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COYNE v. SIEMENS INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION

March 26, 2003

MARTHA COYNE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SIEMENS INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION NETWORKS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Martha Coyne has sued her former employer, Siemens Information and Communication Network, Inc., under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. § 623 (a), 626(b). She alleges that Siemens discriminated against her on the basis of her age by subjecting her to harsher disciplinary procedures than a significantly younger, similarly situated co-worker. The case is before the Court on Siemens' motion for summary judgment.

Factual Background

Siemens sells voice and data communications infrastructure to businesses. Def's 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 3. In September, 1996, Siemens hired Coyne as a sales manager. Id. ¶ 1. On January 15, 2002, Siemens terminated Coyne's employment. Id. ¶ 7. At that time she was 51 years old. Id. ¶ 6.

During her tenure at Siemens, Coyne supervised between six and eight sales representatives in the Chicago metropolitan area. Id. ¶¶ 17, 18. Her responsibilities as a sales manager included coaching and mentoring the sales representatives under her supervision, making accurate "forecasts" of new business, and developing and increasing sales in her territory. Id. ¶ 19. As with other sales managers employed by Siemens, Coyne's performance was evaluated by a regional director who considered her ability to meet sales quotas, develop subordinate employees, engage customers, and make accurate predictions regarding future revenue. Id. ¶¶ 20, 26.

The evidence reflects that beginning in 2001, Coyne's superiors raised questions about her effectiveness as a manager in some of these performance categories. Until June 2001, Coyne reported to Alan Cassidy, the regional director for Siemens' Great Lakes region, which encompassed Coyne's Chicago-metro sales territory. Id. ¶ 46. In a written evaluation of Coyne's performance for the period of October 1, 1999 through May 30, 2001, Cassidy indicated that Coyne had fully achieved her objectives in terms of employee development and customer relations, but that she had only partially achieved her financial objectives. Def.'s Ex. 3. During the months of April, May and June of 2001, Michael Lewis, then the vice-president of Siemens' "western area," took over some of Cassidy's responsibilities. Lewis Dep. at 9:7-10. Disappointed with the results of an operational review he had conducted the year before, Lewis sought to foster better management discipline and to establish higher expectations for management in the Great Lakes region. Id. ¶¶ 11-13. But Lewis was not totally satisfied with the way management responded to his efforts. Id. At the end of June, 2001, Cassidy was terminated and Jeffery Paley was hired as the Great Lakes regional director. When he took over the position, Paley assumed responsibility for supervising both Coyne and her colleague, Caryn Schmidt, the sales manager for the state of Michigan. Pl's 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 127, 128.

The parties dispute some specifics regarding Paley's interaction with Coyne during the final six months of 2001. It is undisputed, however, that Coyne and Paley met on September 4, 2001, and took notes of their conversation. Those notes and the parties' deposition testimony reflect that the two discussed Paley's concerns about Coyne's performance. Def's 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 56-72; Paley Dep., Ex. 1 (Paley's notes); Pl's 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 56-72; Pl's Ex. F at 32 (Coyne's notes). Paley told Coyne that he was uncomfortable with the direction of Coyne's department, that he wanted to make changes, and that he was considering replacing Coyne as sales manager. Id. Paley offered Coyne four options, including a severance package, a demotion, an alternative position with the company, and submission to a performance improvement plan. Id. Coyne settled on the performance improvement plan. Id. On October 12, 2001, Coyne and Paley agreed to specific terms of a plan requiring Coyne to meet certain sales targets and to generate positive feedback from her sales team within 90 days. Def's 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 79-82; Pl's 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 79-82. By early January, however, Paley determined that Coyne had not met her objectives. Paley Dep. at 47:12-24; 48:1-6. On January 15, 2002, Siemens terminated Coyne's employment. Pl's 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 98.

Siemens insists that Coyne's termination was based entirely on her poor performance, and in the end, on her inability to meet the goals set forth in her performance improvement plan. Del's 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 98-99. But Coyne maintains that her age was a factor motivating Siemens' decision both to place her on the performance improvement plan and to terminate her employment. As evidence she offers a comparison between her treatment by the company and its treatment of her co-worker, Caryn Schmidt, another sales manager in Siemens' Great Lakes region. Schmidt was 39 years old at the time of Coyne's firing and served as a sales manager in the Michigan area. Pl's 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 129-130. Coyne argues (and Siemens admits) that Schmidt, like Coyne, was not accomplishing some of her goals on regular basis. Def's Answer to Pl's 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 155. Coyne points to a "stack ranking report" for fiscal year 2001-2002 that shows that Schmidt attained only 42.2% of her sales goals. See Paley Dep. at 125. Further, Coyne notes that in December 2001, Schmidt was given verbal warnings in connection with her performance as a sales manager. Def.'s Answer to Pl's 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 162. Yet Schmidt was not placed on a performance improvement plan' and her employment has not been terminated. Def's Answer to Pl's 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 162. Siemens attempts to distinguish the circumstances of Schmidt's employment from that of Coyne's on several grounds, pointing to differences between Coyne and Schmidt's sales areas and emphasizing Schmidt's relative lack of experience as a sales manager. It also contends that Coyne's termination along with a hiring freeze instituted by the company in March of 2002 has left the Great Lakes sales region shorthanded, and has made it impossible for Siemens to move towards Schmidt's termination or to place her on a performance improvement plan.

Siemens has moved for summary judgment, arguing that Coyne's ADEA case rests on her treatment relative to Schmidt's, a comparison that it argues is too weak to support an inference that Coyne was treated less favorably because of her age.

Analysis

In order for Coyne to succeed on a claim under the ADEA, she must show that the adverse employment action taken against her would not have occurred "but for" Siemens' motive to discriminate against her on the basis of her age. Miller v. Borden, 168 F.3d 308, 312 (7th Cir. 1999). Lacking direct evidence of discrimination, Coyne attempts to establish Siemens' motive to discriminate through the McDonnell Douglas burden shifting method. See McDonald Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). She must first set forth a prima facie case, showing that she (1) was a member of the protected class (age 40 or over); (2) was doing her job well enough to meet Siemens' legitimate expectations; (3) was subject to an adverse employment action; and (4) was treated less favorably than a similarly situated, substantially younger employee.*fn1 See Krchnavy v. Limagrain Genetics Corp., 294 F.3d 871, 875 (7th Cir, 2002); Miller, 168 F.3d at 313. If she can successfully make this case, the burden shifts to Siemens to come forward with evidence of a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for its actions. Id. Once Siemens identifies a legitimate non-discriminatory reason, the burden shifts back to Coyne to attempt to show that Siemens' explanation for its actions is a pretext for discrimination. Id.

In support of its motion for summary judgment, Siemens argues that Coyne has neither established a prima facie case of age discrimination, nor shown that Siemens' legitimate non-discriminatory reason for her termination — her allegedly poor performance — is a pretext for age discrimination. We disagree. Coyne has established a prima facie case of age discrimination sufficient to survive summary judgment. Further, the question of whether Coyne was disciplined and terminated based on poor performance, or rather was mistreated based on her age, turns on credibility determinations reserved for determination by a jury.

Summary judgment is proper only if the evidentiary materials submitted by the parties reveal no genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is considered "genuine" if a reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Because a reasonable juror could conclude that Coyne's age is the reason that she was placed on a performance improvement ...


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