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Novotny v. Plexus Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 23, 2016



          Andrea R. Wood United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Edward Novotny claims that his former employer, electronics manufacturer Plexus Corp. (“Plexus”), and two of his former supervisors, Luis Avina and Wayne Peters, subjected him to a hostile work environment and took adverse employment actions against him on account of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. Novotny further claims that Plexus, Avina, and Peters discriminated against him on the basis of his race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“Section 1981”). Plexus and Avina have moved to dismiss certain of Novotny's claims pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 4(m) and 12(b)(6). (Dkt. No. 87.)[1] For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted.


         According to his third amended complaint, [2] Novotny worked as an In Circuit Test (“ICT”) Technician and as a Chassis Test Technician at Plexus's manufacturing facility in Buffalo Grove, Illinois from May 2007 until October 2011. (Third Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 12, Dkt. No. 76.) During that time, Avina was a Department Lead and Peters was a Department Supervisor at the facility. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7.) Novotny claims that throughout his employment he was subjected to constant intimidation, humiliation, and discrimination because of his age and race. Specifically, he alleges that Avina and Peters regularly harassed him and treated him less favorably than Gabriel Carmona, a younger, Hispanic technician. According to Novotny, Carmona was not subjected to the same harassment and abuse that he suffered because Carmona was younger than Novotny and because both Avina (who is Hispanic) and Peters (who is Caucasian) favored Hispanic employees over white employees. Novotny claims that he was demoted, laid off, and ultimately terminated from Plexus on account of his age and race.

         According to Novotny, starting in or around December 2007, certain ARCT01145, or “WOX, ” circuit boards started failing during Chassis testing. (Id. ¶ 24.) The boards were turned over to Avina for diagnosis but he was unable to solve the problem. (Id.) Avina attacked Novotny for not catching the WOX failure “at ICT.” (Id. ¶ 26.) In response to this attack, Novotny pointed out to Avina and Peters that none of the WOX circuit boards had failed at ICT. (Id.) He also questioned why Carmona, who worked on the same boards in the same capacity as he did, was not blamed for, or even questioned about, the failure. (Id.) As a result of this incident, Avina and Peters began referring to Novotny as “Old Man” and making derogatory comments about his age, such “maybe someone younger could do the job better.” (Id. ¶ 27.) In addition, after the WOX failure, Avina and Peters started regularly yelling at Novotny from across the factory, summoning him to Avina's desk for the sole purpose of humiliating him. (Id. ¶ 28.) During those incidents, they questioned him about, and blamed him for, “whatever issues [they] would bring up.” (Id. ¶ 29.) This harassment continued for over a year. (Id.)

         Then, in November 2009, Avina and Peters approached Novotny and told him that he was being demoted from “Chassis test” effective immediately. (Id. ¶ 30.) Novotny was replaced by Yufi Ho, an Asian friend of Avina. (Id. ¶ 31.) Ho was placed in Chassis testing and promoted to Functional Test Technician despite having no experience in that type of work. (Id. ¶¶ 31-32.) According to Novotny, he was better qualified for the position than Ho, having already worked in Chassis testing for two years. (Id. ¶ 33.) Based on these circumstances, and the fact that Avina was involved, Novotny asserts that his demotion was racially motivated. (Id. ¶¶ 32-33.) He claims that he was passed over for the promotion, despite his superior qualifications, because he is white. (Id. ¶ 33.)

         The next incident described in the complaint occurred in March 2010. (Id. ¶ 34.) Novotny alleges that Avina and Carmona approached him at his work station and threatened him with physical violence, repeatedly calling him “A Dumb Old Fuckin Pollock.” (Id.) In the midst of this “attack, ” Novotny fled his work station in fear for his safety. (Id. ¶¶ 35-36.) Novotny claims that he later reported the incident-in addition to a number of other incidents involving Avina, Peters, and Carmona-to Plexus's Human Resources Department. (Id. ¶¶ 37-38.) But Plexus did not investigate his complaints or take any other action. (Id. ¶ 39.)

         Novotny further alleges that Avina and Peters retaliated against him for reporting the March 2010 incident by threatening to terminate him if he failed to repair certain circuit boards. (Id. ¶ 44.) Specifically, in Fall 2010, another production failure occurred, this time involving ARCT01847 circuit boards. (Id. ¶ 40.) Novotny and Carmona initially were unable to repair the boards and thus were instructed to turn them over to Avina (Id. ¶¶ 40-42.) Avina spent over two weeks trying to resolve the issue to no avail. (Id. ¶ 43.) Then one morning, Avina and Peters brought the boards back to Novotny and told him that he had until the end of the day to fix them or else be terminated. (Id. ¶¶ 43-45.) Carmona did not receive the same threat despite having worked on the boards in the same capacity as Novotny, and Avina did not face termination despite his inability to repair the boards. (Id. ¶¶ 45-46.) Novotny was ultimately able to solve the issue- thwarting Avina's and Peters's attempt to terminate him-but their threats and mistreatment continued. (Id. ¶¶ 44, 47.)

         Then, in 2011, Plexus initiated a reduction in force (“RIF”) performance assessment, using production data from July to October 2011 to identify the lowest-producing and poorest-performing technicians for termination. (Id. ¶ 48.) According to Novotny, Avina and Peters created a scheme to ensure that he was terminated in connection with the RIF. (Id. ¶¶ 118(A)- (B).) Novotny claims that he was not made aware of the performance assessment and that Avina and Peters intentionally prevented him from working during that period, thereby lowering his production and performance numbers. (Id. ¶¶ 48-52.) Specifically, Novotny asserts that Avina and Peters, along with Production Lead Phratiba Patel, intentionally withheld circuit boards from him during the first ICT technician shift, instead saving them to be worked on by Carmona during the second shift. (Id. ¶ 50.) When that tactic did not significantly impact Novotny's performance ratings as compared to Carmona's ratings, Avina and Peters informed Novotny that there was no work for him and instructed him not to return to work until advised otherwise. (Id. ¶ 51.) Novotny was laid off on July 18, 2011, shortly after the performance assessment period had begun. (Id.) Carmona, on the other hand, was retained through the full assessment period. (Id. ¶ 118(C).) Novotny claims that Avina and Peters, due to their age and race bias, laid him off to allow Carmona to surpass him in production and performance so that Carmona would survive the RIF. (Id. ¶¶ 53, 55, 61.)

         Due to the purported “lack of work” layoff, Novotny went from being the top-performing ICT technician at Plexus to the worst-performing. (Id. ¶¶ 57-58.) As a result, he was recommended and selected for termination as part of the RIF. (Id. ¶¶ 62-63.) On October 27, 2011, Plexus terminated Novotny's employment, citing the allegedly pretextual reasons of poor performance and mistreatment of co-workers. (Id. ¶¶ 68, 124.) Novotny was 51 years old at the time. (Id. ¶ 66.) He claims that his position was not eliminated but instead was “absorbed by younger workers.” (Id. ¶ 69.) At some point after his termination, Novotny filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).

         With their present motion, Plexus and Avina seek to dismiss certain of the claims asserted in Novotny's third amended complaint. First, Defendants assert that any and all claims against Peters should be dismissed because Novotny has failed to serve him. In addition, they argue that any ADEA claims against Avina must be dismissed because there is no basis for individual liability under the ADEA and because Novotny did not name Avina in his EEOC charge. Finally, Defendants contend that Novotny's ADEA claims against Plexus are time-barred to the extent they occurred more than 300 days before the filing of his EEOC charge.[3]


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the short and plain statement must meet two threshold requirements. First, the complaint's factual allegations must be sufficient to give the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Second, the complaint “must contain sufficient factual allegations, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, there “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         I. Novotny's ...

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