDC filed a reply in further support of the Motion for Summary Judgment on May 11, 2017');">7. [Doc. No. 25');">25');">25');">25');">25');">25');">25');">25].

         On May 18, 2017');">7, the case was reassigned to the undersigned. [Doc. No. 26]. On May 31, 2017');">7, the Court issued an Order staying consideration of the Motion for Summary Judgment pending the outcome of the Motion to Compel. [Doc. No. 28]. Subsequently, the Magistrate Judge granted in part and denied in part the Motion to Compel, [Doc. No. 29');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9], and the Court granted the parties the opportunity to file supplemental responses to the Motion for Summary Judgment on June 26, 2017');">7. [Doc. No. 30]. Fontenot filed a supplemental memorandum in opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment on July 24, 2017');">7. [Doc. No. 31]. RNDC filed a supplemental reply brief in support of the Motion for Summary Judgment on July 31, 2017');">7. [Doc. No. 32]. On September 7');">7, 2017');">7, a new trial date was set for March 12, 2018, in Lake Charles, Louisiana. [Doc. No. 34].

         II. ...


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