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Larson v. Motor Werks of Barrington, Inc.

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

January 4, 2018

JAMES D. LARSON, Plaintiff,
v.
MOTOR WERKS OF BARRINGTON, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HON. MARIA VALDEZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff's complaint against his former employer Defendant Motor Werks of Barrington, Inc. (“Motor Werks”) alleges: (1) Count I - Disability Discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; (2) Count II - Age Discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; (3) Count III - Family and Medical Leave Interference in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2611 et seq.; and (4) Count IV - Family and Medical Leave Retaliatoin in violation of FMLA. This matter is now before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on all four counts [Doc. No. 39, 51]. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

         FACTS[1]

         Defendant Motor Werks and its affiliate Land Rover Sales and Service of Hoffman Estates (“Land Rover”) are automobile dealerships that sell and service new and used vehicles. At all relevant times, Larson was either a prospective employee or employee of Motor Werks. (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 3.) Larson had significant experience since the 1980s in selling luxury automobiles. (LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 2.)[2] On September 30, 2011, Larson completed an employment application and interviewed for a sales position at Land Rover. He had previously worked for the company in the 1990s. (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶¶ 4, 9.) Larson affirmatively stated on the employment application that he could perform the essential functions of the position for which he was applying. (Id. ¶ 6.) Larson was hired for the position and began working at Land Rover on October 10, 2011. At the time he was hired in 2011, Larson was nearly 72 1/2 years old. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.)

         When he was interviewed and hired by Land Rover, Larson had an indwelling prosthesis of the esophagus, also known as a voice prosthesis; it was clearly apparent to the casual listener, including Defendant's employees. The prosthesis did not prevent him from performing the essential functions of his job. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) Larson's statement of facts describes himself as both “one of defendant's best salesmen” and “about as good as anybody else” in terms of sales. His testimony reveals that he would rank himself “probably in the middle”; a trainer's deposition to which he cites describes him as “extremely good with people and building relationships” with “average” sales; and a fellow salesman testified that Larson “was as good as anybody else that was there.” (LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 5.)

         After he was hired, Larson received a new employee handbook, which he acknowledges receiving, reading, executing, and understanding. The handbook lists Defendant's policies and procedures, including a code of conduct that prohibited “insubordinate conduct, including, but not limited to refusing to follow instructions.” Plaintiff acknowledged that a violation of the code of conduct or “any . . . rules will result in discipline, up to and including termination.” (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶¶ 13, 15-16.) Larson knew from his experience working in the automobile sales industry the importance of profit, how dealerships are run, adhering to the corporate hierarchy, and avoiding insubordination. (Id. ¶ 17.) Although he was required to sell as many automobiles as possible, he was also required to follow directions and the established chain of command. (Id. ¶ 18.) Larson was aware that the automobile sales industry is a tough business with a lot of turnover. He was aware of a few sales managers and finance managers who had been terminated work with their employment with Motor Werks during the time of his employment there. (Id. ¶ 23.) After being hired, Larson was told that Land Rover had a specific geographic sales region. (Id. ¶ 20.)

         Around January 18, 2013, Larson was unexpectedly hospitalized four days for testing related to a heart condition called atrial fibrillation. (Id. ¶ 41; LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶¶ 10-11.) When Defendant became aware that Larson was hospitalized, John Nelson, his sales manager, told him not to worry about it, to get better, and come back to work whenever he was ready. (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶¶ 55-56.) Larson returned to work on January 25, 2013. (LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 14.) According to Larson, he did not know if the atrial fibrillation would impair his ability to perform any employment-related activities, and he did not know what sort of reasonable accommodation he would require, if any. (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 45.) Larson advised Nelson that his heart was not beating right, that he would get tired, that he might need something, and that he may be unable to work twelve-hour days any longer. (Id. ¶ 46; LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 15.) Nelson responded, “Do what you need to do Jimmy. Just let me know.” (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 46.) Since his employment ended with Defendant, Larson has undergone repeat hospital visits and heart therapy. (LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 13.)

         On January 23, 2013, two days before Larson returned to work, Nelson sent an email to all Land Rover salesmen advising them that Land Rover would be receiving a new 2013 Range Rover Supercharged vehicle (“RR S/C”). Having a RR S/C available for sale was a rare occurrence; the car was so rare and sought after that Land Rover refused to give any customer discount on the price. (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 32.) Nelson's email stated: “The following car [the RR S/C] should be here before the end of the month. Let's sell it to someone local!” (Id. ¶ 25.) In the world of auto dealerships, the term “local” means a customer who resides in a dealer's geographic sales region, or “marketplace, ” as defined by the automobile manufacturer. (Id. ¶ 27.) According to Nelson's testimony, the indication that the vehicle was to be sold to a local customer was also mentioned in meetings within the dealership and other discussions. Nelson stated that it was generally known that this and other Land Rover vehicles should not be sold outside of the local area because the dealership would suffer a financial penalty. (Id. ¶¶ 28-31.)

         Larson alleges that he never received Nelson's email, but he acknowledges that he was responsible for checking his emails. (Id. ¶ 22; LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 29.) Larson also disputes Defendant's assertion that a dealer that sold vehicles outside of its geographic sales region “lost money, ” but he admits that the dealer would stand to obtain a smaller profit. (LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) ¶ 35.) Larson was aware that Land Rover wanted the RR S/C to be sold to someone within the manufacturer's designated geographic sales region and that the initial instruction for the sale was that it was to be sold to someone local in Land Rover's sales marketplace. (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 33.)

         At some point shortly after he returned to work at the end of January 2013, Larson sold the RR S/C to a customer from downstate Illinois, which is outside of Land Rover's geographic sales region. As a result of the out-of-region sale, Defendant lost approximately $3000 in manufacturer payments it would have received had it been sold within the local marketplace. (Id. ¶¶ 34, 36; LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 36.) The transaction was approved by another sales manager, John Kyriakopoulos, but when Nelson learned that the vehicle had been sold to a downstate customer, he tried unsuccessfully to renegotiate the price or cancel the sale. (LR 56.1(a) ¶ 24.) Nelson believed that Larson had given Kyriakopoulos false information about whether the customer was within the local area. (Id. ¶ 32.) After the sale, on or about January 31, 2013, Larson's employment was terminated. (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 37; LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 27.) Larson was not asked by management whether he would be willing to reduce his commission to make up for the reduced profit. (LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 37.) The only reason Larson was given for the firing was that “we're going in a different direction” or that Defendant was an “at-will employer.” (Id. ¶ 28.) Prior to his termination, Larson received no criticisms, write-ups, or discipline. (Id. ¶ 25.) Defendant does not know whether its salesmen sold any other vehicles outside the local geographic area. (Id. ¶ 35.)

         No one who worked at Land Rover ever said anything to Larson to suggest that he should not be working there as a result of his indwelling prosthesis. The only types of comments made, according to Larson's testimony, were “kind of like speak up or so on and so forth” and that his “voice sounds funny.” (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 43; LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 8.) Larson never requested time off from work as a result of his indwelling prosthesis. (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 44.)

         Other than his time in the hospital, Larson “didn't really request any” time off from work due to this or any other medical condition. (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶¶ 50-51.) He always tried to schedule his medical appointments on his days off from work. (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 54.) He testified that he “never got a chance to test” whether he would have been allowed any time off. (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 53.) Larson did not request any FMLA leave at any time, including after his hospitalization. He testified, “I didn't know what I would be needing. It would have been hard for me to say what I wanted.” (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶¶ 52, 58.) Larson also stated that he did not know whether or not he would need any time off in the future as a result of his atrial fibrillation. (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 59.) The parties have stipulated that on the date Larson's employment was terminated, nothing in his medical records indicated or suggested that he would or would not need to take any future time off from work due to his atrial fibrillation. (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 60.) No. one from Motor Werks ever gave Larson the idea that he was terminated in retaliation for taking time off due to his medical condition. (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 63.)

         Larson alleges that during his employment, Defendant's General Manager Mick Austin made ongoing comments such as, “If you weren't so damn old, I'd fire you, ” and questioned whether he was too old to drive. Two other former employees of Defendant testified that Austin and Nelson stated in meetings that the Land Rover salesmen were too old and/or they wanted to hire younger employees. (LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 65; LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 18.) Around the time Larson was fired, four other “older” employees of unspecified age were among the number of people who were terminated by Defendant. (LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 22.) Around the relevant time period, Austin said at a sister dealership that they needed to get rid of the older employees making top commission and bring in younger guys with less experience for less pay, even offering finder's fees to get younger employees to work at that dealership. (LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 23.)

         DISCUSSION

         I. LEGAL STANDARD[3]

         Summary judgment is appropriate where “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmovant. Bennington v. Caterpillar Inc., 275 F.3d 654, 658 (7th Cir. 2001).

         However, once the movant has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), “its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The party opposing summary judgment must offer admissible evidence in support of his version of events, and hearsay evidence does not create a genuine issue of material fact. McKenzie v. Ill. Dep't of Transp.,92 F.3d 473, 484 (7th Cir. 1996); see Larimer v. Dayton Hudson Corp., 137 F.3d 497, 500 (7th Cir. 1998) (“‘If the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on an issue, . . . that party may not rest on the pleadings and must instead show that there is a genuine issue of material fact.'”) (citation omitted). “The mere existence of an alleged factual dispute is not sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion. . . . The nonmovant will successfully oppose summary judgment only when it presents ‘definite, competent evidence to rebut the motion.'” Vukadinovich v. Bd. of Sch. Trs. of N. ...


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