United States District Court, N.D. Alabama
MICHAEL PUTNAM UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
cause is before the court on the motion for summary judgment
filed by the defendant, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International,
Inc. ("MBUSI"). Defendant seeks dismissal of
plaintiff Brenda Singleton's claim that she was
discriminated against based on her age, in violation of the
Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), when
her employment was terminated in January 2013. This matter
has been fully briefed, and the court has considered the
evidence and arguments set forth by both parties. The parties
have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the
undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment is
proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The
party asking for summary judgment "always bears the
initial responsibility of informing the district court of the
basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of
'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories,
and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,
' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine
issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting former
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). The movant can meet this burden by
presenting evidence showing there is no dispute of material
fact, or by showing that the nonmoving party has failed to
present evidence in support of some element of its case on
which it bears the ultimate burden of proof.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. There is no
requirement, however, "that the moving party support its
motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating
the opponent's claim." Id. at 323.
the moving party has met his burden, Rule 56 "requires
the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by her own
affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions of file, ' designate
'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial.'" Id. at 324 (quoting former
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The nonmoving party need not present
evidence in a form necessary for admission at trial; however,
he may not merely rest on his pleadings. Celotex,
477 U.S. at 324. "[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c)
mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time
for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to
make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an
element essential to that party's case, and on which that
party will bear the burden of proof at trial."
Id. at 322.
the plaintiff has properly responded to a proper motion for
summary judgment, the court must grant the motion if there is
no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
The substantive law will identify which facts are material
and which are irrelevant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine
"if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.
at 248. "[T]he judge's function is not himself to
weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but
to determine whether there is a genuine issue for
trial." Id. at 249. His guide is the same
standard necessary to direct a verdict: "whether the
evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require
submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one
party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at
251-52; see also Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v.
N.L.R.B., 461 U.S. 731, 745 n.11 (1983). However, the
nonmoving party "must do more than show that there is
some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts."
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). If the evidence is
merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary
judgment may be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249
(citations omitted); accord Spence v. Zimmerman, 873
F.2d 256 (11th Cir. 1989). Furthermore, the court must
"view the evidence presented through the prism of the
substantive evidentiary burden, " so there must be
sufficient evidence on which the jury could reasonably find
for the plaintiff. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254;
Cottle v. Storer Communication, Inc., 849 F.2d 570,
575 (11th Cir. 1988). Nevertheless, credibility
determinations, the weighing of evidence, and the drawing of
inferences from the facts are the function of the jury, and
therefore the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed
and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The non-movant need not
be given the benefit of every inference but only of every
reasonable inference. Brown v. City of Clewiston,
848 F.2d 1534, 1540 n.12 (11th Cir. 1988).
the admissible evidence in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party, in this case the plaintiff, the following
facts are relevant to the instant motion.
plaintiff was 53 years old when she was terminated from MBUSI
in January 2013. Singleton worked for MBUSI for more than 16
years at its manufacturing facility near Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Over the course of her employment, she worked as an HRIS
specialist, providing support to MBUSI's human resources
and payroll departments, eventually transitioning to a
position as an IT specialitst. She was the designated project
manager for several IT-related projects. She was a salaried,
exempt employee at all times relevant to this action. She was
required to work 80 hours during each two-week pay period,
and had a start time of 8:30 a.m., but she had flexibility
about working remotely or adjusting her hours. She often
worked more than 40 hours in a week.
in 2011, the IT functions at the plant were divided between
"direct" and "indirect" applications,
depending upon whether the IT application was involved
directly with the manufacture of automobiles, or the
application was involved in some function other than the
manufacture of automobiles, such as human resources.
Plaintiff was assigned to the "Indirect
Applications" group, where she was supervised by Ron
Luster, who was 39 or 41 years old when Singleton was
fired. Singleton did not want to be supervised by
Luster, because she had heard "gossip" that he was
"unreasonable, " "doesn't treat people
fairly, " and always "wanted to be an expert."
An employee, who was "about" Singleton's age,
told Singleton that Luster did not properly value experienced
employees. She testified that she was reluctant to
work for him because he had a reputation for "managing
people out." (Pl.'s Depo. p.31, lines 18-22).
Singleton asserts that Luster made age-biased statements
about her when he introduced her to interns, saying she had
been there longer than anyone.
working for Luster, Singleton had never been disciplined and
had never been given a negative review. She reported to Lisa
Evans for about six months before transferring to
Luster's IT group, and Evans gave Singleton a
"successful" ranking in her 2011 evaluation.
Despite her good evaluations of Singleton, Evans told Luster,
when Singleton transferred to his group, that Singleton was
an under-performing employee who had trouble accomplishing
tasks that required problem-solving. In a 2012 review
prepared by Luster, Singleton was described as an employee
who "struggled to complete her work without dependency
on others, failed to secure required approval before
beginning new projects, executed job duties in an
inconsistent fashion, and did not adequately address or solve
problems as they arose." She was ranked as
"inconsistent" in the 2012 evaluation.
at MBUSI who received a ranking of "inconsistent"
or below were placed on a Performance Improvement Plan
("PIP"). Singleton spoke with Archie Craft, the
vice president of human resources at MBUSI, who explained
that, if she failed to successfully complete the PIP, she
might be terminated. Craft, at the time, was 60 years old. He
offered Singleton a buyout, which she considered but
ultimately turned down. She asked to be given an early
retirement package, about which Craft inquired with MBSUI. He
then told her MBSUI could not offer her an early retirement.
began the process of the PIP in August of 2012, which
involved a series of seven meetings with Luster and, on some
occasions, Dawn Burton, a team relations specialist at MBUSI.
Her progress during the PIP meetings was deemed
"unsatisfactory" by Luster. Singleton felt that she
was not treated fairly during the PIP meetings, because
Luster would change her goals or expectations, a process she
described as a "shell game." Burton described
Singleton's attitude at PIP meetings as defensive and
angry, but Singleton said her behavior was caused by
"great concern" and "distrust." Singleton
admits that she felt that the purpose of the PIP meetings was
not to improve her performance but to lead to her firing.
Burton offered to meet with Singleton in additional sessions
to counsel with her about improvements, but Singleton refused
the additional help because she felt Burton was biased and
would not maintain confidentiality. The last PIP meeting with
Luster was held before Thanksgiving of 2012. Luster asked
Singleton why she had not accepted the buyout offer, and told
her that "he could not see how he could not fire"
sessions were not continued after Thanksgiving, and Singleton
was told to undergo communication skills training. Burton met
with human resources senior manager, David Olive, age 49, and
they agreed that the communication training should go forward
before any further PIP meetings, but they did not tell
Singleton that the reason for the communication skills
training was to improve the efficacy of the PIP sessions.
Burton described the PIP meetings with Singleton as the
"worst experience" she has ever had in implementing
January 10, 2013, Singleton was scheduled to lead a 10:30
a.m. conference call with two external contractors. Singleton
was the lead project manager for the project. Singleton was
not on the conference call when it began. Luster texted
Singleton during the conference call, at 10:36 a.m., to
remind her about it and that she was scheduled to lead it.
About five minutes later, Singleton joined the call via her
cell phone, apologized for her tardiness, and said she had
been "running around like a chicken." After the
conference call ended, Luster went to the IT Department to
talk to Singleton about the call. She was not there. Luster
had the gate records pulled to show when employees came in
and out of the plant gates, and determined that Singleton had
not been on the MBUSI premises during the call.
next day, on January 11, 2013, Singleton was not at her work
area at 8:40 a.m. Luster sent her a text asking if she was
okay. Singleton sent a text response three hours later,
telling Luster that she was in the building. Luster again
checked the gate information, and determined that she was not
on the premises at 8:40. Singleton did arrive at work just a
few minutes after the text was sent, but did not see the text
and did not respond until 11:40. She explained that her
response was meant to indicate to Luster where she was at