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Holste v. SLB of Central Illinois

May 25, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY Chief U.S. District Judge


This case is before the court for ruling on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (#16) and Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendant's Reply (#21). Following this court's careful consideration of the arguments of the parties and the documents provided by the parties, Plaintiff's Motion to Strike (#21) is DENIED and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (#16) is GRANTED. Accordingly, the Motions in Limine (#26, #27) filed by the parties are MOOT.


Plaintiff, Melissa Ann Holste, was hired by the St. Louis Bread Company in January 1996. She was employed as a shift supervisor at the Panera Bread café on John Street in Champaign (Campus café). Defendant, SLB of Central Illinois, L.L.C., began operating the Campus café under a franchise agreement in July 1997. In January 1998, Richard Pope was promoted from assistant manager to general manager of the Campus café and Plaintiff was promoted to assistant manager. Pope testified that Plaintiff was a reliable and dependable employee in many ways but that her weakness was "[v]olatility."

Christopher Wolfe is majority owner of Defendant and has held various positions in the company from general manager to operating partner. After Defendant began operating the Campus café, Defendant subsequently opened several other Panera Bread cafés in central Illinois. Wolfe testified that he was focused on opening the new cafés and was at the Campus café infrequently during that time. Wolfe testified that, at the beginning of 2002, he turned his attention to the Campus café, and it is undisputed that his expectations for the Campus café went up at that time. Tracie Baker-Smith was Defendant's Regional Training Manager. Baker-Smith testified that she worked with all of Defendant's cafés and "was ensuring that operations were running smoothly." In the spring of 2002, Baker-Smith had increased conversations with Wolfe about the problems at the Campus café. In May 2002, Baker-Smith told Wolfe that she had doubts about Pope's ability to manage the Campus café. On July 2, 2002, the corporate office of St. Louis Bread performed an unscheduled audit on the Campus café which resulted in a 48% rating for the Campus café. The corporate audit confirmed what Baker-Smith was telling Wolfe and what he was observing. Wolfe decided to remove Pope as general manager.

Before informing Pope of his decision, Wolfe called Deb Reynolds, who was general manager of the Panera Bread café on Kirby Avenue in Champaign, and asked her if she would be interested in hiring Pope as an assistant manager. Reynolds agreed to hire Pope. Reynolds testified that she had previously worked with Pope and stated that she told Wolfe that Pope "and I worked well together and that I would like to have him over there." Wolfe met with Pope on July 9, 2002, and advised him that they needed to make a change. Wolfe testified that Pope was not "thrilled" but that the meeting was "cordial, professional, understanding." Wolfe stated that Pope "knew his shortcomings as a general manager" and the meeting "ended with a handshake." Pope agreed to take the assistant manager position and was given his same rate of pay as assistant manager.

Prior to his meeting with Pope, Wolfe called Plaintiff to see if she was interested in the general manager position. Wolfe testified that he felt he owed Plaintiff a chance and that he "didn't have many options at the time." Plaintiff was positive about the opportunity and believed she could make the needed changes at the Campus café. Wolfe testified that he met with Plaintiff and "outlined my expectations for the store." He testified that he reiterated what he had been telling Pope and Plaintiff over the last year and a half about what the café needed to work on which was "[e]mployee accountability, getting just the basics done," which, in his mind, was "just cleanliness, the day-to-day operations, and the management style of the café." Because the goal was to improve the operational level of the Campus café, Wolfe told Plaintiff that she did not need to worry about labor costs at the expense of operations. Wolfe testified that he told Plaintiff "it needs to happen right away." Wolfe testified that he told Plaintiff that he wanted to have the Campus café "running as smooth as the other five" by the time two new cafés were opened in November and December. Plaintiff testified that Wolfe told her what his expectations were regarding changes at the café and said that "around the first of the year, we would sit back down and look at where the store was at then." Plaintiff also testified that she recognized that the café was having problems before she became general manager and that Wolfe definitely wanted to see a turnaround.

At the end of August 2002, Stephen Sapp became the district manager over the Campus café. Shortly after he started, Sapp and Plaintiff completed a baseline calibration of the Campus café to see where the café was. A calibration is one of the tools used to evaluate a café and consisted of having a outside person audit various aspects of the café including paperwork, cleanliness and company specifications. This calibration, which was completed September 4, 2002, showed the Campus café at 48.92% and meant that the café was unsatisfactory in all areas. Sapp testified that he told Plaintiff that this calibration was not a reflection on her management, but of the previous management, and that it would serve as a starting point. Sapp told Plaintiff that another calibration would be done in November. Plaintiff understood that the September calibration would not be held against her. However, Wolfe testified that he was "furious" about this calibration because it showed that nothing had improved from July to September. Wolfe testified that he met with Plaintiff and told her that this was not acceptable. According to Plaintiff, Wolfe and Sapp told her they had confidence in her and that she was the person for the job. Wolfe testified that he told Sapp to "go in and get things done."

After that, Sapp was in the café once or twice a week and met with Plaintiff about what needed to be done. Sapp testified that Plaintiff was "very negative towards me." He testified that Plaintiff "was very, very close to the associates that worked there. More of a buddy than a boss. She didn't want anybody to get mad at her." Sapp stated that Plaintiff often got very defensive and took things personally. Baker-Smith testified that Sapp told her he was not getting cooperation from Plaintiff on accomplishing even simple tasks and sought extensive counsel from her on how to deal with Plaintiff's lack of cooperation.*fn2

At the time Plaintiff began as general manager, she only had one assistant manager, Jon Engelbreit, who was relatively new to the position. On July 22, 2002, Wolfe hired Michael Wax as assistant manager at the Campus café. Wax went through a training period and started working as assistant manager on September 9, 2002. Engelbreit left his position as assistant manager on October 6, 2002, so Plaintiff was again down to one assistant manager. Wolfe hired Trevor Planck as an assistant manager on September 30, 2002. Planck completed his training period and began working at the Campus store on November 4, 2002.

Baker-Smith testified that, after Wax began working at the Campus café, she observed Plaintiff being "very dismissive of him when he was trying to help her." Baker-Smith said that, on one occasion, Wax told Plaintiff that he had concerns about the salad bar area not being set up and utilized according to Defendant's specifications and Plaintiff "did not respond to him." Sapp also testified that Wax reported to him that things "weren't happening at the store the way that they were supposed to be happening." Sapp also stated that "when I would walk into the store, I could see that [Wax] was right."

Plaintiff testified that, on Planck's first day at the Campus café, he reported to her that the salad line was not set up to specifications or that her employees did not know their specifications and she took this "personally." Plaintiff testified that she "took that pretty personally because I really cared about what was going on in the store." Sapp testified that the next day, November 5, 2002, there was a "bread bash" scheduled at the Campus café. A bread bash is an employee meeting where new products are introduced. Sapp testified that he had given both Wax and Planck specific things he wanted them to talk about at the bread bash. Sapp testified that a typical bread bash lasts about an hour and a half and there is a script that you are supposed to go by or at least use as a guideline. Sapp testified that this was a very important bread bash because "[a]ll three new managers were there, it was a new management team, it was time to get everybody motivated and to say this is our team, this is what we're going to do." Sapp testified that he told Plaintiff how important the bread bash was and that she needed to introduce her management team to the employees and motivate them. Sapp testified that Planck reported to him that the bread bash was very short and that Plaintiff did not allow Planck to do his presentation because she told him he was "not going to do that because we're not going to do it that way." Plaintiff testified that she did not agree with Planck's report about the bread bash and that she did not agree that it only lasted 15 to 20 minutes.

Sapp testified that, after Planck's complaint, he and Wolfe decided that Plaintiff should be terminated as general manager of the Campus café. Wolfe testified that Sapp called him and told him that "nothing's happening, nothing's changing" and that he agreed that Plaintiff should be moved out of that role. Wolfe testified that Plaintiff's unsatisfactory performance was confirmed by customer satisfaction surveys which indicated that customer satisfaction had fallen from 62% to 23% during Plaintiff's tenure at the Campus café.

Before telling Plaintiff that she was going to be removed as general manager, Wolfe spoke to Reynolds to see if she would be willing to have Plaintiff work as assistant manager at the Kirby Avenue café. Reynolds said that she did not want to take Plaintiff as an assistant manager. Reynolds testified that she had previously supervised Plaintiff and that she and Plaintiff did not get along very well. Reynolds testified that Plaintiff was "emotional at times, and ...

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