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Staples v. Pepsi-Cola General Bottlers

December 03, 2002


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 97 C 8771--Donald E. Walter, Judge.

Before Posner, Ripple and Kanne, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ripple, Circuit Judge


Alvin R. Staples brought this action against his former employer, Pepsi-Cola General Bottlers, Inc. ("Pepsi"), for discharging him on the basis of his race (African-American), in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 et seq., and in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. He also alleged that his discharge was based on his age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. A jury returned a verdict for Pepsi on Mr. Staples' age claim, but was unable to reach a verdict on the race claims. The district court then granted Pepsi's motion for judgment as a matter of law on the race claims. Mr. Staples appealed to this court. For the reasons set forth in the following opinion, we affirm the judgment of the district court.



A. Facts

Pepsi conducts its sales and distribution of soft drinks through two separate departments: the "bottle/can" department and the "on-premise" department. Tr. at 303. The on-premise department is responsible for the sale of beverages that are consumed on the premises of the account, either in the form of fountain beverages or of packaged beverages.

In 1984, Gordon Powell hired Mr. Staples as a route manager in Pepsi's bottle/can department. As a route manager, Mr. Staples was responsible for training and supervising sixteen people.

In 1986, Powell became director of Pepsi's on-premise department, a position he held until he retired in August 1997. In that position, Powell had two sales managers who reported directly to him; each sales manager, in turn, was responsible for several sales representatives. The sales representatives were responsible for securing new onpremise accounts, maintaining accounts, increasing the volume of Pepsi product sold in existing and new accounts, and meeting other sales goals set for the greater Chicago area.

According to Pepsi, Mr. Staples was not meeting the company's expectations in his route manager position. However, Powell believed Mr. Staples could perform well as a sales representative in the on-premise department. Consequently, in 1990, Powell secured a transfer for Mr. Staples to Pepsi's on-premise department as a sales representative.

Sometime in September 1995, Thomas Erath became Mr. Staples' sales manager. Erath served as Mr. Staples' supervisor only for a short period of time; however, prior to his departure, Erath completed one performance evaluation for Mr. Staples for the first nine months of the fiscal year. One component of that evaluation was Mr. Staples' achievement of individualized sales goals. Erath's evaluation of Mr. Staples' individualized performance was based upon Mr. Staples' self-reported sales information, including volume estimates; it was not based on actual sales of product or revenue received. Another component of the evaluation was group performance towards broader sales objectives; for this component, the combined effort of the sales representatives in the region was considered. Based on the information available to Erath at the time, Erath gave Mr. Staples a "commendable" rating. Tr. at 532.

In December 1995, the start of Pepsi's performance year, Beverly Long became one of Powell's two sales managers; Long is an African-American. At that time, Powell instructed both of his sales managers to review final sales numbers for their sales representatives. Long performed this comparison for each of the four sales repre sentatives that reported to her: Mr. Staples, Julia Calderon, Tom Maggio and John Dobbyn. Based on Long's comparison of Pepsi's actual sales numbers with the numbers reported by her sales representatives, Long concluded that Mr. Staples' performance was unacceptable. Specifically, although Mr. Staples had reported forty-two new accounts during 1995, only twenty-eight of those accounts actually had purchased any Pepsi product. *fn1

In addition to evaluating the actual sales numbers for her sales representatives, Long gave each sales representative his objectives for the upcoming fiscal year. These objectives were consistent among all of the representatives and included: 1) coding all accounts correctly by family, that is, pricing the account appropriately based on its volume of business; 2) securing fifteen new accounts with at least 1,000 gallons of volume per outlet ("vpo"); 3) securing twenty-five new accounts with at least 500 gallons of vpo; 4) increasing Citrus Hill and frozen carbonated beverage business as a group by 50%; and 5) ...

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