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Larson v. CSX Transportation

March 22, 2007

LAWRENCE M. LARSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, Sean J., J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, Lawrence M. Larson ("Larson"), brought suit against Defendant, CSX Transportation, Inc. ("CSX"), pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, as amended, ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, (the "ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. related to his removal from a trainmaster position. Presently pending before the Court is CSX's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion shall be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Larson was born on October 5, 1955. Def. Ex. 1, Larson Dep. p. 8. He began employment with Consolidated Rail Corporation ("Conrail") in 1974. Complaint ¶ 6. On June 1, 1999, he became an employee of CSX due to an acquisition by CSX and Norfolk Southern Corporation of the Conrail properties. Def. Ex. 1, Larson Dep. p. 7. Larson held the position of trainmaster, a non-union supervisory position, and reported directly to Harry Crawford, a District Superintendent for the Great Lakes Division. Id. at pp. 8, 11, 13; Def. Ex. 4, Crawford Dep. p. 28. Larson worked in both the Ashtabula yard and Collinwood yard in Cleveland at Crawford's direction. Def. Ex. 4, Crawford Dep. pp. 30-31.

In early 2003, Crawford conducted Larson's 2002 annual performance evaluation. Def. Ex. 4, Crawford Dep. pp. 37-39. It is undisputed that Larson received the lowest score of any employee in the entire Great Lakes Division for 2002. According to Crawford, Larson was a "nice guy" but not a good manager or self starter and was not an effective trainmaster. Def. Ex. 4, Crawford Dep. pp. 30-31, 46.

As part of the performance evaluation process, Larson had the opportunity to rate himself with respect to "performance goals." In a number of areas, he rated himself very low, and indeed, his own evaluation was similar to that of Crawford's. Def. Ex. 5. Larson conceded at oral argument that there is no record evidence to suggest that Crawford was driven by age animus in rating him as low as he did on the 2002 performance evaluation. Hearing Tr. p. 23 [Doc. No. 27]. Larson was subsequently placed on a performance improvement plan which he successfully completed in early 2003. Def. Ex. 1, Larson Dep. pp. 52-53; Def. Ex. 4, Crawford Dep. pp. 50, 57.

In July 2003, CSX initiated a reorganization and reduction-in-force plan, primarily in the operating departments. Def. Ex. 12, Tuchek Aff. ¶ 3. According to Anthony Tuchek, Vice President of the Northern Region for CSX, this plan involved evaluating which positions were necessary to the company, eliminating positions, and placing or retaining the most competent employees in the positions that remained. Id. at ¶ 9. The employee performance evaluations completed for the year 2002 were utilized as the primary tool in determining whether an individual would be retained or released. Id. at ¶ 10. Employees in CSX's operating departments were ranked and rated, and placed in one of four groups, or "quartiles," based on their 2002 performance evaluation. Id. at ¶ 11. According to Tuchek, Larson was placed in the fourth quartile due to his poor performance evaluation score. Id. at ¶ 12.

Approximately 106 management positions from the operating department and 140 total management positions were eliminated in the reorganization. Def. Ex. 12, Tuchek Aff. ¶ 3. If an individual's job was eliminated as part of the reduction-in-force and that individual's performance rating did not place him or her in the fourth quartile, they would be eligible to either "cascade" to a lower level management position, assuming they were qualified for the job, or alternatively, would be eligible to be "drafted" for another position held by an individual whose score placed them in the fourth quartile. Id. at ¶ 14. If, however, an individual in an eliminated position was in the fourth quartile, they would not be eligible to either cascade into a lower level management position or be drafted for a different position. Id. at ¶ 15.

One of the jobs eliminated in the reorganization and reduction-in-force plan was an assistant trainmaster job in Louisville, Kentucky held by David Leeber. Id. at ¶¶ 17-18.

According to CSX, Leeber's 2002 performance evaluation score placed him in the third quartile, and consequently, he was eligible to be drafted for another position. Id. at ¶ 19; Def. Ex. 15. Tuchek subsequently drafted Leeber for the trainmaster position in Ashtabula held by Larson. Def. Ex. 12, Tuchek Aff. ¶ 20. Because Larson was in the fourth quartile, he was not eligible to be drafted for another management position once he was replaced by Leeber.

Larson was informed by CSX in July 2003 that he was being removed from his position as a trainmaster. Def. Ex. 1, Larson Dep. p. 11. He declined a severance package offered by CSX, opting instead to return to the union ranks by exercising his seniority rights. Def. Ex. 1, Larson Dep. pp. 15-17. Larson chose to take a union position as a yardmaster in Erie which was part of the Albany division. Def. Ex. 1, Larson Dep. pp. 18-19. Thereafter, Larson applied for a position as an assistant trainmaster in Collinwood and Erie, but was not hired for either position. Def. Ex. 1, Larson Dep. pp. 77-78, 86. It is undisputed that approximately nine (9) trainmasters older than Larson retained their positions following the 2003 reorganization and reduction-in-force. Def. Ex. 12, Tuchek Aff. ¶ 23.

Larson abandoned all claims at oral argument with the exception of the age discrimination claim based upon the loss of his trainmaster position. Hearing Tr. pp. 3-4 [Doc. No. 27].

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper "if 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 ...


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