100 F.3d 1173 (5th Cir. 1996), 95-10586, E.E.O.C. v. Texas Instruments Inc.

Docket Nº:95-10586.
Citation:100 F.3d 1173
Party Name:EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT CROSS-APPELLEE, v. TEXAS INSTRUMENTS INCORPORATED, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE CROSS-APPELLANT.
Case Date:December 10, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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100 F.3d 1173 (5th Cir. 1996)

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT CROSS-APPELLEE,

v.

TEXAS INSTRUMENTS INCORPORATED, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE CROSS-APPELLANT.

No. 95-10586.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

December 10, 1996

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Dori Kay Bernstein, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Washington, DC, for plaintiff-appellant-cross-appellee.

Allan G King, Belinda J Johnson, Littler, Mendelson, Fastiff, Tichy & Mathiason, Dallas, TX, Theresa Ann Couch, Texas Instruments Incorporated, Dallas, TX, for defendant-appellee-corss-appellant.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Before King, Jones and Smith, Circuit Judges.

EDITH H. JONES, Circuit Judge:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") appeals the district court's summary judgment to Texas Instruments, Inc. ("TI") on the merits of the EEOC's claims that six manufacturing supervisors were discharged as part of a company reduction in force because of their age. EEOC asserts that a combination of favorable employee performance reviews and a special company RIF policy, three age-related comments and workforce statistics created an inference that TI's legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for the employment decisions were pretextual for age discrimination. Texas Instruments, Inc. cross-appeals the district court's orders preventing it from raising a limitations defense. This court AFFIRMS.

BACKGROUND

Sweeping cutbacks in national defense spending and dramatically reduced procurements by the United States Department of Defense forced TI to reorganize its Defense Systems and Electronics Group ("DSEG") to lay off approximately 850 out of 1700 DSEG manufacturing employees between 1988 and 1994. EEOC studied many of the layoffs but attempted to make a case for illegal discrimination only in regard to six manufacturing supervisors in the DSEG (the "Six Supervisors"), victims of TI's reduction in force, who were protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 623(a). As a "manufacturing supervisor," each of the men represented by the EEOC is a first-level supervisor who directly oversees hourly workers and reports, in turn, to various levels of management. In December 1993, EEOC filed suit on behalf of Hugh Calhoun (age 54), Walter Morrow (age 59), Allen Powell (age 56), Gaylon Rains (age 51), Jerry Owens (age 50), and Vernon Hillis (age 51).

Voluminous deposition testimony and other evidence were submitted by the parties. The evidence shows that TI's RIF at DSEG was planned and implemented by Stephen Douthit ("Douthit"), the head of DSEG's manufacturing division. Douthit testified that he began the RIF by assessing both the current levels of staffing in relation to anticipated product demand and the relative ability of DSEG employees to satisfy and adapt to a rapidly changing technological environment. These assessments led Douthit to conclude that while TI should lay off its hourly employees in order of seniority, manufacturing supervisors should be assessed independently of their seniority. Douthit acknowledged that the decision not to consider seniority in the RIF of manufacturing supervisors was a

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significant departure from TI's traditional policy favoring senior employees.

Because abandoning the protections of seniority was such a departure, Douthit presented this suggestion to Jerry Junkins, president and CEO of TI, and Hank Hayes, the president of DSEG. Douthit argued that TI's policy favoring senior employees would impose significant costs on the company, as supervisory staff was concentrated in high pay grades. Furthermore, unwavering commitment to seniority promised a reorganized workforce that would not have the contemporary skills necessary to assimilate new technologies.1 If seniority preferences were maintained, the RIF would terminate a disproportionate number of employees with college degrees, as many senior employees had acquired their skills primarily through experience. TI management concurred with Douthit and decided to assess manufacturing supervisors independently of their seniority. The goal of this decision, according to management, was to provide TI with the technical expertise and flexibility to serve its current and future customers in an era of dynamic technological progress.

Not only did TI eschew reliance on seniority in its RIF of the manufacturing supervisors, it also did not consider either performance evaluations or the company's Key Personal Assessments ("KPAs"). The performance evaluations did not aid in deciding which employees to terminate and which to retain because the evaluations were not designed to make fine distinctions among employees or to rate them comparatively; with rare exceptions, the evaluations clustered ratings tightly around the group median. Likewise, TI rejected the KPAs, top-to-bottom rankings of salaried employees in a TI department, because these assessments normally correlated an employee's rating with his pay schedule; in different terms, highly paid employees invariably received highly rated KPAs.2 The KPA rankings thus did not provide TI with useful information concerning which cross-section of employees it should retain.

Considering neither a supervisor's seniority nor his performance evaluation or KPA, TI began the difficult process of conducting a RIF among its 45 supervisors. Nine were ultimately terminated and two were demoted; EEOC did not file suit on behalf of three of the employees who were over 40. Regarding the Six Supervisors represented by the EEOC, TI contends that their terminations were not motivated by their ages but, instead, can be explained by legitimate, individualized reasons. A brief summary of these reasons follows:

Powell and Morrow: TI asserts that Powell and Morrow, both manufacturing supervisors at the Precision Automation Center, were discharged because their skills were inferior when compared to Billy Wooley ("Wooley"), a third manufacturing supervisor who was retained during the RIF. Lewis Horn, head of the Precision Automation Center, decided to consolidate the responsibilities of the three supervisors in a single position. Horn testified that he concluded that Powell had only a basic knowledge of computer-based numeric control programming and was reluctant to learn new manufacturing technology. Horn also opined that Morrow lacked the requisite motivation and initiative to perform as the sole supervisor; Horn felt that although Morrow was the supervisor in the highest pay level, his performance was incommensurate with this level. Horn "would expect more out of a job grade 30 than the responsibility he had.... [and would expect him to go] outside and actively solicit[ ] other responsibilities besides just what he had with production control."

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Wooley, by contrast, possessed the technical as well as management skills to function effectively as the consolidated supervisor; Horn observed that Wooley kept excellent contact with clients, formulated customer proposals efficiently, and had extensive knowledge of TI's computer-based production planning systems. Because Horn considered Wooley the best candidate for the consolidated position, he was retained as the sole supervisor:

Billy Wooley was an outstanding employee who was quite knowledgeable regarding TI's computer-based production planning systems. Powell and Morrow were not as proficient in these areas. Additionally, Wooley was good at keeping close contact with customers, and talented at formulating customer proposals. Thus, I determined that the work in the ... shop could be best consolidated by retaining Adrian and Wooley and laying off Powell and Morrow.

Calhoun: TI terminated Calhoun when it closed its Trinity Mills facility, where Calhoun had been employed.3 Much of the machinery and the machining work at Trinity Mills was transferred to TI's Lemmon Avenue facility when Trinity Mills was closed in October, 1990. At Trinity Mills, Calhoun had been in charge of the tool shop and was responsible for the fabrication of certain tools for use by other TI employees. But the Lemmon Avenue facility had a much larger tool shop operation that was already adequately staffed. Because there were no vacant positions in which Calhoun could serve TI and because no "bumping" of other supervisors was permitted under TI's RIF policy, he was fired.

Rains: TI acknowledges that Rains, the only manufacturing supervisor laid off from Lemmon Avenue, was terminated because of his poor performance. TI demanded that a supervisor such as Rains be proficient in three areas: computer programming, because the product is computer designed; the machining process; and knowledge of the machine tools that perform the work. Robert Anderson, to whom Rains reported, testified that Rains was lacking in all three areas and was seriously hampered in his ability to perform as a supervisor. Anderson reinforced these criticisms in an affidavit that

[Rains] had an inadequate knowledge of machinery, and he had little knowledge of the machine tools he was supervising technicians to repair. These deficiencies are significant, because if a part is not manufactured to specification, as happens occasionally but predictably, a supervisor such as Rains must determine whether the fault lies with the computer program, the machine, or the machine part. Rains' skills and experience were such that I could not trust his judgment in these regards to the same degree as other manufacturing supervisors.

Because of his poor performance, Rains failed to receive a salary increase in 1990. Rains protested his salary stagnation to Douthit who, after personally investigating the issue...

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