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Pfeifer v. Federal Express Corporation

United States District Court, D. Kansas

August 29, 2014

CYNTHIA PFEIFER and LAURIE B. WILLIAMS, (Chapter 13 Trustee) Plaintiffs,


ERIC F. MELGREN, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Cynthia Pfeifer and Chapter 13 Trustee, Laurie B. Williams, assert a claim for workers' compensation retaliation against Defendant Federal Express Corporation ("FedEx"). This matter comes before the Court on FedEx's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 116). Because the Court finds that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to whether FedEx's reason for terminating Pfeifer is pretextual, the Court grants FedEx's motion.

I. Factual and Procedural Background[1]

A. Pfeifer's Work-Related Injury

Pfeifer began working for FedEx on January 17, 1994. At the time of her termination on May 2, 2008, Pfeifer held the position of courier at FedEx's facility in Hays, Kansas. Pfeifer's immediate supervisor was Ken Kelley, and her Senior Manager was Diann Hummelsheim.

On September 11, 2007, Pfeifer sustained a work-related injury. That same day, Kelley was notified of her injury, and a workers' compensation claim was filed on Pfeifer's behalf. Pfeifer alleges that approximately one week after she suffered her injury, Hummelsheim called her and yelled at her for not providing documentation regarding her injury. According to Pfeifer, Hummelsheim told her that she needed to return to work immediately or she would be fired. After this call, on September 20, 2007, Pfeifer provided FedEx an "Activity/Work Status Report" that stated she was "unable to work due to injury to knee occurring on 9/11/07."[2] Two months later, on November 27, 2007, Pfeifer called Kelley to notify him that she was released to return to work. Pfeifer alleges that Hummelsheim then called her and told her that she needed to be 100 percent healthy or she would be fired. Pfeifer returned to work on November 28, 2007, after faxing a medical release form stating that she could return to work on that day.

When Pfeifer returned to work in November 2007 she worked the same route that she was running prior to her leave of absence-route 62. Route 62, however, changed while Pfeifer was on leave, but this was a typical practice at FedEx. In addition, Pfeifer was required to work the afternoon ramp and route instead of the morning ramp and route, and the first three days Pfeifer returned to work, she was not released into FedEx's computer system.

B. Pfeifer's Termination of Employment

In 2007 and 2008, when the FedEx couriers at the Hays facility arrived at work, they were supposed to first clock in on their paper timecards and then obtain a hand-held device called a "Power Pad." The couriers were then supposed to (1) enter their employee number into the Power Pad, (2) enter their scheduled start time, and (3) enter their actual start time. The start time that a courier enters in the Power Pad is supposed to match the stamped punch-in time on the courier's paper timecard. However, from time to time, the couriers' clock-in times on the paper timecard did not match the clock-in times on the Power Pad, or couriers forgot to clock in or clock out on their paper timecards. FedEx couriers were not paid based on the times reflected on the paper timecards. Instead, they were paid based on the clock-in and clock-out times reflected on their electronic timecards printed from the Power Pads.

FedEx has a policy, of which Pfeifer was aware, that falsification of a FedEx document, such as a timecard, may result in termination. In March 2008, Hummelsheim conducted a timecard audit of the Hays facility employees. To perform the audit, Hummelsheim asked a customer service agent to randomly pull the paper timecards of a mix of the employees at the Hays facility. One of the timecards selected for review was Pfeifer's February 6, 2008, timecard. That timecard showed a stamped punch-in time of 9:28 a.m. but the eight was changed to a zero, so the time read 9:20 a.m. Pfeifer's scheduled start time for that day was 9:25 a.m. FedEx alleges that the alteration of the stamped punch-in time on the timecard prevented the timecard from reflecting that Pfeifer arrived to work late that day and provided her with an additional eight minutes of paid time.

After discovering the alteration, Hummelsheim asked Pfeifer why the original punch-in start time showed 9:28 a.m. but the start time Pfeifer manually entered in her Power Pad showed 9:20 a.m. Pfeifer responded "I don't know. I don't remember."[3] Hummelsheim also asked Pfeifer if she could explain the alteration to her timecard. Pfeifer responded that she did not alter it and she did not know how the timecard had been altered. Pfeifer then asked Hummelsheim to pull her Power Pad documents, which Pfeifer believed would verify that she arrived to work on time on February 6, 2008. When questioned about the altered timecard at her deposition, Pfeifer stated that she did not recall whether she altered the start time that was written on the top of her February 6, 2008, timecard.

FedEx suspended Pfeifer on March 20, 2008. Shortly following her suspension, Pfeifer submitted an internal complaint dated March 23, 2008. The complaint alleges myriad ways Pfeifer was mistreated at FedEx before and after her injury. Pfeifer's human resources advisor, Joel Holfrichter, investigated her allegations. During his investigation, Holfrichter discovered another altered timecard dated January 22, 2008. Like the February 6, 2008, timecard, the altered clock-in time on this timecard matched the start time that Pfeifer manually keyed into the Power Pad. Holfrichter testified in his deposition that when he asked Pfeifer about the January 22, 2008, timecard, Pfeifer had no explanation for the alteration.

After Holfrichter completed the investigation of Pfeifer's internal complaint, FedEx resumed its own investigation of Pfeifer's altered timecards. As part of this investigation, Holfrichter discovered a third altered timecard dated February 20, 2008. On this timecard, the punch-out time was altered to show that Pfeifer worked five hours and fifty-nine minutes instead of six hours. This alteration prevented Pfeifer from incurring a break violation. Pfeifer testified in her deposition that she did not remember Hummelsheim asking her about this timecard. However, Hummelsheim testified that she did ask Pfeifer about this timecard and that Pfeifer had no explanation for the alteration.

As a result of Holfrichter's investigations, Hummelsheim, Holfrichter, and FedEx Managing Director James Malone concluded that Pfeifer falsified her timecards and should be terminated. FedEx terminated Pfeifer's employment on May 2, 2008. After Pfeifer was terminated, Hummelsheim provided her a memorandum that other FedEx couriers at the Hays facility received on March 1, 2008-three weeks before Pfeifer's suspension. The memorandum outlined the procedure for picking vacations for the June 2008 through May 2009 fiscal year. Although Hummelsheim provided the memorandum to the other Hays couriers in March 2008, none of the Hays couriers picked their vacation days until after Pfeifer was terminated.

Pfeifer also utilized FedEx's appeal process after her termination in an effort to reinstate her employment. During the first of three appeal hearings, Pfeifer told the hearing panel that she did not believe Hummelsheim altered her timecard and that she did not believe any other Hays employee altered her timecards. However, during the second and third appeal hearings, Pfeifer asserted that Hummelsheim altered her timecards in an effort to have her terminated.

C. Jason Goetz's Altered Timecards

In 2008, Jason Goetz was also a FedEx courier at the Hays facility. Goetz has never filed a workers' compensation claim. During the March 2008 timecard audit, Hummelsheim discovered that some of Goetz's paper timecards were altered. Hummelsheim suspended Goetz, asked for his written statement explaining the ...

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