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Underdog Trucking v. Cellco Partnership D/B/A Verizon

June 26, 2012

UNDERDOG TRUCKING, L.L.C., WIRELESS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CELLCO PARTNERSHIP D/B/A VERIZON DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Denise Cote, District Judge:

OPINION & ORDER

On January 20, 2012, defendant Cellco Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless ("Verizon") moved for summary judgment with respect to Underdog Trucking's ("Underdog") claims of breach of contract and race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are undisputed, unless otherwise noted. Underdog is engaged in the freight and shipping industry in Arizona. Reggie Anders ("Anders") and his wife, both of whom are African American, own Underdog. Verizon is a cellular telecommunications company.

In September 2006, Verizon began hiring Underdog to deliver telecommunications equipment from a Verizon distribution center in Tempe, Arizona to various cell tower sites throughout the Southwest. Initially, these jobs were performed on an "open account" basis and were not governed by a formal, written term sheet. From April 3, 2007, however, the shipments were governed by a document titled "General Services Agreement Between Verizon Services Corp. and Underdog Trucking LLC" (the "2007 Agreement" or the "Agreement"). The Agreement, the terms of which are discussed in greater detail below, was drafted and signed by Verizon Services Corp., which is a purchasing agent for various Verizon entities. The Agreement was for a term of one year, but contained an automatic renewal provision. It was renewed automatically on April 3, 2008, and April 3, 2009.*fn1

Soon after signing the Agreement with Underdog, Verizon "tapered off" its use of two other trucking companies that had previously provided similar services. In November 2007, however, Verizon began assigning jobs to BC Logistics ("BC"), a rival shipping company owned by Vicki Boisjolie. Unlike Underdog, which owned most of its own equipment, BC was primarily a forwarder, meaning it subcontracted the majority of its deliveries to other carriers. In November 2007, Verizon entered into a carriage agreement with BC similar to its Agreement with Underdog (the "BC Agreement"). By mid-2008, the trucking work for the Tempe distribution center was equally divided between Underdog and BC.

Underdog made deliveries for Verizon for nearly two years without incident. In mid-2008, however, Michael Carey, who managed the distribution center and Matthew Chappell, a Verizon employee who often prepared bills of lading for the shipments that Underdog carried, questioned the charges on several invoices. On September 2, 2008, Carey sent an e-mail to Underdog inquiring about certain of these charges. Shortly thereafter, Carey was replaced by Oscar Aponte, who paid these invoices after some initial inquiries.

In late 2008, Joe Cassidy, a Verizon employee who was responsible for invoice processing, received two invoices (the "November/December invoices") from Underdog that he described as "the most expensive freight bill that [he had] seen in that role." The invoices struck Cassidy as excessive for the work performed, so he sent them to Oscar Aponte, the manager of the facility, for review. Aponte showed the invoices to Matthew Chappell, who prepared the bills of lading for shipments carried by Underdog. Both Aponte and Chappell agreed with Cassidy that the bills appeared excessive.

Aponte shared the December invoices with his manager, Marcus Stevenson. Stevenson agreed that the charges seemed high and directed Aponte to begin soliciting bids for all future trucking jobs. But because Verizon had no specific basis for refusing payment of the November/December invoices, Aponte paid them on January 7, 2009.

In early 2009, Verizon opened three jobs to bidding by Underdog and BC. In each case, BC's bid was significantly lower than Underdog's. On February 19, 2009, for example, Underdog bid $8,114.40 to transport 39 skids from the Tempe distribution center to Las Vegas. BC's bid for the same work was $1,890.*fn2

Unsurprisingly, BC was awarded each of the three jobs.

Through the spring of 2009, Verizon occasionally used Underdog for delivery jobs that needed to be done on a rush basis and thus could not be bid out. The other work went to BC.

In May 2009, when Verizon questioned a bill for one of the few jobs that Underdog performed for the company in 2009, Anders brought a copy of the April 2007 Agreement to a meeting with Aponte. Anders says that when he showed Aponte the trucking rates that were specified in the Agreement, the latter replied, "I don't care about your contract, token nigger." Aponte denies making the remark or ever using the word "nigger."

The relationship between Underdog and Verizon continued to sour and, by late-May 2009, Anders was no longer responding to bid requests by Verizon. Soon thereafter Underdog filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ...


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