United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
May 13, 2004.
ERNST WEYNETH, Plaintiff,
MICROMATIC SPRING AND STAMPING, INC., an Illinois corporation, Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES NORGLE, District Judge
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Ernst Weyneth ("Weyneth") brings this cause of action
against Micromatic Spring and Stamping, Inc. ("Micromatic") alleging
disparate treatment in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment
Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. Before the court is
Micromatic's Motion for Summary Judgment brought pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 56. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.
Micromatic manufactures springs and other parts that are used as
components in items manufactured by other companies. Walter Prociuk
("Prociuk") is Micromatic's Vice President, and the relevant decision-maker in this case. In July of 1994, Weyneth
interviewed with Micromatic for a position as an inspector in the Quality
Control department. Following the interview, Prociuk offered Weyneth the
job, which he accepted. At the time Weyneth was hired he was 56 years of
Throughout his employment with Micromatic, Weyneth's basic job duties
as an inspector in the Quality Control department remained the same,
though his title was changed on occasion. The general job duties of an
inspector included ensuring that manufactured parts met the
specifications for manufacture prior to shipment. Weyneth met Micromatic's
reasonable expectations of him, and was never disciplined. Weyneth was a
good employee, worked well with other employees and found the general
work atmosphere to be good.
Seven years after he was hired, in the spring of 2001, there were a
total of three full-time employees, including Weyneth, and one part-time
employee in the Quality Control department. The two other full-time
employees were Maria Kolpa ("Kolpa"), age 38, and Bogdan Korycki
("Korycki"), age 44, and the part-time employee was Kathleen Freeman
("Freeman"), age 38. Kolpa was transferred to the Quality Control
department in 1998, prior to which time she had worked as an employee of
Micromatic in various other departments for a number of years. Aside from
her duties as an inspector in the Quality Control department, Kolpa
performed various other duties in the factory, including sorting. Korycki
was hired by Micromatic in October of 2000. Aside from his duties as an
inspector in the Quality Control department, Korycki performed various
other duties in the factory, including painting and maintenance. Freeman,
the part-time employee, was hired by Micromatic in June of 1999. Aside
from her duties as an inspector in the Quality Control department,
Freeman performed various other duties in the factory, including sorting
and filing paperwork. It is undisputed that Weyneth had more experience
and performed better as an inspector than the other employees in the Quality Control department; however, he
lacked experience in other departments of Micromatic's factory.
In the spring of 2001, Prociuk decided that it would be necessary to
effect a reduction in force ("RIF") from Micromatic's various departments
as a result of a decrease in Micromatic's business over the past year.
Prociuk chose lay off one employee from the Quality Control department,
Weyneth. On May 1, 2001, Prociuk called Weyneth into his office and told
him that he was being let go as a result of a decrease in Micromatic's
business. Also on May 1, 2001, Prociuk laid off four other employees from
Micromatic's various departments: Bogumila Siewa, age 48; Tadeusz
Zagrodny, age 37; Alberto Landeros, age 25; and Luis Castillo, age 49.
Throughout the remainder of 2001, Prociuk laid off an additional ten
employees from Micromatic's various departments.
Weyneth was age 62 at the time of his lay off. According to Weyneth, he
was laid off based upon his age. According to Micromatic, he was laid off
because all other employees within the Quality Control department had
training and experience in other departments within the factory, whereas
Weyneth did not.
Weyneth timely filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), and received a Right to Sue
letter on September 5, 2002. Thereafter, Weyneth filed this Complaint
alleging that Micromatic discriminated against him in violation of the
ADEA, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. Micromatic has filed a motion for summary
judgment, which is fully briefed and ready for ruling.
II. LEGAL STANDARDS
A. Summary Judgment
Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers
to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that
there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving
party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R. Civ. P. 56(c).
The moving party has the initial burden to prove that no genuine issue of
material fact exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indust. Co., Ltd, v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Once the moving party shows that
there is no genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the
non-moving party to designate specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324
The non-moving party cannot rest on the pleadings alone, but must
identify specific facts that raise more than a mere scintilla of evidence
to show a genuine triable issue of material fact. See Murphy v. ITT
Technical Services. Inc., 176 F.3d 934, 936 (7th Cir. 1999); see also
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). "Conclusory allegations alone cannot defeat a motion
for summary judgment." See Thomas v. Christ Hosp. and Medical Center,
328 F.3d 890, 893-94 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife
Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 888-89 (1990)).
Local Rule 56.1 requires both the moving and non-moving parties to
submit a statement of material facts, including "specific references to
the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials
relied upon." Local Rule 56.1(a)(3); Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B). Further,
evidence submitted at summary judgment must ultimately be admissible at
trial under the Federal Rules of Evidence. See Woods v. City of Chicago,
234 F.3d 979, 988 (7th Cir. 2000). Thus, all facts not properly supported
by the record evidence must be disregarded. Brasic y. Heinemunn's, Inc.,
121 F.3d 281, 284 (7th Cir. 1997).
The court views the record evidence and all reasonable inferences drawn
therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "In the light most favorable" simply means that summary judgment is not appropriate if the
court must make a "choice of inferences." See Wolf v. Buss (America)
Inc., 77 F.3d 914, 922 (7th Cir. 1996). The choice between reasonable
inferences from facts is a jury function. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby.
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
The ADEA prohibits an employer from "discharg[ing] any individual . .
. because of such individual's age." 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1) (2003). "When
a plaintiff alleges disparate treatment, `liability depends on whether
the protected trait (under the ADEA, age) actually motivated the
employer's decision.'" Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products. Inc.,
530 U.S. 133, 141 (2000) (quoting Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins, 507 U.S. 604,
610 (1993)). In other words," the plaintiff's age must have actually
played a role in the employer's decision-making process and had a
determinative influence on the outcome." Id.; see also Schuster v. Lucent
Technologies. Inc., 327 F.3d 569, 573 (7th Cir. 2003). A claim of
discrimination in violation of the ADEA may be proven through direct
evidence of the employer's discriminatory motive, or through the
indirect, burden-shifting approach articulated by the Supreme Court in
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green. 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). See O'Connor
v. Consol. Coin Caterers Corp., 517 U.S. 308, 311 (1996) (assuming that
the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework applies to ADEA
age-discrimination cases); Adreani v. First Colonial Bankshares Corp.,
154 F.3d 389, 395 n.2 (7th Cir. 1998) (same).
Because there is no direct evidence of age discrimination in this
case, Weyneth has proceeded using the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting
framework. Under McDonnell Douglas, in order to permit this case to go to
a jury, it is Weyneth's initial burden to make out a prima facie case. In order to make out a prima facie case of discriminatory termination under
the ADEA, Weyneth is required to present enough evidence to create a
triable issue of fact on each of the following elements: 1) he is a
member of the class protected by the statute; 2) he reasonably performed
to his employer's expectations; 3) he was terminated; and 4) the position
remained open or he was replaced by someone substantially younger. See,
e.g., Radue v. Kimberly-Clark Corp., 219 F.3d 612, 617 (7th Cir. 2000).
"Where, as here, an employee is terminated pursuant to a reduction in
force, the fourth element can also be satisfied by showing that similarly
situated, substantially younger employees were retained." Lesch v. Crown
Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 472 (7th Cir. 2002) (citing Michas v.
Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 693 (7th Cir. 2000).
If Weyneth can make out a prima facie case, the burden would shift to
Micromatic to articulate a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for
terminating Weyneth. If Micromatic is able to do so, then Weyneth must
present sufficient evidence to convince a rational jury that Micromatic's
justifications were pretextual. See Lesch, 282 F.3d at 473 (citing Beatty
v. Wood, 204 F.3d 713.717 (7th Cir. 2000)). To show pretext in a RIF
case, Weyneth must establish that an improper motive tipped the balance
in favor of discharge or that Micromatic did not honestly believe in the
reasons it gave for firing him. See Schuster, 327 F.3d at 574. Despite
the well-known burden-shifting nature of this approach, `"the ultimate
burden of persuading the trier of fact that the defendant intentionally
discriminated against the plaintiff remains at all times with the
plaintiff.'" Testerman, 98 F.3d at 303 (Quoting Texas Dep't of Cmty.
Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981): Jackson v. E.J. Brach
Corp., 176 F.3d 971, 982 (7th Cir. 1999).
As the Seventh Circuit has stated: "It is not always necessary to march
through this entire process if a single issue proves to be dispositive." Lesch, 282 F.3d at
473 "Here, as is often true, that issue is pretext or the lack thereof."
Id. Assuming arguendo that Weyneth can establish the existence of a prima
facie case, Micromatic has indicated a legitimate business justification
for Weyneth's termination Weyneth was laid off because all other
employees within the Quality Control department had training and
experience in other departments within the factory, whereas Weyneth did
To meet his burden of showing pretext, Weyneth must establish that an
improper motive tipped the balance in favor of discharge or that
Micromatic did not honestly believe in the reasons it gave for firing
him. See Schuster, 327 F.3d at 574. "Pretext may be proven directly with
evidence that an employer was more likely than not motivated by a
discriminatory reason, or indirectly by evidence that the employer's
explanation is not credible." Id. (internal quotations and citation
omitted). Weyneth presents no direct evidence of pretext, and proceeds to
attempt to demonstrate pretext indirectly.
"A plaintiff-employee may proceed indirectly by attempting to show that
the employer's `ostensible justification is unworthy of credence' through
evidence `tending to prove that the employer's proffered reasons are
factually baseless, were not the actual motivation for the discharge in
question, or were insufficient to motivate the discharge.'" Id. (quoting
Testerman v. EDS Tech. Prods. Corp., 98 F.3d 297, 303 (7th Cir. 1996)).
"Whether a court finds sufficient evidence to create an issue of material
fact depends upon the entire record." Id. "When a plaintiff uses the
indirect method of proof, no one piece of evidence need support a finding
of age discrimination, but rather the court must take the facts as a
whole." Huff v. UARCO. Inc., 122 F.3d 374, 385 (7th Cir. 1997) (citation
omitted). Weyneth cannot show that Micromatic's justification for his
termination is pretextual.
Weyneth cannot dispute that Micromatic's business was reduced at the
time of his lay off, that four other employees from other departments
were laid off along with him or that more than a dozen employees were
laid off in the latter half of calendar year 2001. Yet, Weyneth claims
that there was no need to lay off an employee from the Quality Control
department, and that he should not have been chosen over other employees
in the Quality Control department. However, Weyneth offers no evidence to
support this argument, and such unsupported arguments are improper at the
summary judgment stage. See Thomas, 328 F.3d at 893-94 ("Conclusory
allegations alone cannot defeat a motion for summary judgment.") Weyneth
simply second guesses Micromatic's business judgment. Although Weyneth
might like this court to review the merits of Micromatic's business
decisions, "this court does not sit as a super-personnel department that
reexamines an entity's business decisions." Dale v. Chicago Tribune Co.,
797 F.2d 458, 464 (7th Cir. 1986).
While it is undisputed that Weyneth had more experience and performed
better as an inspector than the other employees in the Quality Control
department, it is also undisputed that he lacked experience in other
departments of Micromatic's factory. Kolpa performed various other duties
in the factory, including sorting, aside from her duties as an
inspector. Korycki performed various other duties in the factory,
including painting and maintenance, aside from his duties as an
inspector. Lastly, Freeman performed various other duties in the
factory, including sorting and filing paperwork, aside from her duties as
an inspector. "On the issue of pretext our only concern is the honesty of
the employer's explanation, O'Conner v. DePaul Univ., 123 F.3d 665, 671
(7th Cir. 1997), and Weyneth has not cast doubt on the honesty of
Micromatic's reason for his termination.
The harsh reality is that Micromatic simply made a decision to
terminate one employee in the Quality Control department and viewed Weyneth as less valuable than
other employees. As Prociuk stated in his affidavit: "I chose Ernst
Weyneth because all the other employees in quality control had also had
the experience and training in working in other parts of the factory,
and, as a result, were more flexible." Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) Statement,
Ex. Prociuk Aff. ¶ 7. As the Seventh Circuit has stated, in RIF cases
"we deal with small gradations, with an employer's subjective comparison
of one employee to another, and it is incumbent upon us to remember that
what is at issue is not the wisdom of an employer's decision, but the
genuineness of the employer's motives." Testerman, 98 F.3d at 304.
Weyneth has not cast doubt of the genuineness of Micromatic's motives in
selecting him for lay off.
Furthermore, in Weyneth's Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) Statement he
states: ¶ 119 "Walter Prociuk decided to terminate [Weyneth] because he
was a single purpose inspector. That was the only reason for choosing
[Weyneth] over the other inspectors." Pl's LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Statement ¶
119. This statement belies any argument that Micromatic would not have
terminated Weyneth but for his age. See Testerman, 98 F.3d at 301
(indicating that "[i]n looking for discriminatory motive under the ADEA,
the relevant inquiry is whether age `tipped the balance,' that is,
whether age was a `but for' cause of the decision to fire the
Therefore, Weyneth has failed to show that Micromatic's justification
for its decision to terminate his employment was factually baseless, was
not the actual motivation for the termination, or was insufficient to
motivate the termination. See Schuster. 327 F.3d at 574. As such, Weyneth
fails to show that Micromatic's stated reason for his termination was
pretextual, and his claim under the ADEA fails. IV. CONCLUSION
For the reasons stated above, the court grants Micromatic's Motion for
Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.
IT IS SO ORDERED.