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SPRAGUE v. NAVISTAR INTL. TRANSP. CORP.

November 22, 1993

RICHARD SPRAGUE, Plaintiff,
v.
NAVISTAR INTERNATIONAL TRANSPORTATION CORP., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MILTON I. SHADUR

 Richard Sprague ("Sprague") has sued Navistar International Transportation Corp. ("Navistar"), claiming it discharged him because of his age (42 at the time of his dismissal) in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. ยงยง 621-634. Navistar has moved for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 56. *fn1" For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order, its motion is granted and this action is dismissed.

 Summary Judgment Standards

 Rule 56(c) requires that to be "entitled to a judgment as a matter of law," the moving party must establish the lack of any "genuine issue as to any material fact" ( Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986)). In that respect a "genuine issue" requires that there be sufficient evidence for a jury to return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party ( Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986)), while a "material fact" is one that "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law"--here ADEA ( id. at 248; Pritchard v. Rainfair, Inc., 945 F.2d 185, 191 (7th Cir. 1991)).

 In the application of those principles this Court need not draw "every conceivable inference from the record--only those inferences that are reasonable" in favor of nonmovant Sprague ( Bank Leumi Le-Israel, B.M. v. Lee, 928 F.2d 232, 236 (7th Cir. 1991)). While the standard for summary judgment is "applied with added rigor in employment discrimination cases, where intent is inevitably the central issue" ( McCoy v. WGN Continental Broadcasting Co., 957 F.2d 368, 370-71 (7th Cir. 1992)), that does not render the summary judgment procedure "per se improper" ( Washington v. Lake County, 969 F.2d 250, 254 (7th Cir. 1992)). Instead summary judgment for Navistar is appropriate if the record reveals that no reasonable jury could conclude that Sprague was fired from his job because of his age ( Shager v. Upjohn Co., 913 F.2d 398, 399 (7th Cir. 1990)).

 Facts

 Richard Sprague, born on December 1, 1948 (P. 12(n)(2) P 1), began working for Navistar (then known as International Harvester) in June 1967 (P. 12(n)(1) P 5) or 1968 (D. 12(m) P 5) *fn2" as a parts-depot trainee (D. 12(m) P 5). *fn3" From March 1971 to October 1987 Sprague held a series of increasingly senior positions with the company (D. 12(m) PP 6-8). In October 1987 he was transferred to the Corporate Financial Planning and Analysis group at Navistar's World Headquarters in Chicago (D. 12(m) PP 9-10) to assume the position of Financial Analyst (P. 12(n)(2) P 1), a post that he held until he was fired early in 1991 (P. 12(n)(1) P 10). That termination is the crux of this case: Sprague claims he was wrongfully discharged because of his age, while Navistar says his position was properly eliminated during a "company-wide reduction in force" ("RIF") (D. 12(m) P 10).

 Before the RIF Sprague and another Financial Analyst Philip Pearson ("Pearson") (age 41) *fn4" reported to Manager of Truck Operations Analysis Dean Nowak ("Nowak") (age 37) (D. 12(m) P 11). Nowak in turn reported to Director of Corporate Financial Analysis Walter Rhodes ("Rhodes") (age 52) (D. 12(m) P 12). Manager of Profit/Cost Analysis James Gregorich ("Gregorich") (age 34) also reported to Rhodes (D. 12(m) P 25), while Financial Analysts Tom Wilson ("Wilson") (age 43) and Linda Dalaba ("Dalaba") (age 41) reported to Gregorich (D. 12(m) P 26). For his part Rhodes reported to Vice President and Controller Robert Morrison ("Morrison") (age 52) (D. 12(m) P 13), who was in charge of the Corporate Controller's Office (Morrison Dep. 14; D.R. Ex. H, Doc. N2014). For ease of identification this opinion will refer to the Truck Operations Analysis and Profit/Cost Analysis units (comprising Nowak, Sprague, Pearson, Gregorich, Wilson and Dalaba) collectively as the "Group."

 Sometime in the second half of 1990 Morrison and Navistar's Chief Operating Officer John Horne formulated the "Breakeven Challenge Program" (the "Program") to achieve cost reductions within the company (D. 12(m) P 16; Morrison Dep. 53, Rhodes Dep. 29, 91). One major component of the Program was a company-wide RIF aimed at reducing overall labor costs (Morrison Aff. (D. Ex. B) P 5; Rhodes Dep. 34-35). *fn5"

 In December 1990 Morrison held a meeting of the departmental directors who reported to him (including Rhodes) as well as directors in Navistar's finance area to review the financial condition of the company and announce the Program (D. 12(m) PP 18-19). At the meeting Morrison asked the directors to review their departmental budgets and to consider where cost reductions could be achieved by eliminating functions, positions, personnel and discretionary expenditures (Rhodes Dep. 34-35).

 It was decided at the outset that the RIF would not extend to trainees who were part of Navistar's Financial Management Development Program (the "FMDP") (P. 12(n)(2) P 13; Morrison Aff. P 16). Begun several years before 1991, the FMDP was adopted by Navistar to rotate recent college graduates and some existing employees through various departments in the company (P. 12(n)(1) P 53; Morrison Aff. PP 12-13). FMDP trainees tended to be "young people" in comparison with the average age of Navistar's work force (Morrison Dep. 141-42, 162-63).

 In December 1990 or January 1991 Rhodes met with Nowak and Gregorich, told them of Navistar's cost reduction plan and asked each to rank his Financial Analysts (D. 12(m) PP 25-26; Rhodes Dep. 38-39). *fn6" Nowak assessed Pearson as being more ambitious, aggressive and possessing greater analytical skills than Sprague (D. 12(m) P 27). Consequently Nowak ranked Pearson first and Sprague second and conveyed that evaluation to Rhodes (id.).7

 In January 1991 directors in the finance area again met to report on their RIF decisions. At that meeting an "available list" was compiled of those employees whose positions had been eliminated. Sprague's and Dalaba's names were included on the list. Also considered were possible reassignments of personnel to fill Navistar's remaining needs (D. 12(m) PP 29-32).

 On January 31 Rhodes called Sprague and Nowak into his office and told Sprague that he was being terminated because his position with the company had been eliminated (D. 12(m) P 44). Navistar does not contend that Sprague was terminated for "cause or inappropriate conduct" (Rhodes Dep. 20). *fn8" While his last actual workday at Navistar was January 31 (Rhodes Dep. 20), he was kept on the payroll until February 15 (P. 12(n)(1) P 10; Rhodes Dep. Ex. 3).

 During and after the RIF the composition of the Group changed considerably. Though Dalaba's position was also eliminated by Rhodes from his Corporate Financial Analysis group (D. 12(m) P 32), toward the end of January 1991 she was selected by Navistar's Parts organization from the "available list" (on which Sprague's name also appeared) to fill a finance position within that organization--a decision in which Rhodes was not consulted and played no part (D. 12(m) P 43). Wilson was chosen by Director of Finance Jim Stanaway ("Stanaway") (age 45) for the Materials Management organization to fill a temporary position as an analyst within that organization (D. 12(m) PP 34, 38, 42).

 Once the 1991 RIF was completed Gregorich became Manager of Financial Analysis, with supervision over Nowak and Pearson (who retained their positions) (D. 12(m) P 47). James Huffman ("Huffman") (age 53) and Robert Spizzo ("Spizzo") (age 40) were transferred into the Group (also reporting to Gregorich) from the Financial Standards Policy and Procedure group, which had been eliminated during the RIF (D. 12(m) P 48). *fn9" Finally FMDP trainee William Murphy ("Murphy") (age 33) was transferred to the Group on February 15, 1991, assigned to Truck Operations Analysis (D. 12(m) P 50; P. Ex. 4 Doc. N3234).

 In August 1991 Navistar reorganized its truck business into three separate divisions (Morrison Dep. 99; P. 12(n)(2) P 70). At that time the Group was again reformulated. Nowak and Pearson left the Group and were replaced by Ted Zurkowski ("Zurkowski") (age 36) and Steven Gleason ("Gleason") (age 28) (P. 12(n)(2) P 67; Murphy Dep. 57-58). At that point Zurkowski headed Financial Forecasting and Reporting (supervising Gleason and Murphy), while Gregorich now headed Business Profitability and Analysis (supervising Huffman, Spizzo, Wilson [who had apparently returned to the Group] and Nick Noto (age unknown)) (P. 12(n)(2) P 71; Murphy Dep. 57-58; Rhodes Dep. Ex. 1 Doc. N2120). Rhodes was no longer in charge of the Group, which now fell under the supervision of Jim McIntosh (P. 12(n)(2) P 67; Rhodes Dep. Ex. 1 Doc. N2120).

 In April 1992 Zurkowski left Navistar, and in May or June of that year Murphy was promoted to Zurkowski's old position (P. 12(n)(2) P 71; Rhodes Dep. Ex. 1 Doc. N2123). On June 22, 1992 Bruce Glanville ("Glanville") (age 34) took over Murphy's Financial Analyst position, so that Murphy now supervised Glanville and Gleason (P. 12(n)(2) P 71; P. Ex. 4 Doc. N3266).

 So much for the facts. This opinion now turns to the evaluation of those facts in terms of ascertaining the existence or nonexistence of any genuine issue of material fact.

 Legal Framework

 Under ADEA the employee always carries the burden of proving "that he would not have been discharged 'but for' his employer's motive to discriminate against him because of his age" ( Karazanos v. Navistar Int'l Transp. Corp., 948 F.2d 332, 335 (7th Cir. 1991)). By now the dual judicial approaches to that problem are so familiar that this opinion will do no more than to identify them in outline form.

 One of those approaches is the more-recently-announced mixed-motives analysis in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 104 L. Ed. 2d 268, 109 S. Ct. 1775 (1989), appropriate where both discriminatory and nondiscriminatory considerations have influenced an employer in making the adverse employment decision. Price Waterhouse, id. at 232 says that its division of the burdens of proof between plaintiff and defendant applies "when it has been shown that an employment decision resulted from a mixture of legitimate and illegitimate motives." Of course when a court rules on a motion for summary judgment, nothing "has been shown": Factual proofs have not been weighed by a trier of fact. Because Price Waterhouse (unlike the formulation next discussed) involves a shift in the burden of persuasion, and thus sets a higher hurdle for the employer to overcome, it comes into play ...


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