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Santangelo v. Crown Cork & Seal USA, Inc.

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

June 5, 2017

NEAL SANTANGELO, Plaintiff,
v.
CROWN CORK & SEAL USA, INC., and KEN TUTIN, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SARA L. ELLIS United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Neal Santangelo alleges that his employer, Defendant Crown Cork & Seal USA, Inc. (“Crown Cork”), and his supervisor, Defendant Ken Tutin, fired him because he was 60 years old. Santangelo claims that Crown Cork violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”), 77 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/1-101 et seq. and that Tutin is liable for tortious interference with business relations. Crown Cork and Tutin move for summary judgment [58]. Because Santangelo fails to show all of Crown Cork's reasons for firing him are pretextual and because Santangelo does not present evidence that could convince a reasonable jury that Crown Cork fired him for a discriminatory purpose or that Tutin was motivated by age-based animus, the Court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment on Santangelo's employment discrimination claims and his tortious interference claim.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         From August 11, 2003 through March 4, 2013, Santangelo was the plant manager at Crown Cork's Alsip, Illinois packaging plant (“Alsip”). Plant manager was the highest ranking managerial employee; Santangelo ran plant operations and oversaw production quality, accounting, and maintenance.

         Beginning in 2007, Tutin supervised Crown Cork's six Aerosol Division plants, including Alsip. As supervisor, Tutin evaluated Santangelo's and other plant managers' work performance. Tutin, a former plant manager himself, believed that plant managers hold significant responsibility, and Tutin and Crown Cork expected plant managers to do the job they were asked to do.

         Tutin wrote annual reviews of Santangelo's performance (called an “Employee Performance Roadmap”).[2] Reviewing Santangelo's performance in 2007, Tutin noted that Santangelo had a “challenging year in the Alsip plant” and that Alsip “missed an opportunity to post an outstanding result in 2007 due to a lack of attention to detail.” Doc. 59 ¶ 8. Tutin also expressed confidence that Santangelo would recover and lead sustained performance in 2008 with “his leadership and interpersonal skills and [by] becoming more personally involved with auditing and follow-up in key areas of control.” Id.

         Reviewing Santangelo's 2009 performance, Tutin noted that Santangelo needed to continue to show progress in managing a paradigm change at Alsip and that Santangelo excelled at collecting data and identifying problems but often failed to disclose issues or give assignments to employees. Tutin also wrote that Santangelo struggled to adapt even though he was expected to recognize problems and react more quickly moving forward and that Tutin expected Santangelo to transform Alsip into a more robust and flexible group capable of addressing industry challenges.

         For Santangelo's performance review in 2010, Tutin wrote that 2010 was a “year of transformation” and implied that Alsip had changed from a plant where there were complaints and excuses for poor performance into a “go to style plant.” Id. ¶ 14. In 2010 and before, Santangelo had requested additional work for Alsip to ensure it was operating at maximum capacity and to increase the plant's efficiency variances. Tutin wrote in the review that Santangelo and Alsip showed they were capable and produced “very positive results.” Id. ¶ 96. Alsip's efficiencies improvement and Santangelo's improvement with communications and follow-up with his employees impressed Tutin. He also noted that Alsip led in “spoilage reduction, weld leaker reduction, and HFI management metrics.”[3] Id. Tutin exclaimed for Santangelo: “Nicely done!” Id. Santangelo received a 3.52 KPI rating and achieved a 101.1% results score.

         For 2011, Tutin wrote that Santangelo had a solid performance, noted that a corporate-level issue negatively impacted Alsip's overall financial performance, and stated that plant investments had positioned Santangelo and his team for more improvement. Tutin also wrote that “Alsip required little to no division level management intervention . . . due to the consistency of performance in operation.” Id. ¶ 97. Tutin praised the “[s]trong year!” Id. Santangelo received a 3.6 KPI rating and a 99.2% results score. In his written response to his review, Santangelo wrote that he agreed and accepted that Alsip's “quality output must improve in Assembly by eliminating the waste is [sic] spoilage and generation of HFIs.” Id. ¶ 18. Overall, though, in 2011, Alsip had the second lowest percentage of defects held for inspection (0.47%), with 796, 692 cans held for inspection out of the 168, 175, 842 cans Alsip produced. The lowest percentage was 0.40%. The highest was 0.77%.

         In 2012, there was a HFI incident at Alsip. Alsip could not ship a batch of cans because some cans were defective. Santangelo used temporary workers to sort the defective cans, reasoning that the temporary labor was cheaper than paying overtime to the employees who made the product, and he avoided asking the regular employees to admit they had produced defective cans. But Tutin emailed Santangelo, explaining that he wanted the employees who created the defective cans to find them. Tutin's underlying message was that he did not want HFIs and that he believed Santangelo was not doing enough in the leadership department to prevent the HFIs in the first place. Santangelo followed Tutin's orders to change who was sorting the cans. Eventually, Tutin came around on the use of temporary workers to sort defective products and began encouraging such work in 2013.

         Tutin, who had heard concerns about leadership and management at Alsip, decided to conduct a meeting at Alsip with all employees (an “all-shift” meeting). He brought Katherine McGovern, the Aerosol Division's newly hired HR Manager, with him to Alsip.[4] McGovern had also received feedback about the management and leadership style at Alsip, which she believed was not healthy and the responsibility of the plant manager, Santangelo.

         Tutin and McGovern interviewed Alsip employees on June 28, 2012. McGovern interviewed all the hourly employees but only some upper-level managers who reported to Santangelo. Tutin and McGovern heard complaints about the plant's management, which McGovern believed revolved around Santangelo and the plant superintendent, Rich Rayhill. Tutin told Santangelo that he needed a plan to address the problems or his job was in jeopardy.

         Tutin placed Santangelo on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) on July 2, 2012. Tutin and McGovern prepared a memorandum, summarizing the all-shift meeting and themes they thought were problems. The memo identified problems involving poor communication, employee fears of seeking assistance, favoritism, and lack of development training, respect, action plans, and maintenance of key parts. Tutin wrote that he had targeted many of these problems for Santangelo before but had not seen improvement. Tutin ended the memo by stating that if he did not see improvement “on a consistent and sustained basis, ” then he would change Alsip's leadership, and Santangelo would receive discipline and might be fired. Doc. 59-16 at 32 (Dep. Ex. 105). Santangelo knew that the July 2, 2012 memo was a PIP and that he needed to remedy the issues or face discipline.

         Santangelo created a plan to address the PIP's critiques. He emailed the plan to Tutin and then interviewed Alsip's employees. Santangelo learned that Rayhill was the source of many leadership issues. Santangelo believed Rayhill was preventing employees from trusting and respecting Santangelo because the employees believed Rayhill lied to the employees and did not listen to their problems. Santangelo continued to provide monthly reports (he called them “change plan updates, ” see Docs. 62-7-62-10) to Tutin in August, September, October, and November of 2012.

         On July 16, 2012, in an attempt to improve relations at Alsip, Santangelo sent a memo to all Alsip supervisors about the employee issues raised at the all-shift meeting. Santangelo's memo mentioned the same issues as his PIP. Alsip's HR manager, Camille Speeks, bristled at the memo and contacted McGovern.[5] McGovern told Santangelo to retract his memo, believing he was shirking responsibility by placing the problems identified in his PIP onto the shoulders of his supervisors. She wanted Santangelo to talk to plant supervisors on a one-on-one basis. Santangelo retracted the memo, but he did not conduct the one-on-one meetings.

         In August 2012, Alsip had another quality issue. A customer received cans of suspect quality, and Crown Cork agreed to pay for any problems that the cans created. Tutin emailed Santangelo and Rayhill, believing that their poor judgment was to blame. Tutin told Santangelo and Rayhill that they had given Alsip employees the impression that management condoned employees approving defective cans in order to increase production and reach quotas. Tutin thought this exemplified Alsip's problems with communication and quality and its issues with leadership and management. Tutin implored Santangelo to root out the cause of Alsip's quality problem. Santangelo investigated and learned that plant supervisors at Alsip failed to follow standard operating procedures. From then on, Crown Cork's Director of Quality, Doug McFadden, would approve shipping defects, not Alsip management.

         In September 2012, Tutin emailed Santangelo a memo discussing Santangelo's change plan update. Tutin reiterated that he wanted Santangelo to improve his leadership and again warned Santangelo he could be dismissed if he did not improve. Later in the month, Tutin spoke with Santangelo again. Tutin thought Alsip was not meeting its financial goals, an observation he expressed on September 24, 2012. Then on September 26, 2012, Tutin received a new supplier complaint about quality and exclaimed his frustration to Santangelo about “one-off-HFIs” at Alsip. Doc. 59-14 at 27 (Dep. Ex. 49).[6] Then on September 28, 2012, Tutin congratulated Santangelo for the Alsip plant's performance on the prior day, September 27.

         On December 7, 2012, Santangelo received Tutin's written responses to Santangelo's November change plan update. Santangelo understood Tutin's response to mean that Santangelo had accomplished his goal to change and improve his performance. But Tutin meant a different message. He wanted to give Santangelo the positive feedback he deserved but also give “very candid feedback in areas where performance was continuing to be lacking.” Doc. 59-2 at 255:10-11 (Tutin Dep. Tr.); Doc. 59 ¶ 54. Tutin praised Santangelo's leadership advances but also told Santangelo to continue the trend because Tutin was still watching Alsip.

         Days later, McGovern returned to Alsip for more all-shift meetings on December 11 and 12, 2012. McGovern told Santangelo that she received positive feedback about the work environment. She heard that the supervisor and superintendent were positively addressing problems and getting things done. McGovern also received negative feedback that she wanted to review with Tutin. She heard anecdotes criticizing Alsip's management. But since the first all-shift visit, McGovern had received complaints specifically about Santangelo from two employees.

         Tutin wrote Santangelo's 2012 annual review, which Santangelo received and signed himself on February 1, 2013. Tutin gave Santangelo a “Needs Improvement” rating. Tutin wrote that Santangelo's work improved after Tutin intervened and imposed the PIP. He also wrote that he wanted Santangelo to improve more in 2013 without Tutin's advice and counsel.

         Overall, in 2012, Alsip had a lower percentage of can defects held for inspection than the Faribault, Decatur, and Spartanburg plants. Alsip's efficiency variance also was better than Spartanburg, Decatur, and Aurora.[7]

         “Tutin provided [Santangelo] with feedback on his performance under the PIP via telephone conversations, email, written memos, and face to face meetings when at the Alsip plant.” Doc. 59 ¶ 55. Tutin confirmed this to McGovern and Bolton in his communications to them. McGovern had no documentation of any guidance she gave Santangelo during his PIP. Tutin told McGovern he was having regular meetings, “very often, ” with Santangelo. Santangelo denies Tutin met face-to-face with him until five months after the PIP when Tutin gave Santangelo his annual performance review. While on his PIP, Santangelo provided his monthly change plan update reports to Tutin on his own initiative. Tutin did not write responses to Santangelo's monthly reports until November 2012.

         Tutin presented Santangelo an award in early 2013 for the best quality work in the division. Alsip made 180 million cans without a customer complaint or chargeback (a customer request for credit for faulty work in received products). Tutin also praised Santangelo on February 6, 2013 in a division-wide email praising the Alsip and Faribault plants as heavy lifters. As of February 28, 2013, Alsip had the second best efficiency variance year-to-date, the best spoilage numbers, and the best operating variance.

         On February 14, 2013, Tutin wrote to Santangelo about two new quality problems at Alsip, expressing disappointment. The next day, McFadden sent Tutin and McGovern a memorandum on “quality issues and how it was mishandled by Alsip Plant Management.” Doc. 59-6 at 1 (Tutin Dec. Ex. 1). At Alsip, 35, 000 cans were held in January and 68, 000 held in February “due to poor management controls and processes.” Id. The February event occurred because a supervisor was not supervising a production line; he was working on another line instead. Tutin learned that the supervisor had done this before and that Santangelo had known about the supervisor's behavior since 2007 but failed to make good on his promise to prevent a reoccurrence.

         Tutin decided that Santangelo was not improving and that he had to fire Santangelo. Tutin thought that “things in early 2013 appeared to be unraveling again.” Doc. 59-2 at 408:9- 10 (Tutin Dep. Tr.). Tutin testified that he made the decision because of Santangelo's “personal performance” and issues with “his leadership, his inability to lead, plan, organize and control activities in his plant.” Id. at 10:20-21, 11:15-17 (Tutin Dep. Tr.). Tutin believed Santangelo could not lead because he “consistently struggled with [the] functional dynamic of his staff . . . was not an effective communicator with his people on the shop floor . . . [had] perennial issues with quality lapses of control in his plant . . . [and had] numerous people coming forward to express dissatisfaction with the working environment that Mr. Santangelo was creating.” Id. at 11:22-12:5. Tutin also considered Alsip's performance problems including “the repetitive inability to control quality processes” and “[r]epetitive concerns with [Santangelo's] inability to take . . . masses of information . . . about . . . problems . . . in the plant relative to downtime or spoilage or quality . . . and be able to create and then implement action plans on his own through his team that actually could move performance forward in the organization.” Id. at 28: 14-21.

         Tutin had other concerns about Santangelo's impact on Alsip as well. Alsip's plant accountant, Dave Koch, told Tutin that Santangelo and Rayhill had shut Koch out of management activities. Alsip's quality manager, Kevin O'Rourke, told Tutin that the relationship between Santangelo, Rayhill, and O'Rourke stopped O'Rourke from achieving quality results. O'Rourke was afraid of Santangelo and feared retaliation if he complained. Also in February 2013, Santangelo had asked Tutin to take responsibilities away from Rayhill and reassign them. Tutin did not like the proposal and thought Santangelo was not taking ownership over Alsip's performance problems and instead was redistributing the same problems elsewhere.[8]

         Andy Bolton, Crown Cork's Aerosol Division President, agreed with Tutin and approved the decision to fire Santangelo. Bolton agreed that Santangelo had problems with leadership, shop floor engagement, and teamwork and that it was in Crown Cork's best interests to move on from Santangelo. Santangelo received a March 4, 2013 letter informing him that his termination was effective that day. He was 60 years old at that time.

         Other Plant Managers

         Before January 2009, Gregg Gann, who is approximately 50 years-old, managed Crown Cork's Spartanburg plant. Gann resigned, and Hank Mangum, who was in his 40s, replaced him. Brian McGrath, who is over 50, managed the Decatur plant. At some point, Tutin fired McGrath and hired Bret Shankelton, who was in his mid-to-late 30s at the time. Tutin fired Shankelton and hired Tim Carpenter, who was 42.

         Shankelton started as Decatur plant manager in April 2008, and, in his first year he received a 3.28 overall KPI rating in his 2008 performance review. The next year, he received a 3.32. In his 2010 performance review, he received a 2.91. There, Tutin wrote that Shankelton “struggled to build a cohesive staff that was focused on consistency of execution” and had “staff ...


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