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King v. Recreational Equipment, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

December 6, 2016

KELLY KING, Plaintiff,


          Dana L. Christensen, Chief District Judge.

         Defendant Recreational Equipment Inc., (“REI”) moves for partial summary judgment in the above-captioned matter. Plaintiff Kelly King (“King”) opposes this motion. For the reasons described below, the Court will deny REI's motion.


         This factual background serves to provide an introduction to the issues presented. The Court will add additional facts in later sections as necessary to explain its reasoning.

         King was an employee at REI from 2010 until her termination in July of 2015. She began her employment as a seasonal employee and was eventually promoted through the ranks to Retail Sales Manager. King began her position as Retail Sales Manager in June of 2015 at REI's store in Missoula, Montana. On July 17, 2015, King was asked to speak with Asset Protection investigator Andy Panfil (“Panfil”). This conversation was conducted over the phone. King's direct supervisor, Missoula Store Manager Sean Kissane (“Kissane”), was present when this conversation took place. Panfil asked King about two t-shirts she had purchased on May 22, 2015, where she received a 50% “ProDeal” discount as a store employee. King stated that she had purchased these t-shirts as gifts for her father and her father's dentist. However, under REI's discount policy, certain items purchased by employees that are intended to be gifts, such as t-shirts, are only eligible for a 30% discount.

         When confronted with these facts, King states she immediately recognized that the purchase violated REI's discount policy. King vehemently maintains that use of the ProDeal discount was an error and not intentional. King alleges that she simply forgot to check her receipt and would never intentionally jeopardize her career over a couple of t-shirts.

         Later, during a follow-up call, Panfil asked King if she knew anyone in Minnesota and mentioned two additional shirts that were returned to a store in Maple Grove, Minnesota. King maintains that she initially answered that she did not know anyone in Minnesota, despite the fact that she had lived there for several years and knew multiple people there. King states that she immediately corrected herself and only answered in the negative because she was confused, anxious, and felt like the room was spinning. King states that Panfil then asked her whom she would have given her receipt or employee number to, and asked if she knew anyone who worked at the Maple Grove store. King asserts that she was unable to answer his questions because, at this point, she was embarrassed, scared, and could not remember giving out her employee number or a receipt. King then got off the phone with Panfil and began making a written statement about the purchase.

         While making her written statement, REI's Regional Asset Protection Manager, John Mulheran (“Mulheran”), called King and asked if she knew anyone named “Lindesmith” in Minnesota. (Doc. 16-1 at 45.) King states that she did not immediately recognize the name and told Mulheran that her father's dentist is named Dr. Lind. Mulheran eventually clarified the name to be “Lisa Lindesmith” and King remembered she had given two shirts to her former veterinarian, who she knew as “Dr. Lisa.” (Id.) King told Mulheran that she believed she had given the shirts to Dr. Lisa and her partner in January or February of 2015.

         However, REI's records show that two shirts were purchased by King on April 20, 2015, and subsequently returned by Dr. Lisa to the Maple Grove store on July 5, 2015. REI's records also show that these shirts were purchased using the 50% ProDeal discount. King admits that this was a second violation of REI policy, but maintains that she never asked for the 50% discount. Nonetheless, Mulheran determined that King was lying.

         A few days later, King met with Retail Director Julie Lochner (“Lochner”) and Human Resources Business Partner Kelly Troyner (“Troyner”). King again could not remember in detail when she gave the shirts away but steadfastly maintained that she did not intentionally violate the discount policy. King was subsequently terminated by REI for these violations.

         King filed suit in Montana's Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County, alleging causes of action for wrongful discharge and breach of contract. REI removed to this Court alleging diversity jurisdiction. REI now seeks partial summary judgment on King's claim of wrongful discharge. REI asserts that King's discharge was lawful and puts forth three arguments in support of its motion: (1) the company followed its personnel policies in terminating King's employment; (2) King's termination was for good cause due to her discount policy violations and her inability to provide a satisfactory explanation; and (3) King cannot prove she was damaged by her termination.


         Summary judgment is required when the “movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that no genuine dispute exists. The burden then shifts to the non-moving party to present affirmative evidence showing the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 257 (1986).

         Summary judgment is warranted when the documentary evidence produced by the parties permits only one conclusion. Id. at 251. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the lawsuit will preclude entry of summary judgment; factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary to the outcome are not considered. Id. at 248. In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence “in the light most favorable to the opposing party.” Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (quoting Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970)). “[T]he ...

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