by Ivan Foley
A jury trial was scheduled to take place this week. It won’t happen.
The employment discrimination/wrongful termination lawsuit filed by longtime store manager Ron Stone against Casey’s General Store in Platte City was pulled from the docket last week, just a few days prior to a trial that was scheduled to start Monday.
“Everything has been taken care of,” Stone said Tuesday when reached by The Landmark.
Asked if he was satisfied, Stone responded: “I have no comment about that.”
Asked if a financial settlement had been reached, Stone responded again with “everything has been taken care of.”
Stone’s attorney, Mark Jess of the Employee Rights Law Firm in Kansas City, in a phone interview with The Landmark said only: “The matter has been resolved.”
Asked if that meant a financial settlement had been reached, Jess declined to elaborate.
The suit listed Casey’s and Desiree Batchelar, described as Stone’s ultimate supervisor, as defendants.
An attorney representing Casey’s in the matter, Kate McClymont of Husch Blackwell, had not returned a Landmark message as of press time.
Depositions had long been underway and the case had advanced through the preliminary stages. The jury trial was set to take place in the courtroom of Platte County Circuit Court Judge James Van Amburg.
The timing of the removal of the trial from the docket came after Casey’s attorneys had filed what is known as “defendant’s opposition to plaintiff’s first motion in limine.”
Inside that filing with the court, Casey’s spelled out what the company lists as its reasons for the termination of Stone’s employment.
“Casey’s terminated plaintiff’s employment because on Jan. 23, 2014 he went on a profanity laced rant in front of customers in the store. Among other things, he said things like “(F) Casey’s,” “I have the (effing) numbers” and “Everyone at corporate is a bunch of dumbasses,” the company document says.
During Stone’s deposition, he denied making those statements “even though he could not conjure up any reason the person who reported them--Mike Eckstein, a service technician with whom he had never had a problem and who admitted bore him no ill will--would make those things up,” according to the filing by Casey’s.
The document filed by Casey’s goes on to say that Stone “could not conjure up any reason why Eric Newell, the maintenance coordinator with whom Eckstein was talking with during plaintiff’s rant,” would “pretend to hear something that had not happened and then encourage Eckstein to report what had not happened.”
The Casey’s document filed with the court goes on to say that Stone reported to Batchelar for the last year or so of his employment.
The company alleges that during that time, another employee heard Stone refer to Batchelar as a “bitch,” “a dumbass,” and another vulgarity in front of or to subordinate employees.
“Plaintiffs profane disrespect for and toward his supervisor--especially in front of/to subordinate employees who also interacted with Ms. Batchelar--certainly makes it more likely that he used the language for which Casey’s fired him. As such, it is relevant,” the company alleged.
The company, in that same document filed with the court, said that during his deposition Stone “admitted he would allow subordinate employees and third parties to take ice from the store he managed without paying for it. Casey’s policies expressly prohibit such conduct.”
Andy Stanton, a Platte City businessman and like Stone a former elected alderman for the city, said he had been approached by the legal team for Casey’s about giving testimony in the lawsuit. Stanton says Stone used profanity toward him in front of customers and staff inside of Casey’s in an incident a few years ago.
Stanton said he reported the matter to Casey’s upper management at the time.
Stanton said the Casey’s attorneys had told him Stone was denying that he used profanity toward Stanton.
“After I heard that, I was prepared to testify if they wanted me to do so,” Stanton told The Landmark this week.
Stanton said an attorney for Casey’s was scheduled to meet with him last Wednesday. He said two days prior to that meeting, the attorney called him to let him know the case had been pulled from the docket.
Stanton is mentioned in the court document Casey’s filed on April 4.
“Mr. Stanton was a customer who reported that plaintiff told him to ‘get the hell out’ of the store,” the document alleges.
“When interviewed, the employees present protected plaintiff and told Casey’s he had not said what he plainly said. Mr. Stanton will testify that those employees lied, which is relevant to whether employees who deny he did what he was fired for are lying,” the company alleged.
Stone was employed by Casey’s for about 28 years. He spent time as an area supervisor and manager before becoming the manager in Platte City 22 years ago. Stone was terminated on Jan. 31, 2014 for alleged “inappropriate behavior.”
According to court documents, Stone filed a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights within 180 days of the acts complained of in his suit and filed the lawsuit within 90 days of the “right to sue” letter issued by the human rights commission.
Stone, who lives in Platte City, filed the lawsuit in March of 2015.
The suit sought judgment for damages in the amount of Stone’s “actual and punitive damages in an amount that is fair, reasonable, together with his costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees, and for any other remedy that the court deems equitable.”
Stone’s lawsuit alleges that he was “discriminated and retaliated against based on his age, disability and/or perceived disability and/or retaliation in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA) when they terminated him.”
Stone was 48 years old at the time of the alleged events outlined in his lawsuit. His duties as manager included handling front end operations, such as cashiers, cash management, scheduling lunches and breaks, customer service and “other duties assigned.”
Stone’s suit said that in November of 2013 he had heart-related issues requiring him to see a physician. Stone was informed that he needed to undergo a surgical procedure and needed to be off the schedule for a surgery.
In December of 2013, Stone says he followed up with his physician following his surgery and was released to go back to work with minimal restrictions (no lifting over 10 pounds).
Stone’s lawsuit alleged defendant Batchelar stated that Stone “yelled derogatory comments about the company and used profanity while subordinate employees and customers were present therefore they have lost confidence that he can effectively function in a role as a manager.”
Stone’s lawsuit alleged the situation described above “was never investigated and no co-workers or customers were questioned.”
The lawsuit alleged that Stone “has also been retaliated against by not receiving his quarterly bonus money which was owed to him.”
The suit alleged that “as a result of Casey’s conduct, Stone has, and will continue to, sustain damages in the form of lost income and garden variety emotional pain, including but not limited to mental suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience and loss of enjoyment of life.”
Stone’s lawsuit alleged that “Casey’s conduct was outrageous due to their evil motive and/or reckless disregard for Stone’s rights, entitling him to punitive damages.”
Casey’s home office is located in Ankeny, Iowa. The company was represented in the case by McClymont and Jeffrey David Hanslick of Kansas City, both of Husch Blackwell LLP.