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Bechold v. Igw Systems Inc.

decided: May 4, 1987.

ROBERT W. BECHOLD, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
IGW SYSTEMS, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, No. 83-C-481 -- William E. Steckler, Judge.

Bauer, Chief Judge, Cudahy and Easterbrook, Circuit Judges.

Author: Bauer

BAUER, Chief Judge.

Robert Bechold was employed as a tool designer by IGW Systems, Inc. ("IGW"). He alleges that he was fired in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 623. The bench trial below resulted in judgment for the defendant. For the reasons which follow, we affirm.

I.

IGW manufactures precision machine gears and housings for the aircraft industry. Their tool engineering department employed three designers: Robert Bechold, Wayne Orlopp and Marc Lovell. The department designed both jig and fixture tools and perishable tools.*fn1 Bechold, the plaintiff, was a skilled jig and fixture designer with over 20 years of design experience. We will assume for the purposes of this opinion, that Bechold also had training in designing perishable, or cutting tools. Orlopp was primarily responsible for designing perishable tools. Lovell was in engineering school during the period in question and had been trained by both Bechold and Orlopp in their respective specialties.

Beginning in the late 1970's, IGW began to experience net losses and became dependent on its principal buyer, Sikorsky Aircraft/Helicopter. As the business from Sikorsky began to decline as well, IGW instituted a capital improvement program to attract new business and increase efficiency. By 1982 however, business was still poor and IGW began to layoff both hourly-rated and salaried employees.

Robert Black was hired in 1982 as vice president of engineering and made the selections as to which salaried employees would be laid off in the engineering department. He fired both Bechold (age 61) and Orlopp (age 58) and retained only Lovell (age 23) as a tool designer. Black testified that just prior to hearing of the need for reductions-in-force, he had decided to bring new people into the engineering department to revitalize it. Once it was clear that layoffs were inevitable, Black set about to accomplish both ends at once -- to streamline the department while restructuring it. He decided to contract-out all jig and fixture work and use the design department only to design and draft new perishable tools once the old ones became worn.

After conferring with various people, Black decided to dismiss Bechold, the skilled jig and fixture designer, since this work would no longer be handled in-house. Black believed that Bechold had no recent experience in designing perishable tools. Of the two designers remaining, Black decided to retain Lovell, who was merely a draftsman, instead of Orlopp, because Lovell could do the necessary design work and was also responsible for a good deal of the clerical work required. In addition, Black testified that he was not impressed with Orlopp's skills. Bechold brought suit in district court after exhausting his administrative remedies with the EEOC as required by 29 U.S.C. § 626(d).

II.

ADEA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of advanced age. 29 U.S.C. § 623. To show a violation of ADEA, a plaintiff must ultimately show that age was a determining factor of discharge. La Montagne v. American Convenience Products, Inc., 750 F.2d 1405, 1409 (7th Cir. 1984). Since it is often difficult to show discriminatory intent, this burden can be met by presenting either direct or indirect evidence of discrimination. La Montagne, 750 F.2d at 1409. When the plaintiff proves the case indirectly, the court will employ the burden-shifting analysis set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973) (made applicable to cases arising under ADEA in Tice v. Lampert Yards, Inc., 761 F.2d 1210, 1212 (7th Cir. 1985)). Since Bechold complained that he was adversely affected by the employer's decision to reduce its force, he must have shown the following elements to establish a prima facie case of discrimination:

(1) that he was in the protected age group;

(2) that he was adversely affected;

(3) that he was qualified to assume another ...


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