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Shade v. Alfa Laval, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 3, 2017

LYNN SHADE, Plaintiff
v.
ALFA LAVAL INC., Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          KANE JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant Alfa Laval, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 23.) For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Lynn Shade (“Shade”), who was born on November 2, 1953, began working at Defendant Alfa Laval, Inc.'s (“Alfa Laval”) Lykens facility in 1989.[1] (Doc. No. 24 ¶¶ 2, 4.) Alfa Laval manufactures, sells, and services a variety of equipment, including separators, heat exchangers, and pump and valve assembly devices in the United States and abroad. (Id. ¶ 1.) Shade began his employment with Alfa Laval as a laborer, a position that was part of the bargaining unit represented by a union and covered by a collective bargaining agreement between Alfa Laval and the union. (Id. ¶ 5.) During his employment with Alfa Laval, Shade held a variety of bargaining unit positions, including stud operator and welder. (Id. ¶ 6.)

         On September 1, 2003, Shade was promoted to the position of maintenance technician, which was not a bargaining unit position. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) Shade acknowledges that he became an at-will employee as soon as he started working as a maintenance technician, meaning that the Company could terminate his employment at any time. (Id. ¶ 8.) As a maintenance technician, Shade's duties included, among other things, making sure equipment was maintained in running order, coordinating and performing preventative maintenance, fixing equipment when it was broken, maintaining safety equipment, updating equipment manuals and taking inventory of spare parts and maintenance supplies, and helping with building and grounds work as needed. (Id. ¶ 9.)

         When Shade began his employment as a maintenance technician, he worked alongside a second maintenance technician named Michael Forsman (“Forsman”). (Id. ¶ 11.) Forsman left Alfa Laval sometime around 2009, and was replaced by Jim Ulsamer (“Ulsamer”). (Id. ¶ 13.) Throughout his employment as a maintenance technician, Shade's supervisor was the production manager at the Lykens facility. (Id. ¶ 14.) Shade's first supervisor was George Klemick (“Klemick”), a production manager who was later replaced by Jim Ritzman (“Ritzman”). (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) Ritzman's manager was the factory manager, Wayne Heyer. (Id. ¶ 17.) Heyer held that position during most of the time that Ritzman supervised Shade. (Id.)

         All non-bargaining unit employees at Alfa Laval receive annual performance appraisals. (Id. ¶ 18.) Written performance appraisals are completed by each employee's direct supervisor. (Id.) Prior to 2009, employees were assessed and rated on various behaviors related to the categories of action, courage, teamwork, profit, and leadership. (Id. ¶ 21.) For each behavior, an employee was rated as “highly developed, ” “sufficiently developed, ” or “needs development.” (Id.) From 2009 on, the written performance appraisal asked supervisors to rate their employees on a scale of one to five in five distinct categories under the heading “Work Practices and Performance Competencies.” Those categories include: “Teamwork, ” “Concern for Excellence (Quality), ” “General Abilities (Job Knowledge), ” “Time Utilization (Productivity), ” and “Safety.” (Id. ¶ 22; Doc. No. 24-3, Exhibit 11 to Shade Dep. at 1.)

         Both before and after 2009, the annual performance appraisal provide a space for supervisors to make specific comments that corresponded to their various ratings. (Doc. No. 24 ¶ 23.) Both the pre and post 2009 annual performance appraisals also include a rating system, which required a supervisor to give an employee an “Overall Evaluation.” (Doc. No. 24-3, Exhibit 9 to Shade Dep. at 3; Exhibit 11 to Shade Dep. at 2.) As part of the “Overall Evaluation” included in both versions of the performance appraisals, supervisors indicate whether an employee “Exceeds Expectations, ” “Meets Expectations, ” or “Does not fully meet Expectations.” (Id.)

         After an employee's supervisor finished a performance appraisal, the supervisor would confer with his or her manager to get his or her feedback on the performance appraisal before meeting with the employee to discuss the evaluation. (Doc. No. 24 ¶ 26.) At these meetings, employees were given the opportunity to provide comments regarding the appraisal, which were noted on the appraisal itself, and then were asked to sign the appraisal. (Id.)[2] The purpose of the annual performance appraisal is to provide feedback to employees about their performance on a regular basis. (Id. ¶ 27.) Alfa Laval also has a corrective action policy in place, the purpose of which it maintains is “to provide feedback to the employee so that they know if they're meeting expectations or not.” (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.)[3] However, Alfa Laval managers are not required to take corrective action if an employee's behavior deviates from company standards. (Id. ¶ 28.)

         In February of 2008, Shade met with Ritzman to discuss his 2008 performance appraisal. (Id. ¶ 30.) Shade was 54 years old at the time of this meeting. (Id.) This was the first appraisal Ritzman completed as Shade's supervisor. (Id.) In the five categories assessed in the appraisal - action, courage, teamwork, profit, and leadership - Shade was rated as “sufficiently developed” in all behaviors relevant to the categories of “action” and “courage.” (Doc No. 24-3, Exhibit 9 to Shade Dep. at 2.)[4]

         With respect to the category of “teamwork, ” Shade was rated as “needs development” with regard to two behaviors: “organizational astuteness” and “communication skills.” (Id.) In the comments section of the appraisal, Ritzman noted as to “organizational awareness” that “Lynn needs to become acustomed [sic] to, and comply with new internal organizational changes/policies.” (Id. at 3.) As to “communication skills, ” Ritzman wrote that “Lynn needs to improve his written, and electronic communication skills. He should use email, and internal calendar for vacation scheduling.” (Id.)

         With respect to the remaining categories of “profit” and “leadership, ” Shade was rated as “needs development” in the “profit” behavior of “commercial orientation, ” and in the “leadership” behavior of “integrity.” (Id. at 2.) Ritzman gave Shade an “Overall Evaluation” of “Meets Expectations.” (Id. at 3.) Shade acknowledges that the notes on his 2008 performance appraisal reflect Ritzman's assessment of his performance as of February 2008. (Doc. No. 24 ¶ 33.)

         In February of 2009, Shade met with Ritzman and factory manager Heyer to discuss his 2009 performance appraisal. (Id. ¶ 34.) Shade was 55 years old at the time of this meeting. (Id.) At this time, the new form of performance appraisal was utilized, wherein five categories of “Work Practices and Performance Competencies” were assessed on a scale of one to five. (Doc. No. 24-3, Exhibit 11 to Shade Dep. at 1.) They included “Teamwork, ” “Concern for Excellence (Quality), ” “General Abilities (Job Knowledge), ” “Time Utilization (Productivity), ” and “Safety.” (Id.) As to the category of “Teamwork, ” Shade received a rating of 3 out of 5 and the following comments: “Lynn did exhibit commitment and flexibility during the 2008 North Strip Rack refurbishment project working long hours and weekends to get the equipment into working condition and on line. There is the opportunity for Lynn to improve his teamwork and working relations with other Lykens employees.” (Id.)

         With regard to the category of “Concern for Excellence (Quality), ” Shade also received a rating of 3 out of 5 with the comment that “[i]nstallation and maintenance jobs are typically done well, but tend to take longer then [sic] Lynn initially estimates.” (Id.) Shade similarly received a rating of 3 out of 5 in the category of “General Abilities (Job Knowledge), ” with the following comments: “Lynn is [sic] knows machine, equipment and building repairs. Areas for growth include PLC trouble shooting, hydraulic systems and electrical controls.” (Id.)

         As to the category of “Time Utilization (Productivity), ” Shade received a rating of 2 out of 5, with the comment that “Lynn needs to learn when it is time to call in the experts. To [sic] much production time has been lost trying to troubleshoot or repair systems that require a trained specialist or unique equipment.” (Id.) Finally, in the category of “Safety, ” Shade received a rating of 3 out of 5, with the comment that “[s]afety is acceptable. Housekeeping in and around the maintenance area needs to improve significantly.” (Id.)

         Under the listing of the five categories of “Work Practices and Performance Competencies, ” there is an “Overall Rating” category similarly assessed on a scale of one to five. (Id.) Ritzman gave Shade an “Overall Rating” of 3 out of 5 in this category. (Id.) Further, Shade received an “Overall Evaluation” of “Meets Expectations.” (Id. at 2.) Shade acknowledges that the notes on the appraisal reflected Ritzman and Heyer's assessment of Shade's performance as of February 2009. (Doc. No. 24 ¶ 38.)

         In 2009, Alfa Laval was contemplating a company-wide reduction in force. (Id. ¶ 39.) Around the same time the company assessed the skills of the two maintenance technicians, Shade and Ulsamer. (Id. ¶ 40.) Ritzman was responsible for evaluating Shade and Ulsamer's skills, and rated each maintenance technician in ten categories fundamental to their job duties, preparing a matrix displaying his ratings. (Id. ¶ 41.) Ritzman gave Shade a below-average rating in six out of the ten categories, including a rating of “very weak” in three categories. (Id. ¶ 42.) Ulsamer received above-average ratings in seven of the ten categories, and was rated below average in only one category. (Id.) Ritzman shared this rating matrix with Amy Hartley (“Hartley'), Vice President of Human Resources, and Heyer, and the group discussed whether it was necessary to reduce the number of maintenance technicians as part of the Company's reduction in force. (Id. ¶ 43.) Hartley, Heyer, and Ritzman decided not to eliminate either of the maintenance technicians. (Id. ¶ 44.)[5]

         In February of 2010, Shade met with Ritzman to discuss his 2010 performance appraisal. (Id. ¶ 46.) Shade was 56 years old at the time of the meeting. (Id.) In this appraisal, Shade received a rating of 3 out of 5 on three of the five categories of “Work Practices and Performance Competencies”: “Teamwork, ” “General Abilities (Job Knowledge), ” and “Time Utilization (Productivity).” (Doc. No. 24-3, Exhibit 16 to Shade Dep. at 1.) As to “Teamwork, ” Ritzman commented that “Lynn cooperates with company needs to keep equipment running in order to meet production needs.” (Id.) As to “Safety” it was noted that “Lynn follows safety procedures on all activities.” (Id.) Ritzman's comments on “General Abilities (Job Knowledge)” were as follows: “Lynn has good knowledge of the facility and equipment. Look for ways to improve what we have instead of fixing to old standards. Use purchase requisition forms at all times.” (Id.)

         In two of the five categories of “Work Practices and Performance Competencies” - “Concern for Excellence (Quality)” and “Time Utilization (Productivity)” - Shade received a rating of 2.5 out of 5. As to “Concern for Excellence (Quality), ” Ritzman commented that “[o]verall quality is generally good. Lynn needs to increase standards to get equipment and facility back to like-new condition. Purge out old parts, and organize spares in accordance with 5S standards.” (Id.) With regard to “Time Utilization (Productivity), ” Ritzman commented that “Lynn is very punctual, and has very good attendance. Lynn's assignments from the weekly maintenance list tend to take longer than expected. Keep pushing weekly assignments. Lynn tends to not stay focused on weekly assigned tasks. Conversations with employees and guests should be kept to a minimum so we stay on track with assignments.” (Id.)

         Under the listing of the five categories of “Work Practices and Performance Competencies, ” Shade was given an “Overall Rating” of 3 out of 5. (Id.) Further, he received an “Overall Evaluation” of “Meets Expectations.” (Id. at 2.) Shade acknowledges that the notes on the performance appraisal reflected Ritzman's assessment of Shade's performance as of February 2010. (Doc. No. 24 ¶ 50.)

         In April of 2010, Shade received a verbal warning for an incident at work between Shade and Ulsamer, which was documented in an April 15, 2010 email from Ritzman to Shade, attached as Exhibit 17 to Shade's Deposition. (Id. ¶¶ 51-53; Doc. No. 24-3, Exhibit 17 to Shade Dep.) The substance of the email is as follows:

This email is to document and recap our conversation regarding my expectations for you in your role in the maintenance team. I expect you to handle the projects that are assigned to you and for Jim to work on his own projects and assignments. You are not to “take over” his work. That being said, Jim may have questions and you need to help with the answers, but then allow him to proceed with the project. I understand that you believe Jim does not know mechanical details and does not look at things closely enough. I assign work to the members on the team based on their individual skill sets. Remember that it is my responsibility to assess the performance of the maintenance team members, and I will handle accordingly.
We also discussed that you can not be rude or disrespectful to others, including Jim. We have a professional work environment and the expectation is that everyone is treated with respect. You indicated that this is something you are aware you need to work on. After our meeting I was made aware that you had been in the shop talking negatively about Jim and using profane language in describing Jim. This is unacceptable and should not occur again.
Lynn - I need you to know that I and Alfa Laval take this matter seriously and this document will become a part of your personnel file. Let me know if you would like to discuss this issue further.

(Doc. No. 24-3, Exhibit 17 to Shade Dep. at 1.) Shade disputes that the email accurately summarizes the events that took place. (Doc. No. 30 ¶ 55.) Shade also points out that this was his first incident of discipline in over 20 years of service with Alfa Laval. (Id. ¶ 56.)

         In February of 2011, Shade met with Ritzman to discuss his 2011 performance appraisal. (Doc. No. 24 ¶ 57.) Shade was 57 years old at the time. (Id.) In this appraisal, Ritzman gave Shade a 3 out of 5 in the three “Work Practices and Performance Competencies” categories of “Teamwork, ” “Time Utilization (Productivity), ” and “Safety.” (Doc. No. 24-3, Exhibit 18 to Shade Dep. at 1.) As to “Teamwork, ” Ritzman commented that “Lynn typically works with others to accomplish task.” (Id.) With regard to “Time Utilization (Productivity), ” Ritzman commented that “Lynn has good attendance and is never late. We need better planning on vacation planning. Lynn can't call in mid December and say he won't be in the rest of the year to use his remaining vacation. Our facility can't run without maintenance present.” (Id.) On “Safety” Ritzman commented that “Lynn complies with most safety policies. Just remember to use harness when on a lift.” (Id.)

         As to the “Work Practices and Performance Competencies” categories of “Concern for Excellence (Quality), ” and “General Abilities (Job Knowledge), ” Ritzman gave Shade a rating of 2 out of 5. He commented as follows on his 2 rating in the category of “Concern for Excellence (Quality)”: “I would like to see a stronger effort to repair equipment to better quality rather than enough to get by. We need a stronger push for 5S. Organize tools and equipment so we don't have to borrow tools from production cells.” (Id.) As to “General Abilities (Job Knowledge), ” Ritzman commented that “Lynn has good knowledge of facility, and older equipment. Lynn is a little weak in complicated electrical issues and PLC. When taking equipment apart he has forgotten to mark wires for reassembly.” (Id.)

         Ritzman gave Shade an “Overall Rating” for “Work Practices and Performance Competencies” of 3 out of 5. (Id.) In connection with Shade's 2011 performance appraisal, and as an “Overall Evaluation, ” Ritzman rated Shade as “not fully meet[ing] expectations.” (Id. at 2.) He articulated that, in his opinion, Shade had not improved for years. (Doc. No. 30 ΒΆ 61.) Shade acknowledges that ...


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