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REESE v. GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY

August 22, 2005.

GARY W. REESE, Plaintiff,
v.
GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BLANCHE MANNING, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Gary Reese contends that his former employer, General Electric Company ("GE"), discriminated against him in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq., by laying him off and failing to transfer him after his position was eliminated. GE's motion for summary judgment is before the court. For the following reasons, GE's motion is granted.

I. Background

  The following facts are drawn from the parties' Local Rule 56 submissions and are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

  A. GE's Policies and Procedures

  According to GE, it maintains and enforces an equal employment opportunity ("EEO") policy entitled "Fair Employment Practices." This policy requires it to "recruit, hire, train, compensate, promote and provide other conditions of employment without regard to a person's race, color, religion, national origin, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, age, disability, veteran status or other characteristic protected by law."

  GE asserts that it uses an internal application procedure through which it posts available positions in a corporate database, and that all GE employees have access to the database. With respect to evaluations, the GE employees complete self-evaluations and are also evaluated by their managers. As part of this process, the employees and their managers establish objectives on an annual basis. The form that encompasses the result of the evaluation is referred to as an "EMS" form. The EMS form and any statements of career interest contained therein is not a substitute for the posting process.

  GE maintains a Special Early Retirement Option ("SERO") policy to benefit eligible employees affected by layoff, plant closing, or other types of job loss. Employees are eligible for SERO if, among other things, they are: (1) subject to a permanent job loss event, such as layoff; (2) are at least age 55 but younger than age 60 on the date of job loss; and (3) have at least 25 years of pension qualification service on the date of job loss.

  Employees who elect SERO are treated as regular retirees pursuant to the GE pension and other benefits plans, despite the fact that they otherwise would not be old enough to retire. Accordingly, employees who elect SERO receive: (1) their full earned pension; (2) the supplement of $14 per month for each year of pension benefit service until age 62; (3) a special supplement of $350 per month until age 62, at which time the employee qualifies for reduced social security benefits; (4) benefits based on the employee's Personal and Voluntary Pension Accounts; and (5) the same medical, dental, life insurance, and other benefits that employees who retire at age 60 receive. SERO is an option that eligible employees affected by job loss must elect. An employee who elects SERO effectively retires from GE and, thus, is not considered for available positions after the election.

  B. Reese's Employment With GE

  1. Reese's Positions with GE

  Plaintiff Gary Reese is currently 56 years old. In 1967, GE hired Reese to work at Knolls Power Laboratory as a technician. In 1974, Reese entered GE's technical marketing program and was trained in sales. After completing the program, Reese performed various functions at different divisions within GE. In 1994, GE reorganized the sales force in its Oak Brook office and selected Reese for a sales position. In September of 1994, GE established an industrial account team in order to build relationships with major industrial customers. GE selected Reese to be an industrial account manager. Between 1996 and 1997, GE focused on globalizing its business and, accordingly, renamed the industrial account manager position "global account manager" ("GAM"). Reese occupied this position for the remainder of his employment with GE, despite subsequent restructuring and account changes. As a GAM, Reese's responsibility was to target global accounts and develop executive-level relationships with Fortune 100 companies with the objective of securing national account purchasing agreements to supply the companies with products for their facilities worldwide. Specifically, Reese's role was to form relationships with the senior executives and managers of the accounts for which he was responsible in the hopes of influencing GE's sales with the account. Field sales employees were responsible for developing relationships with the accounts' local plants.

  In 1994, when GE selected Reese to be a GAM, it assigned him to the Baxter, Abbot Labs, Inland Steel, Amoco, and Motorola accounts. In or around 2000, GE identified opportunities for data centers and thus assigned the GAMs to data center customers to learn the business. The data centers were within the telecommunications industry, in which GE sought to become more proactively involved. For several years, Reese was geographically deployed (meaning that he was assigned to a particular geographic region) and his primary accounts were Sprint and Motorola, both of which are in the telecommunications sector.

  2. GE's Reorganization of Its GAMs From Regional to Target Markets and Reese's Assignment to the Telecommunications Sector

  In April of 2002, David Griffith was promoted to General Manager of the Global Accounts Team. When Griffith assumed responsibility for the team, all of the GAMs were geographically deployed. Shortly after Griffith assumed his new position, between April and May of 2002, the Global Accounts Team began discussing ways to reenergize the team and help grow business, and Griffith decided to reorganize the GAMs around target markets, one of which was telecommunications.

  In 2002, Sherry Sakagawa, a college student who was a summer intern at GE, conducted a study indicating that there were opportunities in the wireless telecommunications market. GE did not rely on Sakagawa's report regarding the telecommunications market in deciding to target the sector. Instead, GE already did business with several telecommunications firms and, thus, decided to target telecommunications. According to Reese, GE had Sakagawa create her report to justify GE's planned reorganization, which placed Reese in a position marked for failure.

  As early as May 3, 2002, Griffith informed Reese that, pursuant to the reorganization, he was going to be exclusively assigned to GE's telecommunications accounts. Griffith selected Reese for this position because Reese already had been targeting Sprint and Motorola for several years and had been in charge of these accounts. Pursuant to the reorganization, Reese also was assigned the AT&T and MCI WorldCom accounts.

  The reorganization of the Global Accounts Team into target markets was completed on October 31, 2002. Well before this, however, in May 2002, Griffith was transitioning Reese and giving him opportunities to increase his knowledge and involvement in the telecommunications sector. Reese believed that the telecommunications industry represented a large opportunity for GE, and testified at his deposition that he was not given a chance to develop the telecommunications market, since he was forced out three months after the effective date of the reorganization.

  3. Elimination of Reese's Position

  In early 2003, GE's first quarter sales projections were poor. As a result, Michael Pilot, then Vice President of Sales, decided to reduce head count throughout GE's sales departments. Pilot thus told Griffith to eliminate a position from the Global Account Team, but entrusted to Griffith ...


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