United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
S. Shah United States District Judge.
Katherine Netzinger worked as a station manager for defendant
The National Railroad Passenger Corporation (more commonly
known as Amtrak). After Netzinger shipped boxes on an Amtrak
train without paying-which employees are only permitted to do
if the shipment is for business purposes-Amtrak terminated
her employment. Netzinger brought this suit alleging that her
termination constituted unlawful age discrimination in
violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29
U.S.C. § 621, et seq. Amtrak moves for summary
judgment, and for the following reasons, its motion is
judgment is appropriate if the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
A genuine dispute as to any material fact exists if
“the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The
party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact.
See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323
(1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material
fact exists, the court must construe all facts and reasonable
inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party. See King v. Ford Motor Co., 872 F.3d 833, 837
(7th Cir. 2017).
first worked for Amtrak from 1978 through 1995, when she left
voluntarily.  ¶ 3. In 2007, when Netzinger was
54 years old, Amtrak recruited her to come back as a station
manager. Id. ¶ 4. Netzinger accepted and was
rehired in January 2008. Id. ¶ 5. Five years
later, Amtrak underwent a national reorganization,
eliminating certain positions in the process. Id.
¶ 7. Around that time, Netzinger was placed in a newly
created administrative station-manager position. Id.
¶ 8. In that role, Netzinger sometimes performed her old
station-manager duties in addition to her new administrative
duties. Id. ¶ 9. Her title was later changed to
station manager II. Id. ¶ 8.
April 2014, Benjamin Sheets became the Superintendent of Long
Distance Trains at the Chicago station and Netzinger's
manager. Id. ¶¶ 11-12. Sheets also
supervised other station managers, including Mildred
Stalling, Donald Harris, Jonathan Slemons,  and Cynthia
Rogers (a ticket office station manager). Id. ¶
6. All five station managers who worked under Sheets were
over 40 years old. Id. ¶¶ 4, 35-38.
Netzinger was rehired as a station manager in 2008, her
starting salary was $61, 400. Id. ¶ 33.
Throughout her employment she received several merit
increases, including a 4% increase in September 2014, while
she worked under Sheets. Id. Her ending salary was
$71, 882, which was 92.2% of the midpoint salary for station
manager II positions nationwide. Id. ¶¶
33, 40. Two other station managers received similar or lower
salaries. When Stalling became a station manager in 2012 her
salary was $70, 000, and she received a 2.5% merit increase
in 2014. Id. ¶ 35. Slemons was never paid more
than Netzinger. Id. ¶ 36. Two station managers
who had previously been employed in higher paying positions
retained their salaries when they became station managers.
Rogers made around $101, 000 and Harris earned $79, 000.
Id. ¶¶ 37-38.
set goals that went above Amtrak's national requirements,
and those goals affected the workloads of the station
managers working for him. Id. ¶ 57.
Netzinger's workload increased under Sheets. Id.
¶ 55. Before Sheets took over, Netzinger had been taken
out of the rotation for floor operations to give her time
accomplish her administrative tasks, but Sheets put her back
on the regular station manager rotation to make up for a
recently eliminated station-manager position. Id.
¶¶ 9, 55-56. Given that she held the highest
position in the station, Netzinger was assigned more duties
than the other station managers and worked around 75 hours a
week while when she was a station manager II. Id.
¶¶ 58-59. Sheets formally assigned some of
Netzinger's administrative duties to other station
managers, but there was never enough time for Netzinger to
train them. Id. ¶ 63. Sheets occasionally took
over projects for other station managers to do them himself,
but he never took over any of Netzinger's projects.
Id. ¶ 64; [43-1] at 267:4-270:22.
least one occasion, Sheets sent out a list of projects to the
station managers and asked them to rank their preferences,
and he did not assign Netzinger her preferred projects.
See id. ¶¶ 60-62. Sheets put Netzinger on
a performance improvement plan, which identified goals and
areas for improvement. Id. ¶ 45. Some of the
goals identified in her plan were things all station managers
were expected to complete. Id. ¶
Sheets also put Stalling, the youngest station manager, on a
performance improvement plan-though Stalling was allowed to
apply for other positions while she was on her plan, and
Netzinger was not. Id. ¶¶ 46, 53. In her
2014 performance evaluation Sheets wrote, “Kathy is the
expert in claims, grievance, discipline and
attendance.”  ¶ 74.
complained about her workload to Sheets sometime around March
2015, to which he told her she must be “getting too old
for the workload” and that she would have to take work
home or work longer hours if she could not keep up. 
¶ 65;  ¶ 72. In a separate incident, when discussing
the possibility of creating a pool of temporary station
managers, Sheets said he did not want any “old
timers” and that he only wanted younger candidates.
 ¶ 66. In another meeting about a new iPad program,
Sheets again said that he only wanted younger employees to be
involved.  ¶ 71. In July 2015, Netzinger wrote a
letter to the Senior EEO Compliance Specialist complaining
about a hostile work environment and alleging that Sheets had
violated FMLA and discriminated against her based on her age.
 ¶ 67; [43-1] at 71-78; [43-4] at 18-19. Rogers,
another station manager, also believed that Sheets treated
her differently, and ultimately terminated her, because on
her age.  ¶¶ 69-70. Lisa Simane took over
Sheets's role sometime in mid to late 2015.  ¶
employees are required to comply with company policies. While
Amtrak employees could utilize Amtrak's railroad business
service (referred to as RRB) to ship work-related items,
Amtrak's Baggage Policy prohibited employees from
shipping personal belongings via RRB without paying.
Id. ¶ 16. Instead, employees were required pay
to have personal items shipped by a separate Amtrak service.
Id. Netzinger was aware of this policy. Id.
¶ 18. Amtrak's ethical policy “requires all
employees to observe the highest standards of business
ethics. We must conduct the business and operations of Amtrak
and our affairs in a manner that complies with applicable law
and high moral and ethical standards and avoids any possible
conflict of interest or appearance of a conflict of
interest.” Id. ¶ 17. And all Amtrak
employees are specifically prohibited from engaging in theft
or any other form of wrongful conversion of Amtrak property.
September 2015, Netzinger attempted to ship 392 pounds of
goods in seven boxes from the Minneapolis-St. Paul station to
the Chicago station using RRB. Id. ¶ 19. Two of
the boxes shipped, but the other five were overweight and so
did not. Id. When Netzinger realized that not all of
her boxes had arrived in Chicago, she called the
Minneapolis-St. Paul station to find out why. Id.
She spoke with Don Anderson, a customer service
representative, who was upset that Netzinger had tried to
ship the boxes via RRB. Id. Anderson informed her
that he would refer the matter to his supervisor, who then
called Sheets. Id. ¶¶ 19-20. Sheets told
the supervisor to work with James Brzezinski to obtain
statements regarding the incident. Id. ¶
In his statement, Anderson said that Netzinger offered to pay
over the phone, saying that she had always offered to pay
when shipping items RRB, and that he refused her payment.
Id. ¶ 21. He also said that while he had been
on duty Netzinger had never offered to pay, “going back
at least four years.” Id. Anderson noted that
the boxes were of different commercial labels and that there
was no package uniformity consistent with RRB shipments,
leading him to believe the boxes were not RRB. Id.
He also stated that later the same day, a former Amtrak
employee came to pick up the boxes for Netzinger.
Id. Netzinger, on the other hand, said that Anderson
suggested to her that she pay for the shipment and she
refused, saying she had previously used RRB and not paid and
that these boxes were business-related and so properly sent
through RRB. Id. ¶ 19; [43-1] at 230:14-
worked with an Amtrak employee relations representative to
further investigate the incident.  ¶ 22. As part of
the investigation Sheets and Simane interviewed Netzinger and
asked her to prepare a written statement, which they sent
back to the investigating employees. Id. ¶ 22.
In her statement Netzinger stated that five of the boxes at
issue contained books and National Geographic magazines she
had planned to put in the Metropolitan Lounge for Amtrak
customers. Id. Her mother had recently passed away,
Netzinger noted, and she did not want to waste them.
Id. The other two boxes contained candy, which
Netzinger planned to give to Amtrak employees and which was
cheaper in Minneapolis-St. Paul than in Chicago. Id.
These two candy boxes were the ones that shipped successfully
to Chicago (though Sheets never opened them to see what was
inside). Id.; [43-3] at 12;  ¶ 73.
Netzinger also asserted that she had previously shipped six
to eight boxes of books and magazines from Minneapolis to
Chicago using RRB,  ¶ 26,  and that in the past she had
shipped personal business clothes while attending work
events. Id. ¶ 23. Two other employees-neither
of whom was a station manager-shipped personal items via RRB
when they were transferred to new positions at other ...