weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer's proffered reasons that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find them unworthy of credence. Id. (citations omitted).
Under the foregoing standards, the Court finds insufficient evidence in this record to support a reasonable finding either that Quaker State's proffered reasons for Brewer's termination were fabrications, or that the true reason for Brewer's discharge was age discrimination. To begin, the statement by Jack Corn that "[the mid-40's] age group is our future" appears in the context of a Quaker State newsletter which discusses changes in top level executives and, more specifically, Corn's training his two "seconds-in-command" as future successors. More importantly, there is no evidence to support Plaintiff's allegation that, following Corn's statement, Quaker State adopted a policy favoring a younger work force, pursuant to which Plaintiff was fired. Pfauser testified that he could not recall ever seeing or hearing Corn's statement, and Brewer admitted at deposition that he had no evidence linking Pfauser in any way to the "age group" comment. Neither party alleges that Corn was responsible for, or even knew about, Plaintiff's termination. Thus, the Court regards Corn's statement as a stray remark, unconnected with and remote from the decision-making process which resulted in Brewer's discharge.
See Ezold v. Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen, 983 F.2d at 545 ("stray remarks by non-decisionmakers or by decisionmakers unrelated to the decisional process are rarely given great weight, particularly if they were made temporally remote from the date of decision"). C.f. Armbruster, supra, at 783 (age-related statements could not be disposed of as "stray remarks" in pretext case where statements were made by decisionmakers and personnel immediately involved in allegedly discriminatory transfers, and where remarks were made contemporaneously with transfers or soon after corresponding reduction in force).
The Court next considers the alleged comment by Deno Debacco that he "cleaned up" the "dead wood" in Pittsburgh. Significantly, there is no evidence before the Court tending to show, as Plaintiff claims, that the work force in Pittsburgh was significantly older than in Quaker State's other divisions. It appears, therefore, that the term "dead wood" is age-neutral
and does not evidence any discriminatory policy on the part of Quaker State. Additionally, it is undisputed that Plaintiff was not terminated upon the closing of the Pittsburgh office, but was instead transferred to Detroit where he replaced a sales representative in his mid-twenties. In short, the Court finds nothing in Debacco's alleged remark to suggest that a policy of age discrimination existed at Quaker State which influenced Plaintiff's discharge.
Plaintiff's third piece of circumstantial evidence is the alleged "coaching" of Paul Pfauser by Wanda Weaver as illustrated by Weaver's August, 1991 memorandum. Brewer seems to place particular significance on (1) Weaver's instructions to "identify specific deficiencies," and "document as much as possible," and (2) her comment that "Judd is 53 years old, which presents another problem." Brewer notes that it is not explained in the documents why his age presents a "problem." He urges that a finder of fact could reasonably infer from these remarks a bias against older employees. (Plaintiff's Br. in Opp. to Defendant's Mot. for Summary Judgment, at 12-13.)
Although the Court finds these statements slightly more probative than the Corn and Debacco statements, they are nevertheless insufficient to create a genuine issue as to whether Quaker State's proffered reason for Brewer's discharge was pretextual. When the Weaver memorandum is viewed in its entirety and in light of Brewer's apparent history of work problems, the remarks about documenting deficiencies take on less significance. The statement as to Brewer's age being a "problem," together with the notations of his age and years of service, obviously indicate Weaver's awareness that Brewer might file an age discrimination lawsuit if terminated. However, an employer's mere awareness of the legal ramifications of discrimination and efforts to avoid such conduct are not in themselves probative of discriminatory intent. Partington v. Broyhill Furnace Indus., Inc., 999 F.2d 269, 271 (7th Cir. 1993) ("No inference of guilt can be drawn from awareness of one's legal obligations; to do so would be to promote the ostrich over the farther-seeing species"). Equally significant is the fact that Weaver expresses "concern" in the memorandum about the prospect of terminating a long time employee, and that she contemplates the possibility of Brewer making "progress." Moreover, the deposition testimony of Weaver, which is unrebutted, indicates that Weaver followed standard procedure in requiring documentation of Brewer's performance while he was on probation, and that she specifically high-lighted Plaintiff's age in order to alert Pfauser to Brewer's protected status and to ensure that age was not the reason for his termination. (See Deposition of Wanda Weaver at 60-62, 76-79.) Simply put, the Court finds nothing in Weaver's memorandum which would permit a reasonable jury to conclude that Brewer was terminated because of, rather than in spite of, his age.
Finally, Brewer argues that an issue of fact exists as to whether or not Quaker State's reason for his termination is worthy of credence. In support of this proposition Brewer relies on: (1) his own testimony disputing the significance of certain problems raised by Pfauser; (2) his overall performance rating at or near the "competent" level; and (3) the fact that he received a bonus for exceeding his sales quota in 1990 and 1991. Brewer maintains that this evidence is sufficient to discredit Quaker State's proffered explanation for his discharge.
In evaluating Plaintiff's evidence, the Court is mindful of the standards set forth in Fuentes v. Perskie, supra:
To discredit the employer's proffered reason, ... the plaintiff cannot simply show that the employer's decision was wrong or mistaken, since the factual dispute at issue is whether discriminatory animus motivated the employer, not whether the employer is wise shrewd, prudent, or competent... Rather, the non-moving plaintiff must demonstrate such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer's proffered legitimate reasons ... that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find them "unworthy of credence " ... and hence infer "that the employer did not act for [the asserted] non-discriminatory reasons" (citations omitted).
32 F.3d at 765 (emphasis supplied). Viewing the record in its entirety and in light of the foregoing directive, the Court concludes that Brewer has failed to produce evidence sufficient to render Quaker State's non-discriminatory explanation unworthy of credence.
With respect to Brewer's contention that Pfauser exaggerated Brewer's performance problems, the Court notes that Brewer's "rebuttal" testimony goes more to the egregiousness of the perceived problems than to their existence. In his brief, Plaintiff urges that he "strenuously disputed the significance of the purported 'problems'" raised by Pfauser, and that Pfauser continually documented incidents "of a minor nature." (Plaintiff's Br. in Opp. at 17 (emphasis supplied).) Plaintiff points to several excerpts from his deposition indicating, e.g., that he and Pfauser would argue over what Plaintiff considered "nitpicking things" (Brewer Depo. at 132-33), that Pfauser would make a "mountain out of a molehill" (id. at 109, 136-137), and that "Pfauser was continually bringing things up as problems that [Brewer] didn't think were problems" (id. at 109). Plaintiff does not, for the most part, dispute that these underlying problems occurred, and when provided an opportunity to comment on Pfauser's written performance critiques, he repeatedly declined to do so.
Brewer's subjective disagreement as to the significance of certain perceived problems is simply insufficient, without more, to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Quaker State's proffered explanation for his discharge, since the issue here is not Quaker State's business acumen, but rather its discriminatory intent vel non. See Fuentes, supra, at 765; Gray v. York Newspapers, 957 F.2d 1070, 1083 (3d Cir. 1992) (ADEA is not intended to handcuff the managers and owners of businesses to the status quo); Billet v. CIGNA Corp, 940 F.2d 812, 828 (3d. Cir. 1991) (an employer's articulated reasons are not incredible simply because the employee asserts that such is the case; without some evidence to cast doubt on the employer's reason for an employment decision, the court will not interfere with an otherwise valid management decision); Blanding v. Pennsylvania State Police, 811 F. Supp. 1084, 1094 (E.D. Pa. 1992) ("even though an employee may disagree with the employer's decisions, it is not for the court to second guess those decisions without evidence from which it could be inferred that [age] was a determinative factor in the result"), aff'd 12 F.3d 1303 (3d Cir. 1993).
Further, there is uncontradicted evidence in the record that Pfauser, however "nitpicking" he might have been, acted similarly toward both younger and older employees. Brewer does not dispute the fact that a younger sales representative, age thirty-two, was placed on probation and subsequently terminated for perceived problems similar to those Brewer experienced. (Ex. 36 to Deposition of Paul Pfauser.) In fact, Plaintiff testified at deposition that, "[Pfauser] is a cross the T's and dot the I's type of person to the point of being almost a fanatic about it. Corporate policy was always first in line ... And it affected everybody out there." (Brewer Depo. at 56 (emphasis supplied).) The Court also notes Defendants' unrebutted evidence that, even prior to the written statement by Jack Corn which supposedly created the discriminatory policy at Quaker State, Plaintiff exhibited certain performance deficiencies under the management of both Drummond and O'Donnell, which were similar to those later documented by Pfauser.
Similarly, Brewer's overall average rating of "3" out of a possible 5 (discounting only his last full year of employment) and the fact that he was the only sales representative to surpass his quota in 1990 and 1991 are not sufficient to defeat summary judgment when the record is viewed as a whole. There is evidence that Plaintiff had a history of inconsistent work performance, including repeated problems in such areas as organization, customer relations, and communication. In the year prior to his discharge, Brewer received only a marginal overall rating. The record indicates that Pfauser explained to Plaintiff the seriousness of these problems and the fact that, notwithstanding plaintiff's underlying gallonage sales, the problems needed to be addressed in order for Brewer to remain employed by Quaker State. During Brewer's final probationary period, Pfauser documented the following conversation:
[Brewer] thinks he is doing a much better job & (sic) is indicated by the bonus he achieved in 91 & 90. For the same reason, he does not see why he did not get merit [raise].
I told him that he needs to make a much better improvement in his planning, follow-up, & customer communication skills. He thought that these types of problems, he could work on but were not as important as quota gallons. I told him that if he was having a short, temporary slump in this area, that would be one thing, but the fact that Judd has a 15 year history of marginal reviews all outlining poor planning, communications, & poor customer service makes it quite serious & one that needs immediate [and] permanent correction.