United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
JOEL G. FRANCKOWIAK, Plaintiff,
CONAGRA FOODS, INC., Defendant.
Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 37 - Denied
F. LEESON, JR. United States District Judge
Franckowiak claims that his former employer, Conagra Foods,
Inc., terminated him because of his age, in violation of the
Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the
Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). Conagra has moved
for summary judgment. It contends that Franckowiak did not
possess the objective knowledge and skills that Conagra
requires of its maintenance managers and that he is therefore
unable to make out a prima facie claim of age discrimination.
Conagra also contends that even if Franckowiak can make out a
prima facie claim of age discrimination, he has failed to
present sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that the
legitimate reasons that it has offered for its employment
decisions were a pretext to discriminate against him. Because
the Court finds that Franckowiak has presented sufficient
evidence for a jury to find in his favor, Conagra's
motion is denied.
following facts are either undisputed or viewed in the light
most favorable to Franckowiak, the non-moving
Franckowiak's work at the Womelsdorf Plant and
Conagra's 2013 acquisition of the plant
1971, Franckowiak began working for Linette Quality
Chocolates (“Linette QC”), which at that time was
a small, family-owned company. Def.'s Facts ¶¶
3-4. In 1985, Linette QC promoted Franckowiak to the position
of maintenance manager at its plant in Womelsdorf,
Pennsylvania. Def.'s Facts ¶ 7. In 2000, Linette QC
was acquired by Ralcorp Holdings, Inc.
(“Ralcorp”). Def.'s Facts ¶ 10, after
which Franckowiak was promoted to “maintenance manager
slash plant engineer” for the Womelsdorf Plant.
Pl.'s Dep. 26:8-9, ECF No. 37-7.
January 2013, Conagra completed its purchase of Ralcorp for
$4.95 billion. Def.'s Facts ¶ 12. As part of that
sale, Conagra acquired the Womelsdorf Plant. Def.'s Facts
¶ 13. As an employee that Conagra inherited from its
existing workforce, Franckowiak was neither hired nor
promoted into his then-current position by Conagra.
Def.'s Facts ¶ 15. After Conagra acquired the
Womelsdorf Plant, Franckowiak's title changed slightly
from “senior manager maintenance and engineering”
to “manager plant engineering.” Pl.'s Facts
¶ 15, ECF No. 40-2. Conagra employed Franckowiak from
the time it acquired the Womelsdorf Plant in early 2013 until
Franckowiak's discharge in February 2015. Def.'s
Facts ¶ 14. At the time of Franckowiak's discharge,
he was 61 years old. See Pl.'s Facts ¶ 1.
Franckowiak's job duties and chain of command
Franckowiak worked for Linette QC as the maintenance manager,
he managed the maintenance department, handled environmental
permitting, and purchased the parts for the maintenance
department. Def.'s Facts ¶ 26. After Ralcorp's
acquisition of the plant, Franckowiak was assigned the added
responsibility of serving as the plant engineer on capital
projects. Def.'s Facts ¶ 30. Later, after Conagra
acquired the plant, Franckowiak was assigned responsibility
for receiving parts that had been ordered. Def.'s Facts
¶ 31. In all, by 2015 Franckowiak was responsible for
being the maintenance manager and plant engineer, as well as
handling environmental permitting, purchasing parts,
receiving parts, snow-plowing, and salting the parking lots.
Pl.'s Facts ¶ 19.
maintenance manager, Franckowiak reported to the manager of
the Womelsdorf Plant, Robert Bard. Def.'s Facts ¶
18. Bard joined the Womelsdorf Plant as plant manager in late
2012, just prior to Conagra's acquisition of the plant.
Def.'s Facts ¶ 19. Bard became a Conagra employee as
a result of Conagra's acquisition of the Womelsdorf
Plant. Def.'s Facts ¶ 20. During the relevant time
period, Bard reported to Tim Lethcoe, the Vice President of
Operations. Def.'s Facts ¶ 22. As the VP of
Operations, Lethcoe supported numerous plants, including the
Womelsdorf Plant. Def.'s Facts ¶ 24.
maintenance manager, Franckowiak utilized a
“paper-driven” maintenance program, which
included drafting and tracking work orders by hand.
Def.'s Facts ¶ 33. Prior to Conagra's
acquisition of the Womelsdorf Plant, Franckowiak was never
required to, or evaluated based on his ability to implement,
a computerized maintenance management system or a
computerized inventory management system. Def.'s Facts
its ownership of the Womelsdorf Plant, Ralcorp purchased a
computerized maintenance management system
(“CMMS”) made by J.D. Edwards
(“JDE”). Def.'s Facts ¶
34.The JDE CMMS is an on-line (or cloud-based)
software solution that could be accessed by authorized users
from any computer connected to Ralcorp's (and later,
Conagra's) network, including the computers in the
Womelsdorf Plant. Def.'s Facts ¶ 35. From early on in
his time with Ralcorp, Franckowiak was an authorized user
with access to the JDE CMMS, and he regularly used the
purchase-order system component of the JDE software.
Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 36-37. Franckowiak's access to
and use of the JDE system for purchase-order purposes also
included access to the system's maintenance program
capabilities (e.g., the JDE work order system and equipment
management system). Def.'s Facts ¶ 38.
testified that, as part of their normal operations,
Conagra's plants use data-driven preventive maintenance
programs. Def.'s Facts ¶ 44. During Franckowiak's
employment as maintenance manager at Womelsdorf, the
plant's maintenance department performed preventive
maintenance based on Franckowiak's knowledge of machine
use and based on a paper-based machine operator feedback
system, rather than in accordance with any computerized data
analytics. Def.'s Facts ¶ 45.
to Lethcoe, in order to determine whether a plant's
maintenance system is performing well, Conagra tracks and
analyzes maintenance data as part of its normal operations.
Def.'s Facts ¶ 46. Certain maintenance data is
referred to as maintenance Key Performance Indicators
(“KPIs”). Def.'s Facts ¶ 47;
see Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Facts ¶ 47.
Prior to Conagra's acquisition of the Womelsdorf Plant,
Franckowiak did not measure any maintenance performance
metrics. Pl.'s Dep. 185:23-186:2, ECF No. 37-7.
to Lethcoe, even before Conagra acquired the Womelsdorf
Plant, Conagra required its maintenance managers to possess,
among other things, the skills and knowledge necessary to:
(1) implement a data-driven preventative maintenance program;
(2) implement a computerized maintenance management system
(“CMMS”); and (3) manage a maintenance department
using key performance indicators by understanding, tracking,
and utilizing relevant maintenance and production data.
Def.'s Facts ¶ 50.
Franckowiak's 2013 performance review
2013 performance review, Franckowiak received an overall
rating of “Consistently Fulfills, ” which is the
middle of five possible ratings. 2013 Review, ECF No. 37-9.
At the time of the 2013 review, Bard had been plant manager
for eight months and Conagra had owned the plant for less
than six months. Def.'s Facts ¶ 52; Pl.'s Resp.
Def.'s Facts ¶ 52. Because of the incomplete
transition from Ralcorp's systems to Conagra's
systems, aspects of Franckowiak's scores in the 2013
review were tied to the performance of the plant's
management team as a whole. Def.'s Facts ¶ 53;
Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Facts ¶ 53. In the 2013
performance review, Bard instructed Franckowiak to put into
place a computerized maintenance management system, to use
data to manage parts inventories, worker orders, and labor
allocation, and to update his knowledge and application of
maintenance leadership. Def.'s Facts ¶ 54.
Bard's alleged discussion with Franckowiak concerning
Bard's plans to retire
to Franckowiak, in the early summer of 2014, Bard made
comments to Franckowiak about his (Bard's) retirement
plans during a discussion about investments. Def.'s Facts
¶ 63. Specifically, Franckowiak testified that Bard said
the following: “I don't know what your plans are,
by 55 I plan on being laying [sic] on the beach
somewhere.” Def.'s Facts ¶ 64. According to
Franckowiak, he replied to Bard that he did not plan to
retire until he was at least 66. Def.'s Facts ¶ 65;
Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Facts ¶ 65.
Franckowiak's 2014 Performance Management Process
Performance Management Process (“PMP”) evaluates
its managerial employees based on their performance over
Conagra's fiscal year, which runs from June 1 to May 31.
Def.'s Facts ¶ 68. According to Robbyn Linville, who
served as Conagra's Director of Human Resources from 2013
to 2016, because of the change in ownership of the Womelsdorf
Plant, FY 2014 was the only year when Franckowiak's
evaluation occurred under Conagra's PMP system.
Def.'s Facts ¶ 70; Linville Aff. ¶ 7, ECF No.
to Linville, as part of the PMP employees are provided goals
at the start of a fiscal year and then, at the end of the
fiscal year in June, are assigned a rating for each of the
goals, as well as an overall rating. Def.'s Facts ¶
73. Linville testified that for the FY 2014 PMP, there were
five possible ratings, based on whether the employee met his
or her expectations: “Meets, ” “Meets
” (“Meets Plus”), “Meets-”
(“Meets Minus”), and two other ratings that were
available but rarely used. Def.'s Facts ¶
summer 2014,  Bard completed Franckowiak's FY 2014
PMP, giving Franckowiak an overall rating of
“Meets-”. 2014 FY PMP, ECF Nos. 37-10, 37-11.
In addition to this overall rating, Franckowiak received five
“Meets-” ratings and two “Meets”
ratings for his seven objectives. Id. In the review,
Bard instructed Franckowiak to benchmark best practices with
other plants, to improve his preventative maintenance system,
to employ servant leadership, and to implement measurable and
sustainable changes in maintenance. Def.'s Facts ¶
77. Bard's concluding comments in the review are as
Joel did meet expectations in his implementation of [several]
key initiatives . . . . FY14 was a challenging year for the
team, as we experienced significant first pass quality issues
coupled with a huge spike in Costco demand, the induction of
new team members, and unfavorable plant performance. Joel was
able to navigate through this adversity and keep his team
afloat. However in FY15 Joel must implement measurable and
sustainable change in maintenance to build a long term
foundation for plant success. The underlying theme to
Joel's performance expectations in the coming year is to
deliver results. He has my full confidence and support in
driving this change.
2014 FY PMP.
The August 2014 Conagra Performance System
(“CPS”) team visit
Conagra Performance System (“CPS”) is
Conagra's continuous improvement system that identifies
the various “pillars” that make up a successful
production plant and assigns a leader to each pillar who is
responsible for tracking and driving improvement in the KPI
data for that pillar. Def.'s Facts ¶ 95. In August
2014, a team of Conagra CPS experts came to Womelsdorf to try
to help the plant with problems it was experiencing.
Def.'s Facts ¶ 96; Pl.'s Dep. 192:20-23.
the visit, John Munjas, a member of the CPS team, sent to
Bard a draft report of the results of the visit. See
Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Mot. Ex. GG, ECF No. 40-36. The
draft report identified several tasks for which Womelsdorf
Plant employees were responsible and, for each task,
identified a “target timing” for completion and a
particular employee responsible for
was listed as the accountability employee for several tasks,
including the requirement to “initiate PMs [preventive
maintenance] on Line 6 enrober using Excel or JDE, ”
with a target timing of August 22, 2014. Id. The
draft report also listed several “key agenda items
& discussion points” for various aspects of the
plant. Id. With respect to maintenance, the report
observed a “[l]ack of automated inventory & work
order systems” and stated the following: “Plant
expectations: work order system and PM [preventive
maintenance] plan to be developed in the next 30 days.”
testified that, following the visit and the resulting report,
he told Bard that he “didn't have the tools or the
manpower” to implement a preventive maintenance
program. Pl.'s Dep. 207:15-17. Bard testified that, as
maintenance manager, Franckowiak was ultimately responsible
for correcting the maintenance deficiencies identified in the
CPS visit. Bard Dec. ¶ 19, ECF No. 37-14.
Bard's alleged comments to Livinghouse and
of 2014, Conagra hired Colleen Livinghouse to serve as the
safety and human resources manager at the Womelsdorf Plant.
Def.'s Facts ¶ 160. Conagra eliminated her position
in January 2015, and she does not feel she was treated fairly
by Conagra. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 162-63.
testified that, at some point during her employment, Bard
called her and Ricky Hetrich, another Conagra employee, into
Bard's office for a meeting and informed them that he
wanted to terminate Franckowiak and Charles Rightmyer, a
production supervisor at the Womelsdorf Plant, because they
were not performing their jobs well, they were employees Bard
had inherited from the original owners of the Womelsdorf
Plant, they were “old dinosaurs” and the plant
needed “fresh blood, ” and Franckowiak was paid a
high salary that was almost as much as Bard's. Def.'s
Facts ¶¶ 164-66. Livinghouse also testified that
Bard told her and Hetrich that he wanted to place Franckowiak
and Rightmyer on PIPs where there was no room for them to
succeed. Def.'s Facts ¶ 168.
ultimately was not involved in the drafting, implementation,
or administration of Franckowiak's PIP. Def.'s Facts
¶ 171. She did play a role in implementing
Rightmyer's PIP, the contents of which, she testified,
were essentially dictated to her by Bard, and she
acknowledged that the requirements of Rightmyer's PIP
were not so impossible that he could not meet them.
Livinghouse Dep. 150:7-11, 197:8-18. She testified that she
signed Rightmyer's PIP “only because [she] felt
confidence with the dynamics of the situation knowing that he
was getting the right support coming from me to meet those
expectations” and that she “fought tooth and hard
[sic] to make sure that . . . Rightmyer would meet those
expectations and be given that support that he needed to meet
his expectation on his PIP, which he did.” Livinghouse
Dep. 31:1-6, 197:8-18.
denies that he ever made any comments referring to
Franckowiak as an “old dinosaur, ” expressing an
interest in bringing in “fresh blood, ” or
stating his intent to implement PIPs that were intended to
result in the discharge of either Rightmyer or Franckowiak.
Def.'s Facts ¶ 176. Hetrich testified that he
recalled a conversation he had with Bard and Livinghouse
about Rightmyer, but he does not recall Bard saying anything
about Franckowiak during the conversation, nor does he recall
Bard stating that ...