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Somerset v. Spartannash Associates, LLC

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

April 17, 2018

RODERICK SOMERSET, Plaintiff,
v.
SPARTANNASH ASSOCIATES, LLC, Defendant.

          Dirk McClanahan and Zach Miller, McClanahan Powers, PLLC, Vienna, Virginia, for Plaintiff

          Kevin L. Newsome and Rachael L. Loughlin, O'Hagan Meyer, PLLC, Richmond, Virginia, for Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          James P. Jones United States District Judge

         In this Title VII employment discrimination case, the plaintiff, a truck driver, claims that his former employer fired him because of his race and in retaliation for complaining about job discrimination. Following discovery, the employer has moved for summary judgment in its favor, and for the reasons set forth in this opinion, the motion will be granted.

         I.

         The following facts are taken from the summary judgment record.

         Roderick Somerset, an African American, worked as a truck driver for the defendant, SpartanNash Associates, LLC (“SpartanNash”), beginning in April 2012. His employment was terminated in October 2015.

         Somerset worked out of SpartanNash's Bluefield, Virginia, Distribution Center (“SpartanNash Bluefield”) and reported to Angela Bevins. Both Bevins and Operations Manager Brandon Hoops, investigated and addressed any customer complaints, coached employees on unsatisfactory work performance, and issued disciplinary sanctions.

         Dollar General, the operator of numerous retail stores, was a significant customer of SpartanNash and the only customer served out of SpartanNash Bluefield during Somerset's employment.

         SpartanNash asserts that it is a customer-driven company. Its commitment to and emphasis on customer satisfaction and service is detailed in its Associate Handbook and Code of Business Conduct. One of the company's core values is “Customer Focus.” Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. E, Schwartz Decl. Ex. 1 at 5, ECF No. 19-5. The Associate Handbook provides that “SpartanNash is committed to differentiating ourselves from our competitors through focus on the customer. . . . At SpartanNash, it's about providing customer service a notch above the rest. How we treat our customers (both internal and external) is how we set ourselves apart as a great company to work for and do business with.” Id. at 11. A “[v]iolation of any provision of the SpartanNash Code of Conduct” could result in discipline, including termination of employment. Id. at 48. Somerset acknowledged receipt of the Associate Handbook and Code of Business Conduct at the beginning of his employment.

         Somerset was aware of the significance placed on customer service and SpartanNash's policies as they applied to Dollar General and all customers, as follows:

Q: Mr. Somerset, would you agree that it's against SpartanNash policy to repeatedly speak to a Dollar General associate in an unprofessional and aggressive tone?
A: Yeah.
Q: Would you agree it's against SpartanNash policy to fail to treat a customer with respect?
A: Yes.

Id. at Ex. B, Somerset Dep. 67-68, ECF No. 19-2.

         Somerset also was aware that as a driver, he had an obligation to behave professionally according to company policy, and that ...


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