United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, Jr. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Sasser filed this action against her former employer, ABF
Freight System, Inc. ("ABF"), challenging her
termination under the Family Medical Leave Act
("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.,
the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42
U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., the Tennessee
Disability Act ("TDA"), Tenn. Code Ann. §
8-50-103, and the Tennessee Human Rights Act
("THRA"), Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-101, et
seq. (Doc. No. 1.) For the following reasons, ABF's
Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 23) is GRANTED.
November 2011, Sasser began working as an account manager at
ABF, a shipping company. (Doc. No. 29 at 3.) Her primary job
duties were to develop new sales opportunities and new
price-controlled revenue for existing customers. Id.
Account managers solicit business by researching trade
publications, making cold calls, and making in-person visits.
(Id at 4.) Account managers are also expected to
generate sales opportunities through making pricing
proposals. (Id.) Given the nature of ABF's
business, face-to-face contact is an essential function of
the account manager's position; the majority of an
account manager's work day involves driving to meet
customers for in-person visits, which allows them to get to
know their customers and understand their businesses.
(Id.) Sasser reported to Barry Smiley, a District
Sales Manager and Nicholas Ricke, Branch Manager for
Nashville, who oversees operations and sales. ( Id.
at 2-3.) Dan Griesse served as Director of Human Resources,
and was located in Arkansas. (Id.)
February 2012, Smiley gave Sasser feedback that she needed to
spend more time meeting with her customers in-person, listen
better to customers, and improve her understanding of
ABF's services to improve her sales. ( Id. at
2012, Sasser attended a four-day sales training at ABF's
corporate office in Arkansas. (Id at 10.) The
training did not cause her performance to improve; her
revenues and proposals were still below the company's
expectations. (Id at 10-11.) Damien Bates, then
director of Strategic Solutions, tracked sales opportunities
from all account managers. He observed Sasser's
performance and believed her results were unsatisfactory
because she did not make enough face-to-face customer sales
calls. (Id at 11-13.) He had monthly meetings with
Smiley and Ricke to discuss revenue figures. (Id at
12.) Sasser's poor performance and lack of sales
opportunities was often a topic of discussion at these
August 2012, Ricke and Smiley told Sasser that her
productivity needed significant improvement to justify her
continued employment. (Doc. Nos. 29 at 11; 25-1 at 70.) On
August 27, 2012, Smiley sent Sasser an email outlining the
ways in which her performance fell short of his expectations.
(Doc. No. 29 at 13.) Around this same time, Ricke and Smiley
also spoke with Griesse about terminating Sasser for poor job
performance. ( Id. at 13-14.) Griesse encouraged
them to give her additional time and to work with her to
improve her performance. (Id.)
August 29, 2012, Smiley and Ricke again met with Sasser to
discuss her performance issues and put her on a 60-day review
that required her to provide Smiley with a report every
afternoon explaining whether her sales calls were successful
and, if not, the reasons for the lack of success. (
Id. at 14.) ABF's managers continued to find
that Sasser's revenues and proposals were below
expectations throughout the fall of 2012 and discussed this
with her at several monthly meetings. (Id at 15-16.)
Sasser acknowledges that her supervisors were displeased with
her work, but she does not agree that her performance was
inadequate. (Doc. Nos. 29 at 9; 25-1 at 70-72.) Additionally,
she believes that ABF intentionally caused her to fail by
assigning her accounts that were inactive or did not belong
to her, which artificially lowered her sales figures. (Doc.
No. 29 at 15-16.)
December 2012, Smiley and Ricke again spoke with Griesse
about terminating Sasser's employment because of her poor
performance. (Id at 17.) Griesse again told them to
continue to work with her to improve her performance.
(Id.) Smiley and Ricke continued to be displeased
with Sasser's performance throughout the spring of 2013.
( Id. at 17-18.)
March 2013, Smiley and Ricke discussed terminating Sasser
with Russ Wynia, Regional Vice President of Sales, who agreed
that it was appropriate to terminate her employment.
(Id. at 19.) On March 26, 2013, Smiley sent an email
to Griesse, Ricke, and Wynia, seeking their approval to
terminate Sasser's employment. (Id.; Doc. No.
25-7 at 23 (email)). Wynia responded that day indicating his
agreement with the decision to terminate her. (Id.)
Griesse reviewed Sasser's monthly reports, spoke with
Ricke and Smiley about Sasser's ongoing job performance
issues and their perception that she was unwilling or unable
to improve her performance or meet job expectations, and then
agreed that her employment should be terminated. (Doc. No. 29
at 19.) Also on the same day, Griesse gave Smiley and Ricke
the authority to move forward with terminating Sasser, but
left the timing of the termination to their discretion.
(Id.) When the decision to terminate Sasser was made
on March 26, 2013, she had no physical or mental impairments
or limitations that impeded her ability to perform her job
duties, nor had she ever requested an accommodation of any
type. (Id. at 20-21.) Smiley and Ricke decided to
terminate Sasser's employment at her next monthly meeting
scheduled for April 16, 2013. (Id. at 20.)
March 27, 2013, Sasser was involved in a car accident.
(Id.) She missed work on March 28, 2013, but
returned to work on March 29, 2013 with no restrictions.
(Id. at 21.)
April 9, 2013, Sasser missed work again because of her
accident and called Tina Hufstetler at ABF's corporate
human resources office to request FMLA leave. (Id.
at 23.) Sasser had no conversations with Ricke between the
day of her accident and her phone call with Hufstetler on
April 9, 2013. (Id.) On April 10, 2013, Griesse
repeated to Smiley his approval for Sasser's termination.
(Id. at 22.) Smiley and Ricke decided to terminate
Sasser on April 16, 2013, as planned. (Id.) On
Friday, April 12, 2013, Sasser gave Hufstetler her
doctor's note indicating that she needed leave from April
15 to April 19, 2013. (Id. at 23.) On Monday, April
15, 2013, ABF approved Sasser's FMLA request.
(Id. at 24.)
April 16, 2013, unaware that Sasser was on FMLA, Smiley
traveled to Nashville to terminate Sasser's employment.
On April 17, 2013, Hufstetler emailed Ricke, Smiley, and
Wynia to inform them that Sasser was on FMLA leave from April
15, 2013 through May 20, 2013. (Id.) Griesse
instructed Ricke and Smiley to wait until Sasser returned
from leave to terminate her because terminating her while she
was on leave would also discontinue her short-term disability
benefits. (Id. at 25.) Ricke and Smiley reassigned
Sasser's accounts during her absence. (Id.)
8, 2013, while still on FMLA leave, Sasser submitted a
doctor's note to ABF and its third-party leave
administrator that she could work light duty from home up to
four hours per day until her FMLA leave ended on May 20,
2013. Her doctor did not know when she could return to full
duty. (Id.) Sasser planned to make sales calls from
home if her light duty was approved. (Id.) ABF
denied her request to work from home because it would not
allow her to fulfill what she admits were essential functions
of the position-making in-person sales visits and
participating in client entertainment events. (Id.
at 26.) In addition, because her accounts were already ...