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Media Alerts - Arthur v. Pet Dairy, et al. -- Fourth Circuit
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April 30, 2015
  Arthur v. Pet Dairy, et al. -- Fourth Circuit
Headline: Fourth Circuit Spoils Milkman's Age Discrimination Suit

Area of Law: Employment Discrimination

Issue Presented: Whether the district court erred by granting summary judgment to an employer in an employee's suit over improper termination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA").

Brief Summary: Appellant Arthur was formerly employed as a milkman for defendant Pet Dairy. From 2003 to 2009, Arthur was responsible for Pet Dairy's most lucrative delivery route, which included the local Lynchburg School Division ("School Division") and Barnes & Noble. During his employment with Pet Dairy, Arthur received several disparaging comments about his age. For example, in 2005, Reynolds was assigned to supervise Arthur. Reynolds immediately suggested that Arthur quit due to his old age.

Reynolds also warned Arthur repeatedly about his unsatisfactory work performance. Shortly after being hired, Arthur crashed a company SUV with such force that it rolled three times. Arthur also regularly failed to supply customers with adequate supplies of milk and failed to keep a proper inventory of his deliveries. All parties agree that Reynolds threatened to fire Arthur roughly once every two weeks. Indeed, Reynolds left Mr. Arthur at least 17 sticky notes threatening termination. Arthur conceded that all of these notes concerned his work performance.
Arthur's poor work was also reflected in myriad customer complaints. Barnes & Noble demanded that Pet Dairy assign another deliveryman to supply its milk. Arthur once spilled a gallon of milk on the floor of the bookstore. The School Division was not satisfied either. Not only did Arthur fail to supply the School Division with enough milk, he also would leave milk outside on the loading docks to spoil, deliver milk in jugs covered with rust, verbally assault School Division staff, speed through the school parking lot, and behave rudely. Arthur's conduct was so poor that the School Division held an in-service staff training day solely to decide what to do about him. Reynolds attended this event and heard the complaints firsthand. The School Division later sent Reynolds a written memo stating that the School Division would not renew its contract with Pet Dairy unless Pet Dairy replaced Arthur. Furthermore, Pet Dairy's corporate headquarters told Reynolds he needed to increase deliveries per driver, something he could only accomplish by eliminating a driver and dividing the route among the remaining deliverymen. Arthur was terminated shortly thereafter. Arthur challenged his termination as a violation of the ADEA. The district court granted summary judgment for Pet Dairy, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

To prevail on an ADEA claim, the plaintiff must either 1) raise a presumption of discrimination or 2) offer direct or circumstantial evidence of the employer's discriminatory animus. The burden remains the same regardless of the method employed; the plaintiff must prove that age was the but-for cause of termination. To raise a presumption of discrimination the plaintiff must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the plaintiff was satisfactorily performing his duties at the time of termination. The district court held that Arthur failed to make this showing given the numerous complaints about his work. Arthur also could not establish that discriminatory animus was the but-for cause of his termination. The threat of losing its most lucrative customers and the order from headquarters to increase sales per driver provided independent legal bases to justify Arthur's termination.

To read the full opinion please click here.

Panel: Judges Wilkinson, Shedd, and Thacker

Argument Date: 12/09/2014

Date of Issued Opinion: 02/09/2015

Docket Number: No. 13-2530

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Roy Lyford-Pike, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: ARGUED: Terry Neill Grimes, TERRY N. GRIMES, ESQ., P.C., Roanoke, Virginia, for Appellant. Victor O'Neil Cardwell, WOODS ROGERS PLC, Roanoke, Virginia, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Frank K. Friedman, J. Benjamin Rottenborn, WOODS ROGERS PLC, Roanoke, Virginia, for Appellees.

Author: Per curiam

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée M. Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 04/30/2015 10:34 AM     4th Circuit  

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