twice in response to Hoffman's complaints about his back and eyes. When made in response to traditionally age-related medical complaints, Kraus' comment amounts to nothing more than a truism: Hoffman was aging. The comments indicate that Kraus was aware that Hoffman was aging; they do not indicate that Kraus did not consider Hoffman a good employee because of that aging.
Then, Hoffman alleges, at the first 1994 business dinner, Kraus asked Hoffman when he was going to retire. As the Seventh Circuit has recognized, employers have a legitimate business interest in determining when their executives intend to retire; "it would be absurd to deter such inquiries by treating them as evidence of unlawful conduct." Colosi v. Electri-Flex Co., 965 F.2d 500, 502 (7th Cir. 1992). As such, the court cannot consider the alleged inquiry as indicating age bias. Further, although admitting that they discussed Hoffman's long term life plans, Kraus denies that he ever asked Hoffman when he was going to retire.
Finally, Hoffman testified that, after the second 1994 business dinner, Kraus stated in the parking lot, "I think we're going to have to get fresh legs in Chicago." Like the other comments, and in light of the nature of Hoffman's entire relationship with MCA, the "fresh legs" comment does not connote age discrimination. Assuming, as the court must at summary judgment, that the comment related to hiring younger individuals, it is not reasonable to infer that the comment related to firing Hoffman. There were several sales representatives in the Chicago office, and Kraus in no way implied that any of them, much less Hoffman, would have to clear the way for "fresh legs."
Additionally, this single isolated comment is not enough to connote age discrimination against Hoffman, nor is there a reasonable inference of such discrimination even when considering all of the alleged isolated comments. "To be probative of discrimination, isolated comments must be contemporaneous with the discharge or causally related to the discharge decision-making process." Gleason, 118 F.3d 1134, 1997 U.S. App. LEXIS 15508, 1997 WL 365366, n.p. (citation omitted); see also Hong v. Children's Mem. Hosp., 993 F.2d 1257, 1265 (7th Cir. 1993) (stating that evidence of stray remarks, "without more, does not give rise to an inference of discrimination"). The alleged comments were not at all contemporaneous with, nor can Hoffman show that they are causally related to, the discharge decision-making process.
Further, there must be a connection between alleged discrimination and the makers of adverse employment decisions. "When the causal relationship between the subordinate's illicit motive and the employer's ultimate decision is broken, and the ultimate decision is clearly made on an independent and a legally permissive basis, the bias of the subordinate is not relevant." Willis v. Marion County Auditor's Office, 118 F.3d 542, 1997 WL 364538, n.p. (7th Cir. 1997). Even assuming, that Kraus was the ultimate decisionmaker, an allegation for which Hoffman produces no support, the court would have difficulty in connecting his few comments to the termination decision. See DuBuhr, 1996 WL 277644 at *3 ("Evidence of a decision maker's occasional or sporadic derogatory remarks about an employee's age is generally, without more, insufficient to establish an ADEA claim").
Without support, Hoffman attributes the entire termination decision to Kraus. Indeed, at his deposition, Hoffman admitted that he believed that Schwab, MCA's president and Hoffman's elder, made the ultimate termination decision. Although Kraus supported concurred in the decision, there is no evidence that Kraus initiated it. Indeed, Schwab renewed Hoffman's contract in 1991, despite Kraus' memoranda and Kraus' recommendation to the contrary. The only reasonable inference is that, at least in 1991, Schwab was the ultimate decisionmaker.
The record directly indicates that Schwab based the decision on Hoffman's statement to Schwab at the June 1994 meeting, which Schwab perceived questionning upper management and an intentional attempt to embarrass him. Hoffman has not demonstrated otherwise.
MCA has demonstrated that Schwab terminated Hoffman for his attitude toward management, problems dealing with television stations, and his behavior at the June 1994 meeting. It is clear that Schwab consulted Kraus on the decision. It is also clear that Kraus wanted to fire Hoffman.
However, Hoffman has not raised a reasonable inference that Kraus wanted to fire Hoffman because of his age, or that MCA did fire Hoffman because of his age. Hoffman has not produced evidence, beyond his own opinions in his deposition testimony and affidavit, that MCA's proferred reasons for terminating him are pretextual. See Russell v. Acme-Evans Co., 51 F.3d 64, 69 (7th Cir. 1995) ("The fact that some of the [employer's proferred reasons for termination] may be called into question by [the employee's] deposition or affidavit does not defeat summary judgment if at least one reason . . . stands unquestioned."); see also Spring v. Sheboygan Area School Dist., 865 F.2d 883, 886 (7th Cir. 1989) (noting that courts are not required to "draw every conceivable inference" in favor of plaintiffs, but "only the reasonable ones"). It is not for the court to second-guess the decision of MCA in the absence of evidence of pretext.
Hoffman has not offerred direct evidence of discrimination. He has not established a prima facie case of discrimination. He has not established that MCA's profferred reason for terminating him is pretextual. Thus, the court grants summary judgment in favor of MCA.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
CHARLES RONALD NORGLE, SR., Judge
United States District Court