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Willoughby v. Pri-Pak

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

January 27, 2017

KATHLEEN WILLOUGHBY, Plaintiff,
v.
PRI-PAK, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE

         This cause is before the Court on Defendant Pri-Pak, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 25], filed on May 27, 2016. For the reasons detailed below, Defendant's motion is GRANTED.

         Background[1]

         Pri-Pak, Inc., is an Indiana corporation that provides beverage bottling, packaging, warehouse, and warehouse distribution services. Plaintiff Kathleen Willoughby began working for Pri-Pak in March 2001. At the commencement of her employment with Pri-Pak, Willoughby received, read, and signed an employee handbook containing company policies, with which she agreed to comply. The handbook delineates several “Specific Work Rules” which “are regarded as serious in nature and will normally result in immediate suspension pending discharge of employment.” Def.'s Ex. 2 at 20. The list of Specific Work Rules includes, inter alia, “Theft or dishonesty” and “Falsification of company records, including but not limited to, punch cards and time cards.” Id.

         Willoughby's employment with Pri-Pak apparently proceeded without incident or interruption until August 2, 2009, when Willoughby was involved in a non-work-related motorcycle accident resulting in the amputation of her left leg. Following the accident, Willoughby was unable to return to work for nearly two years, until July 4, 2011, at which time she assumed her duties and functions, which she was able to perform without limitation or required accommodation.

         Slightly more than a year after her return, on August 29, 2012, Willoughby was observed standing idly near the company's time clock for seventeen minutes before eventually “punching out.” In response to this incident, Willoughby received a training session regarding the company's time-card policies and was required to modify her “punch out” time to accurately reflect her completion of work time. She apparently did not dispute or challenge this sanction or the need for it.

         In July of the following year, Willoughby was transferred from the third shift to the second shift. After being moved to the earlier shift, Willoughby regularly arrived at work early, often reporting and clocking in more than ten minutes before her shift was scheduled to begin. On October 1, 2013, Willoughby received a verbal warning and a “write-up” for her practice of clocking in more than ten minutes prior to her shift beginning. Def.'s Ex. 10. In response to the discipline, Willoughby admitted that she had been clocking in early, but disputed the need for a “write-up” in addition to her verbal warning; however, she did not file any formal grievance with Pri-Pak to dispute these relatively minor disciplinary actions.

         On August 25, 2014, Willoughby was suspended by Pri-Pak pending a discharge determination. The Disciplinary Report provided as follows:

Description of the Incident:
Over the course of 5 scheduled work weeks, Kathy Willoughby was caught on camera stealing 6 hours and 5 minutes of company time. During this time, Kathy punched in at the employee time clock and proceeded to the break room prior to actually going to her work station as required or reporting to her supervisor for assignment. Per Handbook, under 7.3 Specific Work Rules, it was noted that theft will normally result in termination of employment. Kathy will receive a 5 day suspension pending the results of the investigation and possible subsequent termination.
Employee's Remarks:
I would like to keep my job and dock me the 6 hrs 5 min pay out of my check.

Def.'s Ex. 13 at 60. A meeting was scheduled for September 2, 2014, and on September 9, 2014, Pri-Pak terminated Willoughby, stating in the subsequent Disciplinary Report that:

[Willoughby] was made aware of the seriousness of the violation of specific work rules when she received and signed for her employee handbook on 06/27/2002. Under 7.3 Specific Work Rules, it was noted that, theft will normally result in termination of employment. Due to the ...

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