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Presley v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 15, 2014

Loratious Presley
v.
R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

STATEMENT OF INTENDED DECISION

GARY ALLEN FEESS, Judge.

This is an employment case in which Plaintiff Loratious Presley ("Presley" or "Plaintiff"), an African-American employee of RJR, claims that he was wrongfully terminated on the basis of his race. Defendant R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company ("RJR") contends that Presley was terminated for serious misconduct - falsifying a work report, lying to his supervisor regarding his work activities, and involving a customer in his misconduct. The case was tried to the Court on March 11 and 12, 2014.

The following sets forth this Court's statement of its intended decision in this case. The document does not address every detail of the case, contains few citations to the record, and should not be construed as the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. Rather, it states the Court's intended resolution of the case and provides direction to the prevailing party, who will prepare revised findings of fact and conclusions of law that are consistent with this document. In short, this document should be viewed as a decision with guidance. In that regard, although the Court anticipates that the proposed findings and conclusions will be substantially more detailed than this document, will likely cover matters not expressly addressed in this document, and will contain citations to the record, the Court expects that the proposed findings and conclusions will be consistent with this statement of decision.

To summarize, the Court concludes that judgment should be entered in favor of RJR. Not only did Presley fail to prove that his termination was the result of discriminatory animus, the weight of the evidence established that RJR terminated Presley for misconduct. Judgment will be entered for RJR.

FACTS

A. BACKGROUND

1. The Territory Manager Position

Defendant RJR, like most manufacturers of consumer products, sells its products in geographical territories where sales to retail outlets are overseen by a Territory Manager. The Territory Manager reports to a Senior Division Manager who typically oversees eight different territories. Approximately eight Senior Division Managers, in turn, report to a Senior Director of Trade Marketing.

Through the Territory Manager, RJR maintains contact with its customers. The Territory Manager bears sole responsibility for increasing the sale of RJR products within his territory. Accordingly, the Territory Manager is responsible for making periodic sales calls on each retail outlet that carries RJR branded products in its inventory. On any given day, the Territory Manager, who normally performs his duties alone, determines in his discretion which of his accounts he will call on. During visits, the Territory Manager's duties include the following, among others: (1) the inspection of customer premises to insure that RJR brands are visibly displayed in proper quantities at the correct prices; (2) a determination that the proper amount of RJR products are in stock; (3) an assessment of the location of brand displays; (4) a determination that brand promotions have been properly implemented; and (5) an evaluation of the placement of point of sale materials.

Trial witnesses described the Territory Manager as the "eyes and ears" of RJR within the territory. Mr. Roman, a high level RJR manager, testified at trial that, because the Territory Manager is RJR's "CEO" in his area, the company delegates substantial responsibility to him and relies heavily on his honesty and integrity.

2. The Connect Reporting System

Once the Territory Manager has completed a call on an account, RJR policies mandate that he report that call through RJR's Connect Reporting ("Connect") computer system. Connect allows RJR to track all manner of contract compliance on the part of its customers. Accordingly, when the Territory Manager reports through Connect, he ordinarily records his observations relating to pricing, product placement, signage, and product availability for each location he has visited. Because this information is of great importance to RJR's marketing department, utilization of RJR's Connect Reporting system is an essential aspect of the Territory Manager's job performance.

To insure that the Territory Manager's observations are as accurate as humanly possible, RJR policy recommends that observations be entered into the Connect system during the Territory Manager's visit. All sales call activity data entered into the system is time-stamped in local time - in Plaintiff's case, Pacific time.

Presley was trained in the use of the Connect system in approximately 2003-2004, and by 2010 he was very familiar with the system. Presley does not dispute the importance that Connect data be as accurate as possible.

3. Authority of Territory Managers

If a customer is not in compliance with its obligations to RJR with respect to signage, pricing, product placement and the like, a Territory Manager has a number of possible actions he can take. These include: giving the customer an oral or written warning; taking away money paid for placing a particular display in a specified location; reducing discounts offered to the customer; and cancelling the contract. In short, the Territory Manager wields substantial power in the area he services.

4. "Work With" Events

Although Territory Managers normally perform their duties alone, the Senior Division Manager will, from time to time, announce that he will meet the Territory Manager in the field to review the calls the Territory Manager has made. RJR refers to these events as a "work with." This case involves issues of Presley's alleged misconduct in connection with a "work with" with his District Manager, Andrew Bradigan.

5. Loratious Presley

RJR hired Loratious Presley ("Presley" or "Plaintiff") in 1992 as a Territory Manager, [1] which was an at-will position within the company. (Ex. 43.) Presley worked in the Southern California region which, in 2010, was managed by Bill Roth, the Senior Director, Trade Marketing. Presley's territory was substantial - between 200 and 300 retail outlets - all within Los Angeles County. Presley had worked his most recent territory over the two years prior to his termination. During that period, Presley typically worked in the field during the usual 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. work day. However, on some occasions his workday varied from that schedule to allow more opportunity to interact with his customers. To insure that his visits gave him a true picture of his customer's compliance with its obligations to RJR, Presley did not have a set schedule for visiting his customers.

At the time of Presley's termination, his Senior Division Manager was Andrew Bradigan. Bradigan had worked as a Territory Manager starting in 2008, and was promoted to Division Manager in June 2010. As the Territory Managers' supervisor, the Senior Division Manager is expected to periodically conduct a "work with" with each Territory Manager. A "work with" is self-defining - the Senior Division Manager and the Territory Manager go into the workplace together to create a training and evaluation opportunity. The Senior Division Manager has a chance to observe his Territory Manager's practices both to help him improve ...


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