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Tenney v. FCA US, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

October 31, 2016

FCA US, LLC, Defendant.


          STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III United States District Judge

         The lawsuit involves an allegation of unlawful age discrimination, and defendant FCA US, LLC ("FCA") brought the instant motion for summary judgment. The Court, having reviewed the parties' briefs and held a hearing, will grant the motion and dismiss the case.


         Shannon Tenney is a 55 year-old man who worked for Chrysler (now called FCA) from 1985 until his termination in 2014. Tenney held various positions in the IT department, eventually becoming the IT Site Manager at the assembly plant in Belvidere, Illinois. He alleges that when Fiat and Chrysler merged, the new management connived to oust older workers like Tenney and replace them with younger workers. Consequently, Tenney argues he was unlawfully terminated because of his age. FCA claims that Tenney's firing was due to a history of poor performance.

         I. Tenney's Roles and Supervisors

         During his tenure at Chrysler/FCA, Tenney had several supervisors, each of whom provided feedback on his performance. From 2003-2007, Tenney was Manager of the Regional Data Center and was supervised by Mark Shepard. Tenney Dep. 30-31, ECF No.17-2; Resume, ECF No. 17-3; Performance Reviews, ECF Nos. 17-4, 17-5, 17-6. Tenney became IT Site Manager at the Belvidere plant in 2009 and was supervised by Michael Dolan until 2013. Tenney Dep. 54, ECF No. 17-2. In March 2013, Karen Wrobel became Tenney's supervisor. Id. at 149-50. Wrobel continued to supervise Tenney when he transitioned to Change, Problem and Incident Manager that same year. Id. at 164-66; Resume, ECF No. 17-3.

         Each of Tenney's supervisors reported to someone further up. Wrobel reported to Paolo Vallotti, who was Head of Architecture, Security Operation, Telecommunication, and Infrastructure. Vallotti Dep. 7, ECF No. 17-9. Vallotti reported to Scott Sandschafer, who served as CIO of FCA in 2009, the year that Chrysler and Fiat merged. Id. at 8. Sergio Marchionne began serving as CEO at the same time; Vallotti did not meet him until 2015. Id. at 8-9; Resp. Br. 1-2, ECF No. 19. As a result of the personnel chain in place at the company, decisions to terminate employees in Tenney's department were made by Wrobel and Vallotti, discussed with a Human Resources committee and with legal personnel, and then later approved by Sandschafer. See Wrobel Dep. 54-57, ECF No. 17-8.

         II. FCA's Performance Evaluation Methods

         FCA, both before the merger and after, conducted periodic employee evaluations. In the evaluation forms, supervisors rated employees' performances in various categories and spaces were provided to write comments. See, e.g., 2005 Performance Review, ECF No. 17-4; 2006 Performance Review, ECF No. 17-5; 2010 PLM, ECF No. 17-10. FCA implemented a new performance evaluation program in 2010 called, "Performance and Leadership Management, " or "PLM, " but the new evaluation forms continued to provide supervisors with the opportunity to rate and describe an employee's performance in several areas. See Tenney Dep. 55-56, ECF No. 17-2; 2010 PLM, ECF No. 17-10.

         The PLM program did, however, change the evaluation process. Under the program, an employee was rated and evaluated under several categories, but was also given an overall, numeric score of one to nine. See Mot. 4-5, ECF No. 17; Vallotti Dep. 46, ECF No. 17-9. A score of five was considered "medium, " while a score of four or less was considered "low" and indicated that an employee needed to improve. Tenney Dep. 64, ECF No. 17-2. Employees in need of improvement could be placed on a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP"), which contained an explanation for why the employee has been placed on the plan, established goals to be completed by the employee, and set a schedule for interim reviews of the employee's progress. PIP, ECF No. 17-15. The interim reviews allowed the supervisor to determine whether sufficient progress had been made to warrant ceasing the PIP or whether the PIP should have continued. See Id. At the conclusion of a PIP, the supervisor summarized the employee's progress and made a recommendation. See id.; Final PIP Review, ECF No. 17-18.

         III. Tenney's Performance History

         Even prior to the establishment of the PLM program, Tenney's performance evaluations revealed problems. In 2005, his supervisor rated his performance "excellent" and indicated his capacity to "learn quickly and to grow professionally and personally" but also answered "No" to the questions "Does the employee demonstrate substantial capacity to take over significantly complex tasks and to add considerable value in future?" and "Could the employee meet the higher demands of leadership behavior requirements at the next level?" 2005 Performance Review 2, ECF No. 17-4. In the written comments regarding leadership behavior, the supervisor wrote, "You must focus on your team. You sometime[s] have to slow down and [l]isten to what p[e]ople have to say." Id. at 1. The written notes in 2006 were almost verbatim repetitions from the year before: "This ha[s] been a year with MANY challenges, from STAFF issues to LOST UNITS. You must focus on your team and do not get drag[g]ed into issues outside of your area. Sometime[s w]e have to slow down and [l]isten to what people have to say. It's great to be on the same TEAM." 2006 Performance Review, ECF No. 17-5. Tenney's 2007 evaluation was also largely positive; he was again rated as exceeding his targets, effective in leadership, and forecasted as being immediately ready for growth in his position. ECF No. 17-6. But the written comments also indicated an unwillingness to support change and he was advised, "You can and should state your opinion, but only once." Id.

         Tenney's evaluations under the PLM program were also mixed. In 2010, he was rated "high" in "energy to deliver, " and "medium" in many other categories, but he was given an overall rating of "low" in the category "Overall Leading People." 2010 PLM, ECF No. 17-10. His supervisor wrote, "The categories that are rated as 'low' have a common theme - Shannon is overly protective and defensive of his staff." Id. Referring to Tenney's change in position to IT Site Manager at the Belvidere Plant, the supervisor added, "I think Shannon will ultimately be successful in this role, but it will take action on his part to be willing to adapt to the environment[.]" Id. His PLM Leadership score for 2010 was "medium." And it fell from there.

         In 2011, Tenney's PLM Leadership score dropped to "low." 2011 PLM, ECF No. 17-11. The supervisor who completed the report, Michael Dolan, provided specific examples of when Tenney fell short of expectations. Those instances included shortcomings in managing his team and improper use of company procedures and communication channels. Id. As a result of the low PLM ...

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