United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Defendant A.C. Moore terminated plaintiff Joseph Drapala as the general manager of its Dedham, Massachusetts retail store in June of 2014. Drapala was then sixty-six years old. He alleges that the termination was motivated by age-based discrimination in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B, § 4. Discovery having been completed, A.C. Moore moves for summary judgment.
A.C. Moore operates a chain of arts and crafts stores. In 1998, when Drapala was 51 years old, A.C. Moore hired him as an assistant manager at its store in Warwick, Rhode Island. The following year, Drapala was promoted to the position of general manager at A.C. Moore’s Bellingham, Massachusetts store. He remained general manager of the Bellingham store for 11 years. In February of 2010, Drapala transferred to the A.C. Moore store in Dedham, Massachusetts, as its general manager.
As the general manager, Drapala was responsible for his store’s sales, customer care, operational standards, and employee management. He reported directly to a District Manager (Ron Last) who oversaw approximately ten stores. The District Manager (DM) in turn reported to the Regional Vice President (RVP) who was responsible for 140 stores in three separate geographical regions. At the regional level, a Loss Prevention (LP) Manager (Rigoberto Hernandez) and a Human Resources (HR) Manager (Bradley Godette) also had store oversight duties.
In late 2011, Sbar’s Inc. purchased the financially ailing A.C. Moore chain. (Sbar’s kept the A.C. Moore brand name). To lift performance, the new management shifted the focus from cost savings to driving up sales volume by increasing the variety and availability of merchandise. See Hernandez Dep. Tr. at 22-23. To that end, store managers were required to merchandise warehouse trucks in one day’s time (where previously they had been given two to three days). See Drapala Dep. Tr. at 59. Corporate management also exercised tighter control over the retail outlets by implementing regular new audits and requiring store managers to submit weekly plans. See Id. at 57-58. In early 2014, A.C. Moore initiated the use of a DM site inspection form (visit form) setting out corporate expectations with respect to various aspects of retail store operation. See Id. at 58.
General managers were graded numerically on their progress in meeting these expectations during DM visits two or three times a month. At about the same time, A.C. Moore created two additional RVP positions. See Id. at 59. Each of the three RVPs oversaw some 50 stores in their respective region. See Id. Dolph Marinucci became Drapala’s RVP under the reorganization.
Although Drapala had extensive management experience and had generally performed well at A.C. Moore prior to the Sbar acquisition, he did not consistently meet the objectives set by new management. In the fall of 2012, Drapala received (documented) verbal counseling from DM Last.
Joseph, you are not meeting company expectations in the following ways: . . . your Assistant General Managers (AGMS) have expressed concerns about their lack of training. . . . [E]mployees were not being held accountable for poor attendance. . . . The condition of the stockroom has continued to decline over the last two months.
Def.’s Ex. I (Progressive Disciplinary Record of September 5, 2012) at 1. DM Last concluded that Drapala was deficient in “[i]ntegrity & [t]rust[, being r]esults [d]riven[, and p]lanning and [o]rganization.” Id. at 2. Drapala was instructed to improve in “hold[ing] associates accountable for company policy and procedures[, ] . . . ensur[ing] [he] ha[s] properly trained [his] management team, . . . [and] develop[ing] an action plan . . . to address [his] stockroom issues.” Id. Drapala was warned that “[f]ailure to meet the expectations . . . [and] to immediately improve . . . may result in further disciplinary action up to, and including, termination.” Id.
In January of 2013, Drapala issued a final warning to a store employee without first obtaining the required approval from Regional HR. In March of 2013, LP Manager Hernandez visited Drapala’s store to investigate a cash shortage, and while there, photographed boxes of merchandise and display items stacked haphazardly in the aisles. Around the same time, DM Last visited Drapala’s store and gave him a three-page list of items that needed improvement. For one week in March of 2013, Drapala also failed to submit a payroll budget as required.
In April of 2013, Last provided Drapala with a written warning. Last faulted Drapala for “employees  not being held accountable for leaving cash pickups unsecured overnight, ” and “not giv[ing the employee] any written documentation of the incident.” Def.’s Ex. N (Progressive Discipline Report of April 16, 2013) at 1. Last remarked of the fact that A.C. Moore had lost an appeal of a former assistant manager’s unemployment compensation case because the court credited evidence that Drapala
was not consistent in holding [his] Associates accountable to the Company harassment policy. Specifically, [Drapala] partnered with Human Resources (HR) and [Last] when addressing the former AGM’s harassment policy violations (leading to his termination), but in at least two other cases of potential harassment violations, [he] did not partner with HR or [Last] (resulting in those employees remaining employed).
Last noted Drapala’s explanation that he did not issue a Performance Discussion Record (PDR) for the unsecured cash pickup incident because no loss had been incurred by the company. However, “[t]wo weeks after this incident, money was again left unsecured overnight by other members of the management team, this time resulting in the loss of over $200.” Id. Last again cited Drapala for deficiencies in “[i]ntegrity & [t]rust[, being r]esults [d]riven[, and e]xecuting [v]ision and [p]urpose.” Id. Drapala was instructed to improve by “hold[ing] associates accountable for violations [of] company policy and procedures[, ] . . . partner[ing] with [Last] and Human Resources when addressing policy violations . . . [and] involv[ing] [his] Assistant General Managers in the ...