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Ference v. Aon Consulting

May 19, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Marvin E. Aspen


Presently before us is Aon Consulting, Inc.'s ("Defendant") Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendant argues that Thomas A. Ference's ("Ference") claims for employment discrimination fail because they are time-barred and unsupported. For the reasons set forth below, we grant Defendant's motion.


Ference was born on January 22, 1951. (Pl. Facts ¶ 81). He began working at Aon Consulting ("Aon") when Aon acquired his previous employer, Book & Company, in 1993. (Pl. Facts ¶ 2; Def. Facts ¶ 1). After working for Aon for about a year, Ference was transferred to the Chicago office where he held a managing role as a senior vice president responsible for marketing and ran the regional sales effort. (Pl. Dep. at 17; Richard Anthony ("Anthony") Dep. at 16).

In May 1998, Ference was promoted to National Marketing Director for Aon-Consulting-US and Employee Benefits Marketing Director for the Employee Consulting Group (Def. Facts ¶ 7; Donald Ingram ("Ingram") Dep. Ex. 3). At this time, he also became the Chair for the National Marketing Committee. (Pl. Facts ¶ 84).

In 2002, Ingram, Defendant's CEO, asked Ference to cut his budget in half and terminate half of his staff. (Pl. Facts ¶ 85). Ference claims that these budget and staff reductions prevented him from being eligible to become an executive vice president. (Id.). Ingram testified that the budget cuts were implemented to reduce expenses. (See Ingram Dep. at 75-76; Pl. Dep. at 244).

In either 2003 or 2004, Ference became a team leader for the Strategic Account Sales Facilitation Team ("SASFT"). (Pl. Facts ¶ 83). During this time, Ference also assumed control of the McDonald's account. (See Def. Facts ¶ 15; Pl. Resp. Def. Facts ¶ 15). Around this same time in 2004, Ference began reporting to Roger Vaughn ("Vaughn") instead of Ingram. (Ingram Dep. at 65). When the SASFT disbanded in either 2005 or 2006, Ference became a Key Account Manager ("KAM"). (Pl. Facts ¶¶ 83, 86; Def. Facts ¶ 16).

Ference alleges that beginning in September 2005, Aon began discriminating against him on the basis of his age and gender. (Resp. at 1). The first alleged instance was on September 15, 2005, when Roger Vaughn referred to Ference as an "old dog" in an email. (Pl. Facts ¶ 88; Id. Ex. P). Other alleged instances of discrimination are discussed below.

A. Promotions

Ference alleges that he was discriminated on the basis of age because he was not promoted to be the National Head of KAM. Instead, in 2005, Ingram and Vaughn hired Peter Bridges, previously of Hewitt & Associates, as the National Head of KAM. (Def. Facts ¶ 21; Ingram Dep. at 44). This newly-created position focused on developing a staff of senior account managers to service large corporate clients. (Def. Facts ¶ 21; Ingram Dep. at 44). Defendant claims that it was looking for someone with a "track record and background in penetrating larger clients," "who was going to help us extend our services in to larger companies." (Ingram Dep. at 44-45). The position was not posted and Vaughn and Ingram did not consider anyone else for this position because they created the role for Bridges. (Pl. Dep. at 249-50; Vaughn Dep. at 32). In addition to being the National Head of KAM, Bridges was also responsible for representing Aon on a Global Large Corporate ("GLC") Committee. (Def. Facts ¶ 23). Ference was not approached about either of these positions. (Pl. Resp. Def. Facts ¶ 30).

When Bridges left Aon, Ference alleges that Defendant chose Rick Wellner ("Wellner") as his replacement for the GLC position as a result of age discrimination. (Resp. at 2; Def. Facts ¶¶ 23, 25). Wellner, who was born on February 10, 1955, was 51 at the time he accepted the position. (Def. Resp. Pl. Facts ¶ 93). Ference interviewed for this position, but claims he would not have had the opportunity if he had not filed a complaint after overhearing his supervisor, Andrew Appel ("Appel"), discussing the interview process with his assistant. (Pl. Dep. at 55). In addition, when Ference asked Appel why he was not being considered, Appel replied "What's wrong, Tom? Don't you like working with me." (Pl. Dep. at 55; Def. Facts ¶ 26). Ference interpreted this comment as an age-based threat not to apply for the position. (Pl. Resp. Def. Facts ¶ 26).

In June or July 2005,*fn2 Cindy Keaveney ("Keaveney"), who had been working at Aon since 1999, was hired to replace Bridges as the National Head of KAM. (Def. Facts ¶ 29; Keaveney Dep. at 12, 19). Ference was not aware of any posting for this position and Keaveney states that she did not submit a formal application. (Pl. Dep. at 249-50; Keaveney Dep. at 19). Around this time, Aon established diversity councils for females. (Pl. Resp. Def. Facts ¶ 27).

In 2006, as National Head of KAM, Keaveney was in charge of hiring Regional KAM leaders and Ference alleges that the selection of these positions involved both age and gender discrimination. (Def. Facts ¶ 34). Peter Russell ("Russell"), who was 45 years old and indirectly reported to Ference, was promoted to Southeast Regional KAM Leader. (Pl. Facts ¶ 99; Def. Resp. Pl. Facts ¶ 99). Katherine Childress ("Childress") was promoted to Northeast Regional Leader. (Pl. Facts ¶ 117; Def. Facts ¶ 35).*fn3 In July 2006, Jeff Yehle ("Yehle"), born September 9, 1965, was hired as the KAM Regional Leader for Aon's Central West region. (Pl. Facts ¶ 97). In addition, Michelle Futhey ("Futhey") was promoted to the Central West Regional Director. (Pl. Facts ¶ 118).*fn4 Ference testified that while he was aware that these regional leadership positions were being filled, he never saw them advertised in a job posting. (Pl. Dep. at 250, 256).

Keaveney testified that she did not consider Ference for either the Southwest or Northeast regional positions due to geography. (Keaveney Dep. at 91). In addition, while she did consider Ference for the Central West position, she believed after supervising him over the prior year, that he lacked the necessary client development history and leadership skills. (Keaveney Dep. at 31-32). Another KAM, David Walker ("Walker") testified that he asked Keaveney to be considered for the Central leader position but that he was never interviewed. (Walker Dep. at 47).

Another promotion that Ference alleges involved age discrimination was Greg Martens's ("Martens") promotion to the Chicago Market Leader Position in October 2006. (Def. Facts ¶ 41; Pl. Facts ¶ 100). Prior to this position, Martens (born June 9, 1974) had been a part of one of the teams that Ference was running. (Martens Dep. at 50).

Finally, as late as February 2007,*fn5 Lurline Craig-Burke was promoted to the Head of the Insurance Industry Vertical.*fn6 (Pl. Facts ¶ 119). Ference claims that he was the first person to develop and head the business plan of the insurance industry vertical but, nonetheless, was not considered for this position. (Id.).

B. Alleged Barriers to Success

1. Performance Metrics

In 2006, management assigned all KAMs specific performance metrics, such as chargeable hours, sales credit, and innovation goals. (Def. Facts ¶¶ 50, 57, 58; Pl. Facts ¶ 106). For chargeable hours, the average KAM utilization rate requirement was 35%. (Keaveney Dep. at 52-53). Keaveney only assigned Ference a 25% goal, however, because he had not billed hours for quite sometime. (Id.). Ference discussed with Keaveney that even this 25% goal might be difficult for him to achieve because he was not assigned a book of clients and was not a member of a practice group. (Def. Facts ¶ 55; Keaveney Dep. at 55; Pl. Resp. Def. Facts ¶¶ 50, 54).*fn7 Keaveney discussed other ways that Ference could meet his goals through account management, meeting facilitation, stewardship meetings, peer review work, and other activities serving clients. (Keaveney Dep. at 55).

Ference also claims that he was treated unfairly with respect to the other two performance metrics: sales credit and innovation. While Defendant claims that it applied the sales credit rules consistently across all KAMs (Def. Facts ¶ 52), Ference asserts that he was not properly given credit for a $100,000 sale at Kraft. (Pl. Resp. Def. Facts ¶ 52). However, even if he were given credit for this sale, he would not have achieved his sales credit goals. (Pl. Dep. at 231). In addition, Ference claims that he was not properly given credit for two uncompleted white papers as part of his innovation goal. (Pl. Facts ¶ 113). However, he was advised that he did not receive credit because the papers were incomplete. (Def. Resp. Pl. Facts ¶ 113).

Ference failed to meet his performance goals as reflected in his 2006 performance evaluation. (Pl. Dep. Ex. 10). On April 30, 2007, Ference received a "final warning" in his employment improvement plan setting additional performance goals and indicating that disciplinary action might result if these goals were not met in the future. (Yehle Dep. at 70-71 & Ex. 8).

2. Assignment of Accounts

Ference claims that his inability to meet his performance goals was influenced by the way Aon assigned accounts, such that he was set up for failure. (Resp. at 14). For example, Anthony, a former senior vice president at Defendant, testified that Ference was assigned to Sears while the company was in litigation with Aon, and assigned to McDonald's while it had a fractured relationship with Aon due to Vaughn's decision not to rebid for renewal of a contract. (Anthony Dep. at 39).

In addition, Ference alleges that Aon's decision to transfer accounts from Ference to other employees was discriminatory. Specifically, he challenges Defendant's decision to transfer the McDonald's and Discover accounts to Martens and the Verizon account to Jamie Honigman. (Def. Facts ¶¶ 68, 72, 73). Ference claims that the McDonald's account was transferred only after he had begun to make progress. (Pl. Dep. at 69, 72). However, Hayley and Yehle testified that the account was transferred because the client was dissatisfied with Ference's work as reflected in a negative Client Impact Review and because the client requested to work with Martens. (Hayley Dep. at 75; Yehle Dep. at 49; Def. Facts ¶ 71). Ference claims that the Discover account was transferred to Martens because Discover had hired a new young male HR director and Martens was a young male. (Pl. Dep. at 76). Ference also claims that Verizon was transferred away from him right when it would have increased Aon's business opportunities due to the SBC acquisition. (Pl. Resp. Def. Facts ¶ 72). Defendant claims that all KAMs had accounts transferred to/from them and that all KAMs were assigned to problem accounts. (Def. Facts ¶¶ 65, 67).

3. Assignment of Offices

After Yehle and Martens were promoted, they both were given offices. (Keaveney Dep. at 74). Yehle and Keaveney also decided to remove Ference from his office into a cubicle. (Id. at 73-74). Keaveney testified that this decision was due to the consolidation of various offices in the building, the fact that Ference frequently worked from his home in Indiana, and because Yehle and Martens needed an office to handle confidential discussions with employees. (Id.). Walker, another KAM, also dealt with confidential information, but related to clients not other employees. (Walker Dep. at 64; Def. Resp. Pl. Facts ΒΆ 114). In addition, ...

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