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Grol v. Safelite Group, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 14, 2018

Michaeline Grol, Plaintiff,
v.
Safelite Group, Inc., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          Nathaniel M. Gorton United States District Judge

         This case involves an employment dispute between Michaeline Grol (“Grol” or “plaintiff”), a sales representative, and Safelite Group, Inc. (“Safelite” or “defendant”), an auto glass replacement and repair company. Plaintiff asserts that defendant 1) discriminated against her on the basis of age, in violation of M.G.L. c. 151B § 4, 2) breached their employment contract and 3) breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

         The case was originally filed in the Massachusetts Superior Court for Bristol County but was removed by defendant to this Court on diversity grounds. Plaintiff is domiciled in Massachusetts while defendant is incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in Ohio.

         Defendant moves for summary judgment on all claims. Because genuine issues of material fact exist as to each claim, defendant’s motion for summary judgment will be denied.

         I. Background

         Michaeline Grol plaintiff was a sales representative for Giant Glass, a glass repair and replacement company for nearly 20 years. In January, 2013, Safelite acquired Giant Glass and retained plaintiff, then 53 years old, as a sales representative. At a meeting in January, 2013, Tom Feeney, CEO of Safelite, indicated that Giant Glass employees would be entitled to one year of severance if they left the company. Defendant agreed to continue plaintiff’s employment under terms that plaintiff proposed, including 1) her weekly draw at the same rate that she had received from Giant Glass, 2) a 13% commission on 80% of her total sales and 3) a monthly car allowance of $700. Grol contends that, in a series of emails with Chad Flowers, Regional Vice President of Safelite (“Flowers”), the defendant agreed to certain additional terms of employment.

         Grol signed a retention bonus agreement which provided for the payment of $50,000 in three installments payable in 2013, 2014 and 2015. That agreement provided that Grol would not receive any unpaid portion of that bonus if she was terminated “for cause” and was not an active associate at the time of payout. Plaintiff also executed an agreement with defendant providing that her employment was at-will and that she was subject to a non-compete clause. That agreement made no reference to commission-based compensation or to retention of Giant Glass sales accounts.

         In October, 2013, Safelite announced a plan to unify the Safelite and Giant Glass employee teams that included moving all sales representatives to commission-based pay calculated at 11% of 80% of their total sales. Grol expressed her dissatisfaction with that plan to Feeney and Doug Herron, CFO of Safelite. She complained that paying all sales representatives the same commission rate would make “no sense”.

         In January, 2014, Flowers and Regional Sales Manager Dean Drinkwater (“Drinkwater”) informed Grol that her employment was terminated. The parties dispute whether Flowers and Drinkwater told Grol that she was being terminated for cause due to alleged inappropriate and unprofessional behavior. Grol contends that she “was completely blindsided” by the termination.

         The parties also dispute whether, at the time of her termination, Grol’s accounts had been transferred to other salespersons. Defendant maintains that no such transfer had occurred but plaintiff contends that Safelite transferred more than one third of her sales accounts between December, 2013 and January, 2014. Grol submits that those accounts were transferred to sales representatives who were at least seven years younger than she was.

         Plaintiff filed her complaint in Bristol County Superior Court in August, 2016, which defendant removed to this Court in September, 2016. Pending before the Court is defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

         II. Analysis

         The role of summary judgment is “to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.” Mesnick v. Gen. Elec. Co., 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1st Cir. 1991). The burden is on the moving party to show, through the pleadings, discovery and affidavits, “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists where the evidence with respect to the material fact in dispute “is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         If the moving party has satisfied its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine, triable issue. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The Court must view the entire record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and indulge all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. O’Connor v. Steeves, 994 F.2d 905, 907 (1st Cir. 1993). Summary judgment is appropriate if, after viewing the record in the non-moving party's favor, the Court determines that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         A. Count I – Violation of M.G.L. c. 151B § 4 ...


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