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Conway v. Allstate Insurance Co.

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

October 26, 2016



          James B. Zagel United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Allstate Insurance Company's Motion for Summary Judgment Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Plaintiff John Conway alleges that he was unlawfully terminated from his position at Allstate Insurance Company due to his age, in violation of the Age Discrimination Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §621 et seq.

         For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff John Conway, born in 1955, was employed by Allstate Insurance Company (“Allstate”) from 1981 to 2009. From 1999 onward, Conway worked in Allstate's Sourcing and Procurement Solutions (“SPS”) department, where he was ultimately classified as a Band E employee. Under Allstate's salary band classification system, higher band employees such as Conway were responsible for more complex and skilled work and were compensated accordingly. In 2009 Conway was a member of the Enterprise Services team responsible for sourcing commodities for the corporation, such as furniture, office supplies, and company cars.

         During all relevant times leading up to and following Conway's termination, Lori Yelvington, born 1958, was the Senior Vice President of SPS. In the fall of 2008, Don Civign joined Allstate as its CFO and oversaw the Finance Shared Services (“FSS”) department. Yelvington reported directly to Civign.

         In or around late 2008 Civign asked his staff, including Yelvington, to decrease their 2009 budgets while increasing organizational efficiency. Yelvington testified that she understood that Civign wanted her to reduce the SPS budget by about $1 million, although Civign testified that he did not recall allocating the budget cuts by sub-department. Nevertheless, Yelvington set about to reduce the SPS budget and concluded that, because a significant portion of the budget came from employee salaries, the best way to accomplish her objective was to implement a Reduction in Force/Job Elimination (“RIF/JE”). As the sole officer responsible for her department's budget, Yelvington did not require Civign's approval to make budget decisions for SPS, including personnel decisions. Accordingly, Yelvington determined that the department's top-heavy structure was inefficient and sought to redistribute work more appropriately, streamline the payroll, and achieve a more traditional pyramid structure with a greater number of lower-salaried employees than high band employees. In one document, Yelvington wrote that she also hoped the RIF/JE would usher in a “culture change” in the department.

         Working with two of her direct reports, Joe Duffy and Lynne Iverson, Yelvington developed the business case and communication plan for her RIF/JE initiative. Duffy and Iverson were both over 40 in 2009, having been born in 1953 and 1965 respectively. After consulting with HR Senior Manager Larry Matson, Yelvington compiled her business case with the help of Duffy and Iverson. Yelvington testified that among the factors she considered were the criticality scores of various commodities, although criticality score was not determinative in any particular case.[1] For instance, several of the commodities for which Plaintiff was responsible had low criticality scores, but other employees whose commodities had similar or lower criticality scores were retained. Yelvington also testified that she considered whether any particular employee had team-led responsibilities, which could make their duties more difficult to redistribute in the event of termination.

         Ultimately, Yelvington alone selected the employees for termination, including Plaintiff. All the employees impacted by the RIF came from Band D, Band E, or the non-exempt category. No Band A, B, or C employees (that is, the lower salaried employees) were impacted. All impacted employees were 39 or older in 2009, with birth years ranging from 1948 to 1970. Following the RIF, the proportion of employees over the age of 40 in each of the impacted Band levels remained roughly the same or, in a few cases, actually increased. For instance, prior to the RIF, 88% of Band D employees and 94% of Band E employees were over 40. After the RIF, 92% of employees in both Bands were over 40. Of the SPS employees who remained, at least 14 were Plaintiff's age or older, including five employees who were in their sixties. Subsequently, however, two of the aforementioned 14 employees were terminated and several left Allstate or retired over the course of the next 18 months.

         With regards to Plaintiff, Yelvington testified that she selected him for the RIF at least in part because his commodities were neither complex nor highly critical and because he did not have any team-led responsibilities. For these reasons, Yelvington asserts that she concluded his duties could more easily be redistributed among lower-banded employees. On April 22, 2009, Iverson and an HR representative informed Plaintiff that his position was being eliminated. While Allstate did not hire a replacement to perform Plaintiff's job as previously defined, his commodities were redistributed to two Band A employees, Karen Koo (born 1980) and Andrew O'Donnell (born 1982).

         Plaintiff points to three younger co-workers whom he alleges were otherwise similarly situated to him but retained their jobs. Iverson and Sandra Troiano-both of whom were over 40 in 2009-were senior managers who reported directly to Yelvington. Troiano, a part-time employee, was asked to go full-time and quickly advanced, leading Plaintiff to believe she was treated more favorably than him. Iverson, too, received a promotion, albeit not one for which Plaintiff himself had applied. Christi Lockhart, born 1978, was a Band C employee on the Technology team and was responsible for the hardware commodity, which Yelvington testified was highly critical to the organization. Lockhart received the Employee of the Month award after a few months with the organization. With respect to each of these employees, Plaintiff admits that he has no knowledge of their work performance.

         Plaintiff alleges that after the RIF/JE, his former coworkers told him that Yelvington announced she was going to “get fresh help in here” or “freshen up the organization if workloads are heavy.” Yelvington denies making these comments, and neither Duffy nor Iverson, who would have been present at the meeting, recall hearing them. From April 2009 through the end of 2009, SPS hired approximately four new employees. None of them were hired as one-to-one replacements for any of the positions held by terminated in the RIF, though Plaintiff asserts that some new hires did absorb some of the former employees' duties.

         On December 29, 2009, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Among his allegations of various violations of the ADEA, Plaintiff asserted that at a golf outing in or around 2003, Yelvington asked him how old he was and how many children he had. When he replied that he had no children, he alleges that Yelvington commented, “You've been working here this long and you don't have any children? Why are you working? You shouldn't be working here. You're rich… Somebody your age that's worked here this long with no children, there's no reason you couldn't retire.” Yelvington denies making these comments.

         Finally, Plaintiff recalls a succession planning meeting in 2003 or 2004 in which Yelvington stated that Allstate needed to “get rid of the old culture” and “get some ‘new blood' into the company.” Plaintiff acknowledges that the words “culture” and “new blood” do not necessarily refer to age, although he believes that is what Yelvington was inferring here. Additionally, Plaintiff recalls Yelvington telling a room including several older white males that all the ...

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