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R. Douglas Emlen v. Caterpillar

March 14, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joe Billy Mcdade United States Senior District Judge


Tuesday, 15 March, 2011 02:17:35 PM

Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD


Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant,Caterpillar, Inc. (Doc. 21). The Motion is GRANTED.


The following facts are undisputed. During the relevant time period, Plaintiff was employed by Defendant as a Division Manager in Caterpillar's Dealer Business Systems Group. (Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (DSUMF)3). Plaintiff reported to the Director of Dealer Services, Jim Roppa, who in turn reported to Vice President, John Heller. (DSUMF 3). In 2004, Caterpillar entered into an agreement with a company named PTCom to begin a trial period to test out a partnership between the two companies. (DSUMF 9). During the trial period, Caterpillar and PTCom were engaged in a venture related to internet phone calls called Project Water. (DSUMF 8). Plaintiff was designated as the project manager. (DSUMF 12).

Project Water was not successful: immediately after entering into the agreement, PTCom "missed deliverables, failed to pay invoices, and was otherwise not in compliance with its obligations pursuant to the proof of concept agreement." (DSUMF 10). Caterpillar also did a background check on the owner of PTCom, David Goodwin, which revealed "potentially troubling information." (DSUMF 11). Plaintiff was removed from his position as project manager in mid-2004 and Caterpillar began to "disengage" from Project Water thereafter (the project did not end until mid-2005). (DSUMF 9 and 12).

Caterpillar reviews the performance of its employees annually. (DSUMF 19). The evaluation scale is one to five with one being the best and five being the worst. (DSUMF 19). A rating of three also has three subratings, A, B, and C; A being the best and C being the worst. (DSUMF 19). In Plaintiff's 2004 evaluation, his performance was rated "3B" by his immediate supervisor, Roppa. However, Roppa's supervisor, Heller, who approves the reviews, instructed that the rating be changed to "3C" because Plaintiff "demonstrated lack of judgment, proper communication, and he failed to deliver on some of his goals." (DSUMF 20). The change in rating had no impact on Plaintiff's salary. Plaintiff was again evaluated in October, 2005. (DSUMF 28). He was given a performance rating of "5" (i.e. worst) and was "removed from his leadership position" because "he misled his management team and used poor business judgment in violation of Caterpillar's Code of Conduct." (DSUMF 28). The October 2005 rating and decision to remove Plaintiff from his position was made by Roppa, Heller, Paul Joseph, Heller's subordinate, and in conjunction with human resources. (DSUMF 30). Plaintiff was then placed in the "priority placement pool," a 60-day employment holding position whereby Caterpillar would attempt to locate another position in the company, and, if unsuccessful, would terminate Plaintiff's employment after 60 days. (DSUMF 31). Plaintiff, however, elected to retire after receiving the October, 2005 evaluation. (DSUMF 32). According to Defendant, Plaintiff's evaluations and the decision to essentially terminate his position was related to Plaintiff's relationship with PTCom and its owner, Godwin.

The undisputed evidence reveals that Plaintiff's son, Zach, was employed by PTCom in 2004 (while Plaintiff was project manager of Project Water). (DSUMF14). Plaintiff also co-owned two companies, Trilogy and 4D Sports, with Godwin, and Tracy Daniels, which were incorporated in January, 2005. (DSUMF 15 and 16). Both of Plaintiff's sons, Zach and Brandon, were employed by Trilogy and 4D Sport, although they received paychecks from PTCom. (DSUMF 17). In April, 2005, Heller received an anonymous letter accusing Plaintiff of various acts including misuse of Caterpillar personnel, forcing PTCom to hire his son, and the use of Caterpillar funds and resources for personal use. (DSUMF 22). Heller forwarded the letter to Caterpillar's Office of Business Practices which conducted an investigation. (DSUMF 23). Heller received a second letter, this time from Godwin, in September, 2005 which accused Plaintiff of forcing PTCom to hire his son, seeking cash payments from PTCom, starting Trilogy and 4D Sports, working for those two ventures during Caterpillar working hours, and "stealing confidential Caterpillar documents in an effort to extort money and jobs for his sons." (DSUMF24). This letter also was forwarded to the Office of Business Practices which conducted an investigation. (DSUMF 25). During this second investigation, Plaintiff was suspended with pay. (DSUMF 25). The result of the investigation was a determination that while Plaintiff was not engaged in a "direct conflict of interest," his joint ventures with Godwin and activities gave the "appearance of a conflict of interest." (DSUMF 26 and 27).*fn1

Plaintiff believes that the only person at Caterpillar who discriminated against him on account of his age is Heller, who is 3 years younger than Plaintiff. (Emlen Dep. p. 67). Plaintiff has this belief based on two conversations with Heller, between January and July, 2005. In one conversation, Plaintiff describes Heller's comments as:

He just said that, you know, some of the guys that work here at Caterpillar that have those long careers have different management styles that may not fit with the direction that we're going because they come from the old school, so that career longevity is something that he looks at. (Emlen Dep. p. 57).

In that same conversation, Heller also "made reference to my [Emlen's] gray hair in the conversation of being of gray hair." (Emlen Dep. pp. 64-65). Heller also, apparently, has gray hair. In a separate conversation during the same time period, Heller also referred to Plaintiff as "Dr. Emlen:"

He [Heller] walked up to me. I was one of the first ones in the room, the room being when it would seat two to three hundred people, and he said Dr. Emlen, he said, I see you got here early, glad to see that. He said, you know, us ...

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