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Sasser v. ABF Freight System, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

November 8, 2016




         Cynthia 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.

         I. Undisputed Facts

         In 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.)

         In 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 9-10.)

         In May 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 meetings. (Id.)

         In 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.)

         On 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.)

         In 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.)

         In 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.)

         On 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.)

         On 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.)

         On 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.)

         On May 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 ...

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