United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
Janusz Lewkowicz, Plaintiff,
Littlefuse, Inc. Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOAN GOTTSCHALL, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Janusz Lewkowicz brought this action against his
former employer, defendant Littlefuse, Inc. ("Littlefuse"),
alleging violations of the Age Discrimination and Employment Act
("ADEA"), 42 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. Specifically, Plaintiff
claims that he was unlawfully discharged from defendant's employ
during a company-wide reduction in force ("RIF") because of his
age. Now before the court is defendant's motion for summary
judgement, which, for the reasons that follow, is granted.
I. BACKGROUND*fn1 Defendant Littlefuse is a leading manufacturer of surge
protection devices. Defendant's manufacturing facility in Des
Plaines, Illinois, where plaintiff worked, produces 15 to 20
million fuses per day. In May of 1997 defendant hired plaintiff,
then 47 years old, as a tool and machine builder/troubleshooter
in defendant's mechanical maintenance department. At his time of
hire and all times thereafter, plaintiff was designated as a
maintenance associate with a Class II skill and pay level, the
lowest of defendant's three skill classifications for this
particular job, and assigned to work the third shift at
defendant's Des Plaines factory. As a Class II maintenance
associate, plaintiff's job responsibilities at Littlefuse
included executing basic maintenance tasks, such as repairing
defective parts in machines and performing minor tooling from
simple blueprints under supervision. In contrast, defendant's
Class III associates were called upon to execute more significant
maintenance tasks with minimal supervision, such as rebuilding
machines and parts from blueprints, and to supervise or mentor
other employees. Defendant typically scheduled its more complex
maintenance projects for its first shift, on which its more
highly skilled Class III and VI associates worked.
Beginning in late 1998, Plaintiff was supervised directly by
the third shift foreman, Curtis Monday, and more generally by the
molding and fabrication manager, John Adamczyk. Both supervisors
participated in defendant's decisions to hire and classify machine builders, including plaintiff. Plaintiff
received acceptable performance reviews from Monday and Adamczyk
during his employ with defendant and, pursuant to his labor
contract, earned automatic pay raises.
While plaintiff was employed with defendant, the company posted
several new job openings for Class III machine builder positions.
Plaintiff never applied in writing for any of these openings, and
eventually two of the positions were filled by new, younger
hires. On April 17, 2000, defendant hired 40 year-old John
Adamczyk ("John A." no relation to supervisor Adamczyk) as a
Class III machine builder, and on November 6, 2000, defendant
hired 28 year-old Scott Morris, also as a Class III machine
builder. Plaintiff claims that he made repeated verbal inquiries
to his supervisors about a promotion to Class III before and
after these jobs were filled by Morris and John A., but that his
supervisors told him he would have to wait to receive a promotion
to the higher class due to economic considerations.
After a downturn in the economy in 1999, defendant laid off
approximately 300 non-union production and office associates
company-wide, including 179 at its Des Plaines facility from
February 2001 to October 2001. In August of 2001, defendant
reduced its union maintenance associate workforce for the first
time. Plaintiff and other maintenance associates at Littlefuse
are represented by the Tool and Die Local Lodge 113,
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
("union"). The labor contract between defendant and the union
provided, in relevant part:
3. Application of Seniority. In all applications of
seniority under this Agreement, where present skill
and ability to perform the available work and
physical fitness are relatively equal, seniority shall be the deciding factor. The Company, in its
sole discretion, shall determine the necessary
qualifications of an employee and all questions of
skill, ability and physical fitness, and shall
determine whether or not an employee shall be
promoted. An unreasonable determination by the
Company shall be subject to the grievance procedure
set forth herein.
4. Layoffs and Recalls. A) In the event of a
reduction in the work force, all probationary
employees in the affected departments shall be laid
off first, the employees with seniority shall
thereafter be laid off in the reverse order of
seniority within the classifications in the
departments affected subject, however, to the
provisions of Section 3 of this Article.
In compliance with the labor contract and after consulting with
union leadership regarding which union employees held the lowest
classifications of skills and abilities, defendant decided to
permanently lay off all of its Class II maintenance associates.
This resulted in the termination of two employees, plaintiff and
Dimitrios Kangadis. In the aftermath of defendant's RIF, it
retained several Class III machine builders who were as old as or
older than plaintiff (who was 51 when he was laid off) but has
not hired any new Class II machine builders since plaintiff's
While Kangadis accepted a severance package and signed a
release agreement with defendant, plaintiff filed a grievance
based on being "laid off out of seniority." Adamczyk denied the
grievance and told plaintiff that the labor contract required
defendant to lay off union workers in order of skill and ability,
and that only if skill level and physical ability were equal
among workers could defendant make lay offs based on seniority.
Plaintiff never filed a grievance complaining of defendant's
failure to promote him to the level of Class III machine builder.
Plaintiff did, however, pursue his age discrimination grievance
through every level of the grievance process without success before filing an age discrimination charge with the EEOC.
This lawsuit timely followed.
Summary judgment is proper when "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); Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). In determining
whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must
construe all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party and draw all reasonable and justifiable inferences in favor
of that party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
255 (1986). Neither "the mere existence of some alleged factual
dispute between the parties," Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247, nor
the existence of a "metaphysical doubt," Matsushita Elec. Indus.
Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), is
sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.
The ADEA bars an employer from discriminating against any
individual in the "compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges
of employment" because of the individual's older age.
29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1); Solon v. Gary Community Sch. Corp., 180 F.3d 844,
849 (7th Cir. 1999). Plaintiff in this case has no direct
evidence of age discrimination, but this is not unusual. "Direct
evidence, such as an employer statement that reveals hostility to
older workers, is rarely found." Castleman v. Acme Boot Co.,
959 F.2d 1417, 1420 (7th Cir. 1992). Instead, plaintiff must rely
on the burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp.
v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). See also Thorn v.
Sundstrand Aero. Corp., 207 F.3d 383, 386 (7th Cir. 2000). Under
this framework, a plaintiff first must establish the four
elements of a prima facie case of age discrimination. If the
plaintiff succeeds, there is a presumption that he suffered
discrimination, and the burden of proof shifts to the defendant
to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its
employment action. If the defendant proffers a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason, then the burden shifts back to the
plaintiff to prove that the defendant's reason was mere pretext.
If the plaintiff succeeds in casting sufficient doubt on the
legitimacy of the defendant's excuse, "the case proceeds to
trial." Miller v. Borden, Inc., 168 F.3d 308, 313 (7th Cir.
To establish a prima facie case of age discrimination, the
plaintiff must demonstrate that "(1) he belongs to a protected
class [age forty or older]; (2) he performed his job
satisfactorily; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and
(4) his employer treated similarly-situated employees outside of
his protected class more favorably." Stockett v. Muncie Ind.
Transit Sys., 221 F.3d 997, 1001 (7th Cir. 2000). Here,
defendants concede that plaintiff has satisfied the first three
elements of his prima facie case: he has presented evidence to
show that he is over 40 years of age and was performing his job
satisfactorily when he was terminated by defendant. With respect
to the fourth element, defendant admits that at least two younger
employees, Morris and John A., were retained after the RIF and
are doing some of the same work that plaintiff had been doing
prior to his termination. Defendant argues, however, that these employees are not similarly situated to plaintiff because
they are Class III machine builders while plaintiff held Class II
Plaintiff argues that, notwithstanding their different job
classifications, he is similarly situated to Morris and John A.
because they all possessed comparable skills and abilities and
performed essentially the same jobs. See Radue v. Kimberly-Clark
Corp., 219 F.3d 612, 618 (7th Cir. 2000) (considering employees
who possessed analogous attributes, experience, education, and
qualifications to be similarly situated). An employee may prove
himself similarly situated to others with different job titles or
positions by showing substantial similarity in job
responsibilities, education, experience, performance,
qualifications, and workplace conduct. Zaccagnini v. Charles
Levy Circulating Co., 338 F.3d 672, 676 (7th Cir. 2003);
Radue, 219 F.3d at 618 ("[A]n employee need not show complete
identity in comparing [himself] to the better treated employee,
but he must show substantial similarity.").
Even drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiff,
the court cannot conclude that plaintiff is similarly situated to
Morris and John A. Under the burden-shifting approach, plaintiff
carries the burden of producing evidence that he, as a Class II
machine builder, was in fact similarly situated to the Class III
machine builders who were not terminated by defendant in August
of 2001. Plaintiff's only evidence in support of his position are
his own averments that he "is capable of rebuilding a part from a
complex blueprint," that his twenty years of machine-building
experience at other companies is at least as extensive as
Morris's and John A.'s experience, and that he was told by his
supervisors that his promotion to Class III machine builder was
on hold due to economic considerations. Plaintiff offers no evidence
comparing his past experience and resume or his actual job
responsibilities while employed with defendant to Morris's or
John A.'s past experience or on-the-job responsibilities. In
fact, plaintiff admitted during his deposition that he has no
knowledge of either Morris's or John A.'s actual qualifications
or on-the-job performance at Littlefuse.
Plaintiff's strongest argument is that Morris performed many of
plaintiff's tasks once plaintiff was terminated, but this alone
is insufficient to prove that defendant's classification of
plaintiff as a Class II machine builder and Morris and John A. as
Class III machine-builders was meaningless. Gustovich v. AT&T
Communications, Inc., 972 F.2d 845, 848 (7th Cir. 1992) (finding
plaintiff's self-serving evaluations of his own skills
insufficient to contradict employer's assessment of employee's
ability); Dale v. Chicago Tribune Co., 797 F.2d 458, 464 (7th
Cir. 1986) ("This court does not sit as a super-personnel
department that reexamines an entity's business decisions.").
Here, defendant provided evidence that the job of Class III
machine-builder demands the ability to execute complex repairs,
supervise other employees, and work largely unsupervised.
Defendant also asserts that plaintiff did not possess the level
of ability required by the job of Class III machine builder,
while both Morris and John A. demonstrated that they did.
Moreover, defendant provided uncontroverted evidence that
Morris's performance on the job was "excellent."
Plaintiff simply has not presented sufficient evidence calling
into doubt defendant's classification of him as a Class II
machine builder or of Morris and John A. as Class III machine
builders. Plaintiff has not provided evidence that either Morris or John A. were unqualified to earn their Class III status, or
that plaintiff was more qualified and still earned only Class II
status. Ghosh v. Ind. Dep't of Envtl. Mgmt., 192 F.3d 1087,
1091 (7th Cir. 1999) (finding employees similarly situated when
new hires held similar or lesser qualifications for the job).
Plaintiff also has not presented evidence that he is capable of
performing the tasks required of a Class III builder, except for
his own belief that, had defendant asked him to perform more
complex jobs, he would have been able to do so. The factual
record before the court supports defendant's assertion that the
job responsibilities of Class II and Class III machine builders
are distinct and that plaintiff did not qualify as a Class III
machine builder. Without additional evidence in the record
(beyond plaintiff's own self-serving assessment of his abilities
and skills) from which the court can infer that the two
classifications are meaningless, the court must conclude that
plaintiff is not similarly situated to Morris and John A. See
Dalton v. Subaru-Isuzu Auto., 141 F.3d 667, 676 (7th Cir. 1998)
(finding employer in best position to define job criteria).
Because plaintiff cannot demonstrate that he is similarly
situated to younger, Class III machine-builders, he cannot
establish the fourth element of his prima facie case. Under the
McDonnell Douglas framework, plaintiff's failure to make out
his prima facie case is fatal to his age discrimination claim,
and summary judgment must be entered in favor of defendant. III. CONCLUSION
Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case of age
discrimination based on defendant's decision to terminate all of
its Class II machine-builders, including plaintiff. Therefore,
summary judgment is entered in favor of defendant and against
plaintiff on plaintiff's ADEA claim.