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Sellers v. Deere & Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division

May 19, 2014

MICHAEL JOSEPH SELLERS, Plaintiff,
v.
DEERE & COMPANY a/k/a JOHN DEERE COMPANY, and CLYDE D'CRUZ, Defendants

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For Michael Joseph Sellers, Plaintiff: Gregory T Racette, LEAD ATTORNEY, Hopkins & Huebner, PC, Des Moines, IA.

For Deere & Company, also known as John Deere Company, Clyde D'Cruz, Defendants: Angel Anna West, Frank Harty, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Nyemaster, Goode, Voigts, West, Hansell & O'Brien, PC, Des Moines, IA; Debra Hulett, LEAD ATTORNEY, Ryan Wade Leemkuil, Nyemaster Goode, PC, Des Moines, IA; Frances M Haas, Nyemaster Goode, PC, Cedar Rapids, IA.

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RULING ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

JON STUART SCOLES, CHIEF MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTION

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

III. RELEVANT FACTS

A. The Parties

B. Sellers' Work History

D. D'Cruz's Statements About Older Employees

E. Global Jobs Evaluation (" GJE" )

F. WWCA Audit

G. Bailment Audit

H. Sellers' Workload

I. Sellers' Disability

IV. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

V. DISCUSSION

A. Age Discrimination

1. Applicable Law

2. Discussion

a. Direct evidence

b. Circumstantial evidence

B. Disability Discrimination

1. Applicable Law

2. Discussion

C. Retaliation

1. Applicable Law

2. Discussion

D. Hostile Work Environment

1. Applicable Law

2. Discussion

E. Iowa Equal Pay Act

F. Defamation

G. Additional Defenses

VI. ORDER

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I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment (docket number 84) filed by the Defendants on February 3, 2014, the Resistance (docket number 96) filed by the Plaintiff on March 15, and the Reply Brief (docket number 102-2) filed by the Defendants on April 1. Pursuant to Local Rule 7.c, the motion will be decided without oral argument.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On July 13, 2012, Plaintiff Michael Joseph Sellers filed a seven-count complaint against John Deere Agri Services, Inc., Deere & Company a/k/a John Deere Company, and Clyde D'Cruz. Sellers claimed age discrimination, retaliation, disability discrimination, and wage discrimination. On October 10, 2012, Sellers filed a request for leave to amend his complaint. Two days later, while the request for leave to amend was pending, Sellers voluntarily dismissed John Deere Agri Services, Inc. as a defendant. Sellers' request for leave to amend was subsequently granted, and his amended complaint was filed on October 29, 2012. The amended complaint, in eight counts, dropped one retaliation count and added claims of defamation and negligence. Each count was directed to both defendants.

On November 12, 2012, Defendants Deere & Company a/k/a John Deere Company (" Deere" ) and Clyde D'Cruz filed a motion to dismiss, asking the Court to dismiss certain causes of action and certain claims for relief. On February 14, 2013, the Court granted Defendants' motion, dismissing certain claims, finding that certain claims could proceed against Deere only, and limiting the relief which may be pursued in certain claims. Specifically, the Court found that Sellers' claims under the ADA and ADEA would be dismissed against D'Cruz, and would proceed against Deere only. Sellers' claims for emotional distress and punitive damages in the ADEA counts were dismissed, with Sellers' relief on those claims, if any, limited to compensatory damages only. Sellers' defamation claim and negligence claim were dismissed. Regarding Sellers' claim for wage discrimination, the Court concluded that he may only assert a claim for wage discrimination which occurred on or after April 28, 2009. See docket number 35.

The Court granted Sellers' subsequent request to amend his complaint to replead a claim for alleged defamation. The Court directed Sellers to file a second amended complaint which was fully compliant with the Court's ruling on Defendants' motion to dismiss. On March 25, 2013, Sellers filed a second amended complaint. See docket number 45. Sellers asserts retaliation in violation of the ADEA (Count I), disability discrimination in violation of the ADA (Count II), age discrimination in violation of the ADEA (Count III), age discrimination in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act (Count IV), retaliation in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act (Count V), violation of the Iowa Equal Pay Act (Count VI), and defamation (Count VII). Defendants filed an answer to the second amended complaint, and affirmative defenses, on April 10, 2013.

Meanwhile, on November 26, 2012, the Court adopted a Scheduling Order and Discovery Plan submitted by the parties. Also at that time, the case was referred to

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me for the conduct of all further proceedings and the entry of judgment, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and the consent of the parties. After consulting with counsel, this case was scheduled for trial on November 3, 2014.

On February 3, 2014, Defendants timely filed the instant motion for summary judgment.

III. RELEVANT FACTS

A. The Parties

Deere & Company a/k/a John Deere Company is in the business of manufacturing agricultural, forestry, foraging, and construction equipment, with its principal place of business located in Moline, Illinois. In Iowa, Deere has facilities in Des Moines, Ottumwa, Waterloo, Dubuque, and Davenport.

Michael Sellers, who was born in April 1957, holds a bachelor of arts degree in industrial and management engineering from Purdue University and a master of arts in industrial technology from the University of Northern Iowa. Sellers was first hired by Deere on June 1, 1979. Sellers last worked for Deere on March 1, 2005, when he took medical leave.

Clyde D'Cruz was hired by Deere in March 2000 as Division Manager of Purchasing in Waterloo. Nine months later, D'Cruz was promoted to Manager of the Supply Management department.[1] As manager of the department, D'Cruz oversaw approximately 130 employees.

B. Sellers' Work History

In June 1979, at age 22, Sellers began working for Deere as an inventory analyst in a " Grade 3" position. In November 1979, Sellers became a senior inventory analyst and his pay grade increased to Grade 4. In November 1980, Sellers changed positions and was increased to Grade 5. In March 1983, his position changed again and his pay grade was decreased to Grade 4. In May 1985, Sellers was laid off and separated from Deere. In December 1988, Sellers exercised his recall rights and returned to work for Deere at a Grade 6. In July 1995, he became a supply management specialist.[2] In June 1997, his pay grade was increased to Grade 7.

In Sellers' performance evaluation dated November 28, 2001 -- his last evaluation prior to becoming a " process pro" under D'Cruz's supervision -- Sellers' supervisor, Gary Dangelser, suggested Sellers may not be eager to embrace change.

You have valuable insight into the hydraulic industry and it's product. That's what makes you such a critical player on the hydraulics team. However, when decisions are finally made, you may not agree with all [of] them, but for the good of the team and the organization you must be willing to move on. Mike I would encourage you to use you [ sic ] experiece [ sic ] to make a recommendation and then work toward implementation especially on the smaller issues where permission may not be required.

Performance Evaluation dated 11/28/2001 (Plaintiff's App. 148). Dangelser concluded

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that Sellers " fully meets all expectations."

On April 1, 2002, Sellers became a process pro in the supply management department, reporting directly to Defendant Clyde D'Cruz. The job change was a " lateral move" and did not result in any change in grade, pay, benefits, or hours. On a daily basis, a process pro would facilitate meetings, hold people accountable, help teams work through the Six Sigma processes, do statistical analysis, and document processes. The process pro position was " dynamic" -- meaning responsibilities could be added -- and " fluid" -- meaning job assignments and projects could change. The position evolved week-to-week and Sellers was sometimes responsible for addressing problems that would come up on short notice.

When Sellers moved to his process pro position, he was given a desk immediately outside D'Cruz's corner office. D'Cruz had a tendency to emerge from his office and " throw information" at Sellers. Early in his tenure as supply management manager, D'Cruz told others in his department that Sellers was his " right-hand man," and supply management's " Man Friday."

In a 2002 meeting, D'Cruz was critical of Sellers' ability to interact with other managers. D'Cruz told Sellers that he needed to " play nice in the sandbox." In early 2003, Sellers attended a class on " social styles" in an attempt to learn how to better resolve conflicts within supply management and not be as adversarial in interacting with others. After completing the class, Sellers spoke with D'Cruz about " how we were communicating with people in the department." Specifically, Sellers was concerned that purchasing planners -- who he described in his deposition as " amiable ones" -- were being verbally attacked and chastised. The purchasing planners were, on average, some of the oldest employees in supply management, averaging 47 years old at the time. D'Cruz had previously referred to the purchasing planners as " sheep that can be slaughtered later."

In Sellers' performance evaluation at the end of 2002, D'Cruz expressed " disappoint[ment] with the level of progress" in the development and implementation of a PDP Playbook. D'Cruz expected to " regroup shortly and determine the value and further execution of this project." In his summary, D'Cruz recognized that 2002 was " a year of transition" for Sellers. D'Cruz concluded that " it was difficult to assess your performance as you were developing in a new role." D'Cruz suggested that Sellers " please focus on building collegial and collaborative relationships with my staff as they will be integral to your success as a process pro in 2003." Regarding an " overall performance rating," D'Cruz checked " not applicable."

On August 1, 2003, Sellers changed departments again and began reporting to Daria Jerauld. (Jerauld reported to D'Cruz.) When Jerauld became Manager of Supply Management Business Processes, Sellers' position did not change, except Jerauld attended staff meetings instead of Sellers. D'Cruz asked Jerauld to help Sellers because he felt that Sellers experienced " analysis paralysis" at times and needed to be a better facilitator to accomplish his goals. In Sellers' 2003 annual performance evaluation, Jerauld gave Sellers a " meets expectations" rating, even though D'Cruz recommended a " does not meet expectations."

When Sellers went off work on medical leave on March 1, 2005, he was a Grade 7 process pro.[3] Sellers has not returned to

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work since March 1, 2005. Sellers' salary continued for one year, and he then started receiving long-term disability benefits, which are continuing. Sellers also collects social security disability benefits.

C. Sellers' Claims

On March 31, 2005 -- one month after he left work on medical leave -- Sellers sent an email to John Deere officials describing perceived problems in the supply management department, and complaining of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. The 17-page document asserts a pattern of age discrimination by D'Cruz in reorganizing the supply management department. Sellers also claimed he was harassed by co-employees and retaliated against after voicing complaints.

According to Sellers, operational performance in the department began to deteriorate as a result of reorganization implemented by D'Cruz. Sellers asserted that " [t]he younger and inexperienced decision makers were making ill-advised decisions, and the managers who were brought in from outside Waterloo were breaking processes faster than we could fix them." Sellers also claimed that his supervisors -- Jerry Gehrke, Clyde D'Cruz, and Daria Jerauld -- were " unfair" in assessing his performance. Sellers complained that D'Cruz refused to adopt Sellers' ideas for resolving conflicts within the department. Meanwhile, Sellers was given additional duties and his workload eventually became " unmanageable." Sellers complained he was being left out of meetings, told he could not use the conference rooms, and given conflicting messages regarding his duties. Sellers concluded that his medical disability was caused by his treatment at Deere.

D. D'Cruz's Statements About Older Employees

Beginning in October 2001, D'Cruz began overseeing a four-year reorganization of supply management. At about that time, Deere offered voluntary early retirement packages to eligible employees. There were many personnel changes in the supply management department which occurred during the four-year reorganization period.

In 2001, D'Cruz and Sellers had an impromptu meeting with Aaron Godfrey and Patricia Reed. According to Sellers, D'Cruz was " trying to paint the picture of where we needed to go in the future." Among other things, D'Cruz said " we need to get all these old farts out of here." At his deposition, Sellers testified that he " initially kind of dismissed it as, you know, kind of off the cuff, probably didn't mean what he said." D'Cruz kept " repeating it over and over again," however, and Sellers tried to " pull him aside" and tell him: " do you realize that that sounds an awful lot like age discrimination and you may want to temper your words a bit."

Sellers personally heard D'Cruz make similar statements five to ten times. D'Cruz said that older employees " have got way too much baggage" and " they're no good for us." D'Cruz also said they needed to work on " getting the old dogs out of here." D'Cruz would make such comments to groups of supply management department employees and, according to Sellers, " would generally look at older employees as he was making them."

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E. Global Jobs Evaluation (" GJE" )

In or around 2002, Deere began a process to evaluate the job grades of each position in its world-wide organization through the Global Jobs Evaluation (GJE) process. GJE is a systematic process for creating a hierarchy of jobs based on their content and value to Deere. Deere used GJE to assess the work level of salaried employees, but did not apply GJE to production workers. Deere hired the Hay Group, an independent global management consulting firm, to provide consulting services for the implementation of GJE at Deere. The Hay method of job evaluation is the most widely used proprietary job evaluation methodology in the world. It is used by an estimated 8,000 organizations, including half of the Fortune 50 organizations in over 30 countries.

Prior to GJE, Deere used a point rating table to assess jobs for job grade purposes. The work was done with a supervisor for the position under review, someone from human resources, and a representative from Deere's corporate office. Grading practices varied across Deere, with different processes, tools, and evaluation rationales applied in different business units and geographies. One of Deere's objectives for implementing GJE was to achieve improved consistency in job grading and outcomes.

The GJE process, which is described in detail in Defendants' statement of undisputed material facts, involved extensive analysis and reviews. In his response to the statement of undisputed facts, however, Sellers denies that the evaluations were reviewed at multiple levels to ensure consistency, and claims that his statement of contested facts includes " copious evidence showing that Deere managers D'Cruz and Matson determined which employees would be mapped to which positions months in advance of GJE's announcement, campaigned to move younger and male employees into better positions, intentionally moved older female employees into lower graded jobs, and then announced the results months later." [4] The Court has reviewed Sellers' statement of contested facts, however, and can find no evidence supporting his claim that D'Cruz " campaigned" to move younger and male employees into positions which would score higher on the GJE.

Sellers also asserts that when the GJE was unveiled on May 1, 2004, he " had somehow been mapped by D'Cruz as a supply management specialist, his old position," citing Plaintiff's Appendix 77. That document appears to initially identify Sellers as a process pro at pay Grade 7, and then as a supply management specialist III, at pay Grade 7. Defendants assert that Sellers has " misread and misunderstands" the cited document. Defendants claim that " [t]he reference to 'Supply Management Specialist III' is simply the GJE job name." [5] In any event, it appears undisputed that Sellers remained a process pro until he took medical leave on March 1, 2005. See Sellers' Personnel Record (Plaintiff's App. 81) and Sellers' Affidavit (Plaintiff's App. 399).

F. WWCA Audit

In May 2002, D'Cruz was notified regarding the results of an internal audit conducted by World-Wide Corrective Action (" WWCA" ). WWCA was an internal application with a database used by Deere to track the resolution of problems in manufacturing

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and in the field. When identifying a problem or area of concern, persons were instructed to use their " best guess" to describe the problem category and, if necessary, change the description later after additional analysis was completed. The audit concluded there was a " gap in knowledge" of supply management employees based on position moves and lack of training. The problem identified in May 2002 was triggered as a result of the voluntary early retirement incentive plan. A problem identified in the WWCA system is assigned to a unit to investigate and resolve the identified problem. D'Cruz assigned the problem to Sellers for investigation and resolution.

Sellers spoke with three of the auditors and then investigated their concerns. Sellers found that " the younger employees were being put into positions which required a great deal of experience and training that they simply didn't have." Sellers concluded that there was nothing he could do to quickly address " this significant deficiency." In an affidavit filed in resistance to the instant motion, Sellers opined that " there was a 'HUGE' intellectual gap and knowledge gap which would take at least, in my opinion, a decade or more to close with the current employees in these positions." According to Sellers, from 2002 until he stopped working in 2005, " the bulk of my assignments were focused on trying to do things in supply management to reduce this gap in skills and knowledge as well as fixing the problems that the inexperience of the young employees was ...


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