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Holbrook v. LSC Communications US, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

May 15, 2017



          Robert L. Miller, Jr. Judge

         Stephen Holbrook was terminated from his position with LSC Communications US, LLC in the company's Warsaw, IN facility in 2014.[1] He brought suit against his former employer alleging that he was terminated in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. (Count I) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (Count II). LSC Communications moved for summary judgment and the court heard arguments on defendant's motion on March 6, 2017. Because the summary judgment record doesn't show that comparable employees were treated better, the court grants LSC Communications' motion.

         I. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record demonstrate that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Protective Life Ins. Co. v. Hansen, 632 F.3d 388, 391-92 (7th Cir. 2011). The court construes the evidence and all inferences that reasonably can be drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The moving party bears the burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying the parts of the record that demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. at 323. It can meet that burden by showing that there's no evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Id. at 325. Once the moving party has met its burden, the opposing party can't rest upon the allegations in the pleadings, but must “point to evidence that can be put in admissible form at trial, and that, if believed by the fact-finder, could support judgment in his favor.” Marr v. Bank of America, N, A., 662 F.3d 963, 966 (7th Cir. 2011); see also Hastings Mut. Ins. Co. v. LaFollette, No. 1:07-cv-1085, 2009 WL 348769, at *2 (S.D. Ind. Feb. 6, 2009) (“[i]t is not the duty of the court to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat a motion for summary judgment; rather, the nonmoving party bears the responsibility of identifying the evidence upon which he relies”); Hammel v. Eau Galle Cheese Factory, 407 F.3d 852, 859 (7th Cir. 2005) (summary judgment is “not a dress rehearsal or practice run; it is the put up or shut up moment in a lawsuit, when a party must show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of events”).

         II. Background

         LSC Communications hired Mr. Holbrook in 1978. He rose to the level of Customer Service Supervisor, and was terminated from the company in October 2014. He had diabetes and was sixty-two years-old when he was fired. LSC Communications is an at-will employer. Its human resources policy outlines a “positive counseling” procedure that provides for a progressive discipline procedure for employees, while reserving the right to terminate an employee at any time. The policy's recommendation for a first level of discipline is “a formal meeting with the employee to raise concerns, ” which the company calls a “record of conversation.” A “final warning” is issued after a very serious incident or when an employee hasn't corrected problematic behavior. According to the policy, “failure to perform in accordance with the [f]inal [w]arning will normally result in separation.”

         Mr. Holbrook was issued a final warning in 2012. The final warning stated that Mr. Holbrook's behavior violated LSC Communications' rules of conduct and referenced three events: a March 2010 confrontation with his co-worker, Toby Popenfoose; an October 2011 incident in which Mr. Holbrook expressed frustration about the company; and a December 2011 outburst in which Mr. Holbrook yelled at co-worker Bruce Hazelet.

         Mr. Holbrook recognized that he needed to improve his response to stress at work and saw a professional for assistance. His performance reviews suggest that his conduct improved. While previous annual reviews raised concerns about Mr. Holbrook's response to stress, his 2012 performance review indicated that he “was much improved this year in remaining cool under pressure and demonstrated he can be counted on to hold things together under stressful situations.” His supervisor, John Pierog, reported on his 2013 performance review that Mr. Holbrook “made progress in managing stress in 2013 and handled adversity with a more even keeled approach.”

         On October 13, 2014, Mr. Holbrook and his colleague, Tim Scheidt, had a confrontation. Mr. Scheidt called Mr. Holbrook a bully and cursed at him, told Mr. Holbrook he was worthless, and asked Mr. Holbrook if he wanted to hit him. Mr. Holbrook admitted he “lost it” during the confrontation, raised his voice, and cursed at Mr. Scheidt. Mr. Scheidt reported to Mr. Pierog that Mr. Holbrook threatened to punch him.

         Mr. Pierog called Mr. Holbrook into his office and accused him of threatening Mr. Scheidt. Mr. Pierog terminated him for physically threatening a coworker, which violated the conditions of his final warning. Mr. Scheidt, who was younger than Mr. Holbrook and didn't identify as disabled, wasn't terminated after his confrontation with Mr. Holbrook, but was issued a “record of conversation.” Mr. Holbrook brought suit against his former employer, alleging he was terminated in violation of the ADEA and the ADA. LSC Communications moved for summary judgment on both claims.

         III. Discussion

         A. ADEA Claim

         Mr. Holbrook's ADEA claim can survive summary judgment if “the evidence would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the plaintiff's [age] caused [his] discharge.” Ortiz v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., 834 F.3d 760, 765 (7th Cir. 2016). In a case like this one, in which the employee doesn't present direct evidence of discrimination, the court must analyze the discrimination claim under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. Peele v. Country Mut. Ins. Co., 288 F.3d 319, 326 (7th Cir. 2002). See also Ortiz v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., 834 F.3d 760, 766 (7th Cir. 2016) (recognizing that the McDonnell Douglas framework remains the appropriate approach for analyzing employment discrimination claims).

         To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the McDonnell Douglas framework, “the plaintiff has the initial burden of producing evidence showing that (1) [he] is a member of a protected class, (2) [he] was meeting the defendant's legitimate expectations, (3) [he] suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) similarly situated employees who were [younger] were treated more favorably.” Simpson v. Franciscan All., Inc., 827 F.3d 656, 661 (7th Cir. 2016). LSC Communications doesn't dispute that Mr. Holbrook is a member of the protected class or that he suffered an adverse employment action, but contends that Mr. Holbrook ...

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