United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MARIA VALDEZ, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
James Klein was terminated from his position as Director of
Research & Development by Defendant Newly Weds Foods,
Inc. (“Newly Weds”). Klein brought suit, alleging
a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act
(“ADEA”), arguing that he was terminated and
immediately replaced with several younger individuals under
the guise of company reorganization. [Doc. No.1]. Newly Weds
argues that age played no role in Klein's termination and
that there is no evidence that would support such a claim.
Newly Weds asserts that Klein's employment ended when it
was determined that the position he was deemed most capable
of filling in the reorganized department was simply not a
viable position for how Newly Weds supported its customers.
Newly Weds has moved for summary judgment. [Doc. No. 76].
Weds has also filed counterclaims against Klein for breach of
contract and violation of the Illinois Trade Secret Act.
[Doc. No. 43]. Klein has moved for summary judgment [Doc. No.
95] on Newly Wed's counterclaims, arguing that Newly Weds
has failed to establish any damages and failed to provide any
evidence that Klein used any of its documents or disclosed
any of the material in controversy to anyone but his
attorney. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of
the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's
Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 76] is granted
and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment on
Defendant's Counterclaims [Doc. No. 95] is dismissed
Klein was hired by Defendant Newly Weds in 1997 and worked in
the Research & Development (“R&D”)
department until he was terminated, at the age of 65, in
August 2015. [Pl.'s Resp. to Deft.'s SOF at
¶ 2]. At the start of 2015, Newly Weds hired Dirk
Beekman to succeed Lynn Theiss, long-time Vice President of
R&D. [Deft.'s SOF at ¶ 4]. Although
Klein denies that it was “widely understood” that
Beekman would reorganize the R&D department, Newly Weds
asserts that one of Beekman's responsibilities in 2015
was to make determinations as to how to better manage the
R&D department. [Pl.'s Resp. to Deft.'s
SOF at ¶¶ 4, 5]. Prior to Newly Weds hiring
Beekman, Klein had discussions with Theiss regarding the need
to improve headcount through improved workflow between the
Regulatory & Technical Information Systems
(“RTIS”) Group and the rest of R&D.
[Deft.'s SOF at ¶ 6].
initial step in the R&D reorganization, on June 29, 2015,
Kendle Gorski transitioned to the newly created position of
Raw Material Information Manager in the RTIS area of R&D.
[Id. at ¶¶ 7, 10]. The Raw Material
Information Group's function was to ensure the
acquisition, assimilation, and maintenance of accurate raw
material and vendor information. [Id. at ¶ 7].
As a managerial position, Gorski's position was a step
below Klein's position as a director, with Gorski's
starting salary at $80, 000 and Klein's base salary at
the time being $137, 534.99. [Id. at ¶¶
individuals who previously reported to Klein handling data
were shifted to Gorski as part of this move. [Id. at
¶ 7]. This data function had been Klein's
responsibility from 2011-2014. [Id. at ¶ 8].
Klein agreed that it would be a “reasonable decision of
management” to have the data handled by the Raw
Material Information Group and that he did not believe that
he would have been better suited to take on those
responsibilities than Gorski. [Id. at ¶ 9].
this time, as part of the reorganization, Beekman and Klein
were discussing having Klein focus on a new long-term
innovation. [Id. at ¶ 13]. The discussion
included talks of shifting Klein's clerical
responsibilities to RTIS to free up Klein to do other things.
[Id. at ¶ 13]. Beekman and Klein continued to
discuss Klein's expanded job duties and Klein believed
that Beekman was “very positive” toward him.
[Id. at ¶ 14].
in the reorganization process, Beekman determined that
Klein's strength was innovation and coming up with new
ideas for the company, and Klein agreed. [Id. at
¶ 15]. Klein and Beekman discussed a position where
Klein could do a good job working on basic, long-term
research. [Id. at ¶ 19]. The parties disagree
as to what role Beekman envisioned for Klein: a singular role
in innovation, or a multi-faceted role that encompassed
innovation, cost savings, and other duties. [Pl.'s
Resp. to Deft.'s SOF at ¶ 20]. Newly Weds
believes the position that Beekman envisioned played to
Klein's strength in coming up with new ideas, whereas
Klein believes that Beekman envisioned a broader role than
just simple innovation. [Id. at ¶ 20].
created a Continuous Improvement Group, whose function was to
find areas of waste where money could be saved by doing
things smarter. [Deft.'s SOF at ¶ 22]. The
group would focus on savings in procurement, ingredients, and
operations, including immediate manufacturing costs and
savings. [Id. at ¶ 22]. Beekman selected George
Kelecich, who was 52 at the time, to run this group.
[Id. at ¶ 23]. Klein alleges that he was
performing the role of continuous improvement and cost
savings as head of the “Ingredient Technology Group,
” and once he was terminated, the group was renamed the
“Waste Group” and, later, the “Continuous
Improvement Group.” [Pl.'s Resp. to Deft.'s
SOF at ¶ 22]. Klein alleges his job was given to
Kelecich, as were his remaining direct reports, John Schranz
and Linfeng Wang, who later performed essentially the same
work under Kelecich. [Id. at ¶ 22]. Klein
further alleges that he was fired and the position was given
to Kelecich to create a vacancy for Craig Lawson, a manager
under Kelecich who was 40 at the time, who was elevated to
R&D Director. [Id. at ¶ 23]. Klein
understood that the Continuous Improvement Group would be
working with plant operations to reduce waste in plants.
[Deft.'s SOF at ¶ 24]
had worked for Newly Weds longer than Klein had.
[Id. at ¶ 25] He started in operations and had
been a production supervisor. [Id. at ¶ 26].
After Kelecich moved from operations to R&D, he continued
to have regular interactions on a weekly or daily basis with
Newly Weds' plant managers. [Id. at ¶ 27].
He handled any item that involved R&D and operations that
related to product development. [Id. at ¶ 27].
Klein acknowledged that Kelecich had a great relationship
with operations, was good with people, and was strong in
administration. [Id. at ¶ 28]. Klein had never
worked in operations at Newly Weds. [Id. at ¶
August 2015, Carol Bagley, a former Newly Weds employee, had
gone to Newly Weds to visit a friend when she bumped into
Newly Weds' owner, who asked her if she would be
interested in coming back to work for the company.
[Id. at ¶ 34]. Bagley previously worked at
Newly Weds from 1988 - 1996 in a variety of roles, including
food scientist, R&D manager, regulatory compliance
manager, and financial analyst. [Id. at ¶ 33].
was interested in a position with Newly Weds and subsequently
interviewed with an HR manager. [Id. at ¶ 34].
She received a job offer and was pretty confident that her
contact with Newly Weds' owner would result in the offer.
[Id. at ¶ 34]. As part of the Continuous
Improvement Group, Beekman assigned Bagley, who was 50 at the
time, to work under Kelecich with respect to the financial
aspect of continuous improvement. [Id. at ¶
32]. Bagley's position was a newly created managerial
position with a salary of $80, 000 - a lower position and
salary than that of Klein's. [Id. at
¶¶ 35, 36]. While the parties agree it was a new
position, Klein alleges that Bagley's job functions had
been performed by various individuals, including Klein
himself, throughout the company's history. [Pl.'s
Resp. to Deft.'s SOF at ¶ 36]. The parties
further disagree that Bagley did not pick up any of the
projects that Klein had been handling. Klein alleges that
Schranz and Wang were immediately reassigned to Bagley
following Klein's termination and continued to perform
the same work under Bagley that they had performed under
Klein. [Id. at ¶ 37].
to the reorganization, Kelecich had managed some of Newly
Weds' remote R&D locations. [Deft.'s SOF
at ¶ 38]. Newly Weds asserts that with Kelecich being
slotted to head the Continuous Improvement Group, Beekman
selected Craig Lawson to take on the functions that Kelecich
had managed involving R&D at plants in and outside of
Chicago. [Id. at ¶ 39]. Klein disagrees,
alleging that Kelecich was reassigned to the position of
Continuous Improvement Director so that Lawson could be
promoted to Kelecich's old position - asserting that the
only difference between Lawson's new position and
Kelecich's former position was that Lawson was now
responsible for overseeing five plants instead of four.
[Pl.'s Resp. to Deft.'s SOF at ¶ 39].
Klein had only managed one remote location for Newly Weds
during 2009 - 2010 and admitted that he was not better suited
for this position than Lawson. [Deft.'s SOF at
believed that Debra Polcyn had picked up some of his
responsibilities for budgeting in the reorganization, but he
also noted that she had become responsible for talent
acquisition and working with universities on interns.
[Id. at ¶ 41]. Polcyn, who turned 60 in 2015,
moved from a position involving R&D for national chain
accounts - a position that was eliminated - to becoming the
director of Technical R&D, running the R&D sensory
lab and reporting directly to Beekman. [Id. at
parties disagree as to the position that Beekman envisioned
for Klein. [Pl.'s Resp. to Deft.'s SOF at
¶ 43]. Newly Weds asserts that it became apparent to
Beekman that it would be like “pushing a giant boulder
up a hill” because “95%” of everything done
at Newly Weds was customer driven. [Id. at ¶
43]. Klein asserts that, unbeknownst to him, as early as
April 2015, Beekman had placed him on a “6 month
test” and threatened to replace him; and, by June 2015,
had requested severance figures for Klein. [Id. at
¶ 43]. Klein agreed with Beekman's characterization
that Newly Weds is a “customer-oriented” company.
[Deft.'s SOF at ¶ 44]. The parties disagree
that, as the reorganization progressed, the feedback from
Vice Presidents in other areas of Newly Weds was that
Beekman's vision for Klein's new role was not what
Newly Weds was, would not work out, and was simply “not