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Schaefer v. Richard Wolf Medical Instruments

March 31, 2009

GEORGE SCHAEFER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RICHARD WOLF MEDICAL INSTRUMENTS, CORP., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan H. Lefkow

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, George Schaefer ("Schaefer"), filed a single-count complaint against defendant, Richard Wolf Medical Instruments, Corp. ("RWMI"), alleging age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA").*fn1 RWMI moves for summary judgment, arguing that Schaefer was terminated for a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason. For the following reasons, RWMI's motion for summary judgment [#31] is granted.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). To determine whether any genuine fact exists, the court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Id. While the court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986), where a claim or defense is factually unsupported, it should be disposed of on summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Cartrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving there is no genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. In response, the nonmoving party cannot rest on bare pleadings alone but must use the evidentiary tools listed above to designate specific material facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000).

BACKGROUND

Schaefer was hired by RWMI*fn2 as a customer service representative in 1981. Def.'s L.R. 56.1 SoF ¶ 6. At that time, Schaefer was 43 years old. Id. Schaefer was soon promoted to the position of buyer*fn3 in which he was solely responsible for establishing and running RWMI's purchasing department, a multi-million dollar operation. Id. ¶¶ 8, 10. Schaefer alone developed the processes for placing purchase orders and authorizing payments. Id. ¶ 12. He was the only employee at RWMI who knew what those processes were. Id.

I. April 2003 Meeting

During the relevant time period, Schaefer's direct supervisor was Petra Johnson ("Johnson").*fn4 RWMI's Human Resources Manager was Marianne Stepp ("Stepp"). Id. ¶ 13. In April of 2003, Johnson and Stepp met with the eight RWMI employees who were at least 62 years old to determine if they had any retirement plans so that the company could make any necessary successorship plans. Id. Of those eight employees, three are still employed by RWMI, one is deceased, three are retired and one (Schaefer) was terminated. Id. When Johnson and Stepp met with Schaefer, he informed them that he had no plans to retire and told them that if he decided to do so, he would give them six months to one-year's notice. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. Schaefer admits that his age was not discussed outside of the context of his retirement plans. See Deposition of George Schaefer, attached as Ex. B to Def.'s L.R. 56.1 SoF ("Schaefer Dep.") at 181, lines 1-3. Thereafter, neither Johnson nor Stepp inquired about Schaefer's plans for retirement. Def.'s L.R. 56.1 SoF ¶ 20.

II. Schaefer's Job Performance Prior to July 2005

In June 2004, Johnson issued a written evaluation of Schaefer's performance. Johnson rated Schaefer's performance of his purchasing function as a seven on a scale of one to ten and his management of the purchasing clerk as an eight. See Ex. 9 to Schaefer Dep. In regard to Schaefer's strengths, Johnson stated that Schaefer was "very organized, loyal and dependable," has "a firm grip on purchasing activities and negotiates always in the best interest of the company." Id. Under weaknesses, Johnson wrote that she had verbally addressed performance issues in April regarding poor judgment on a fax machine repair issue, lack of initiative regarding research on a new copier, and lack of communication with her regarding certain vendor charges. Id. Under goals, Johnson wrote that Schaefer should "seek better communication with co-workers and supervisor, and take initiative as to how we can streamline operations and work smarter." Id. In his July 2005 review, Schaefer received the same ratings for performance and managing others, as well as similar remarks regarding his strengths. See Ex.11 to Schaefer Dep. Under weaknesses, Johnson wrote that she had addressed several behavioral issues with Schaefer throughout 2005 and stated that Schaefer's "behavior continues to be brash, impolite, and at times downright rude" and that his attitude toward the company is "very negative." Id. Under goals, Johnson wrote that Schaefer should "seek better communication with supervisor, co-workers and vendors." Id. Johnson concluded that "a merit increase is not justified." Id.

As noted on his 2004 and 2005 performance evaluations, several co-workers and vendors complained of Schaefer's behavior during that time period. In February 2005, Rick Greiber, RWMI's Group Marketing Manager, sent an email to Johnson and Stepp after he witnessed Schaefer inappropriately admonish one of his employees. See Def.'s L.R. 56.1 SoF ¶ 45; Ex. 6 to Deposition of Marianne Stepp, attached as Ex. C to Def.'s L.R. 56.1 SoF 9 ("Stepp Dep."). Also in that month, Johnson sent an email to Schaefer regarding complaints received from in-house and outside vendors about what they characterized as his "brash, unfriendly, abusive, arrogant and demeaning" attitude. Id. ¶ 46; Ex. 10 to Schaefer Dep. Johnson urged Schaefer to change his behavior and reiterated that vendors "must be treated with professional courtesy." Id. Stepp also testified that she had received a number of complaints and had herself experienced Schaefer's offensive and disrespectful behavior. Def.'s L.R. 56.1 SoF ¶ 54.

III. Schaefer's Job Performance After July 2005

Schaefer admits that after receiving his July 2005 performance evaluation, several incidents occurred where he failed to follow instructions, cooperate and communicate with others. The majority of these incidents involve Johnson and Sabine Bieschke ("Bieschke"), who was hired in September 2005 to be the purchasing department's assistant buyer.

A. Schaefer's Interactions with his Direct Supervisor

Until 2004, Schaefer ran the purchasing department with only minimal supervision from his superiors. Id. ¶ 23. Johnson became more actively involved in the purchasing department around 2004 to ensure compliance with new FDA regulation and to increase the department's efficiency.*fn5 Id. Schaefer admits that Johnson "tried" to give him directions on how to do his job but that he did not believe she had the knowledge to do so. Id. ¶ 25. Schaefer testified that he "knew how to do [his] job and how to do it best." Id. ¶ 24.

In August 2005, Johnson instructed Schaefer to update her regularly on a certain purchasing contract but Schaefer failed to do so. Id. ¶ 29. In October 2005, Schaefer placed an order for a tool without obtaining the required budget to do so despite Johnson's instruction to the contrary. Id. ¶ 30. In late 2005, Schaefer disregarded Johnson's efforts to improve the efficiency of the purchasing department on several occasions by refusing to timely heed Johnson's directions to (1) stop issuing confirmation orders after goods were already in-house, id. ¶ 31; (2) place purchase orders through the new computer system, id. ¶ 31; and (3) use his out-of-office assistant while on vacation, id. ¶¶ 33-35. Johnson gave Schaefer a verbal warning in late December 2005, after his failure to use his out-of-office assistant while on vacation resulted in a late payment to a vendor who consequently withheld a $110,000 shipment of new goods. Id. ¶ 35. In addition to ignoring Johnson's directions to train Bieschke from late 2005 to early 2006 (described below), in May 2006, only a few months before his termination, Schaefer failed to inform Johnson that RWMI had received a credit increase with Sony even though he knew that Johnson was seeking an increase with that vendor. Id. ¶ 40.

B. Schaefer's Interactions with the Assistant Buyer

When Schaefer's long-time assistant retired in 2005,*fn6 Johnson determined that RWMI needed an assistant "who would be qualified to be mentored by Schaefer and learn all aspects of the purchasing function" and to be Schaefer's successor if and when he chose to retire. Id. ¶¶ 53-54. On September 1, 2005, the company hired Bieschke to be the purchasing department's assistant buyer. Id. ¶ 54. Although it was understood that Bieschke would be Schaefer's "ultimate successor," no time frame was established for Bieschke to replace Schaefer.*fn7 Id. ¶¶ 56-57. Johnson directed Schaefer to train Bieschke on all aspects of the purchasing function. Id. ¶ 55. Schaefer did not accept the expanded role Johnson sought for the assistant buyer and believed that the duties and responsibilities of the assistant buyer should be clerical. Id. ¶ 57. After Bieschke was hired, the only tasks Schaefer could recall assigning her were buying office supplies and furniture. Id. ¶ 58.

Bieschke informed Johnson that Schaefer was not training her and was, in fact, hostile and disrespectful toward her. Id. ¶ 59. On November 2, 2005, Johnson sent Schaefer an email requesting that he train Bieschke on various vender contracts and include her in all vendor meetings. Id. ¶ 60. Schaefer testified that, despite Johnson's directions, he could not recall talking to Bieschke about the vendor contracts and admitted that he did not include Bieschke in all vendor meetings. Id. On December 7, 2005, Stepp and Johnson formally met ...


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