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Watrobski v. FCA US, LLC

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

February 21, 2018

Gerald Watrobski, Plaintiff,
FCA US, LLC, Defendant.

          Mona K. Majzoub United States Magistrate Judge


          GERSHWIN A. DRAIN United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Gerard Watrobski initiated this action on May 5, 2016, asserting that the Defendant, FCA US, LLC, discriminated against him in contravention of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621. See Dkt. No. 1.

         The Defendant moved for summary judgment on April 3, 2017. Dkt. No. 46. The Plaintiff responded to that motion, and the Defendant filed a reply brief in support. See Dkt. Nos. 51, 52, 54. Then, on September 14, 2017, United States Magistrate Judge Mona K. Majzoub ordered additional discovery in deciding motions to compel. See Dkt. No. 60. Accordingly, this Court amended the Scheduling Order and permitted the Plaintiff to file a supplemental response to the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. See Dkt. Nos. 61, 66. The Court also allowed the Defendant to file a supplemental reply brief in support of the summary judgment motion. See Dkt. Nos. 61, 69.

         Presently before the Court is the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [46]. The motion is fully briefed. The Court will decide the motion without a hearing pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f)(2). For the reasons detailed below, the Court will GRANT the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [46]. The Court holds that as a matter of law the Plaintiff cannot make a prima facie case of age discrimination, demonstrate pretext for the Defendant's justification for terminating his employment, or both.

         II. Background

         On April 1, 1977, Plaintiff joined FCA US, LLC to work in its Information Intellectual Properties Department. Dkt. No. 1, p. 4 (Pg. ID 4). He remained in that department until FCA terminated his employment on July 1, 2015. Id. At the time of his firing, Plaintiff was sixty-two years old. Dkt. No. 51, p. 4 (Pg. ID 541). 1. Direct Evidence of Discrimination Plaintiff claims to present both direct and circumstantial evidence of age discrimination. As to the former, he offers comments made by FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne on the CBS show 60 minutes. Id. at p. 9 (Pg. ID 546). Specifically, Steve Kroft of 60 minutes says that “[t]o change the management structure, [Marchionne] combed through the company and found 26 young leaders who would report directly to him.” Dkt. No. 46-10, p. 6 (Pg. ID 520). Marchionne replies that these leaders were not on a management “fast track, ” and instead many “were buried inside an incredibly hierarchical organization.” Id.

         Plaintiff similarly cites former FCA Chief Information Officer Scott Sandschafer's comments, allegedly made at a town hall. Dkt. No. 51, p. 9 (Pg. ID 546). Watrobski testified that Sandschafer discriminated against older workers by saying, “[b]oy, you know, they mistook me for an Intern. That's how young I look. You know, we need a young looking and a young - young ideas in this corporation.” Dkt. No. 52-2, p. 10 (Pg. ID 604).

         2. Circumstantial Evidence

         On the other hand, to establish circumstantial evidence of discrimination, Watrobski maintains that FCA effectively adopted a policy to remove older workers. See, e.g., Dkt. No. 51, p. 9 (Pg. ID 546). In support he references several employees that FCA allegedly fired and replaced with younger workers. See id.

         Additionally, he contends that his performance evaluations, including discipline resulting therefrom, do not accurately portray his performance. Dkt. No. 66, pp. 1-2 (Pg. ID 794-95). For example, he cites testimony from Robert Ford, a senior FCA officer who was several levels of seniority removed from Plaintiff. Id.; see also Dkt. No. 66-1, pp. 7-8 (Pg. ID 807-08). Ford testified that Plaintiff was a “problem-solver.” Dkt. No. 66-1, pp. 7-8 (Pg. ID 807-08).

         Plaintiff also argues that his performance was satisfactory during periods where FCA alleges the opposite. Dkt. No. 66, p. 3 (Pg. ID 796). According to the Plaintiff, his assertions are bolstered by a pay raise he received in early 2014, which was based on his 2013 performance review. Id. A review that FCA contends showed his performance was unsatisfactory. See Dkt. No. 46-4.

         The record details Plaintiff's performance at FCA from 2013 to 2015. Andrew Gross was Plaintiff's direct supervisor, and Gross completed all of Plaintiff's performance evaluations during this time frame. See Id. On Plaintiff's 2013 annual performance review, he received a “needs improvement” score of 4. Id. at p. 4 (Pg. ID 473). Because of this score, Gross placed Watrobski on a performance improvement plan (“PIP”). Id. The PIP lasted from February 2014 to June 2014. Dkt. No. 46-5, p. 4 (Pg. ID 478). Watrobski successfully completed the plan, as he significantly improved his leadership skills, namely through coaching other team members. Id. at p. 6 (Pg. ID 480).

         On his 2014 annual review, Plaintiff received another medium score. Dkt. No. 46-6, p. 3 (Pg. ID 487). There, Gross determined that Watrobki's “resistance to change and continuing reliance on the status quo have resulted in a Leading Change rating of Low. [Plaintiff] should take the recent success he had with improving his Leading People behaviors and make a similar effort in 2015 to Improve his Leading Change behaviors.” Id.

         Plaintiff's 2014 performance review prompted Gross to force Watrobski on a second PIP, this time from March 5, 2015 to June 3, 2015. Dkt. No. 46-7, p. 2 (Pg. ID 491). Gross was concerned with Plaintiff's performance at all three stages of this PIP. Id. at pp. 2-4 (Pg. ID 491-93). At the beginning, Gross determined that Plaintiff was not completing activities required by the PIP, including verifying the successful completion of projects. Id. Midway through the PIP, Gross concluded that “[Plaintiff] has missed two deadlines for this PIP, ” and that “[Plaintiff] is in real danger of not having a successful conclusion to this PIP.” Id. at p. 4 (Pg. ID 493). Finally, Gross found that Watrobski did not satisfy the PIP. Id. at p. 5 (Pg. ID 494). He noted that, among other things, Watrobski had continuously failed to carefully read and respond to communications with business partners and team members, which led to unnecessary confusion. Id.

         Gross recommended to FCA that Watrobski be fired because of this failed PIP and Watrobski's annual performance reviews. Dkt. No. 52-4, p. 4 (Pg. ID 630). FCA then fired Watrobski effective July 1, 2015. Id.

         3. Plaintiff's Replacements

         Plaintiff contends that he was replaced by a third-party contractor, Jawahare Babu Hare Dos (“Babu”). Dkt. No. 51, p. 6 (Pg. ID 543). Babu was in his thirties when the Plaintiff left FCA. Dkt. No. 52-3, pp. 3, 11 (Pg. ID 625).

         Watrobski worked with Babu from 2009 until Watrobski's termination six years later. Dkt. No. 46-2, p. 22 (Pg. ID 418). Plaintiff also admits that he and Babu had overlapping duties. Id. For instance, Plaintiff explained that Babu “was doing what I told him to do. He was doing tasks that I would have done, but I handed it off to him so I could -- as Andy ...

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