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Taylor v. Amcor Flexibles Inc.

November 4, 2009


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


This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Counts I and II of his Complaint and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons expressed below, Plaintiff's Motion will be denied, while Defendant's Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiff, Alonzo Taylor, an African American male, was hired by Defendant, Amcor Flexibles, Inc. ("Amcor"), on January 18, 2005 as a Regional Sales Representative. Amcor's Director of Regional Sales, Christopher Heezen, was Plaintiff's immediate supervisor and made the ultimate decision to hire him. At the time he was hired, Plaintiff received a $15,000 signing bonus, which was the highest of any Regional Sales Representative, as well as an annual base salary of $90,000, which was the second highest of any Regional Sales Representative. Heezen's compensation was based in part on the performance of the sales representatives who reported to him.

Plaintiff's employment commenced on February 14, 2005. At that time, he was assigned the Mid-Atlantic Territory, which was assessed by Amcor to have the highest growth potential of any sales territory. All of Amcor's sales territories have unique features, including size, location, clients located within, and industries in the territory. Accordingly, in order to evaluate the performance of an individual territory, its numbers are compared with the sales goals for that territory, and not with the sales numbers for other territories.

Plaintiff's duties as a Regional Sales Representative included growing sales by closing new business deals, managing and maintaining customer relationships, budgeting future sales, and meeting sales commitments. Further, Heezan set certain sales goals for Plaintiff, which were communicated to him. Specifically, Plaintiff had the third lowest sales quota of the seven Regional Sales Representatives. Plaintiff was to grow his territory by building upon certain large institutional clients, including Terumo Medical, Nice Pak, and Dade Diagnostics. Plaintiff was also to target prospective clients with significant growth potential, including Convatec, Corning, Con Med, Bard Canada, and Nalge Nunc.

In November 2005, Heezen reviewed Plaintiff's sales figures in order to evaluate his performance. The sales figures revealed that Plaintiff had failed to make any sales to Convatec, was more than 40% below budget in sales to Nalge Nunc, almost 20% below budget in sales to Con Med, and almost 40% below budget in sales to Bard Canada. Beyond Plaintiff's sales figures, Heezen was also concerned with Plaintiff's communication skills and general competency. Plaintiff allegedly failed to respond to Heezen's requests for information on a number of occasions, and ignored Heezen's directive that he travel to Wisconsin to learn about a client's operations there. Also, Plaintiff's reports were allegedly incomplete or incorrect on a number of occasions. Further, Plaintiff allegedly failed to return calls from clients on a number of occasions, leading the clients to seek assistance from other Amcor employees and in one instance complain directly to the President of Amcor about the service they received.

On November 16, 2005, Heezen sent Plaintiff an email outlining four general areas in which Plaintiff needed to improve his performance. They were: (1) taking better control of his accounts; (2) being more proactive in communicating with clients; (3) taking a leadership role with his clients and visiting Nice Pak's facility in Wisconsin; and (4) improving his reporting. In response to this email, Plaintiff acknowledged having delayed his visit to Wisconsin, and that some of his reports had been late and inaccurate.

Thereafter, on December 5, 2005, after consulting with a member of Amcor's Human Resources Department, Elissa Reiner, Heezan placed Plaintiff in a sixty-day Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP"). This PIP was intended to advise Plaintiff of specific problems with his performance and provide him with a concrete action plan for improvement. The PIP identified seven different areas that Plaintiff was to improve, including the accuracy of his reports and increasing his sales numbers.

After having been given his PIP, Plaintiff continued to have problems with his performance. His reports continued to be inaccurate in a number of ways. Plaintiff also submitted a client presentation that contained inaccurate information. Further, Plaintiff continued to miss deadlines for the submission of certain reports. Finally, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff's sales figures continued to be below budget for certain key clients. Specifically, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff was 100% below budget for Convatec, more than 50% below budget for Nalge Nunc, more than 30% below budget for ConMed, and 29% below budget to Bard Canada through February 2006. Plaintiff allegedly failed to close any substantial new business during his time at Amcor. Having determined that Plaintiff failed to improve his performance during his sixty-day PIP period, after consulting with Reiner and others, Heezen decided to terminate Plaintiff's employment. Plaintiff was thereafter terminated on February 16, 2006.

On May 5, 2006, Plaintiff filed a charge of racial discrimination against Defendant with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. One month later, on June 5, 2006 at 5:13 a.m., Plaintiff alleges that a person called his home and screamed the words, "nigger, you filed a complaint against us," when his wife answered the phone. The Caller ID function on Plaintiff's telephone indicated that the call was made from a phone assigned to Rexam Healthcare, and organization owned by Defendant. The telephone service provider for the facility from which the call was allegedly made has certified that no call was made by the phone number at issue to Plaintiff's home between June 1, 2006 and June 8, 2006.

At some point following his termination, Amcor responded to a request for information from a potential employer of Plaintiff. Pursuant to an authorization signed by Plaintiff, Amcor released information verifying that Plaintiff had been employed by the company, but was ineligible for rehire because he was "released for performance."

On July 27, 2007, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this case, alleging counts for discrimination, retaliation, and defamation. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff also moves for summary judgment on Counts I and II of his Complaint.


A. Jurisdiction

Plaintiff brought his claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, as well as pursuant to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(a), and New Jersey common law. The Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).*fn1

B. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.

An issue is "genuine" if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence "is to be believed and all justifiable ...

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