Ringer on 10 July 1991 and assigned his accounts to a younger employee named Paula Bangura.
Ringer need not prove that Union Pacific's decision to terminate him rested on age alone, but he must prove that age was a determining factor, a but-for cause. Sarsha v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 3 F.3d 1035, 1038 (7th Cir. 1993). He may meet the burden with direct or circumstantial evidence that age was a dispositive factor in his discharge, or he can invoke the familiar burden-shifting framework outlined in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973). Sarsha, 3 F.3d at 1038. Ringer has cast his argument exclusively in terms of McDonnell Douglas.
Where the plaintiff pursues this course and the employer claims to have terminated him for inadequate performance, factual issues otherwise addressed under the qualified-employee prong of the prima facie case are properly deferred to the justification-pretext inquiry. Anderson v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 13 F.3d 1120, 1124 n 4 (7th Cir. 1994). A plaintiff may establish the pretextual nature of a proffered explanation for adverse action by establishing that (1) the reasons have no basis in fact, (2) the reasons offered did not actually motivate the adverse actions, or (3) although the reasons offered are grounded in fact and partially motivated the adverse actions, they were not sufficient to do so standing alone. La Montagne v. American Convenience Products, Inc., 750 F.2d 1405, 1415 & n 6 (7th Cir. 1984) (noting that these three options do not necessarily exhaust the options for establishing pretext); Smith v. General Scanning, Inc., 876 F.2d 1315, 1319 (7th Cir. 1989). See also Lenoir v. Roll Coater, Inc., 13 F.3d 1130, 1133 (7th Cir. 1994) (implying that these are the exclusive means by which a plaintiff may establish pretext).
For brevity's sake, I will skip over the prima facie case and go straight to the third step of McDonnell Douglas because Ringer has no evidence establishing that the proffered reason for discharge--inadequate job performance--is pretextual. I have already addressed many of Ringer's arguments while setting out the facts of this case, but not the apparent smoking gun. Ringer's sworn statements show that while en route to a meeting that Rody was attending for the primary purpose of evaluating Ringer's performance, he not only asked Ringer's age, but also expressed displeasure with the answer.
However, nothing in the record suggests that Rody decided to take adverse action against Ringer prior to reading Merrifield's final evaluation recommending Ringer's removal from his current position, and Ringer has not even suggested that Merrifield harbored discriminatory animus or that Rody influenced or interfered with Merrifield's judgments.
Moreover, Ringer denies none of the facts cited in Merrifield's final evaluation, and expressly admits that despite a $ 2.8 million shortfall against his 1991 revenue goal, he made no calls on prospective new customers over the four or five months preceding the evaluation. Finally, Ringer points to no Union Pacific account manager with a similar performance record who received more favorable treatment. In sum, Ringer has no evidence suggesting that Union Pacific lacked a factual basis for judging Ringer's performance inadequate, or that this played no motivating role in the decision to discharge, or that, standing alone, his poor job performance did not provide a sufficient reason for termination. In such circumstances, the employer need not defend itself at trial.
The defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.
James B. Zagel
United States District Judge
Date: NOV 15 1994
JUDGMENT IN A CIVIL CASE
Decision by Court. This action came to trial or hearing before the Court. The issues have been tried or heard and a decision has been rendered.
IT IS ORDERED AND ADJUDGED, enter summary judgment in favor of defendant and against plaintiff, Richard Ringer.
Date November 15, 1994