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Hawkins v. Wegmans Food Markets

November 28, 2006

CHRISTOPHER R. HAWKINS, PLAINTIFF
v.
WEGMANS FOOD MARKETS, INC., DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles J. Siragusa United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

This is an action in which the plaintiff Christopher Hawkins ("plaintiff"), proceeding pro se, alleges that his former employer, defendant Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. ("defendant") discriminated against him, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., by terminating his employment. Now before the Court is defendant's motion [#26] for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the application is granted and this action is dismissed.

BACKGROUND

Unless otherwise noted, the following are the facts of this case, viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Defendant owns and operates a chain of supermarkets. Plaintiff is a Caucasian male with an unspecified learning disability. Defendant employed plaintiff for slightly more than two years, from July 2002 until September 26, 2004, during which time plaintiff worked part-time in a customer-service position in the "Helping Hands" department, "assisting customers with their groceries and other packages in the parking lot." (Caterino Aff. ¶ 3).

Plaintiff was advised of defendant's various employment rules and policies when he was hired. In that regard, defendant indicates that "customer service is the top priority" for employees. (Caterino Aff. par 5). Defendant states that,

[a]ny employee who does not service Wegmans' customers in a prompt, courteous and respectful manner is subject to immediate disciplinary measures. This policy is taken very seriously by Wegmans. . . . Non-compliance by any employee with the Customer Service Policy or other work rules is typically handled with progressive discipline, depending upon the seriousness of the infraction. (Id. at ¶ ¶ 5-6). During the term of his employment with defendant, plaintiff was assisted by a Job Coach from the Rochester Rehabilitation Center, Inc.. Defendant cooperated with plaintiff's Job Coach, "and whenever possible arranged to have the Job Coach present with plaintiff during counseling sessions and when discipline was administered." (Caterino Aff. ¶ 4).

Defendant terminated plaintiff's employment on September 26, 2004, at which time plaintiff was 45 years of age. Defendant states that plaintiff's employment was terminated because he had received "repeated counselings, warnings, and a suspension with respect to his workplace conduct towards both co-workers and customers." (Caterino Aff. ¶ 3). For example, on September 5, 2003, defendant issued plaintiff a written warning after he was involved in confrontations with three different customers. In one of the incidents, plaintiff was accused of directing profanity toward the customer, though plaintiff denied doing so. In another incident, plaintiff confronted a customer regarding the status of his or her vehicle's registration. On October 8, 2003, defendant issued plaintiff a written warning after he allegedly "expressed frustration inappropriately" toward a customer and a co-worker. On October 9, 2003, defendant issued plaintiff a written statement concerning problems that he was having with a co-worker, who had complained about plaintiff expressing his frustration inappropriately and in an improper tone of voice. Plaintiff apparently admitted that his tone of voice reflected the fact that he was frustrated with certain aspects of his job. On December 12, 2003, defendant issued plaintiff a warning, after a customer complained that plaintiff had picked up her child in order to move the child out of his way. Plaintiff contends that he moved the child, who was standing near the store's doors, because he was concerned that she would run out into the parking lot and be injured. (Pl. Dep. 52). Defendant issued plaintiff another warning on January 21, 2004, after plaintiff allegedly made inappropriate comments in front of several elderly customers. Plaintiff replied that he had merely been joking, and that he believed his supervisor had overreacted.

Then on January 30, 2004, defendant issued plaintiff a reprimand, accusing him of taking "foot warmers" from the store for his personal use, and leaving a note asking that the items be charged to the store. Plaintiff contends, however, that he paid for the items. Defendant issued plaintiff a written reprimand on February 6, 2004, after he confronted a customer for allegedly parking in a sloppy manner. As to this incident, plaintiff's supervisor stated that plaintiff improperly "took it upon himself to push an issue that should have been dealt with by management." Plaintiff admits that he confronted the customer, but maintains that he was correct in doing so because the customer was at fault. The written reprimand placed plaintiff on a one-week suspension from work, and further noted that plaintiff had received "several customer complaints in the past few months," and that "any further complaints w[ould] result in termination."

Subsequently, on May 24, 2004, defendant issued plaintiff another written warning after a female co-worker complained that she felt uncomfortable because plaintiff had left her a note with his telephone number, asking her to call him. Plaintiff contends, though, that his note was not "sexual harassment,"and that his actions were not inappropriate. (Pl. Dep. 74). On June 24, 2004, defendant issued plaintiff yet another written warning, after he allegedly failed to comply with defendant's "100% proofing policy," pursuant to which any customer, no matter what age, must provide identification when purchasing tobacco or alcohol products. (Def. App. pp. 30-32). According to defendant, plaintiff acted disrespectfully toward a cashier and a manager after he was asked to show his identification because he was purchasing beer. Plaintiff, however, contends that defendant's policy in this regard is absurd and disrespectful, because he obviously appeared old enough to purchase alcohol. (Pl. Dep. pp. 44-46). The written notice to plaintiff concerning this incident concluded by stating: "Chris has had numerous conversation notes [written counseling memos], written warnings and a suspension for various issues. Chris needs to conform to our policies and procedures effectively immediate [sic]. Any further infractions will result in termination." (Def. Appx. p. 34).

The final incident which led to the termination of plaintiff's employment again involved defendant's 100% proofing policy. The incident occurred while plaintiff was purchasing cigarettes on September 26, 2004. At that time a young female cashier asked plaintiff to show identification, and plaintiff flipped open his wallet, showed her his driver's license, then flipped the wallet closed again. The cashier responded with words to the effect that she "needed to hold it" or "needed to see his thing," obviously referring to plaintiff's identification. On this point, it appears that the cashier was required to enter plaintiff's date of birth into the cash register as part of the sale of tobacco products. According to the cashier, in response to her comment that she needed to "see it" or "hold it," plaintiff joked, "Not while we are at work, anyplace else would be ok."*fn1 This remark by plaintiff upset her. Additionally, plaintiff kept flipping his wallet open and shut, without giving her the chance to view his driver's license.

Jeanine Powell, one of defendant's managers, spoke with plaintiff concerning the incident, and reported the following:

He had told me that when getting his license for proof of purchase of tobacco he was taking it in and out of his wallet without handing it to her to punch the date in the register. He said he was kidding with her. She then proceeded to tell [sic] she needed to hold it. He then agreed that he told her another place and time he would respond to that about holding it. She told him that ...


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