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Frevert v. Ford Motor Co.

July 20, 2010


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Smith, Circuit Judge.

Submitted: February 11, 2010

Before RILEY, Chief Judge,*fn1 SMITH and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

David Frevert filed suit against Ford Motor Company ("Ford") in Missouri state court alleging wrongful discharge under the Missouri common law public policy exception to the employment at-will doctrine. After Ford removed the case to federal court, it moved for summary judgment, arguing that Frevert did not qualify as a whistleblower under Missouri's public policy exception to the employment at-will doctrine. Ford further argued that, even if Frevert qualified as a whistleblower, Ford had provided uncontroverted evidence of its legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for Frevert's termination. The district court*fn2 granted Ford's motion for summary judgment. Frevert now appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment. We affirm.

I. Background

Ford hired Frevert as an at-will employee in February 2003 as a material control supervisor. Six months later, Frevert became a rail dock supervisor. Throughout his employment, Frevert worked at Ford's Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Missouri ("the Plant"). He was a salaried manager in the Material Planning and Logistics organization (MP&L).

On August 27, 2007, Frevert anonymously called Ford's hotline*fn3 and gave "a detailed description of the events and employees who had engaged in activities that [Frevert] believed were in violation of Company policy." He gave the personnel relations representative the fake name "Don" to preserve his anonymity. Frevert reported that another employee, L.H., came to work drunk, left early, took long lunches, intimidated employees, gave other employees preferential treatment, retaliated against employees who "crossed" her, and was in a sexual relationship with another manager.

In his deposition, Frevert admitted that he did not believe that L.H. "did anything that was illegal or that violated the law." Additionally, Frevert did not report to L.H. or work near her or on the same shift. He never personally witnessed any of the incidents that he reported to the hotline; instead, he merely reported information provided by other employees.

After the call, the hotline personnel forwarded Frevert's information to the Plant for an investigation by the Plant Human Resources Department; this department was to report its findings back to Personnel Relations in Dearborn. Lori Strohl conducted the investigation without knowing who made the call. She spoke with L.H.'s supervisor and learned that L.H. had permission to work a flexible schedule. L.H.'s supervisor also denied observing L.H. arriving to work drunk or engaging in bullying or other inappropriate behavior. L.H.'s alleged sexual relationship with a manager involved an individual who no longer worked for Ford. Strohl also found no evidence that L.H. had abused her authority. Strohl reported her findings to Personnel Relations in Dearborn.

On September 5, 2007, Frevert again anonymously called the hotline and provided more detail about L.H.'s sexually inappropriate comments and actions. He also alleged that two employees-A.H. and M.J.-were paid for time that they did not work. Again, Frevert admitted in his deposition that he did not supervise A.H. or M.J., did not work on the same shift as those employees at the time he made the hotline call, and did not review their paycheck and time records.

Frevert was advised to contact Nicole Berri, the Personnel Relations Representative in Dearborn who was responsible for all of Ford's assembly plants in the United States. He contacted Berri in early October 2007 and identified himself as "Don." He identified "David Frevert" as among those who could provide information about L.H.'s actions. Berri forwarded the list of witnesses that Frevert had reported to her to Strohl. Strohl interviewed all of the witnesses, including Frevert. Strohl instructed Frevert and the others not to reveal the topics or information discussed. Divulging the contents of such interviews would violate Ford's policies.

During Frevert's interview with Strohl, Frevert reported all of the incidents that he had described during the hotline calls. "Because it seemed like [Frevert] had a lot of information about other employees within the MP&L organization regarding their performance," Strohl asked him if he was "the spokesperson for MP&L." Frevert responded in the affirmative, stating that he was "more boisterous."

Strohl's investigation confirmed some of L.H.'s inappropriate comments and actions. On October 23, 2007, she prepared a Proposal for Disciplinary Action and recommended that L.H. be "terminated in the best interest of the company." She forwarded the proposal to Dearborn. Strohl's investigation into A.H. and M.J.'s alleged "pay practice violations" revealed no pay practice irregularities.

Despite Strohl's directive against discussing the topic of the interviews with other employees, rumors and discussions regarding the investigation of L.H. got back to L.H., who then complained to Strohl. L.H. provided Strohl with emails to support her claim that employees were discussing the investigation.

Strohl forwarded the emails to Berri and also informed Berri of her conversation with L.H. Berri decided to personally follow-up on L.H.'s claim. Berri requested that emails of four individuals be pulled-Frevert, L.R, D.R., and M.H. According to Berri, she chose these individuals based on the content of the ...

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