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Buford v. Ammar's, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division

January 30, 2015

RONALD G. BUFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
AMMAR'S, INC., Defendant.

Terry N. Grimes and Brittany M. Haddox, Terry N. Grimes, Esq., P.C., Roanoke, Virginia, for Plaintiff.

Michael N. Petkovich and Meredith F. Bergeson, Jackson Lewis P.C., Reston, Virginia, for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES P. JONES, District Judge.

This action involves the plaintiff's claims of race discrimination against his employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq, and age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621, et seq. Discovery has been completed, and pending before the court is the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.[1]

Based on the record, I conclude that summary judgment for the defendant is proper. Drawing all inferences in the plaintiff's favor, the undisputed facts demonstrate that the plaintiff has failed to raise a genuine issue of fact regarding the defendant's proffered legitimate reasons for reducing the plaintiff from a full time employee to part time, with a resulting loss of benefits, namely, an economically-motivated reduction in force and the plaintiff's poor work performance. Because the plaintiff has not shown that his employer's reasons were a pretext for discrimination, the defendant is entitled to summary judgment.

I.

Following a timely charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and having received an issuance of the right to sue, the plaintiff timely filed suit in this court on March 10, 2014. Jurisdiction exists pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343.

The facts contained in the summary judgment record, and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, are as follows.

Ammar's is a family-owned company that operates 19 Magic Mart stores in southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, western Virginia, eastern Tennessee, and central North Carolina. In addition, Ammar's operates a warehouse in Tazewell County, Virginia. Ammar's employs over 800 people.

The plaintiff has worked for 24 years as a receiving clerk in Ammar's' warehouse. Of approximately 100 warehouse employees, the plaintiff is the oldest, and is one of three African-Americans. In February 2013, at age 68, the plaintiff's hours were reduced from 40 to 20 hours per week, and his benefits were eliminated.

The plaintiff's job duties as receiving clerk have remained substantially unchanged during his employment at Ammar's' warehouse, and include unloading trucks, counting and sorting merchandise to be distributed to individual stores, and processing invoices. For his work, the plaintiff received annual wage increases until 2008, but has not received a wage increase since. Despite being the most senior employee in his department, he currently earns the lowest annual salary due to his part-time status and lack of wage increases. Ammar's has a policy of issuing yearly wage increases to hourly employees for good performance, although the plaintiff claims that he was never informed of the reasons why he was not given a raise.

In April 2009, the plaintiff was given a written warning for unsatisfactory performance, on the basis that he had failed to improve his work pace and attendance despite cautions from the warehouse and personnel managers. The plaintiff received a second warning in August 2010 for failing to improve his pace and quantity of production.

Beginning in 2011, Ammar's fell on hard times. According to Ammar's' undisputed financial records, the business's net income dropped precipitously between fiscal years 2010 and 2011, and the business reported growing net losses between fiscal years 2012 and 2013. In response, Ammar's implemented a company-wide reduction in expenses, including a mandatory reduction in work force in early 2013. The records show that Ammar's' work force decreased from 759 full-time and 167 part-time employees in January 2012 to 525 full-time and 415 part-time employees in January 2014. In addition to the workforce reduction, Ammar's closed two of its 21 Magic Mart stores.

As a result of its financial difficulties, Ammar's' top official, K.A. Ammar, Jr., mandated a reduced cap on working hours for each Magic Mart store and the warehouse. The authority to decide which employees would be laid off or reduced to part-time status, however, was delegated to the managers at each location. The three warehouse managers selected the affected warehouse employees, and claim that they based their decisions primarily on performance. Based on the plaintiff's two prior written warnings, his failure to obtain merit-based wage increases since 2008, and their observations that plaintiff's work quality was the worst in the warehouse, the managers selected the plaintiff for hourly reduction. The managers claim, however, that out of deference to his seniority, they chose to reduce plaintiff's hours rather than ...


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