United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division
EDWIN I. KNOWLES, Plaintiff,
INZI CONTROLS ALABAMA, INC., Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. BRASHER ANDREW L. BRASHER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Defendant Inzi Controls
Alabama, Inc.’s motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 26).
Inzi terminated 64-year-old Plaintiff Edwin I. Knowles as
part of a reduction in force. But Knowles claims that his
termination was a mere pretext for age discrimination. Inzi
counters that Knowles’s termination was not
discriminatory; it was part of a massive reduction in force
compelled by unfeeling market forces. The Court holds that
Knowles has not produced substantial evidence to support his
claims, and the motion is due to be GRANTED.
is suing his former employer, Inzi, for age-discrimination
during a reduction in force. At issue are some comments made
by Knowles’s supervisors and the ages of the employees
retained after the reduction in force. Knowles worked at Inzi
and its predecessor plant until he was 64. During those
eleven years, Knowles worked mostly as a maintenance
technician on the second of three shifts. (Doc. 26-12 at 59,
95; Doc. 26-1 ¶12). Knowles alleges that two of his
coworkers, Weisensale and Andrews, took over his work when he
time of the reduction in force, Weisensale was about 26.
(Doc. 26-5 at 3). For the six months preceding the reduction
in force, Weisensale had worked as a maintenance technician.
But before that he had worked in another department as a mold
setter for almost two years. (Doc. 26-8 at 2). Even as a
maintenance technician, Weisensale “continued to do
some mold setting on second shift along with maintenance
technician duties ….” (Doc. 26-6 ¶13).
Knowles initially claimed that there was about a
forty-percent overlap between his job as a maintenance
technician and Weisensale’s job as a mold setter. (Doc.
26-12 at 77). But when Inzi’s attorney asked him more
about the overlapping duties, Knowles replied, “Well,
what they did and what I did was not the same.” (Doc.
26-12 at 77–78). Knowles asserts that all mold setters
do is change out molds, whereas his position as maintenance
technician was a “higher level, higher paying job
….” (Doc. 26-12 at 75).
time of the reduction in force, Andrews was 56. (Doc. 26-6
¶18). He supervised the maintenance department,
including Knowles, and reported to Moon. (Doc. 26-6
¶¶5–6). As the supervisor, Andrews was
responsible for determining who would be terminated. (Doc.
26-6 ¶15). Andrews selected five employees for
termination in the maintenance department: Rickey Catrett,
57, Process Tech; Michael Knowles, 41, Process Tech; Mark
Stokes, 47, Maintenance Tech; Edwin Knowles, 64, Maintenance
Tech; and Kevin Teasdale, 44, Maintenance Tech. (Doc. 26-5 at
10). After the reduction in force, Inzi rehired Stokes and
Teasdale as mold setters in a different department. (Doc.
26-12 at 36; Doc. 32-3 at 3).
of Knowles’s supervisors made comments about
Knowles’s age before the reduction in force. Three to
four months before Knowles was terminated, Andrews told him
to “get the young guy to change [a bad valve]
out.” (Doc. 26-12 at 95). And about a month later,
Andrews again told Knowles to “get these younger guys
to” change out a pump. (Doc. 26-12 at 97). Moon’s
allegedly discriminatory comment came in April or May 2015
after seeing Knowles for the first time in five years. (Doc.
26-1 ¶3). Moon greeted Knowles by saying, “I
figured you done retired by now.” (Doc. 26-12 at 102).
Two other Inzi employees, Yang and Park, allegedly made some
discriminatory comments, but unlike Moon and Andrews, they
were not decision-makers. (Doc. 26-1 ¶¶11–12,
17; Doc. 26-6 ¶10).
knew of rumors swirling about a reduction in force and the
loss of business. (Doc. 26-12 at 28–29). The rumors
proved true, and Inzi conducted a massive reduction in force
due to losing a large part of the plant’s business.
(Doc. 26-1 at 2–3). As part of this reduction in force,
Inzi consolidated the three shifts into two. (Doc. 26-6 at
2). This consolidation caused Andrews to eliminate the
second- shift full-time maintenance technician position,
which Knowles then held. (Doc. 26-6 at 3–4). Andrews
eliminated the position because he and a technician and mold
setter borrowed from the production department could cover
the first shift, with just a single person with
“extensive, recent mold setter experience” on the
second shift. (Doc. 26-6 at 3). Both Andrews and Moon
testified that age played no part in their decision-making.
(Doc. 26-1 ¶15; Doc. 26-6 ¶16).
his termination, Knowles brought suit. (Doc. 1). Inzi now
brings this motion for summary judgment before the Court,
claiming that, as part of the reduction in force, Knowles was
terminated because there were other workers better qualified
for the remaining work. Inzi also claims that Knowles’s
post-deposition declaration contradicts his deposition
testimony and that Knowles’s claims about his job
performance and the state of Inzi’s business lack
personal knowledge. (Doc. 37 at 3–4).
court will grant summary judgment when there is no genuine
issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Chapman v. AI
Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000) (en
banc). The court does not weigh the facts. Hairston v.
Gainesville Sun Publ’g Co., 9 F.3d 913, 919 (11th
Cir. 1994). But the court will determine “whether
… there are any genuine factual issues that properly
can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may
reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250
(1986). A mere scintilla of supporting evidence is
insufficient. Id. at 252.
moving party need not produce evidence disproving the
opponent’s claim; instead, the moving party must
demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material
fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323
(1986). In turn, the nonmoving party must go beyond mere
allegations to offer specific facts showing a genuine issue
for trial exists. Id. at 324. When no genuine issue
of material fact exists, the court determines whether the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
issues presented in the motion and response brief are (1)
whether Inzi engaged in age-discrimination, and (2) whether
Inzi’s decision to terminate Knowles as part of a
reduction in force was pretextual. Inzi claims that there is
no evidence of intentional discrimination and that the
alleged statements are insufficient to raise a material issue
of fact. Inzi also claims that the reduction in force was a
legitimate nondiscriminatory reason to terminate Knowles and
that there is no evidence that the reduction in force was a
mere pretext. Knowles counters that Inzi showed intentional
discrimination both by retaining a younger maintenance tech
and by making statements which showed a general
discriminatory attitude among Inzi’s management.
Knowles also claims that Inzi’s reasons for terminating
Knowles have been inconsistent.
prove his prima facie case, Knowles must show (1) he was in a
protected group and suffered an adverse employment action;
(2) he was qualified for his current position or to assume
another position at the time of discharge; and (3) sufficient
evidence for the fact-finder to reasonably conclude that the
employer intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff in
reaching that decision. Earley v. Champion Int’l
Corp., 907 F.2d 1077, 1082 (11th Cir. 1990). The burden
then shifts to the defendant, who must provide a legitimate,
non-discriminatory reason for the plaintiff’s adverse
employment action. Id. at 1081. The plaintiff may
rebut this reason with substantial evidence that it was a
mere pretext for discrimination. Id.