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Jefchak v. Schweppe & Sons

September 27, 2007

JAMES E. JEFCHAK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SCHWEPPE & SONS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Schweppe & Sons, Inc.'s ("Schweppe Inc.")'s motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Schweppe Inc.'s motion is granted in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

In assembling the recitation of material facts that follows, we have disregarded any alleged facts or purported denials that are unsupported by the record or do not comply with Local Rule 56.1. See Brasic v. Heinemann's Inc., 121 F.3d 281, 284 (7th Cir. 1997).

In 1968, Plaintiff James Jefchak ("Jefchak") began working in the warehouse of Schweppe Inc., a distributor of restaurant products and equipment. In 1974, Jefchak became a truck driver for Schweppe Inc. and joined the Teamsters Union. In August 2005, Jefchak approached Harold Herron, a salesperson for Schweppe Inc., to inquire about taking over Herron's route when Herron retired the following month. Prior to Herron's 26-year career as a salesperson, he, like Jefchak, had been a truck driver for the company, and Jefchak wanted to follow Herron's career path. In September 2005, Jefchak asked Jeff Schweppe ("Schweppe"), president of the company, if he could take over Herron's route. The parties dispute precisely what was said concerning Jefchak's abilities to handle the route. Jefchak told Schweppe that he would investigate whether or not he could retire, receive his pension from the union, and continue working for Schweppe Inc. as a salesperson.

In his complaint, Jefchak alleged that Schweppe "informed [him] that he would assume full responsibility for Herron's sales route." However, at his deposition, Jefchak admitted that this allegation was untrue, and testified that he was never told he would receive all of Herron's accounts. Further, Schweppe had never given a whole route to any new salesperson; instead, the salesperson began with some existing accounts and was expected to develop new business.

Sometime in September 2005, Schweppe told Jefchak he would be hired as a salesperson. Jefchak voluntarily retired from his position as a truck driver and from the union. He began receiving his pension benefits, which he still receives today.

After retiring, Jefchak learned he was to receive slightly more than half of the accounts on Herron's route - and accordingly, the opportunity to earn half of the salary in commissions that Herron had been receiving. When Herron's accounts were divided, Jefchak received 30 accounts, and the remainder were divided among Schweppe Inc.'s sales staff as follows: Kim Reed received 18 accounts, Mike Singleton received three accounts, and the remaining 16 accounts were transferred to customer service.

During Jefchak's tenure as a salesperson, Schweppe testified that he learned from his account manager, Kim Fedderson, that Jefchak was making more than the usual number of errors in entering customer orders, especially errors in pricing items, and that he was refusing training on the computer in order to reduce these errors. At Schweppe Inc., salespersons, with the exception of Jefchak, used computers to enter customer orders, obtain product and vendor information, view payment histories, and other functions. Schweppe testified that he personally told Jefchak on four occasions that he was required to use the computer and had to obtain training on the system. Further, he told Jefchak that training was available on Fridays in the customer service department. Fedderson testified that she told Schweppe that Jefchak had been committing mistakes regarding customer orders, especially in pricing items over list price or under cost. Notes made by Fedderson indicate that Jefchak was making errors similar to those of other salespeople when they first started working. Fedderson testified that she set up two appointments for Jefchak to receive training, both of which Jefchak missed. She also testified that she informed Schweppe of feedback from her department as well as her own personal experience with Jefchak's refusal to train. Jefchak's co-workers testified that they offered to help him with the computer and with pricing, but he refused. Schweppe also contends that customers complained about Jefchak, although there is no documentation of these complaints.

Jefchak denies all of Fedderson and Schweppe's assertions. He denies that he was told anything about problems with pricing and ordering, and denies that he received any verbal or written complaints from customers. Further, he claims that no one told him that training was mandatory and that no one ever offered him training. According to Jefchak, when Herron trained him, Herron explained that he had never used the computer; instead, the customer service department entered the orders.

Schweppe Inc. had maintained a four-person sales department for at least two years prior to July 2006. In July 2006, Schweppe testified that he determined that a four-person department was not necessary, and fired Jefchak, explaining that he was reorganizing the sales department. Schweppe did not tell Jefchak that his termination was related to performance issues. At the time Jefchak was fired, he was 53 years old. The majority of his sales accounts were assigned to Reed and Singleton.

Jefchak has identified Reed and Singleton as two employees whom he contends are similarly situated but had more favorable work conditions: Singleton was 45 years old and had been working as a Schweppe Inc. salesperson since 2001, and Reed was 44 and had been working at Schweppe, Inc. as a salesperson since 2004. Jefchak contends that Reed and Singleton received more training, receive a guaranteed salary, and had lower performance expectations.

With respect to training, Singleton, who was new to Schweppe Inc., received six months of training while Jefchak received two weeks of training by his predecessor, Herron. The record does not indicate the type of training Reed received.

With respect to salaries, unlike Jefchak, both Reed and Singleton were provided with a guaranteed salary in addition to commission during their first year, a salary which was based upon their financial need at the time. Jefchak contends Schweppe promised him to pay him a first month's salary, until his pension checks were issued, but then reneged on this promise and transformed the amount into a loan . Finally, with respect to performance, Jefchak argues that he was performing at least as well as his colleagues. He points to sales goals, which he says the company set, although Schweppe and its salespeople testified that sales goals were set by the employees themselves. Reed and Singleton fell short of their sales goals, although they did increase their sales every year that they worked at Schweppe Inc. Jefchak met his sales goals in 2005 and had achieved half of the $500,000 sales goal set in 2006 when he was fired that July. Over his last few years at Schweppe Inc., Herron achieved sales between $800,000 and $900,000.*fn1 Jefchak claims that he increased sales in his accounts and revived two accounts, but Schweppe denies any knowledge of these increases; no documentary evidence has been supplied to cast light on the validity of either the claim or the denial.

After his termination, Jefchak filed a complaint before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). In these proceedings, Schweppe explained that Jefchak was selected for termination because he was the least senior and least experienced member of the department. Further, Schweppe stated that Jefchak's sales activity was "at best not even status quo" and that his ...


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