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TEUMER v. GMC

December 7, 1993

Edmond C. Teumer, Plaintiff,
v.
General Motors Corporation, Defendant.


Plunkett


The opinion of the court was delivered by: PAUL E. PLUNKETT

This matter arises out of Defendant General Motors Corporation's ("GMC") lay off in 1986 of Plaintiff Edmond C. Teumer in connection with a reduction in force at a GMC Electro Motive Division ("EMD") manufacturing facility in 1986. Plaintiff filed suit in March 1992 alleging that the lay off and subsequent recall of Plaintiff violated ERISA section 510. The Court addresses here Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion is granted.

 Background

 About certain facts there is no dispute. Plaintiff Edmond C. Teumer was hired by GMC's Electro Motive Division on July 28, 1971. From that point until his lay off effective April 30, 1986, he was employed by EMD at Plant 207. In 1977, Plaintiff was promoted to a Production Supervisor position, which GMC refers to by job code 6M08.

 In May 1985, Plaintiff's job classification was changed from Production Supervisor to Quality Control Supervisor, job code 6R41. The paperwork prepared by GMC's Personnel Department to effect the change stated that the transfer was for "developmental purposes only." Plaintiff thought that this change was the result of the outsourcing of production and the transfer of an existing 6R41 supervisor to another plant. *fn1"

 This change in Plaintiff's classification apparently was initiated in conjunction with an effort initiated by GMC in late 1984 to restructure its first-line supervisory positions. *fn2" Plaintiff was placed into the Operations Supervisor position without his knowledge. Plaintiff was the only person ever placed into the new program.

 As of March 1, 1986, Plaintiff was performing Production Supervisor duties and his classification was changed back to 6M08, where it remained until he was laid off. At some point during 1986, Ken Ford, an Administrator in EMD's Salaried Administration Department, deleted -- incorrectly -- the 6R41 experience from Plaintiff's work record. Ford was aware that the deletion would affect Plaintiff with respect to lay-off decisions, but did not know whether the affect would be positive or negative.

 Plaintiff was laid off effective April 30, 1986, along with a number of other employees and supervisors at Plant 207. During the period Plaintiff was laid off, he received two years of layoff benefits. Plaintiff had fourteen years and nine months of service with GMC at the time he was laid off. Of the other 6M08 supervisors laid off with Plaintiff, some had more than fifteen years' service and others did not.

 At the time Plaintiff was laid off, GMC had already begun to plan for the eventual "closing" of Plant 207. A May 13, 1985 letter entitled "Divisional Policy Covering Plan 207 Salaried Employes [sic] Placement and Recall Rights" set out the policy for "handling displaced salaried personnel at Plant 207 during the time prior to the Plant closing in calendar 1987." (Exh. D to Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Opp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 1 (hereafter "Pl.'s Mem. of Law").) The policy provided that personnel engaged in factory and factory support operations at Plan 207 would be allowed a one-time opportunity to "displace low service employes at the same level, or one below" if they had worked for GMC for at least five years, had greater length of service than the "bumped" employee, and had "the ability to perform the work with minimal indoctrination and training." (Id.) At an April 7, 1986 meeting of Plant 207 supervisors, Plaintiff was told that none of the supervisors attending the meeting qualified for a transfer to another plant or for bumping rights.

 Because Plaintiff was in a 6M08 position at the time he was laid off, his lay-off and recall rights were to a 6M08 position. *fn3" Plaintiff was eligible for recall to a 6R41 Quality Control position in line with his length of service only after all individuals who had been Quality Control Supervisors at the time they had been laid off were recalled.

 Plaintiff returned to nontemporary full time employment in September 1991, when he was awarded the 6M08 position he currently holds. *fn4" Plaintiff was temporarily recalled twice between May 1986 and September 1991. He was temporarily recalled to a job code 6S05 Production and Material Control position at the Hodgkins Warehouse facility from May 1989 to December 1989. He also was recalled for a temporary 6S05 position in March 1991. *fn5"

 Defendant concedes, for purposes of this summary judgment analysis, that GMC did not follow its corporate practice of applying corporate policies consistently in its dealings with Plaintiff. At least one supervisor junior to Plaintiff was recalled to a position for which Plaintiff had superior recall rights, contrary to GMC corporate and divisional recall policy.

 Throughout the period of Plaintiff's layoff, GMC maintained an Income Protection Plan ("IPP"). IPP provides income to long-time GMC employees who have been laid off and whose layoff benefits have expired. An employee is eligible for IPP benefits if he "had at least 15 years' length of service (10 years' length of service with respect solely to a plant closing situation) on the last day the employee worked prior to the effective date of such layoff." (Exh. I of Def.'s Mem. of Law at ┬ž 2(b).)

 Plaintiff was not eligible for IPP benefits when he was laid off. GMC categorized the May 1986 reductions in force at Plant 207 as a "plant consolidation" rather than as a "plant closing." As a result, only those employees who had at least fifteen year's service were eligible for IPP benefits. Plaintiff had less than the required fifteen years' service at the time he was laid off.

 The parties agree that Ken Ford, the GMC official responsible for determining the order in which Plant 207 employees would be laid off, did not discuss IPP benefits with anyone at GMC in making lay-off decisions. Ford also did not know how the IPP program was funded, other than the fact that it was not the financial responsibility of the individual plant. Plaintiff admitted in deposition testimony that he does not know who determined IPP eligibility.

 In late 1989, Plaintiff requested a meeting with GMC Personnel Department officials to discuss his concerns regarding the recall of other GMC employees prior to his recall. Such a meeting was consistent with GMC's so-called "Open Door Policy." After his meeting with the Personnel Department, he continued to pursue his concerns with other members of GMC's management, consistent with the Open Door Policy. Plaintiff exhausted the avenue provided by the Open Door Policy in April 1990 when he received a letter from Vice President Richard F. O'Brien. *fn6"

 Plaintiff brought this action on March 17, 1992. He subsequently amended his complaint twice, filing an Amended Complaint on August 4, 1992, and a Second Amended Complaint on February 22, 1993. Plaintiff has requested and received two extensions of the discovery period.

 Count I of Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint alleges that GMC interfered with Plaintiff's attainment of his IPP benefit when it laid him of on April 30, 1986. (Second Am. Compl. at P 22.) Count I alternatively alleges that Defendant interfered with Plaintiff's attainment of his IPP benefits when Defendant did not identify Plant 207's shutdown as a plant "closure," (Id. at PP 23-24), and when it failed to transfer Plaintiff in accordance with GMC's stated policy. (Id. at PP 25-27.) Count II of Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint alleges that Defendant interfered with Plaintiff's attainment of his IPP benefits by failing to recall Plaintiff to a position at another facility even though certain employees with less seniority (namely, Lawrence J. Radziwon, Nora Shaughnessy, Michael C. Brown, Roy Canada, and Joseph R. Slifka) had been assigned to supervisory positions at those plants. (Id. at 32.) Defendant filed its motion for summary judgment on July 8, 1993.

 Discussion

 In order to prevail on a summary judgment motion, "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories; and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, [must] show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). At this stage, we do not weigh evidence or determine the truth of asserted matters. We simply determine whether the there is a genuine issue for trial, i.e., "whether a proper jury question was presented." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). We must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion for summary judgment, here the plaintiff. Bowyer v. U.S. Dep't of Air Force, 804 F.2d 428, 430 (7th Cir. 1986). However, if that party bears the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, that party is required "to go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986), quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Ultimately, if "alternate inferences can be drawn from the available evidence, summary judgment is inappropriate." LHLC Corp. v. Cluett Peabody & Co., 842 F.2d 928 (7th Cir. 1988).

 However, the non-moving party must do more than "simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986) (footnote omitted). "The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 247-48, 106 S. Ct. at 2510. Whether or not a disputed fact is material depends solely on the applicable substantive law. Id. at 248.

 I. Defendant's Claim that Plaintiff's Claim is Time-Barred.

 Defendant first argues that it is entitled to summary judgment as to Count I of Plaintiff's complaint because Plaintiff's lay-off related claims are time-barred. Defendant cites a decision rendered by another court in this district for the proposition that the applicable limitations period is five years. Plaintiff disagrees. According to Plaintiff, the correct statute of limitations is the ten year statute of ...


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