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Baker v. United Defense Industries

September 30, 2009

JAMES A. BAKER, PLAINTIFF
v.
UNITED DEFENSE INDUSTRIES, INC., D/B/A BAE SYSTEMS LAND & ARMAMENTS, INC., DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court is Defendant United Defense Industries's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. No. 62.) The motion is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background*fn1

This case arises from the termination of Plaintiff James Baker's ("Baker") employment with Defendant in 2005. Baker was initially hired as a supervisor of training and development by Bowen McLaughlin York-later becoming known as United Defense Industries-in 1991 at the age of 46. (Doc. No. 64 ¶¶ 11-12.) He was promoted twice from this position, first to manager of training and development in 1994 and then to HR manager at Defendant's York, Pennsylvania facility in 1998 when he was 53 years of age. (Id. ¶¶ 13; 16.) As HR manager, Baker was responsible for a variety of employee relations issues such as compensation, communicating changes in benefits, staffing, advertising for open positions, interviewing, and administering the Defendant's reduction-in-force program. (Id. ¶ 21.) He was also responsible for administering Defendant's affirmative action and equal employment opportunity policies. (Id. ¶ 22.) Baker spent about 20 percent of his time traveling to fulfill these duties. (Id. ¶ 23.) Starting in 2001, Baker was directly supervised by Gary Flannagan ("Flannagan"), the director of human resources for the ground systems division. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15; 19.) Flannagan himself reported to Elmer Doty ("Doty"), vice president of the division. (Id. ¶ 20.)

Defendant's employees are evaluated on their performance by their supervisor each year, with performance designations of "exceptional, outstanding, good, and needs improvement." (Id. ¶ 28.) Baker's review period ended each year on August 31, and he had received a rating of "outstanding" on his performance reviews from Flannagan in 2001 and 2002. (Id. ¶¶ 29-32.) His rating declined for the period of September 1, 2002 through August 31, 2003, however, when he received a rating of "good" on his review from Flannagan. (Id. ¶ 34.) Flannagan reduced Baker's rating because he showed inability to collaborate with other human resources staff, began failing to attend scheduled meetings, and did not complete assignments on time or keep Flannagan informed of his progress. (Id. ¶¶ 35-36; see also Doc. No. 65-12 Ex. C, Deposition of Gary Flannagan at 43:16-44:9 ("Flannagan Dep.").) Plaintiff contends without citation to the record that despite the reduction in his performance rating and his failure to attend some meetings, Defendant has failed to set forth "any evidence to suggest that Plaintiff's performance was in any way, deficient." (Doc. No. 68 ¶¶ 35-36.)

In 2003 and 2004, Baker was involved in two incidents that caused employees to file ethics complaints with Defendant.

1. The Hawkins Incident

Woody Hawkins ("Hawkins") was an expatriate employee working in Egypt at Defendant's tank plant in Cairo. (Doc. No. 64 ¶ 38.) After customers had complained about Hawkins and his performance began to decline, James Byrnes ("Byrnes")-the manager in charge of Defendant's Egpyt operations-decided to eliminate his position. (Id. ¶¶ 39; 45.) Byrne reported to John Tile ("Tile"), a line manager in Defendant's York, Pennsylvania facility, and Baker was Tile's and Byrnes's point of contact relative to human resources issues. (Id. ¶¶ 37; 40; 42-43.) As point of contact, Baker was responsible for advising the line managers on issues arising in termination proceedings, such as collecting the necessary supporting documentation to ensure that Defendant's human resource policies and procedure were followed. (Id. ¶ 42; 44.) Byrnes informed Baker and Tile that he wanted to eliminate Hawkins's job and combine it with another position, effectuating a reduction in force whereby the position would ultimately be eliminated. (Id. ¶¶ 45; 47.) When initially informing Flannagan about Byrnes proposal to eliminate Hawkins's position, Baker noted that Byrnes had already indicated some resistance to his advice and counseling on the proper method to effectuate the termination. (Id. ¶ 49.) In response, Flannagan advised Baker that it was critical for Baker to closely manage the process and perform due diligence before proceeding with the termination; he specifically instructed him to ensure that Hawkins was neither qualified for the new position nor could he be made qualified within a reasonable period of time. (Id. ¶¶ 51-52.) In response to Flannagan's inquiries, Baker affirmed that Hawkins had been informed about the elimination of his job due to performance deficiencies and that these deficiencies had been documented. (Id. ¶¶ 53-54.) Despite this, Baker did not travel to Egypt himself and did not collect documentation from Byrnes reflecting either that Hawkins had been made aware of his performance deficiencies or that Hawkins lacked qualifications for the newly created position. (Id. ¶¶ 55; 58; 66.) Baker also never undertook any investigation to ascertain whether Byrnes properly documented the reasons for Hawkins's termination and admitted in a conversation with Tile subsequent to Hawkins's termination that he did not know whether Byrnes had properly documented the reasons. (Id. ¶ 67-68.) Baker was merely relying upon information relaid to him by Byrnes himself. (Doc. No. 68 ¶¶ 53-54.) Tile believed that Baker had covered the necessary procedures with Byrnes for properly terminating Hawkins, and Defendant claims that, based on Baker's assurances that the necessary procedures had been followed, Flannagan agreed to Hawkins's termination. (Doc. No. 64 ¶¶ 59; 60.) Baker contends that Flannagan was not relying on him because the record shows he had numerous conversations with Flannagan and Ronald Whillock ("Whillock")-Vice-President of Human Relations-discussing Byrnes's failure to follow procedure. (Doc. No. 68 ¶ 60.)

After Hawkins's termination, it became clear that Byrnes had not followed correct procedure. (Doc. No. 64. ¶ 61.) No one had ever approached Hawkins about his performance deficiencies, his ability to perform the duties of the newly created position, or, even the fact of his termination; Hawkins only learned that he was terminated after seeing his job posted in a company newsletter. (Id. ¶¶ 63-64.) Baker acknowledges that this form of notification was improper, but contends that he had counseled Byrnes that he was not handling the reduction in force in a proper manner. (Doc. No. 68 ¶ 65; see also Doc. No. 68-7 Ex. D, Deposition of James Baker at 125: 11-17 ("Baker Dep").) Hawkins submitted an ethics complaint about the incident to Thomas Rabaut ("Rabaut"), Defendant's President and Chief Executive Officer, prompting an investigation by Whillock that ultimately led to Hawkins's reinstatement because Byrnes had mishandled the termination and possibly initiated it for an improper purpose. (Doc. No. 64 ¶¶ 70-79; 85-86.) After Baker had received a copy of Hawkins's ethics complaint, he informed Flannagan about additional resistance Byrnes had given him during the process and acknowledged that some of the information he had received from Byrnes was not accurate. (Id. ¶ 82.) Baker did not take any steps to confirm that information provided by Byrnes was correct or to counteract Byrnes's resistance to his advice. (Id. ¶ 83.) Baker's superiors-Doty, Tile and Flannagan-all received reprimands and lowered performance evaluations from their respective superiors for this incident. (Id. ¶¶ 87-88.) Defendant contends that Baker's deficient performance in the incident would have been reflected in his September 2003 to August 2004 performance evaluation, but that evaluation was never finalized in light of the decision to terminate Baker's employment in 2004. (Id. ¶¶ 91-93.) Baker admits only that he never received a performance evaluation for that period and denies, without citation to the record, that the incident would have been reflected in his unfinished annual performance evaluation. (Doc. No. 68 ¶¶ 91-92.) Baker admits, however, that as of March 3, 2005, he believed his ultimate termination related to "a decision [he] had made some seven months earlier" with respect to the Hawkins termination.

2. The Waltimeyer Incident

The second incident involved Thomas Waltimeyer ("Waltimeyer"), a production supervisor in Defendant's York, Pennsylvania facility who was terminated after a reduction-in-force eliminated his position. (Doc. No. 64 ¶¶ 95-96.) When a reduction-in-force occurs, the procedure is to first ask for retirement volunteers, and then to assemble a committee to determine which employees will be terminated. (Id. ¶¶ 98-99.) The committee assesses each employee's job history to create a ranking; the lowest ranked employee is generally terminated, subject to the "business case" exception when there is a compelling business reason to retain the lower ranked employee. (Id. ¶¶ 100-101.) As mentioned, Baker was responsible for effectuating these reductions-in-force pursuant to the official policy and procedures that he helped to draft. (Id. ¶ 97.)

Waltimeyer was not the lowest-ranked employee within his job cluster, but was terminated in the reduction-in-force because three lower-ranked employees were subject to the business case exception. (Id. ¶ 102.) Waltimeyer found out that he did not have the lowest score and challenged Baker about his termination, asking to see the particulars of the ranking process; he was not aware of the business case exception. (Id. ¶¶ 104-105.) While Baker told Waltimeyer he could see his ranking and the calculation of that ranking, he did not inform Waltimeyer about the business case exception or explain that the exception had been applied to lower-ranked employees. (Id. ¶ 106.) Baker instead informed Waltimeyer that his score was at the bottom of the rankings and Waltimeyer was led to believe that his score was the sole basis for his termination. (Id. ¶¶ 107; 115.) Defendant contends that there was no policy or procedure that prohibited employees from being notified of the existence of a business case exception and both Flannagan and Whillock believed an employee should be told the accurate facts and circumstances supporting a reduction-in-force that eliminated his position. (Id. ¶¶ 108-109.) Baker contends that he violated no policy with respect to the Waltimeyer termination because Defendant did not have any policy or procedure that required employees to be notified that a business case exception had been made; Baker believed that providing this information would send up a "red flag" about the reduction in force. (Doc. No. 68 ¶¶ 106; 108-109.)

Waltimeyer subsequently filed an ethics complaint with Defendant about the termination, leading to an investigation by Dan Sharp ("Sharp"), Defendant's in-house counsel. (Doc. No. 64 ¶ 110.) Sharp concluded after his investigation that while the reduction-in-force was conducted properly, Baker provided Waltimeyer with false and/or misleading information in his exit interview and such behavior could lessen the efficacy of the reduction-in-force procedure. (Id. ¶ 114; 117.) Sharp, Whillock, and Flannagan all believed Baker had acted inappropriately in handling the Waltimeyer situation, despite Baker's protestations that he did not want to send up any red flags. (Id. ¶¶ 116-118.)

3. Relationship with Co-workers

Beyond the two incidents mentioned above, Defendant also contends that Baker had poor interpersonal relationships with his peers in the HR department. He had been instructed on several occasions to improve his relationship with other HR employees; feedback from other HR personnel indicated that he was defensive, was resistant to change, and preferred working alone. (Id. ¶ 133-134.) Whillock felt Baker demonstrated poor judgment as a human resource manager because he regarded Baker as "hard-headed, meaning that he would not listen to other people. He considered himself as knowing it all." (Id. ¶¶ 136-137.) Sometimes these characteristics did interfere with his work, as with one project he worked on for the Office of Federal Contract Compliance together with Seturah Walker ("Walker")-a director in the HR department. Baker insisted that the project be completed in a certain way, contrary to advice and guidelines from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance. (Id. ¶ 139.) Baker's information for the project turned out to be deficient and he could not assist Walker in correcting the problem before the deadline; he had scheduled a vacation and did not inform Walker of his plans to leave until shortly before he left. (Id. ¶¶ 139; 141.) This interaction led Walker to believe that Baker was stubborn and reluctant to listen and consider other opinions. (Id. ¶ 140.)

4. Baker's Termination

After these incidents, Doty wrote a memorandum to caution Flannagan about the major issues with the delivery of HR services and express "grave doubts" about the support management was receiving from the HR department. (Id. ¶¶ 120-121.) Flannagan undertook an investigation of the HR department to correct these issues, which culminated in an interim performance memorandum to Baker citing the two incidents and noting various deficiencies in Baker's performance and professional demeanor. (Id. ¶ 126.) Flannagan requested and Baker produced a written action plan on improving his performance. (Id. ¶ 127.) In his plan, Baker acknowledged the above incidents "clearly demonstrate a series of communication miscues," and that he had missed set meetings with Flannagan. (Id. ¶¶ 129-130.) Baker also acknowledged that he viewed or dismissed communications with his peers as a "nice thing to do" rather than an essential function of his position, despite admitting that his failure to meet one-on-one with other human resource professionals on any regular basis caused "poor cohesiveness" within the management team. (Id. ¶¶ 131-132.) Defendant contends this shows Baker acknowledged his poor interpersonal skills, but Baker denies without citation to the record that he had poor interpersonal relationships with his peers. (Doc. No. 68 ¶ 132.)

Doty and Flannagan continued to be concerned even after Baker's performance action plan because multiple members of management had lost confidence in Baker's ability to provide accurate, timely, and consistent advice, especially after the Waltimeyer and Hawkins incidents. (Doc. No. 64 ¶¶ 146-147.) While Baker protests that he did not violate any policy or procedure in his handling of the Hawkins of Waltimeyer incidents, (Doc. No. 68 ¶¶ 146-147), Doty felt that these two incidents had done irreparable damage to Baker's credibility and made him more of a liability to the organization than an asset (Doc. No. 64 ¶ 147). After conversations*fn2 with other employees and an anonymous peer review showed several employees were dissatisfied with Baker, Doty and Flannagan were convinced that Baker could not continue to function as an HR professional at the company. (Id. ¶ 150.) As such, Flannagan decided that Baker would have to be fired. (Id. ¶¶ 152-153.) Baker denies, without citation to the record, that Doty and Flannagan were convinced to fire him by the above concerns, and further adds that the comments in the peer review were intended only to benefit the employee and not form the grounds for a decision to terminate. (Doc. No. 68 ¶ 150.)

Defendant contends that in October 2004, Flannagan informed Baker that he would be terminated at the end of the first quarter of 2005 irrespective of his performance. (Doc. No. 64 ¶ 153.) While Flannagan asked Baker if he would accept a separation package, his termination was not contingent on coming to agreement on severance. (Id. ¶ 153-54.) Baker denies that any certain date had been set for his termination. Rather, he contends Flannagan only informed him that Doty wanted him fired and that if he did not accept a separation package Defendant would start documenting his actions with the intent of terminating him; he would remain employed if he did not do anything to warrant termination. (Doc. No. 68 ¶¶ 153-54.) Baker further contends that his departure at the end of the first quarter of 2005 was premised on the assumption that an acceptable severance package would have been negotiated by then. (Id.) The parties were never able to agree to the terms of a severance package, and on April 8, 2005, Flannagan sent a memorandum to Baker finally terminating his employment pursuant to the understanding reached in October 2004. (Doc. No. 64 ¶ 169.) Baker's duties were primarily redistributed to three employees: Sonefelt (54 years old), Barge (57 years old), and Danilowicz (27 years old). (Id. ¶¶ 172; 185-186.)

B. Procedural History

On March 3, 2005, Baker filed an initial charge of age discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), which was followed by an additional charge of retaliation filed on May 7, 2005. The EEOC issued a dismissal notice as to both charges stating that it was unable to conclude violations had occurred and informing Baker of his right to initiate suit. (Doc. No. 68-3 Ex. B.) Thereafter, on December 21, 2005, Baker initiated this action. (Doc. No. 1.) The amended complaint sets forth claims of discrimination and retaliation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-34 ("ADEA"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 951-963 ("PHRA"). (See Doc. No. 17.)

C. Standard of Review

The Defendant has moved for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that "[t]he judgment sought should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The substantive law identifies which facts are material, and "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 248-49.

The moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims, "the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument." Berckeley Inv. Group. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). If the nonmoving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial," summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Summary judgment is also appropriate if the non-moving party provides merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative evidence. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the nonmoving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. at 252; see also, Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In making this determination, the Court must "consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." A.W. v. Jersey City Pub. Schs., 486 F.3d 791, 794 (3d Cir. 2007).

II. AGE DISCRIMINATION*fn3

The Defendant has advanced several arguments in support of summary judgment on Baker's discrimination claims under the ADEA. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful for an employer "to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's age." 29 U.S.C. 29 § 623(a)(1). To prevail on an ADEA termination claim, a plaintiff must show that his or her age "actually motivated" and "had a determinative influence on" the employer's decision to fire him or her. See Fakete v. Aetna, Inc., 308 F.3d 335, 337 (3d Cir. 2002). This showing can be made either by "(1) presenting direct evidence of discrimination . . . , or (2) presenting indirect evidence of discrimination that satisfies the familiar three-step framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 793 (1973)." Id. Plaintiff does not argue that there is direct evidence of discrimination, but contends solely that summary judgment should be denied based on the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. (Doc. No. 70 at 5.) Under McDonnell Douglas, the plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. See Brewer v. Quaker State Oil Refining Corp., 72 F.3d 326, 330 (3d Cir. 1995). Once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, it creates a presumption of discrimination and the burden of production then shifts to the defendant to provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the ...


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