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JACKSON v. WORLDWIDE FLIGHT SERVICES

September 29, 2004.

GEORGE JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
WORLDWIDE FLIGHT SERVICES, INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RONALD GUZMAN, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff George Jackson has sued defendant Worldwide Flight Services, Inc. ("Worldwide") alleging a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA").*fn1 Before the Court is Worldwide's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56.*fn2 For the reasons set forth below, Worldwide's motion for summary judgment is granted.

FACTS

  Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed or are deemed admitted pursuant to Local Rule 56.1, which this Court strictly enforces. Jackson was born on August 23, 1949. (Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 3.) He was hired by Miami Aircraft Services ("MAS") on February 19, 1996 and subsequently worked for Worldwide after MAS merged into Worldwide on January 1, 2001. (Id. ¶ 7.) Worldwide is in the business of receiving and preparing bulk cargo from airlines and for transportation on airplanes. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) ¶ 1.) Jackson held the position of Regional Vice President and had management responsibility for twelve different locations including Worldwide's Chicago, Illinois facility. (Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶¶ 8-9; Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) ¶ 3.) During the year before his termination, Jackson reported directly to Jeff Kinsella, Executive Vice President of Operations in North America. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) ¶ 2.)

  Worldwide employed thirteen Vice Presidents in the United States in April 2002, nine of whom (69%) were age 40 or older. (Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶¶ 32-33.) In addition, 45% of all management personnel at Worldwide were age 40 or older as of April 2002. (Id. ¶ 35.) Currently, Worldwide employs fourteen Vice Presidents in the United States, ten of whom (71%) are age 40 or older, and 51% of all management personnel are age 40 or older. (Id. ¶¶ 37-38, 40.)

  In March 2002, Worldwide's President and CEO Jean-Francois Gouedard visited Worldwide's Chicago O'Hare station. (Id. ¶ 10.) Gouedard met with employees, customers, and non-customer airline representatives, and according to Gouedard, some of them complained of Worldwide's services, safety, security, unsafe practices, and lack of "management reactiveness."*fn3 (Id. ¶¶ 11-13, 15.) In addition, Gouedard learned about the unauthorized storage of overload luggage from Royal Jordanian airlines in the El Al Airline's security warehouse space. (Id. ¶ 14.) Gouedard states that the information obtained during this visit helped him to understand why Worldwide had lost business in the previous few months. (Id. ¶ 17.) In Gouedard's judgment, the Chicago station was badly managed, and he believed a change was needed. (Id. ¶ 19.) Later, in April 2002, Gouedard confirmed that Jackson had executed a lease for the Chicago location that exceeded his authorized limits. (Id. ¶ 21.)

  Jackson's employment was involuntarily terminated by Gouedard on April 12, 2002, when Jackson was 52 years old. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) ¶ 4.) A letter dated April 11, 2002 from Gouedard to Jackson stated that:
In view of recent events, the Company, including its senior management, has lost confidence in your ability to be an effective member of management. Specifically, as a result of recent investigations, the company uncovered the following issues. You executed a $2,500,000 lease agreement with Air France that exceeded your authorized limits[.] You made agreements with Royal Jordanian that allowed them to warehouse parcels and luggage at our facility free of charge, which is contrary to all sound business practices[.] Your actions as cited above are unacceptable and in violation of Worldwide Flight Services Rules and Regulations.*fn4
(Pl.'s Ex. C, 4/11/02 Letter from J.-F. Gouedard to G. Jackson.) Plaintiff alleges that his termination was based on his age. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(A) ¶ 21.) Plaintiff also claims that on February 2, 2002, Gouedard told Kinsella, Jackson's immediate superior, that Gouedard "had serious concerns whether older employees can keep pace with the industry," and that, "in the future," Kinsella "should pursue young, hungry people; airline people in their mid-thirties."*fn5 (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) ¶ 24.)

  After Plaintiff's termination, Gouedard rehired Gary Burtzlaff, a former Worldwide employee who was 55 years old at the time, to take over Jackson's former responsibilities as well as other duties. (Def.'s LR 56.1 (a)(3) ¶¶ 24-25; Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(A) ¶¶ 24, 26.) Two months after Burtzlaff's rehire, he was promoted to Senior Vice President in light of his exemplary performance of Jackson's former duties. (Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 27.) After his promotion, Burtzlaff was responsible for hiring someone to take over the portion of his duties that Plaintiff previously performed. (Id. ¶ 29.) Burtzlaff chose Tricia Kearney, born on August 30, 1969, as his replacement, and Worldwide appointed her to the position of Regional Vice President. (Id. ¶¶ 30-31.)

  In September 2002, Jackson filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging that his termination was based on his age. (Id. ¶ 42.) On January 31, 2003, the EEOC dismissed Jackson's charge with a finding of no cause, and he was issued a right to sue letter. (Id. ¶¶ 44-45.) On March 31, 2003, Jackson filed the present complaint against Worldwide in the instant case alleging age and sex discrimination in his termination. (Id. ¶ 46.) DISCUSSION

  Pursuant to Rule 56(c), the Court may grant summary judgment if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, affidavits, and admissions on file "show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R. Civ. P. 56(c). The Court must view "the facts, and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Baron v. City of Highland Park, 195 F.3d 333, 337 (7th Cir. 1999). "If no reasonable jury could find for the party opposing the motion, it must be granted." Hedberg v. Ind. Bell Tel. Co., Inc. 47 F.3d 928, 931 (7th Cir. 1995). On summary judgment, the Court must not weigh the evidence submitted by the parties or determine the truth of asserted matters. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

  The ADEA makes it unlawful "to fail to or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual's age." 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). An ADEA plaintiff must show that age was a determining factor in the employer's decision to terminate the plaintiff's employment. Adreani v. First Colonial Bankshares Corp., 154 F.3d 389, 393 (7th Cir. 1998) ("Although age need not be the sole reason for the discharge, the claimant must show that, but for his employer's motive to discriminate against him on the basis of his age, he would not have been discharged."). The burden is on the plaintiff to prove intentional discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence. St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 506 (1993). A plaintiff may establish age discrimination under either the direct method, by presenting "direct or circumstantial evidence that age was the determining factor" in the termination or the "indirect, burden-shifting method of proof for Title VII cases originally set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973)." Oxman v. WLS-TV, 846 F.2d 448, 452 (7th Cir. 1988). Jackson claims that he has established age discrimination under both the direct and indirect methods of proof.

  I. Direct Method

  "To prove age discrimination using direct evidence, an ADEA plaintiff must establish `that he would not have been discharged "but for" his employer's motive to discriminate against him because of his age.'" Mills v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 83 F.3d 833, 840 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting Karazanos v. Navistar Int'l Transp. Corp., 948 F.2d 332, 335 (7th Cir. 1991)). Age discrimination under the direct method of proof may be established through "evidence that proves discrimination without the need for inference or presumption." Troupe v. May Dep't Stores Co., 20 F.3d 734, 736 (7th Cir. 1994); see also Gusewelle v. City of Wood River, 374 F.3d 569, 574 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting Rogers v. City of Chi., 320 F.3d 748, 753 (7th Cir. 2003)) ("`Direct evidence essentially requires an admission by the decision-maker that his actions were based upon the prohibited animus.'").

  Discriminatory motive may be shown through circumstantial evidence, including evidence of "suspicious timing, ambiguous statements oral or written, behavior toward or comments directed at other employees in the protected group;" evidence that employees who were similarly situated to the plaintiff but not members of the protected class received systematically better treatment; or evidence that the plaintiff was qualified for the job but was replaced by someone outside the protected class, and that the employer's reason for the treatment is mere pretext for discrimination. See Troupe, 20 F.3d at 736. Such evidence must be "both made by a decisionmaker and related to the employment decision at issue," Stopka v. Alliance of Am. Insurers, 141 F.3d 681, 688 (7th Cir. 1998), and it must be contemporaneous with the termination or causally related to the decision making process, see Geier v. Medtronic Inc., 99 F.3d 238, 242 (7th ...


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