The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joe Billy McDade United States District Judge
Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 21). Plaintiff has filed a Response (Doc. 23) and an accompanying Memorandum (Doc. 24). Defendant has also filed a Reply (Doc. 28). Plaintiff has brought suit against Defendant alleging a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
In 1986, Plaintiff, Jolyn McDonald, was hired by Defendant, Best Buy Stores, L.P. ("Best Buy").*fn1 She advanced through Best Buy for over seventeen years and in 2003 was made the Customer Service Manager at the Best Buy store in Moline, IL.
As the Customer Service Manager, she was responsible for accurate processing of all of Defendant's customer transactions, managing all aspects of store operations, motivating and training staff, and ensuring profitability through the correct use of the store's systems and processes. (Doc. 21 at 2; Doc. 23 at 2.)
In March of 2004, when Plaintiff was fifty-four years old, Defendant instituted a company-wide transformation in which the Company's business model changed from being product-focused to being customer-focused. (Doc. 21 at 3.) The new customer-centric model was known in the company as "LTS" ("Leadership, Training, and 'Standard Operating Platform'."). According to Defendant, Plaintiff's position was particularly impacted by the new business model because the Customer Service Manager was given the additional responsibilities of tracking in-home service and conducting increased coaching and training of employees. (Doc. 21 at 3.)
Prior to that time, Plaintiff had an exceptionally strong performance history with Best Buy and had received positive performance reviews up until March of 2004. (Doc. 23 at 8-9.) According to Defendant, after the LTS model was introduced, the company found that "more tenured" employees were having a harder time adapting to the changes. Specifically, employees who had "been around for a while" found that "it was a hard change" because the new process was "completely different from anything [Best Buy] had done before." (Stald Depo. at 162.)
According to Defendant, Plaintiff appeared to have problems adjusting to the LTS model and on May 18, 2004, she received her first written warning or 'performance improvement plan' ("PIP"). (Doc. 23 at 12.) Shortly after that Steve Patton, the Moline store manager, suggested that Plaintiff step down to spend more time with her grandchildren. (Plaintiff Depo. at 115.)
Mark Stanley, the district operations manager, also spoke with Plaintiff around May of 2004 and warned Plaintiff that older employees were going to have a hard time adjusting to the changes. Furthermore, Stanley informed Plaintiff that if she did not successfully complete her performance improvement plan then termination was a definite possibility. (Doc. 23 at 13.) However, before the end of August, Plaintiff was taken off of the PIP and no disciplinary action was taken against Plaintiff. (Doc. 23 at 13.)
In August of 2004, Patton was replaced with a new store manager, Ed Stald. Stald began referring to Plaintiff as "Grandma," "Grandma Jo," or "Grandma Jolyn," in front of both subordinates and superiors and continued to refer to Plaintiff as Grandma over the next month. (Doc. 23 at 14-15.) According to Plaintiff, Stald also bragged at the initial meeting with store managers that he could fire any employee "with documentation." (McDonald Aff. at 4.) Also at the initial meet, Stald told his managers that everyone would be given a "clean slate."
Shortly after the initial meeting, Stald placed Plaintiff back onto a PIP. According to Plaintiff, Stald did not regularly work in the Moline store through the month of August because he was still working at the store in Des Moines and because he was in the process of moving to Moline. As a result, when Stald placed Plaintiff on a PIP he had not yet met with her or had any occasion to work with her. (Doc. 23 at 16.)
Plaintiff also places an inordinate amount of emphasis on a plausible act of courtesy by Stald that occurred around that time. According to Plaintiff, Stald offered Plaintiff a stool to sit on during one of her twelve hour shifts. According to Plaintiff, personnel were not allowed to sit on stools during their shift and this was an act of age discrimination.
According to Defendant, Plaintiff experienced performance problems during the month of September. Defendant points out in their brief that Plaintiff received two written Performance Counseling Records ("PCRs") on September 16. These PCRs reprimand Plaintiff for failing to live up to the expectations of the new business model and they contain amorphous criticism like Plaintiff failed to "influence and inspire" her subordinates. However, Defendant's brief does not specifically explain what Plaintiff did wrong to merit the PCRs. Likewise, Defendant's brief refers to multiple negative written citations that Defendant received, but never actually explains the citations or describes any actions on Plaintiff's part that fell short of expectations. (Doc. 21 at 14-17.)
Around that time, Plaintiff was also informed that due to her seniority, the company had higher expectations for her. Defendant expected Plaintiff's "profit levers" to be ranked in the Company's "top tritile" -- or among the top two hundred stores. Specifically, Defendant states that "due to Plaintiff's 16 ...