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Castetter v. Dolgencorp, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

April 29, 2019

CARL CASTETTER, Plaintiff,
v.
DOLGENCORP, LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Dolgencorp, LLC's (more commonly known as “Dollar General”) Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 31]. The Plaintiff, Carl Castetter, filed a response [ECF No. 38] on October 26, 2018. On November 14, 2018, the Defendant filed a reply [ECF No. 42] in further support of its Motion for Summary Judgment.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         The parties' dispute centers on whether Dollar General violated the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., when it terminated Castetter from its employ on May 2016.

         A. Start of Castetter's Employment with Dollar General and Cancer Diagnosis

         Castetter began working for Dollar General in September 2013 as a district manager in the Detroit, Michigan area, where he oversaw the operations of sixteen stores. As district manager, Castetter's job responsibilities principally involved managing the stores and store managers located in his district. This included recruiting, training, and onboarding store managers in his district. Importantly, Dollar General tasks district managers with ensuring that employees within their district properly complete all employment paperwork and background checks before starting their employment. This responsibility is a critical one for district managers, especially in situations where an employee is to be assigned to a store that does not have a store manager-a common situation due to high turnover.

         On January 30, 2014, four months after starting with Dollar General, Castetter was diagnosed with colon cancer. Shortly thereafter, Michael Turner, the regional manager overseeing Castetter's district, placed Castetter on medical leave. Castetter underwent treatment throughout 2014, including chemotherapy and surgery. He notified Dollar General that he would be ready to report back to work in early August 2014.

         Dollar General informed Castetter that Mark Hubbs, the Regional Manager covering Northern Indiana, had a District Manager position available in Gary, Indiana. Subsequently, two months after undergoing surgery for colon cancer, Castetter interviewed with Hubbs for the position. Castetter testified during his deposition that Hubbs said to him that he was “surprised” that Castetter was even at the interview because he knew three people “who had what [Castetter] had and they are all dead.” (Castetter Dep. 155-56, ECF No. 39-1.) Moreover, Castetter testified that Hubbs asked him why he would go to a “tough market” like Gary right after his surgery. (Id. at 156.). Castetter did not hear back from Hubbs about the Gary position, and instead resumed working for Turner in Michigan.

         B. Castetter Becomes District Manager in Fort Wayne

         In November 2014, Castetter filled a vacant position for District Manager in the Fort Wayne area. When he initially arrived in Fort Wayne, Castetter reported to Regional Manager Mark Hubbs. In March 2015, Hubbs was temporarily reassigned to Louisville, Kentucky. During Hubbs' temporary reassignment, one of the other district managers reporting to Hubbs in Northern Indiana, Jerry Chupp, became Temporary Regional Director of Northern Indiana.

         Soon after Castetter began reporting to Chupp, he started to undergo treatment for liver cancer, which was discovered in January 2015. According to Castetter, Chupp knew of his condition and expressed annoyance when Castetter suggested hiring additional employees to service the Fort Wayne stores. Castetter also described a situation in July 2015, where Chupp instructed Castetter to find a missing GPS device that had been misplaced at one of Castetter's stores. When an employee notified Chupp that the GPS device had been located, Chupp asked her not to tell Castetter. Finally, Castetter also testified that Chupp would attempt to surveil Castetter without his knowledge and visit stores in Castetter's district without advance notice, which according to Castetter, deviates from common “business courtesy.” (Castetter Dep. at 179.)

         In August 2015, Dollar General placed Castetter on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”). Dollar General justified placing Castetter on PIP based on his overall management of his district as well as his hostile communication style with his staff. In turn, Castetter wrote a six-page letter to Hubbs lodging various complaints against Chupp.[1] In general terms, Castetter's letter included concerns with Chupp's management style, the GPS incident, and the lack of justification for placing him on PIP. Castetter did not reference his cancer diagnosis or any allegation of discrimination in the letter.

         C. Hubbs' Return to the Northern Indiana Region

         Hubbs returned to the regional manager position in Northern Indiana in December 2015, at which time Castetter was undergoing regular treatment for liver cancer. Castetter testified about a situation shortly after Hubbs' return where Hubbs mocked and demeaned him. In one instance, Hubbs made Castetter get on his hands and knees to straighten cans that were a quarter of an inch from the edge of the shelf at a particular store in his district. During his deposition, Castetter recounted Hubbs saying: “I am going to sit here in a lounge chair and watch you work until you will drop.” (Castetter Dep. at 282.)

         In early 2016, Hubbs conducted a meeting with store managers who reported to Castetter. According to Castetter, Hubbs chose to conduct the meeting when he did because he knew Castetter would be unable to attend as he would be undergoing a microwave ablation procedure during that time. On January 7, 2016, after the meeting, Hubbs issued a Final Written Counseling to Castetter. The Final Written Counseling was based on employee feedback as a part of a 360-degree review of Castetter. The review uncovered reports of an unprofessional discussion Castetter had with a store manager about the preparation of inventory. According to Castetter, he disputed raising his voice to any store manager, and Hubbs accepted Castetter's explanation. At that point, Castetter asked Hubbs whether he was looking for a reason to fire him-a question to which Hubbs did not respond.

         Hubbs' criticism of Castetter continued to intensify. For example, after Castetter informed Hubbs that he found stores he visited outside of Fort Wayne but within Hubbs' region to be inferior to stores within his district, Hubbs told Castetter to stop visiting stores outside his district. Hubbs had previously told Castetter to write a list of the “seven rules of the sky shelves.” (Castetter Dep. at 282.) When Castetter handed the list to Hubbs at Hubbs' request, “[Hubbs] snatched it out of [Castetter's] hand crumpled it up and threw it on the floor and walked away and came back and got in [Castetter's] face.” (Id.) Later, in March 2016, Hubbs asked Castetter about the progress of his cancer treatment. Castetter responded that doctors could no longer detect cancer in his body. Hubbs responded ...


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