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Thomas Hansen v. Crown Golf Properties L.P

November 29, 2011

THOMAS HANSEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CROWN GOLF PROPERTIES L.P., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Thomas Hansen ("Hansen") has sued his former employer, Crown Golf Properties L.P. ("Crown"), charging it with having violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA," 29 U.S.C. §626). Crown has moved for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 56, and the litigants have complied with this District Court's LR 56.1 (see n.3), including their full briefing of the matter.*fn1 For the reasons stated here, Crown's motion is granted and this action is dismissed.

Summary Judgment Standard

Every Rule 56 movant bears the burden of establishing*fn2 the absence of any genuine issue of material fact (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322--23 (1986)). For that purpose courts consider the evidentiary record in the light most favorable to nonmovants and draw all reasonable inferences in their favor (Lesch v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir. 2002)). But a non-movant must produce more than "a mere scintilla of evidence" to support the position that a genuine issue of material fact exists (Wheeler v. Lawson, 539 F.3d 629, 634 (7th Cir. 2008)) and "must come forward with specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial" (id.).

Ultimately summary judgment is warranted only if a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-movant (Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). What follows is a summary of the relevant facts,*fn3 viewed of course in the light most favorable to non-movant Hansen.

Factual Background

From 2000 until late 2008 Hansen--first as an employee of a separate company called Green to Tee Golf Academy and later through his own company--ran a program that the parties refer to as a Golf Academy ("Academy") at Willowhill Golf Club ("Willowhill") in suburban Chicago (H. Dep. 22:8-23:3, 27:18-29:19). In late 2008 Willowhill hired Crown to manage its golf operation (C. St. ¶1). Hansen's standing at Willowhill was cast into doubt with the change in management, but Crown's President David Fairman ("Fairman") hired Hansen as Director of the Academy (id. ¶¶3-4). Hansen had the highest salary of any employee at Willowhill (id. ¶5).

With the economic downturn in 2009, golf--like any leisure activity--attracted fewer participants. "Tanking worse than the U.S. economy" is how Hansen described it at his deposition (H. Dep. 62:23-63:11). Willowhill's revenues dropped, and Crown needed to cut its expenses (H. Dep. 79:4-80:18, 93:22-24, 95:6-97:12, 117:12-16).

Fairman fired Hansen in September 2009 (C. St. ¶8). Hansen later explained to a former colleague that "Crown made a business decision and...my services were no longer needed" (H. Dep. 86:20-22). Hansen also testified that at the time he was fired he was "the most expensive salaried employee on the staff. We're looking at numbers through a down year in 2009. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that it's going to come down to making some more tough decisions" (H. Dep. 117:12-16). Indeed, when asked at his deposition what motivated Crown to fire him, Hansen testified that he considered it to be a business decision to save costs (H. Dep. 109:19-22, 130:10-17):

Q: Crown Golf decided to let you go as a cost-saving measure?

A: I usually describe it the way Mr. Fairman described it as purely a business decision.

Q: So, you don't know what the company based its decision to fire you on?

A: I based it on what Dave [Fairman] told me, which was a business decision, and I believe I got some documentation that said it was--eliminated the position was the official [sic] from a Crown document that I don't remember. A termination document or something from Crown. It was in my personal [sic] file.

Crown did not hire a new Director for the Academy (Fairman Aff. ¶13). Instead Crown tasked two existing employees--Luke Riehle ("Riehle") and Billy Knilans ("Knilans")--to take over Hansen's duties.* ...


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