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Thomas Dooley v. United Industries Corporation

August 24, 2011

THOMAS DOOLEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED INDUSTRIES CORPORATION, SPECTRUM BRANDS, INC., EUGENE HOGE, AND ALLISON FOLEY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 117) and Memorandum (Doc. 118) in support thereof. Plaintiff Thomas Dooley ("Dooley") filed Responses (Docs. 123, 127) thereto, to which Defendants filed Replies (Docs. 134, 135). Dooley also filed Sur-Replies (Docs. 141, 142), to which Defendants filed a Motion to Strike (Doc. 145). Because the Court's Local Rules absolutely forbid sur-reply briefs, SDIL-LR 7.1(c) ("Under no circumstances will sur-reply briefs be accepted.") (emphasis added), the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion to Strike (Doc. 145), DIRECTS the Clerk of Court to STRIKE Documents 141, 142, and 143 from the docket sheet, and assures the parties that it has not considered those filings in its consideration of the summary judgment motion.

For the following reasons, the Court, inter alia, GRANTS the instant motion.

BACKGROUND

I. Facts

In analyzing a motion for summary judgment, the reviewing court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The Court, construing the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to Dooley, finds as follows:

Starting sometime in 2005, Defendant Spectrum Brands, Inc. ("Spectrum") and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Defendant United Industries Corporation ("UIC"), hired Dooley to work in their Bridgeton, Missouri, distribution facility. At all times relevant to this litigation, Defendant Allison Foley ("Foley") was Dooley's supervisor, and Rebeckah Long ("Long") was the human resources director at UIC. During his time with UIC, Dooley worked with Douglas Colvin ("Colvin"), another employee of the two companies. Colvin has a rap sheet with three felonies, has been sentenced to eight years imprisonment, and has been a suspect in at least one homicide.

On August 27, 2009, Dooley found Colvin in his previously-locked office and noticed his personal laptop computer was missing. Colvin did not routinely work in the vicinity of Dooley's office. After Dooley accused Colvin of stealing the computer, Colvin repeatedly threatened Dooley, stating "I'm going to fucking kill you motherfucker," or words to that effect. Colvin, who is known as "The Bull," weighs approximately 90 pounds more than Dooley.

The two men made their way to Foley and another supervisor and provided written statements of the occurrence.*fn1 Dooley was visibly shaken by the confrontation. Meanwhile, Colvin denied the accusations against him, maintaining that the office door was wide open despite an automatic close feature. No employees or other potential witnesses reported seeing or hearing the incident. Upon concluding its investigation, UIC decided not to terminate Colvin because there was not enough evidence proving he engaged in the alleged conduct.*fn2 Likewise, the Bridgeton Police Department, which conducted interviews on the date of the incident, did not find sufficient evidence to arrest Colvin.

Due to stress and anxiety stemming from the August 27 incident, Dooley received and tendered to Foley and Long a doctor's note excusing him from work until September 10. Long thereafter sent Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") paperwork to Dooley, which he received on September 10. The cover letter to this paperwork, which Dooley did not read, noted that Dooley had fifteen calendar days to complete and return the enclosed forms. The letter also stated as follows: "Please . . . [i]nform Human Resources in writing of any changes in your leave status, your time needed for recovery, or of any intention, if applicable, not to return to work." Doc. 118-2, p. 72. Finally, the cover letter stated that a medical release certifying Dooley's ability to perform his job duties would have to be tendered to human resources before any return to work.

On September 15, Dooley went to work but forgot to bring the requisite medical release; thus, Foley sent him home to retrieve it. Rather than immediately return to work with the release in hand, Dooley disappeared for several days and failed to inform his employer or superiors of his whereabouts. In fact, Dooley did not call Foley until September 21 to tell her that Colvin was a "murderer,"*fn3 Doc. 118-2, p. 56, and he did not return to work until September 24.

Meanwhile, Defendants began to monitor and act on Dooley's absenteeism. UIC maintained a policy of terminating employees who missed work without calling in for three consecutive days. Dooley was aware of this policy, and others had been terminated for violating it. Since Dooley did not report his absences on the weekdays of September 16, 17, and 18 and because Dooley had presumably been cleared for work since September 10, Long opted to terminate his employment via certified letter dated September 23, 2009.*fn4

On September 24, the day after Long sent out the termination letter, Dooley returned to UIC and produced a doctor's note excusing any absences from September 16 through September 23. This was the first time Defendants had seen this note.

Despite his best efforts, Dooley has been unable to find employment ...


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