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Ognian Kamenov v. Highwood Usa

August 6, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo


Presently before the Court is Defendant Highwood USA, LLC's ("Highwood") Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 11.) In his Complaint, Plaintiff Ognian Kamenov ("Kamenov") alleges that he was terminated from his employment with Highwood on account of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621, et seq. In its motion for summary judgment, Highwood asserts that Kamenov was terminated because he refused to make an effort to fit into Highwood's culture of teamwork and collaboration. Because Kamenov has failed to present evidence that Highwood's proffered rationale for his termination was merely pretext for age discrimination, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

I. Background

In December 2003, when Kamenov was fifty-one (51) years old, he was hired to be Highwood's Technical Director. (Def.'s Stmt. Mat. Facts, "Def.'s SMF", ¶¶ 2, 4, 7.) The decision to hire Kamenov was made by Highwood's President and Chief Executive Officer, John Quarmley ("Quarmley"). (Id. at ¶ 3.)

In April 2008, Quarmley had a verbal discussion with Kamenov after he made an improper sexual reference to a female colleague. (Kamenov Dep., Ex. 3.) The issue was documented by Quarmley as "inappropriate remarks/gestures to female co-workers" as "it was reported by several female employees that Ognian made suggestive or inappropriate remarks and made the employees uncomfortable by staring." (Id.)

The following April, Quarmley assigned Bob Drogan ("Drogan") to manage all of Highwood's technical functions. (Quarmley Dep., 56:13-19.) While Drogan did not have the technical expertise to perform Kamenov's job, Quarmley believed that Drogan was a structured manager with the skills to supervise Kamenov. (Id. at 56:20-57:16.) Kamenov, however, refused to work for Drogan. (Id. at 56:16-17.)

On April 9, 2010, Quarmley met with Kamenov to discuss his job performance. (Quarmley Aff., ¶ 3.) At the meeting, Kamenov was advised that he needed to adopt a better team oriented attitude and a less "dictatorial style" of management. (Id. at Ex. F.) Following the April 2010 meeting, Kamenov's position with Highwood was changed from Technical Director to R & D Manager. (Kamenov Dep., 31:6-7.) Although his job title and job description changed, Kamenov admitted that his salary and the job duties he performed remained the same. (Def.'s SMF, ¶ 20.) Pursuant to the R & D Manager job description, Kamenov was expected to mentor junior technical staff in the design of new products and to maintain records of R & D activities. (Kamenov Dep., Ex. 2.)

On September 7, 2010, Quarmley again met with Kamenov to discuss his performance. (Quarmley Aff., ¶ 4.) At this meeting, Quarmley told Kamenov to teach/mentor Adam Barilla ("Barilla") in tool design, to maintain a detailed R & D notebook, and to be a better team player. (Id. at Ex. 2.) Based on the September 7, 2010 meeting, Quarmley noted that Kamenov "refused to mentor [Barilla] without a contract," and that he was "very reluctant to work as a team member- needs/wants to be 'the hero.'" (Id.)

On October 6, 2010, Quarmely decided to terminate Kamenov after he missed a few meetings and was late to a meeting that day. (Quarmley Dep., 79:1-4.) Quarmely terminated Kamenov because he did not fit into the company culture or the operating philosophy Highwood desired for managing and running its business. (Id. at 79:7-17.)

Kamenov was fifty-eight (58) years old at the time he was terminated. (Def.'s SMF, ¶ 27.)

During the course of his employment with Highwood, Kamenov had a good working relationship with Quarmley. (Kamenov Dep., 32:16-20.) Indeed, Kamenov could only identify a couple of occasions where he believed Quarmley treated him unfairly. (Id. at 33:19-23.) On one instance when Highwood was a new company in 2004, Quarmley "lost his nerves." (Id. at 34:18.) And, on the other occasion, Quarmley sent Drogan to speak about an issue with Kamenov instead of directly addressing the issue himself. (Id. at 33:19-23.)

Despite his general good working relationship with Quarmley, in late 2009 Kamenov "started not believing him." (Id., at 32:23-24.) Kamenov could not attribute this to a certain event. (Id. at 32:25-33:6.) Instead, he characterized it as a feeling based on "instincts, internal instincts." (Id. at 32:16-23.) In particular, Kamenov noticed that Quarmley "stopped communicating" with him and became "very cold." (Id. at 39:10-14.) Based on this behavior, Kamenov believed that Quarmley terminated him due to his age because he "already gave most of what's needed for the company to be successful in the business." (Id. at 39:7-10; 54:14-16.) However, during the course of his employment, Quarmley, nor any other employee, ever made a comment about Kamenov's age. (Def.'s SMF, ¶¶ 31-32.)

Subsequent to Kamenov's termination, Highwood conducted an extensive external search in an attempt to find his replacement. (Id. at ¶ 48.) After the external search for Kamenov's replacement did not produce a qualified replacement, Quarmley made Barilla, who was twenty-four (24) at the time, responsible for tool design. (Id. at ¶ 49.) Barilla, however, did not receive a pay increase after taking over Kamenov's tool design responsibilities. (Id. at ¶ 50.) And, while Barilla is currently doing the job formerly held by Kamenov, Quarmley openly acknowledged that Barilla lacks Kamenov's technical expertise. (Id. at ¶ 47.)

In response to his termination from Highwood, Kamenov commenced the instant action alleging that he was terminated on account of his age in violation of the ADEA. Highwood filed an Answer to Kamenov's Complaint on June 15, 2011 and the action proceeded to discovery. After fact discovery closed on May 3, 2012, Highwood filed the instant motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 11.) In particular, Highwood argues that summary judgment is mandated in this case because Kamenov cannot introduce any evidence that might allow a jury to reasonably conclude that Highwood's articulated reason for his termination- incompatibility between Kamenov and Highwood's company culture- was pretext for age discrimination. Kamenov opposes Highwood's motion and asserts that a jury could easily find age discrimination in this case because "it is difficult to understand how the Plaintiff could be the technical brain behind ...

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