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Bouyea v. Metz Culinary Management Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maine

December 4, 2018



          Nancy Torresen United States Chief District Judge.

         In this action, Plaintiff Dennis Bouyea ("Bouyea") claims that Metz Culinary Management, Inc. ("Metz"), violated the Maine Human Rights Act ("MHRA"), 5 M.R.S. § 4451 et. seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et. seq., by unlawfully terminating his employment based on his age. Compl. ¶ 8 (ECF No. 3-2). Metz now moves for summary judgment. Def's. Mot. (ECF No. 24). For the reasons set out below, and after reviewing the pleadings and the record in its entirety, I DENY Metz's motion.


         On approximately June 23, 2015, Metz terminated the employment of Dennis Bouyea, who had worked at St. Mary's Health System in Lewiston, Maine since 1987. Joint Statement of Material Facts ¶¶ 34, 48 (ECF No. 48) ("JSMF"). St Mary's chose Metz, a Pennsylvania-based corporation, to take over its nutrition service (which previously operated in-house) in January 2013. JSMF ¶¶ 1-2. Metz hired Bouyea as General Manager of the St. Mary's account on January 20, 2013, because St. Mary's requested that Metz retain all food service management staff. JSMF ¶¶ 3, 45. Metz's contract with St. Mary's stipulated that employees like Bouyea would be retained with their pre-existing salaries, benefits, and seniority. JSMF ¶ 45. Also incorporated into the contract was a provision allowing St. Mary's to give formal notice of performance issues or deficiencies. JSMF ¶ 55. This provision was never invoked during Bouyea's time at Metz. JSMF ¶ 55.

         During the relevant time period, St. Mary's food service areas included: (1) Campus Cuisine, the main kitchen, located in an apartment building for the elderly; (2) the apartment building's main dining room; (3) the Market Cafe, located in the hospital building; (4) a galley kitchen on the hospital's third floor; and (5) seven dining areas located in the D'Youville Pavilion. JSMF ¶ 75.

         I. The Transition

         By all accounts, Bouyea played a pivotal role in helping ensure a smooth transition. In December 2013, he received a letter commending his handling of the change. JSMF ¶ 50. Citing Bouyea's "incredible work," the letter enclosed a bonus and stated that the prior year was "filled with many successes." JSMF ¶51. It singled out Bouyea for exemplary performance, including "leading the department through tremendous change" and completing "incredible work" on the new in-house Market Street Cafe, which had replaced a Dunkin' Donuts. JSMF ¶¶ 46, 50.

         Changes in the management structure followed the transition. First, in January 2013, District Manager Ray Farrow became Bouyea's direct supervisor. JSMF ¶ 5. Second, Metz's point of contact changed after St. Mary's hired Philip Hickey, in late 2014 or early 2015, as its new vice president of elder care services. JSMF ¶¶ 8, 52. Hickey was put in charge of the D'YouviUe Pavilion. JSMF ¶ 8.

         Initially, Farrow and Bouyea seem to have shared a relatively cordial relationship. Tensions emerged after Hickey became vice president. JSMF ¶ 4. Bouyea alleges that he overheard Farrow make several age-related comments about St. Mary's workforce. JSMF ¶ 62. Such comments included that "[h]e couldn't understand why the people that are over 40 are still doing salad prep or scooping muffins in the bakeshop." Bouyea Dep. 178:15-17 (ECF No. 23-12); see also Bouyea Aff. ¶ 30 (ECF No. 28-1) ("Ray Farrow questioned why older individuals remained in entry-level positions."). Metz denies that Farrow made comments directly related to age, but admits he mentioned that the salad prep workers had been at the hospital for a long time, that they topped the pay scale, and that Metz could probably replace two salad people with one chef to save money. JSMF ¶ 63.

         II. The Termination & Preceding Events

         A. Metz's Failures to Meet Budget

         From a financial standpoint, the transition was bumpy from the start. In 2013 and 2014, Metz repaid $25, 000 of its management fees for each year due to budgetary shortfalls. JSMF ¶ 65. Despite the rough financial start, things gradually began improving. In 2014, the company served more meals than expected. JSMF ¶ 68. According to Metz's Senior Vice President Craig Solomon, Metz anticipated that increased volume would contribute to revenue growth. See Solomon Dep. 14:15-22 (ECF No. 23-1). Judged from a cost-per-meal perspective, the 2014 numbers met budget. JSMF ¶ 69.[1] Things took a more concrete turn for the better by March 2015. JSMF ¶ 71. In his District Manager Report of April 14 and 15, 2015, Farrow wrote that Metz met budget: "March 2015 will go down in history as the FIRST time that both Campus Cuisine and Market Street met and exceeded budget targets!"[2] JSMF ¶71.

         Although Bouyea knew that client satisfaction-including matching budget goals-was important to his role at Metz, [3] he was not solely responsible for budgeting.[4] Several matters that were entirely out of Bouyea's hands contributed to Metz's financial struggles. For example, Bouyea played no part in the decisions to negotiate a fixed-price contract or to replace the Dunkin' Donuts with the Market Street Cafe, which caused budget shortfalls. JSMF ¶ 67. Similarly, Metz's inability to downsize due to its obligation to retain St. Mary's management with their preexisting salaries and benefits was unique to the St. Mary's contract. See Solomon Dep. 10:16-24, 19:12-14, 20:2-25, 21:9-13.

         In February of 2015, Farrow wrote a largely-positive evaluation of Bouyea. See JSMF ¶ 57. That evaluation included phrases such as "100 [percent] compliant," "excellent," "very detail-oriented," "moving in the right direction," "consistently meet[s] and exceed[s] expectations," "worked very hard at perfecting the programs at MSC [Market Street Cafe] and CC [Campus Cuisine]," "high standard of performance/results for his team," "moving in the right direction," and "a pleasure to have on my team and an asset to [Metz]."[5] JSMF ¶ 58.

         On March 20, 2015, Farrow asked to speak with Hickey "privately about your impressions of Dennis Bouyea in your dealings with him thus far." JSMF ¶ 72. On April 13, 2015, Farrow sent an email to Hickey indicating that he wanted to set a 60-day target with Bouyea for hitting budget and a 30-day target for hitting other goals. JSMF ¶ 90. In that same email, Farrow indicated that he would be actively recruiting for a "temporary (and permanent) replacement" of Bouyea. JSMF ¶ 90. Farrow also noted in the April 13 email that he had clarified "the severity of the issues (financial and other) with Dennis." Ex. 8 (ECF No. 23-8). Farrow had emailed Bouyea on March 31, 2015 to express disappointment with that month's budget performance. JSMF ¶ 15.[6]

         B. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services Inspection

         Events took a turn for the worse on May 27, 2015, when the Maine Department of Health and Human Services ("DHHS") visited St. Mary's D'Youville Pavdion. JSMF ¶ 83. Subsequent to that visit, DHHS issued a Statement of Deficiencies and Plan of Correction. JSMF ¶83. Although the parties dispute which specific areas cited in the report were Metz's versus St. Mary's responsibilities, it is undisputed that Metz and St. Mary's were in joint control of certain areas cited by DHHS. See JSMF ΒΆΒΆ 75-89. DHHS cited the D'Youville Pavdion for numerous deficiencies ...

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