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Sprinkles v. WSG Manufacturing LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 31, 2017




         Plaintiff, Rodney F. Sprinkles, is a former employee of Defendants, WSG Manufacturing, LLC and Weaver Popcorn Company, Inc. (collectively “WSG”).[1] He alleges his termination was the product of disability discrimination (Count I) and retaliation (Count II), in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., as amended by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”). He further alleges his termination was in violation of Indiana public policy (Count III). WSG now moves for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, WSG's motion is GRANTED.

         I. Material Facts

         A. WSG Manufacturing, LLC and Weaver Popcorn Company, Inc. and Rodney Sprinkle's Employment

         WSG manufactures and packages “Ready to Eat” popcorn products at its facility in Whitestown, Indiana. (Filing No. 28-1, Deposition of Rodney Sprinkles (“Plaintiff Dep.”) at 4-5). On April 14, 2014, WSG hired Plaintiff as a Team Leader. (Id. at 4). In June 2014, WSG promoted Plaintiff to Production Manager, and he became responsible for all aspects of WSG production, supervising the entire production staff of about 50 employees at the facility. (Id. at 4-5).

         B. Plaintiff's Injury

         On the morning of August 21, 2014, Plaintiff sustained a concussion when he fell in the WSG facility. (Id. at 33). That evening Plaintiff was examined at Indiana University Health Tipton Hospital where CT scans of his head and cervical spine revealed no abnormalities. (Id. at 37-38). On Plaintiff's behalf, WSG reported the accident to its worker's compensation third party administrator and arranged for him to be seen by an approved physician through St. Vincent on August 25, 2014. (Id. at 14, 39, 45, 87).

         Plaintiff asserts that immediately after the injury, he slept for fourteen (14) hours per day and suffered from headaches, panic attacks, memory loss, and trouble controlling his temper. (Id. at 77). Plaintiff continues to experience cognitive impairments due to post-concussion disorder, and takes medication (Paxil) for anxiety and panic attacks. (Id. at 8; Filing No. 30-28, Declaration of Rodney F. Sprinkles (“Plaintiff Decl.”) ¶ 4). Strenuous physical and mental activities exacerbate his condition. (Plaintiff Decl. ¶ 6).

         Plaintiff was off work from August 22 until September 2, 2014, following the accident and then off and on for a few more days as he was evaluated by other providers who issued temporary restrictions. (Plaintiff Dep. at 45, 49-51). On September 12, 2014, Plaintiff's medical record indicates a diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome. (Filing No. 30-8, Medical Record at 6). From mid-September until mid-December of 2014, Plaintiff was released to return to work full-time, without any restrictions. (Plaintiff Dep. at 52-53).

         On December 4, 2014, Plaintiff sent an email entitled “Concussion symptoms” to Will Weaver, Weaver Popcorn Chief Operating Officer; Tom Mathews, Senior Leader; Alvin Corbett, WSG Director of Operations; and Kellie Fisher, WSG's safety representative, which stated:

The doctor said I should see a neurologist and get my symptoms under control before returning to work.
In the last 2 weeks my headaches have gotten worse. It's a constant moderate headache and gets much worse as the day goes on, [sic] by the time I get home I have to lay down in a dark quite [sic] room. My wife and family have said I've not been myself the last month, my demeanor has changed.
I really want to be a part of WSG going forward, . . . [b]ut at this time; [sic] I have to get myself healthy for my family and myself.

         (Filing No. 30-12, 12/4/2014 Email from Plaintiff). Fisher set-up an appointment for him with Dr. Theodore A. Nukes of Heartland Neurology. (Plaintiff Dep. at 53-54, 101). On December 15, 2014, Dr. Nukes saw Plaintiff for post-concussion syndrome and placed him off work pending further evaluation. (Id. at 54-55; Filing No. 30-8, 12/17/14 Letter). Plaintiff remained off work through December 29, 2014. (Plaintiff Dep. at 55).

         On December 29, 2014, Dr. Nukes released Plaintiff to return to work with the restriction that he work no more than four hours per day until January 12, 2015, at which time Plaintiff could return to full duty with no restrictions. (Id.). Pursuant to Dr. Nukes' orders, Plaintiff began working four-hour days. (Id.).

         C. WSG Fails an AIB Quality Audit and Fires Its Quality Manager

         WSG's Quality Department is tasked with maintaining and overseeing the quality of its Ready to Eat popcorn products. (Corbett Aff. ¶ 4). The American Institute of Baking International (“AIB”) conducts audit inspections of the facility. (Id.). Failed AIB audits can lead to loss of certification and potential closure of the entire facility. (Id.).

         On November 5 and 6, 2014, AIB conducted an audit of WSG. (Id. ¶ 5). Several deficiencies were noted by AIB, resulting in an “unsatisfactory” rating. (Id.). As a result of the failed AIB audit, WSG terminated the employment of its Quality Manager, James LeFort, and concentrated on improving the process for the quality production of products. (Id.; Plaintiff Dep. at 63). WSG knew that AIB would return in January 2015 for a re-audit, but did not know the specific date. (Corbett Aff. ¶ 5; Plaintiff Dep. at 64).

         In preparation for AIB's return visit, WSG conducted its own mock audits. (Corbett Aff. ¶ 6; Plaintiff Dep. at 64). After the first day of the mock audit, January 6, 2015, Corbett sent an urgent e-mail message at 6:17 p.m. to several supervisory employees, including Plaintiff, stating in part:

Gentlemen, our AIB audit is imminent! It could take place beginning tomorrow, it will take place this month and we must pass. I understand we have had some serious items identified during the first day of our mock audit . . . These behaviors will cause us to fail which will ultimately shut this operation down with the loss of all jobs associated with WSG. We do not have the luxury of time following our mock audit to address failures like we did in November. Each shift will be covering GMP related items during your pre-shift meetings and I expect all of us to immediately address behaviors and conditions on the floor.

         (Plaintiff Dep. at 64-65; Plaintiff Dep. Ex. 19 at 19; Corbett Aff. ¶ 6).

         D. WSG's Daily Sanitation Inspections, Emails Regarding the Same, and Plaintiff's Termination

         WSG conducts daily sanitation inspections at the beginning of each shift and requests that a worksheet documenting the inspections be completed daily and submitted to the Quality Department. (Plaintiff Dep. at 101-02; Corbett Aff. ¶ 7). On January 6, 2015, Angelina Boampong, a member of the Quality Department, sent an email to various managers, including Plaintiff, regarding the absence of completed sanitation checklists. (Plaintiff Dep. Ex. 20 at 20; Corbett Aff. at 3). Boampong's email, sent at 5:47 p.m., approximately 30 minutes prior to Corbett's email, above, stated:

We need to be filling out daily/weekly sanitation check lists!!! Why are we missing days, [sic] weeks, and months of documentation??? This is really sad that at this point we can't complete such a simple task. If the AIB auditor was here today we would have completely failed with our pathetic documentation skills. This is unacceptable guys!!!
Daily sanitation inspection must be completed daily! op/pre op must be ...

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