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Huhn v. Koehring Co.

decided: September 29, 1983.

GERALD R. HUHN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
KOEHRING COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 80 C 747 -- Terence T. Evans, Judge.

Pell and Coffey, Circuit Judges, and Weigel, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Coffey

COFFEY, Circuit Judge.

Gerald R. Huhn appeals from the order of the United States District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin, granting summary judgment in favor of the Koehring Company (Farm Equipment Division), his employer, under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. ยง 621 et seq. (the "ADEA"). Huhn contends that the order was improper because the company's explanation for discharging him was a pretext for age discrimination rather than a legitimate business reason. We affirm.

I.

At all times relevant to this litigation, the Farm Equipment Division of Koehring manufactured various farm implements and machinery and was headquartered in Appleton, Wisconsin. The products of the Farm Equipment Division were sold through a network of retail dealers serviced by area salesmen assigned individual territories. An area salesman's duties consisted of promoting wholesale shipment of equipment to retail dealers, collecting monies due to Koehring for the financing of the wholesale sales, and assisting the dealers in selling the equipment at the retail level.

The plaintiff, Gerald R. Huhn, an area salesman for the Farm Equipment Division, was assigned the northeastern section of Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan. Since the Farm Equipment Division's headquarters were located in this area, this territory was of particular importance to the Koehring Company and had previously enjoyed one of the highest sales volumes in the country. In 1976, for some unknown reason, shipments to Huhn's territory dramatically dropped. The comparable figures for the plaintiff Huhn's territory for the years 1974, 1975, and 1976 are as follows:

1974 $1,267,484.15

1975 $1,158,833.02

1976 $673,689.27

As of the end of July, 1977, the plaintiff Huhn's sales declined another 30.2% from his 1976 depressed sales volume. Additionally, each area salesman was given a quota for finance collections to be made on the wholesale sales in his territory (based on his past performance) and in 1976 Huhn achieved only 66.3% of his quota.

A decision was made within Koehring to remove Huhn from his sales duties, and on August 15, 1977, Damon Vitale, the Farm Equipment Division President and General Manager, and Thomas Symons, the Division's Director of Employee Relations, met with Huhn, now fifty years of age, to inform him that he was being placed on indefinite leave of absence due to the dramatic sales decline in his territory.*fn1 Rather than terminate him, the Koehring Company placed Huhn on leave of absence in order that he might be able to continue his medical and other insurance as he had previously undergone open-heart surgery and was still under medication. John D. Miller, age forty-five, was assigned Huhn's sales territory on September 15, 1977. While on leave of absence, Huhn accepted employment with the Kewanee Machinery Company on December 5, 1977. Koehring continued to provide Huhn with health and life insurance until such time as Huhn formally declined an offer to return to the Farm Equipment Division in another position in April of 1978.

Subsequent to Huhn's removal from his sales position, Huhn asked Koehring to provide him with written confirmation of the leave of absence conference held August 15, 1977 between Huhn, Symons and Vitale. On August 23, 1977, Mr. Symons sent Huhn a letter which recited in pertinent part:

"Actual shipments in your territory are significantly below its business potential and what is required, in view of the shipments that have been traditionally generated in that territory over the years. Additionally, dealer calls have decreased to an average of only one per day. Therefore, it is necessary to replace you in the territory.

"It is also our belief that you would not be interested in an internal office position should one become available in the future.

"After selection of a replacement and your familiarizing him with your territory, you will be placed on an indefinite personal leave of absence that will be reviewed at the end of six months. During the period of your approved leave of absence your life and health insurances will remain in force.

"If, during the term of the leave of absence, you should become qualified for Social Security benefits, you would automatically qualify for a Koehring pension, and ...


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