United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
OPINION AND ORDER
P. WATTERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Wayne Allison filed this action against his former employer,
Farmer Bros. Co., for wrongful discharge. (Doc. 1). Farmer
Bros, has moved for summary judgment on Allison's claims
and requested oral argument on the same. (Doc. 31). For the
reasons set forth below, Farmer Bros.' motion is granted.
Farmer Bros.' request for oral argument is denied.
Statement of Facts
Allison started working for Farmer Bros, in 1983 as a route
driver. (Doc. 37 at 6). During the course of his employment
with Farmer Bros., Allison developed a computer tool to
enhance his ability to provide coffee and equipment price
quotes to customers. (Id.). Farmer Bros, eventually
made Allison Direct Store Delivery Pricing Director and began
using his pricing tool all around the country.
2014, Farmer Bros.' Senior Leadership Team decided to
make changes in the company to increase overall market
competitiveness and future growth. (Id. at ¶
2). Company headquarters and the rest of the operation were
relocated from Torrance, California, to Northlake, Texas.
(Id.). Significant changes to the organization as a
whole were also made, including structure, centralization,
technology, and talent. Some in the company knew this process
as "Project Evolution." (Id.).
group, the Direct Store Delivery Group, was subject to this
company-wide process. In January 2016, the DSD Group leader
began implementing structure changes, position eliminations,
and strategic initiatives aimed at improving the DSD portion
of the business. (Id. at 3). At that time, numerous
DSD Group employees' positions were eliminated and not
replaced. (Id.). Allison became concerned that other
DSD employees were being separated from the company without
prior warning. (Doc. 36-2 at 40:2-41:6)). In mid-January, the
leadership team arranged a conference call for company
directors. Three of the directors, with long tenures with
Farmer Bros., were "pulled" from the call and
terminated from the company. (Doc. 36-2 at 40:2-22).
March 2016, Allison knew that Farmer Bros, was making changes
that affected his role and that his job was in danger of
being eliminated. (Doc. 36-3 at 94:13-98:3). Specifically,
Allison knew that Farmer Bros, was making changes but he felt
that pricing was still necessary, and hoped that if control
over pricing were given to another department, he could
remain useful to that department. (Id.).
duties were gradually absorbed by the new technology and the
employees in Texas. Specifically, data management became
automated, so Allison was no longer needed to do data
management. (Doc. 36-4 at 19:6-20:7). Additionally, a new
group of employees in Texas generated the information
required to make pricing decisions, so Allison was not needed
to generate the same information. (Id.) According to
Allison's supervisor, Scott Bixby, the changes to
technology and the centralized business systems eliminated
the need for Allison's position. (Id.).
April, Allison responded to and signed a DSD Survey and
indicated that he thought the recent position eliminations
and director firings were eroding the confidence and trust in
the future of the company. (Doc. 38 at 7). After submitting
the survey, Allison continued to express his concerns to
Bixby about candor and trust within the department throughout
the month. (Doc. 37 at 10). Throughout the course of May,
Bixby believed Allison would remain with Farmer Bros. (Doc.
36-4 at 72:2-8). On May 25, 2016, Bixby advised Allison that
the price analysis work was going to change from the
"past approach" to a team approach to pricing
decisions and that if it did not "feel right" to
Allison that they "should talk" about him
continuing to work for pricing. (Doc. 38 at 24). The next
day, Allison sent an email to the management team expressing
his concerns with moving forward on pricing initiatives
without consulting members of the pricing team. (Id.
a month later, Bixby emailed Farmer Bros.' head of Human
Resources, Susan Gargis, regarding a "DSD People
Update." (Doc. 38 at 26). In the email, Bixby advised
Gargis that Allison's work in pricing "was moving to
a team based approach, [so] his location/skills won't be
need[sic] going forward." (Id. at 29). Shortly
thereafter, Bixby requested that Allison come to Texas to
discuss his performance. Allison was let go at the meeting.
Allison had worked for Farmer Bros, for 33 years when he was
terminated from the company. (Doc. 37 at ¶ 1). At the
time his position was eliminated, Allison was working in the
. pricing division in Billings, Montana. (Id.),
Farmer Bros, has not replaced Allison in Montana or hired
anyone else in Montana to perform the duties he had at the
time his employment ended. (Doc. 33-3 at 68:22-69:5;
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 outcome of the suit under the governing
law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
considering a motion for summary judgment, the court
"may not make credibility determinations or weigh the
evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,
530 U.S. 130, 150 (2000); Anderson, 477 U.S. at
249-50. The Court must view the evidence in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party and draw all justifiable
inferences in the non-moving party's favor.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Betz v. Trainer
Wortham & Co., Inc., 504 F.3d 1017, 1020-21 (9th Cir.