Tribune's stated nondiscriminatory reason for Dale's
termination — his inefficiency and ineffectiveness as a
manager — was merely a pretext for age discrimination.
Normally a plaintiff establishes an employer's
nondiscriminatory reason is unworthy of credence by pointing
to direct evidence of age discrimination. Because Dale
acknowledges he has no such direct evidence, he must offer
evidence giving rise to an inference that Tribune had a
discriminatory motive in terminating him. See
LaMontagne, 750 F.2d at 1414-15. In that regard this Court "is
not required to evaluate every conceivable inference which can
be drawn from evidentiary matter, but only reasonable ones."
Matthews, at 1218, quoting Parker v. Federal National Mortgage
Association, 741 F.2d 975, 980 (7th Cir. 1984) (emphasis in
original), which affirmed this Court's grant of an employer's
summary judgment motion in a like ADEA case, 567 F. Supp. 265
Apart from his own subjective belief he was the victim of
age discrimination — an insufficient basis for finding pretext
in the context of a summary judgment motion, see Elliot v.
Group Medical & Surgical Service, 714 F.2d 556, 564 (5th Cir.
1983) — Dale points to the fact a number of other older
workers also left Tribune at or around the time of his
discharge. Dale claims that pattern of departures raises an
inference of age discrimination.
In inference terms, though, that really represents a quantum
leap. It ignores — skips directly over — the most reasonable
inference to be drawn from the departures. As the ORC report
demonstrates and as Dale acknowledges, Brumback sought to
refashion the management of Tribune by placing new emphasis on
profitability, planning and interaction among departments
(Tribune Doc. 2 at 2-3). ORC found a major obstacle in
Tribune's existing management culture, in which departments
operated as fiefdoms and managers themselves tended to be
passive, awaiting instructions from top management (Tribune
Doc. 2 at 2). It would scarcely be surprising if the employees
least adaptable to such a change turned out to include a number
in the later stages of their careers. And a number of those
managers might well choose to leave voluntarily rather than
contend with the announced — and of course legitimate —
change of direction. Others might opt to remain but still prove
incapable of adhering to the new management plan, in which
event their termination or early retirement would properly be
perceived as necessary to the overall success of the
undertaking. In sum, it is not at all surprising that the toll
of such a reorganization should be heaviest among longer-term
(and thus older) employees — without connoting any
In light of that far more reasonable inference from the
employee departures Dale points to — an inference that fits
all the evidence before this Court — Dale's mere assertion of
age discrimination as a possible explanation for the departures
does not suffice to meet his evidentiary burden under Rule
56(e). Absent any specific evidence to indicate employees were
selected for termination because of their ages, rather than
because of their performance or their adaptability to the new
management philosophy, there is simply no rational basis for
imputing a discriminatory motive to Tribune.
Huhn, 718 F.2d at 242-43 quoted the District Court's
recapitulation of the reasons supporting summary judgment in
the employer's favor after making the third-step pretext
analysis. Its language (adapted solely by substituting Dale's
name for Huhn's) could well have been written for this case:
Whether or not [Dale] raises an issue of material
fact as to just how good or bad his performance
would look to an outside observer, the company
was not satisfied. . . .
The issue here is not whether [Dale] was
performing satisfactorily. The company did not
think that he was. So long as age was not the
basis of the company's decision — and absolutely
no evidence exists in this record that it was —
the company can make a decision to terminate, even
if the decision is unwise. The only
thing it cannot do for purposes of this lawsuit
is discriminate on the basis of age.
[Dale] is arguing that because to him the
company's decision did not make sense, he is the
victim of age discrimination. A plaintiff
claiming age discrimination has a larger burden.
He must affirmatively show that "but for" his
age, he would not have been fired. [Dale] has not
met his burden.
ERISA and Duty-of-Fair-Dealing Claims