Steven A. Lauth, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Covance, Inc., Defendant-Appellee.
February 7, 2017
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No.
l:14-cv-00136-WTL-TAB - William T. Lawrence, Judge.
BAUER, POSNER, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.
Lauth was terminated from his position at Covance Central
Laboratories, Inc. on October 25, 2012. He sued Covance,
raising claims of age discrimination and retaliation. The
district court granted summary judgment in favor of Covance.
The court also awarded certain costs to Covance. Lauth
appeals from both orders.
facts that follow are those established by the summary
judgment record in the district court, as viewed in the light
most favorable to Lauth. See Whitaker v. Wis. Dep't
of Health Servs., 849 F.3d 681, 682 (7th Cir. 2017).
began working at Covance in 2006 at the age of 54. He started
as a second shift supervisor in the kit production
department. From the time Lauth started in 2006 through April
2012, Donald Snyder was his direct supervisor.
the end of each year, and sometimes at mid-year, Lauth
received a performance review called a Performance Management
Document (PMD). Snyder, as Lauth's supervisor, wrote his
first review in 2006 and issued Lauth an overall rating of
"Meets Expectations." He praised Lauth for
maximizing his department's output and for his
"diligence in getting his staff cross trained as much as
possible." Snyder also commented on Lauth's
communication style, noting that he "need[s] to tailor
or soften somewhat his approach, to that of his
workforce." He stated that Lauth could do this by
"using a little more compassion and maybe even
incorporating ways to relax the 2nd shift." Finally,
Snyder noted that Lauth needed "to realize and make any
necessary adjustments in his style, in order to match the
environment of the 2nd shift workforce, without comprimising
[sic] his beliefs and standards."
Lauth's 2007 PMD, Snyder again gave him a "Meets
Expectations" overall rating. Snyder praised Lauth's
diligence, work ethic, and "all business approach"
to his job. However, the PMD also noted improvements that
Lauth needed to make in his communication style. Snyder noted
that several staff members had expressed their discontent
with Lauth's supervision and communication style; Snyder
stated that Lauth "will need, and has begun, to tailor
or soften somewhat his approach to that of his
workforce." Snyder also commented that Lauth "is at
times unreceptive to take help and/or suggestions from
others, choosing to do it his way. This is often not received
well with his peers."
received an overall rating of "Meets Expectations"
again in 2008. Snyder commented that Lauth was able to
accomplish his department's output with the least
experienced and fewest number of employees. He also noted
that morale "no longer seems to be an issue within
[Lauth's] shift, regarding his supervision and
communication style." However, Snyder also reiterated
his concerns that Lauth "appears unreceptive to take
help and/or suggestions from others" and stated that
Lauth "must improve ... [his] working relationship with
his fellow shift supervisors." Because Lauth's style
was often not well-received by his peers, Snyder stated that
"I actually wonder whether or not if [Lauth] is the
right fit for our team." In this PMD, Snyder warned that
if Lauth's "temperament and communication
practices" did not change, "this may impact his
rating for next year, or potentially run the risk of [Snyder]
needing to replace him with someone who works better with the
others in the room, across all facets."
2009, Lauth again received a rating of "Meets
Expectations." In 2010, however, he received a rating of
"Exceeds Expectations." Snyder praised Lauth for
leading all shift's in total output, noting that he
played a "huge role in [kit produc-tion]'s overall
departmental success in 2010." He also noted that Lauth
had done a good job avoiding conflict with other staff.
Finally, however, Snyder commented that Lauth is "very
strong willed and an independent thinker, " which
"[a]t times ... can be confused or perceived to be
detrimental to the cause."
11, 2011, Lauth received a mid-year PMD from Snyder, which
again complimented Lauth for meeting his unit's output
goals. However, Snyder also provided detailed comments
regarding issues with Lauth's communication methods and
his unwillingness to be a "team player."
Specifically, Snyder mentioned emails that Lauth had sent
during the first half of 2011, in which Lauth addressed noise
issues in his department. Snyder noted that "[a]lthough
I know [Lauth's] intent was fine, the manner [in] which
the emails were written and perceived, [was]
counterproductive." Snyder also noted a specific
instance in which Lauth challenged one of Snyder's
directives and expressed an inability to complete an assigned
task. In the "Team Player" category, Snyder stated
that "[Lauth's] 'my way' approach is no
longer acceptable to me. This needs to change and improve
this year. I want to see an obvious change in [Lauth]
relating to how he works with all [kit production]
leadership, otherwise, [Lauth] risks being given a Needs
Improvement rating at year end." Shortly after Snyder
issued the mid-year PMD, he and Lauth met in person to
discuss it. During that meeting, Snyder asked Lauth when he
planned to retire.
had a system called AlertLine, through which employees could
submit workplace complaints. On August 28, 2011, Lauth
submitted a complaint through AlertLine regarding Aaron
Ellsworth, another employee in the kit production department.
Between 2006 and 2011, Lauth had various verbal complaints to
Snyder about Ellsworth, alleging that he bullied and
intimidated Lauth and other employees.
AlertLine complaint, Lauth complained of Ellsworth's
harassment, but specifically noted that it did not relate
"to unlawful harassment ... because of race, color,
religion, national origin, gender, age, disability,
veteran's status or any other characteristic protected by
law[.]" Lauth cited examples of "behavior that
could be labeled 'bullying' and
'intimidation' contrary to Covance's Principle of
'Respect for the individual.'" Additionally,
Lauth stated the following in reference to his 2011 mid-year
Due to the statements made by my manager in my review, I
responded in an email specifically to my manager's
comments in a much more timid manner where I would normally
have felt comfortable challenging some of his assertions,
because I felt that I was being threatened-not truly because
of my work performance being inadequate, but more due to the
environment that exists in our department as a result of
[Ellsworth]'s continued exhibits of control, intimidation
and bullying. It was very clear that [Snyder]'s comments
of being a team player were meant to communicate that I
needed to 'get along better' with [Ellsworth]....
Although this abusive environment that [Ellsworth] has
created exists and has been brought to [Snyder]'s
attention on many occasions by myself and others, he has
allowed the situation to continue.
Covance referred this complaint to Human Resources Generalist
Gary Grubb for investigation. Grubb completed the
investigation in late November or early December 2011. He
found that Ellsworth had behaved inappropriately on several
occasions, raising his voice and making inappropriate
comments. Grubb also found that Snyder had not mistreated
Lauth, and identified several areas in which Lauth could
improve his workplace communications. He recommended to
Snyder that Ellsworth be placed on a Performance Improvement
December 2, 2011, Grubb met with Lauth to discuss the
findings of his investigation and inform him that Ellsworth
would be counseled on his behavior. On December 5, 2011,
Lauth sent Grubb an email stating that the proposed
discipline was "totally unacceptable" and
expressing his belief that the investigation had not gone far
enough. On January 10, 2012, Grubb's findings and
proposed corrective actions were posted as follow-up comments
to Lauth's ...