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Simmons v. Saia Motor Freight Line LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

February 16, 2018


          AMENDED ORDER [1]

          The Honorable Alfred H. Bennett, United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant SAIA Motor Freight Line, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #16), Plaintiffs Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #17), and Defendant's Reply (Doc. #20). After reviewing counsels' arguments and the applicable legal authority, this Court grants Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff has voluntarily dismissed all claims except his Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") claim. Accordingly, the Court will not consider Plaintiffs other claims.

         Plaintiff was born in September of 1951, meaning he was sixty-one years old at the time of his termination. Plaintiff was first employed by SAIA as a dock worker on or about October 21, 1976. In approximately 1980, after obtaining his commercial driver's license ("CDL") he became a "city driver" for Defendant. Plaintiff remained a city driver until approximately 2009 when he was first assigned line haul routes. During his time as a city driver, Plaintiff was involved in three separate accidents on: January 19, 2006, March 28, 2006, and October 7, 2008. Sam Lynch, Regional Sales Manager for the Houston, Texas Regions, conducted the internal investigation on behalf of Defendant for each of these accidents and determined that each incident was "preventable."

         On or about October 24, 2008, after Plaintiffs third "preventable" accident, Plaintiff was issued a "Performance Improvement Plan" (PIP), which was signed by Dwayne Neff, Houston, Texas Terminal Manager. At that time, Plaintiff was advised that if further improvement in his driving was not shown, his employment could be terminated. Plaintiff testified that he never felt Neff discriminated against him.

         Shortly afterwards, on November 10, 2008, Plaintiff was issued another PIP for exceeding the speed limit in a construction zone. In 2009, after Plaintiff became a line haul driver, Plaintiff was again involved in another "preventable" accident on October 29, 2011.[2]While all of these accidents were preventable, none were considered as serious by the company.

         However, on November 1, 2012, Plaintiff was involved in his first serious accident. Plaintiff claimed that another vehicle ran in front of him on the highway and in the process of avoiding a collision, he was forced to pull to the right off of the road and onto the shoulder. He alleges that when he tried to come back on the road, his trailer flipped over and became disconnected from the lead tractor.

         Defendant conducted an independent investigation and reached a result that was at odds with Plaintiffs story. The accident investigation was done by Sherman McCabe, Regional Sales Manager for the Memphis, Tennessee Region. McCabe had never met or had any dealings with Plaintiff before this investigation. Plaintiff relayed his story about the accident to McCabe. Nevertheless, McCabe reached the conclusion that Plaintiff was not forced off the road, but rather, Plaintiff had fallen asleep at the wheel.

         The investigation report was then reviewed by Tom Lillywhite, Regional Human Resources Manager. Lillywhite was the HR management representative responsible for making the termination decision in November 2012. Lillywhite reviewed Plaintiffs handling of the situation, including whether the brakes had been properly applied during the accident.

         This accident, as opposed to Plaintiffs previous accident was considered a "major accident" by SAIA. Pursuant to SAIA policy, drivers involved in an accident classified as a "major accident" could be immediately terminated. At least 10 other drivers had also been terminated as a result of major accidents, including drivers under the age of 40.

         Further, at SAIA, any termination decision was ultimately made by a representative of Defendant's Human Resources Department. Based on the investigation of the accident, Lillywhite, the Regional Human Resources Manager, gave Plaintiff the choice of resigning or being fired. Plaintiff maintained he had done nothing wrong and was subsequently fired by Lillywhite.

         Approximately one week after Plaintiffs termination on November 28, 2012, Plaintiff completed an Appeal Review Committee Request Form. In the Form, Plaintiff alleged that "this accident should not have caused me to be terminated. These local supervisors Delbert Breyer and Sam Lynch hate me with a passion." Plaintiff did not raise any concern that his termination was based on his age.

         II. ...

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