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Krchnavy v. Limagrain Genetics Corp.

June 24, 2002

DEBRA KRCHNAVY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
LIMAGRAIN GENETICS CORPORATION A/K/A LG SEEDS INCORPORATED, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 00-C-445-C--Barbara B. Crabb, Chief Judge.

Before Flaum, Chief Judge, Cudahy, and Manion, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cudahy, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED NOVEMBER 30, 2001

In August 1999, Limagrain Genetics Corp. (LG Seeds) terminated Debra Krchnavy, a 44-year old woman, as part of a reduction-in-force (RIF). Shortly thereafter, some of her former duties were taken over by a different LG Seeds employee, who happened to be a 34y-ear old male. Krchnavy sued her former employer alleging discriminatory discharge in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq. (sex discrimination). The District Court granted summary judgment for LG Seeds on all claims. Because Krchnavy has not carried her burden of showing that LG Seeds' legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for her termination was pretextual, we affirm.

I.

LG Seeds, a subsidiary of Limagrain Genetics Corporation, processes farm seed for sale to farmers and dealers. Prior to 1999, the operations of LG Seeds included four regional service centers, which were each comprised of a sales office and a product warehouse. These centers were located in Tecamah, Nebraska; Mt. Pleasant, Iowa; Windfall, Indiana; and Prescott, Wisconsin. The Prescott facility, where plaintiff Debra Krchnavy worked, had four full-time employees: Krchnavy; Rich Cobian, a warehouse worker and sales assistant; Craig Anderson, the office supervisor; and John Squire, a sales agronomist. Krchnavy was the only female in the office, and her status as the oldest employee was common knowledge.

Krchnavy's employment with LG Seeds began in March 1995, when she was hired as a part-time employee. She was transferred to full-time status in June of 1995 and given the job title "Sales/Administrative Assistant-Office Manager." In this position, Krchnavy's job responsibilities included customer service and administrative work. Her customer service work included responding to customer and employee inquiries; preparing product comparisons; furnishing sales reports; planning promotional trips; and assisting Anderson with sales and marketing activities. The administrative work included the preparation of billing and accounting statements, which encompassed the preparation of accounts receivable and payable statements; making bank deposits; handling mail; tracking inventory; and the setting up and maintenance of an office computer system and software.

In 1995, LG Seeds hired Rich Cobian as a "Sales and Administrative Assistant-Warehouse and Shipment Coordinator." In this position, Cobian's responsibilities varied depending on the season. During the shipping season from January to July, Cobian spent the majority of his time performing warehouse tasks, which included the loading and unloading of inventory; the organization and scheduling of deliveries; the maintenance of inventory levels on LG Seeds' computer system; and the taking of orders directly from customers. During the nonshipping season from July to December, Cobian delivered advertisements; prepared literature; attended promotional events; assisted dealers and customers with seed-related issues; and assisted Squire in the preparation of product reports. In addition, Krchnavy trained Cobian to do her work in case she was absent.

In 1999, LG Seeds merged corporately and operationally with Akin-Callahan, Inc. Shortly thereafter, LG Seeds initiated a reorganization of its personnel, which it dubbed the VEGA project. This reorganization was carried out at the corporate level, and according to the record, none of Krchnavy's co-workers or supervisors participated in reorganization decisions. The members of the VEGA project team, who directed the reorganization, were company executives at locations other than Prescott. The goal of the reorganization was to make operations more efficient and profitable. As part of the VEGA project, LG Seeds decided to consolidate its operations by closing four service centers and centralizing its accounting and customer service functions. Bruno Carette, who was part of the VEGA project team, gave Barbara Wittig, Director of Human Resources for LG Seeds, the task of determining which positions were properly included within customer service, a category which encompassed data entry, accounting and bookkeeping.

From late June though mid-July 1999, Wittig identified several employees who fitted within the customer service category. Ultimately, the VEGA project team concluded that the customer service duties of Krchnavy, along with several other LG Seeds employees, should be consolidated at one facility in Elmwood, Illinois. There are no allegations nor evidence that Krchnavy's job performance was a factor in LG Seeds' termination decision. In total, the VEGA project resulted in the termination of forty-five employees. The reorganization included the closure of the Prescott, Windfall, Tekemah and Mt. Pleasant service centers. At the Tekemah and Mt. Pleasant facilities, LG Seeds terminated all of its employees. At the Windfall facility, the company transferred its employees to a facility in Westfield, Indiana. The Prescott facility was the only location at which the employment decisions were mixed; Krchnavy was terminated while Anderson, Cobian and Squire remained with the company.

In August of 1999, Roger Bonsack, Anderson's supervisor, informed Anderson of some the details of the VEGA project, including the decision of LG Seeds to close the Prescott facility and to relocate many of its functions to Elmwood. Because the reorganization included the consolidation of accounting functions, Anderson was told that Krchnavy's employment was being terminated. During this conversation, Anderson was also informed that Cobian would not be part of the reduction in staff. Although Cobian's status was not specifically discussed, Anderson knew that Cobian would have to be assigned some different duties.

On August 16, 1999, Anderson informed Krchnavy that LG Seeds was closing the Prescott facility and terminating her. During this conversation, Krchnavy alleges that Anderson told her that Squire and he would probably work out of their homes, and that Cobian's position had also been eliminated. At about the same time that Krchnavy was informed of her termination, Anderson told Cobian that LG Seeds intended to eliminate his current position, but that he would remain employed by LG Seeds. Within the next few months, LG Seeds made a decision to open another facility in River Falls, Wisconsin. Although Anderson did not participate in the decision of the VEGA project team to terminate Krchnavy's employment, he did participate in the decision to transfer Squires, Cobian and himself to River Falls.

Sometime after her termination but before the closure of the Prescott facility, Krchnavy alleges that several events took place that led her to doubt the truthfulness of Anderson's explanation of her discharge. First, Cobian had given her contradictory accounts of his employment status. Originally, he told her that LG Seeds was eliminating the warehouse duties of his job, which lead Krchnavy to assume that Cobian was going to be terminated. However, Cobian later informed her that he had been offered a new job doing the same type of work as a sales assistant and that he was taking over some of her former responsibilities. Second, shortly after Krchnavy's termination, her husband went to her office to retrieve some of her belongings. While at the office he had a conversation with Squire in which Squire told him that Cobian was "taking over Debra's job." Third, Krchnavy's husband saw Cobian using her former office.

In November 1999, Cobian, Anderson and Squire moved into the new office in River Falls. Customer service duties, such as accounting, invoicing and order entry, were no longer being performed on site. These tasks were done at the Elmwood facility by 37-year old Sally Coulter. However, some customer service duties at the new office were shifted to Cobian, such as answering questions and filling supplemental orders. In December 1999, Rich Cobian's title was changed to "Administrative Assistant/Marketing Support," in keeping with the fact that he no longer had substantial warehouse duties. Because the River Falls facility had a small seed storage facility that was used to supplement customer orders, Cobian did retain some minimal warehouse duties. During the shipping season, Cobian's new job required him to coordinate inventory, operate the seed storage facility and ...


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