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Hawranek v. Haier U.S. Appliance Solutions, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 29, 2019

WALTER HAWRANEK, DAVID FATT, DAVID HOTZ, KENNETH KOLBE, TIM MCGRAW, Plaintiffs,
v.
HAIER U.S. APPLIANCE SOLUTIONS, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES R. SWEENEY II, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 32.) Plaintiffs Walter Hawranek, David Fatt, David Hotz, Kenneth Kolbe, and Tim McGraw (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed a three-count Complaint against Defendant Haier U.S. Appliance Solutions, Inc. d/b/a General Electric Appliances (“Haier”) alleging that Haier (1) violated the Worker Adjustment Retraining and Notification (WARN) Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2104, (2) breached a contract regarding Plaintiffs' “layoff benefits, ” and (3) breached third-party representations and warranties Haier made to the federal government. (ECF No. 1) Haier now seeks summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs' claims. After carefully reviewing the motion, response, reply, and relevant law, the Court concludes that the motion should be GRANTED.

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         A motion for summary judgment asks the Court to find that a trial is unnecessary because there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, instead, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. SeeFed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A disputed fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Hampton v. Ford Motor Co., 561 F.3d 709, 713 (7th Cir. 2009). In other words, while there may be facts that are in dispute, summary judgment is appropriate if those facts are not outcome-determinative. Harper v. Vigilant Ins. Co., 433 F.3d 521, 525 (7th Cir. 2005).

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and all reasonable inferences are drawn in the non-movant's favor. Ault v. Speicher, 634 F.3d 942, 945 (7th Cir. 2011). After the moving party demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue for trial, the responsibility shifts to the non-movant to “go beyond the pleadings” and point to evidence of a genuine factual dispute precluding summary judgment. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). “If the non-movant does not come forward with evidence that would reasonably permit the finder of fact to find in [his] favor on a material question, then the court must enter summary judgment against [him].” Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-87 (1986).

         II. Background

         Plaintiffs are former salaried employees of General Electric's (“GE”) refrigerator manufacturing plant, Bloomington Production Operations, LLC (“BPO”). (ECF No. 33 at 3.) On June 6, 2016, Haier acquired BPO. (Hollinger Dec. ¶ 3.) BPO had 329 employees: 301 hourly, union represented employees and 28 salaried employees, including the five Plaintiffs. (ECF No. 33 at 3; ECF No. 1 ¶ 13.) Prior to the sale of BPO, the United States Department of Justice conducted an anti-trust review on the proposed sale and the sale was approved. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 5-6).

         In addition to its acquisition of BPO, Haier acquired the stock of BPO and the “collective bargaining agreement” between BPO and GE Appliances' Union. (ECF No. 33 at 3; ECF No. 34-12 ¶ 3, Ex. 1.) Haier also acquired GE Appliances' defined benefit pension plan (“Haier Pension Plan”), which provided benefits to both hourly and salaried BPO employees on the event of the plant's closure. (ECF No. 33 at 3; ECF No. 34-12 ¶ 3, Ex. 1.)

         Shortly after Haier acquired BPO, BPO plant manager Frank Scheffel announced to employees verbally and in writing that Haier intended to close BPO on June 15, 2017. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 26; ECF No. 34-12 at 3; ECF No. 34-4 at 4 p. 12:11-16; ECF No. 34-12 ¶ 5.) Scheffel's letter also informed employees about benefits, stating that “all employees - hourly and salaried - [would] receive equivalent, comprehensive plant-closing benefits [which employees] would have received under GE ownership.” (ECF No. 34-12 at 82; Hollins Decl. Ex. 2; ECF No. 34-1 at 7 p. 18:20-19:8.) Scheffel also provided employees excerpts from the GE Appliances' Job Loss Handbook which outlined the benefit options available to eligible BPO employees when BPO closed. (ECF No. 34-12 ¶ 7; ECF No. 34-7 at 41:9-15.) These excerpts outlined the benefit options available to eligible BPO employees:

Severance
• Lump-sum severance payment: Employees with 15 or more years of service receive a lump-sum severance payment equal to two weeks of pay for each year of service. For example, an eligible employee with 25 years of service making $1000 a week would receive a severance payment equal to $1, 000 x 2 weeks x 25 years for a total payment of $50, 000.
Employees with one to 14 years of service receive one-and-one-half weeks of pay for each year of service calculated on the same basis. The minimum severance payment for eligible employees equals at least four weeks of pay.
Special Early Retirement Option (SERO)
• Eligible employees who are ages 55 through 59 with 25 or more years of pension qualification service will have the opportunity to elect early retirement with full pension benefits. Benefits include full pension earned as of the date of the plant closing. In addition, supplements of $21 a month for every year of pension benefit service, plus $425 per month, are paid to the age when an employee is eligible to begin receiving 80% of his or her Social Security benefit. Benefits for those retiring under this option are the same as those available to long-service employees who retire at age 60, Severance benefits are reduced or eliminated by value of SERO and cost of future health benefits.
Plant Closing Pension Option (PCPO)
• Eligible long-service employees, not eligible for SERO who meet the following age and service requirements by the end of the calendar year in which service terminates because of the plant closing, will be eligible for the same pension benefits as those available to long-service employees who retire at age 60 or under SERO, including pension supplements. ...

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