The opinion of the court was delivered by: SHADUR
Robert Wold ("Wold") charges his former employer Fellows Corporation ("Fellows") with age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA," 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)). Fellows has moved for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 56, both sides have complied with this District Court's General Rule ("GR") 12(M) and 12(N)
and the motion is fully briefed and ready for decision. For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order, Fellows' motion is denied and this action will proceed to trial.
Summary Judgment Standards
Familiar Rule 56 principles impose on Fellows the burden of establishing the lack of a genuine issue of material fact ( Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986)). For that purpose this Court must "read the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party," although it "is not required to draw unreasonable inferences from the evidence" ( St. Louis N. Joint Venture v. P & L Enters., Inc., 116 F.3d 262, 265 n.2 (7th Cir. 1997)). While "this general standard is applied with added rigor in employment discrimination cases, where intent is inevitably the central issue" ( McCoy v. WGN Continental Broad. Co., 957 F.2d 368, 370-71 (7th Cir. 1992)), that does not negate the potential for summary judgment in cases where a movant plainly satisfies the Rule 56 standards ( Washington v. Lake County, 969 F.2d 250, 254 (7th Cir. 1992)). In those terms summary judgment is appropriate if the record reveals that no reasonable jury could conclude that Wold was treated in a statutorily prohibited discriminatory fashion (see Fuka v. Thomson Consumer Elecs., 82 F.3d 1397, 1402 (7th Cir. 1996) and cases cited there).
As with every summary judgment motion, this opinion accepts nonmovant Wold's version of any disputed facts. Though the following factual account is culled from both parties' submissions to present a total picture, any differences between the two are resolved in Wold's favor.
Other relevant facts, which fit somewhat better into the substantive legal discussion, will be set out later in this opinion.
Fellows, one of four companies in the Vermont USA Machine Tool Group ("Vermont USA"), is engaged in the business of manufacturing and rebuilding gear shaper machines and related equipment (W. 12(N) P3). In May 1991 Wold, then 54 years old, was hired by Tom Hatfield ("Hatfield") as one of Fellows' four Regional Sales Managers ("Managers") (id. P2; W. 12(N) Supp. P1).
In that capacity Wold was responsible for selling new and rebuilt gear shaper machines, replacement parts and cutting tools (W. 12(N) Supp. P2).
Upon Hatfield's retirement, Wold began reporting to Fellows' Vice President of Sales and Marketing Carl Johnson ("Johnson") (W. 12(N) P14). Johnson required each Manager to submit a weekly report detailing sales activities and monthly forecasts of projected sales (id. P16). Fellows used those sales forecasts to make purchasing and manufacturing decisions, though the estimates were tempered (that is, edited) by Johnson before the company relied on them (id. P21).
On May 23, 1995 Fellows hired Richard Trudell ("Trudell") as Group Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the four Vermont USA divisions (id. P25). Within the new organizational hierarchy, Johnson reported directly to Trudell, who in turn reported to Vermont USA's President and General Manager Richard Crossman ("Crossman") (id. PP26-27). Soon after joining Fellows, Trudell began to receive assessments about the job performance of the four Managers. Though Wold challenges their veracity, those reports indicated that Wold suffered from various performance deficiencies (id. PP29, 33).
One month later Trudell and Wold held their first meeting to conduct a formal performance review (id. PP40, 43). Johnson and Trudell testified to having concerns about Wold's performance at that time (id. P44), but Wold testified that no one at the company ever (either at that meeting or earlier) discussed his alleged performance deficiencies with him (W. 12(N) Supp. PP21-23). Wold does admit that Trudell informed him at the meeting that his June sales forecast was overly optimistic, at which point Wold agreed to revise it (id. P40). Trudell testified that he was satisfied with Wold's revisions (Trudell Tr. 175).
After that initial meeting Trudell and Johnson accompanied Wold on a sales call to a client. Though they describe Wold as an inactive participant at the meeting (W. 12(N) PP48-50), Wold denies that passive characterization (id.). To support that denial, Wold notes that Johnson's diary contains no notations about his allegedly deficient performance on that date (W. 12(N) Supp. P55).
After that encounter Trudell voiced his concerns about Wold's performance to Johnson and recommended that Wold be removed from his Manager's position (W. 12(N) P51).
Although Wold disputes these claimed deficiencies, Trudell cited Wold's failure to direct the meeting with the client, his insufficient responses to Trudell's general questions, his inaccurate sales forecasts and his lack of motivation (id. PP52, 58). In any event, Fellows' version is that Johnson concurred in Trudell's recommendation, and Crossman then approved the termination (id. P57).
On August 21, 1995 Johnson informed Wold, then 58 years old, that he was fired from his Manager's position effective September 1 (id. P66). Wold says that Johnson offered three reasons for the termination: (1) lackluster sales, (2) inadequate forecasting and (3) "because Dick Trudell wants a young guy with fire coming out of his ass" (id. P67). Johnson then offered Wold a demotion to an in-house sales engineer's position (id. P68). That position paid only about half of what Wold had earned as a Manager and would have required Wold to relocate his family to Vermont (W. 12(N) Supp. PP66, 68). Wold was given just two days to consider the offer (id. P67), and he rejected it (W. 12(N) P73). Fellows hired Richard Reenan ("Reenan") as a 44-year-old replacement Manager for the substantially older Wold (id. P74).
On January 19, 1996 Wold filed a charge of age discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). On February 20 EEOC issued Wold a right-to-sue letter, whereupon Wold ...