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Roedocker v. Farstad Oil, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

March 5, 2018

FARSTAD OIL, INC., Defendants.



         Before the Court are United States Magistrate Judge Timothy Cavan's Findings and Recommendations, filed on January 19, 2017. (Doc. 49). In his Findings and Recommendations, Judge Cavan recommends that this Court deny Farstad's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 39).

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the parties were required to file written objections within 14 days of the filing of Judge Cavan's Findings and Recommendations. No. objections were filed. When neither party objects, this Court reviews Judge Cavan's conclusions for clear error. Clear error exists if the Court is left with a "definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. Syrax, 235 F.3d 422, 427 (9th Cir. 2000).

         After reviewing the Findings and Recommendations, this Court adopts in part and rejects in part. The Court rejects the Findings and Recommendations to the extent they determine that Farstad had a legitimate business reason to terminate Roedocker for his offensive text message. The Court otherwise adopts the Findings and Recommendations (FNRs).

         I. Facts

         Because the parties are familiar with the facts at issue as set out by Judge Cavan, this Court adopts the facts as set out by Judge Cavan, and reiterates only the ones necessary to its analysis below.

         Farstad sells and distributes refined petroleum products on a wholesale basis. (Doc. 45 at ¶ 1). Farstad is headquartered in Minot, North Dakota, and has a branch in Billings, Montana. (Id. at ¶ 2). Farstad and its associated retail business, Superpumper, comprise SPF Energy. (Id. at ¶ 3). SPF was purchased by Parkland Fuel Corp. in January 2014. (Id. at ¶ 4). Merv Carter became the Director of Sales and Operations for Farstad following the acquisition. (Id. at ¶ 5).

         Roedocker began working for Farstad in 1991. (Id. at ¶ 87). When Parkland acquired Farstad, Farstad had nine managers in addition to Carver - Bruce Hest, CFO, Kirby Mueller and Dan Dunstan, Lube Managers, Natalie Mussell, Human Resources Director, Roger Pelzer, Health, Safety and Environmental Manager, and four branch managers. (Doc. 43-1 at 23:1-24:7). Roedocker was the Billings branch manager and he reported directly to Carter following the acquisition. (Id. at ¶¶ 14-15).

         On January 12, 2015, several managerial-level employees in various locations participated in a teleconference meeting. (Doc. 16 at ¶ 17). Relevant parties included Roedocker, Pelzer, and Minot Branch Manager Lori Thorn. (Doc. 45 at ¶ 72). Roedocker asserts that Pelzer objected to certain issues Thorn raised during the meeting so Pelzer sent Roedocker a text message referring to Thorn and stating, "[w]hat's the f***ing b**ch doing?" (Id. at 72). Roedocker responded with a text to Pelzer and called Thorn a "c**t." (Id.). According to both Roedocker and Pelzer, profanity is "common, " and "rampant" at Farstad. (Doc. 43-9 at 25:3-10; Doc. 43-11 at 145:2-3). Shortly after the meeting, Pelzer told HR Director Mussell about Roedocker's text message. (Id. at 110). Mussell did not investigate the text. In fact, no action was taken on the text message until four months later. (Doc. 43-1 at 168:25-170:2). In February 2015, Carter evaluated Roedocker's performance and indicated Roedocker "meets expectations." (Doc. 43-2 at 80:10-13). The text message was not mentioned. (Id.).

         Two months later, after another managers' meeting on April 28, 2015, Mussell initiated an investigation into Roedocker's text message to Pelzer. (Doc. 43-1 at 169:13-170:2; Doc. 45 at ¶ 31). While the exact date is unclear, Carter testified that Mussell informed him of the offensive text message from Roedocker in "kind of mid-May" of 2015, and the investigation was initiated soon thereafter. (Id. at ¶ 73; see also Doc. 43-1 at 168:25-170:2). Farstad has provided no explanation for the four-month delay in taking action on the text message. Roedocker admitted during the investigation that he sent the text message, and Carter terminated Roedocker's employment from Farstad on May 21, 2015. (Id. at ¶¶ 73, 83).

         The document memorializing Roedocker's termination discusses the various written corrective warnings Roedocker received, the issues surrounding his communication, and finally the text message he sent about Thorn. (Doc. 43-15). The document concludes, "[d]ue to the seriousness of the remark from a leader of SPF Energy and overall poor communication, [Roedocker9 s] employment with SPF Energy is being terminated effective immediately." (Id. at 2). Carter testified that Roedocker was terminated for sending the text message. (Doc. 43-1 at 192:10-15).

         Branch manager Eric Lawson testified that no one had been fired from Farstad for profanity during his fourteen years there. (Doc. 43-8 at 14:13-15). Pelzer was reprimanded for his participation in the text message. (Doc. 43-9 at 23:1-24). He was not fired. (Id.).

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable fact finder could find for the nonmoving party and a dispute is "material" only if it could affect the ...

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