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Maier v. Lucent Technologies

August 11, 1997

KENNETH J. MAIER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, CROSS-APPELLEE,

v.

LUCENT TECHNOLOGIES, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE, CROSS-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 94 C 7468 Samuel P. King, Judge.

Before RIPPLE, MANION and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED APRIL 10, 1997

DECIDED AUGUST 11, 1997

Kenneth Maier filed a breach of contract action in Illinois state court against his former employer, AT&T Corporation. *fn1 AT&T removed the case to federal district court based on the parties' diversity of citizenship, and Maier amended his complaint to add an Age Discrimination in Employment Act claim. See 29 U.S.C. sec.sec. 621 et seq. The district court granted AT&T's motion for summary judgment with respect to the ADEA claim, but allowed the state law claim to go to trial. After a trial, the jury found that AT&T had breached Mr. Maier's employment contract and awarded him $75,000. Both parties appeal. For the reasons set forth in the following opinion, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

Mr. Maier began working for Illinois Bell in March 1967. In 1984, he joined AT&T's Computer Systems Division ("CSD"). In 1989, he became a divisional manager, a D-band manager. *fn2 In late 1990 or early 1991, AT&T announced its planned merger with National Cash Register Corporation ("NCR"), a major computer company. This merger necessitated closing down the CSD. Mr. Maier was one of about 370 management employees appointed to a transition team to make sure that the merger with NCR was a smooth one. In exchange for remaining with the CSD and supervising the transition, AT&T promised Maier in a letter that, after the transition, he would have the opportunity to have a choice in his next assignment, and that his next assignment would be equivalent to or higher than his current salary grade. *fn3 After Mr. Maier completed his service on the transition team in April 1992, AT&T continued to pay Mr. Maier's salary and benefits, in addition to providing a number of other support services, while he looked for another position of at least a D-band level within AT&T. From October 1992 to June 1993, Mr. Maier worked on a temporary basis for AT&T's Chief Information Officer, an officer of the corporation, in New Jersey. Although most of the transition team members were able to be placed in new positions of at least the same salary grade through their own search efforts, by October 1992 some still had not found a place. Therefore, in late 1992, AT&T instituted a plan to place these remaining transition team members. Under the plan, each team member who had not found a new position would be given a job offer, his "allocation." The team member would then have one week either to accept or to reject the job. If the individual refused the job, he would have another 60 days to find a job within the organization or would be separated from the company. In March 1994, AT&T presented Mr. Maier with his allocation offer. Mr. Maier was offered a B-band position. The company had agreed, however, to protect Mr. Maier's salary grade for two years. His salary and personnel records would reflect his D-level status. Mr. Maier, without finding out the responsibilities and duties of the job, refused the position and was thus given 60 days to find another position. After this 60-day period, he selected a severance package that would keep him on the AT&T payroll somewhat longer, during which time he continued to look for another position within AT&T. He was not successful in this endeavor and was released in January 1995.

B. District Court Proceedings

Mr. Maier filed suit in DuPage County Circuit Court, alleging that AT&T had breached its employment contract to him, the Transition Team Letter. AT&T removed the case to federal district court based on the parties' diversity of citizenship, and Mr. Maier amended his complaint to add an ADEA claim. AT&T filed a motion for summary judgment.

The district court granted that motion in part. It granted summary judgment to AT&T on the issue of age discrimination, determining that Mr. Maier had not presented any evidence that younger similarly-situated employees had been treated more favorably. He therefore had failed to establish a prima facie case.

The district court denied AT&T's motion for summary judgment, however, on the breach of contract claim. It found that there was a question of fact as to whether the company had met its promise to provide a choice of D-band or higher positions. Prior to trial, the court granted AT&T's motion in limine, based on Illinois law, to exclude all evidence of damages that would occur after the date of trial. After a five-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in Mr. Maier's favor for $75,000. The district court later denied AT&T's post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial. Both parties appealed.

II. DISCUSSION

Mr. Maier submits that the district court's grant of partial summary judgment to AT&T on the ADEA claim was erroneous and that a number of other evidentiary rulings of the district court were unsound. He also appeals the jury's verdict as inadequate, in spite of his failure to raise the issue before the district court. AT&T cross-appeals the district court's ruling that the Transition Team Letter was an ...


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