272 F.3d 309 (6th Cir. 2001), 00-3726, Skrjanc v Great Lakes Power
|Citation:||272 F.3d 309|
|Party Name:||Michael Skrjanc, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Great Lakes Power Service Company, Defendant-Appellee.|
|Case Date:||November 14, 2001|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit|
Argued: September 12, 2001
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Cleveland. No. 98-02954. Kathleen McDonald O'Malley, District Judge.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Richard C. Haber (argued and briefed), REMINGER & REMINGER, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant.
Patrick J. Perotti (argued and briefed), DWORKEN & BERNSTEIN, Painesville, Ohio, for Appellee.
Before: DAUGHTREY and GILMAN, Circuit Judges; COHN, Senior District Judge. [*]
RONALD LEE GILMAN, Circuit Judge.
Michael Skrjanc brought this suit against his former employer, Great Lakes Power Service Company (Great Lakes Service), alleging that his employment was terminated in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654, and Ohio public policy. Following the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Great Lakes Service, Skrjanc filed this appeal. For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.
A. Factual background
In February of 1996, Great Lakes Service hired Michael Skrjanc to do repair
work. Great Lakes Service, as the service arm of Great Lakes Power Transmission Company (Great Lakes), does maintenance work on products relating to the marine power transmission industry. At the time Skrjanc was hired, Great Lakes was a franchisee and distributor of the Ingersoll-Dresser pump line (IDP), which it sold through Great Lakes Products Company (Great Lakes Products). Great Lakes both serviced and sold Ingersoll-Dresser pumps. The great majority of Skrjanc's work for Great Lakes Service involved the repairing of pumps, but he also did mechanical repairs on electric motors.
Skrjanc injured his foot while at work in June of 1996. This injury caused him to take a leave of absence for nearly twelve weeks. Great Lakes Service took no adverse action against Skrjanc as a result of this leave of absence, and he returned to work on September 3, 1996. In February of 1997, Skrjanc was promoted to the position of "acting pump service manager." He was given the title of "lead pump service technician" in May of 1997. In his performance reviews, Great Lakes Service rated Skrjanc in the good to excellent range.
Skrjanc's foot problems continued and, in May of 1998, a doctor recommended that he undergo surgery that would require him to miss approximately three months of work. On May 13, 1998, Skrjanc informed his supervisor, Todd Lindemer, that he needed foot surgery and a leave of absence to recover. Lindemer told Skrjanc to speak with David Bell, the Executive Vice President of Great Lakes Products. Skrjanc informed Bell that he would be undergoing the surgery, but offered to schedule it for the fall when the pump department was less busy.
Three months before Skrjanc informed Bell of his need for further foot surgery, Great Lakes began to consider divesting itself of the IDP franchise and distributorship. The minutes of its board of directors meeting on February 9, 1998 reflect that the board was having a "continued problem getting four business units up to speed" (Electric, Pump, Air, and Manufacturing), and was considering divesting itself of one of these units. Great Lakes wrote two letters to IDP, one in March and another in May of 1998, expressing concern about IDP's decision to employ a fourth distributorship in the Cleveland area, thereby increasing competition with Great Lakes. The minutes from Great Lakes's May 1998 board meeting show that a Great Lakes representative described a meeting with IDP and advised Great Lakes to "order nothing for stock." At this meeting, the board also discussed the status of the pump unit.
Lindemer informed Skrjanc on June 19, 1998 that he was being discharged. At approximately the same time, Great Lakes finalized the divestment of the IDP franchise and discharged all four of the people who worked in the pump unit. Skrjanc was the only employee who was then working in the service end of the pump unit (Great Lakes Service); the other three employees worked in pump sales (Great Lakes Products). Although Great Lakes continued to service pumps after the termination of the IDP franchise, revenue from servicing pumps dropped from over $100,000 per year to less than $7,000 per year.
Skrjanc spoke with Harry Allen, the president of Great Lakes Products, on June 22, 1998, a few days after he had been told that he was being discharged. Allen refused to discuss the restructuring of the pump unit with Skrjanc, telling him that the plans were "confidential" and that he was not even sure if the restructuring would occur. Allen told Skrjanc that he
would be able to discuss the issue more fully in two weeks.
Skrjanc, who had seen a classified ad in the local newspaper in which Great Lakes Service sought a new electric motor mechanic, and had seen a company memo stating that Great Lakes was interviewing a potential new employee, asked if he might be considered for the electric motor mechanic position. Allen told Skrjanc that he did not have the necessary experience for that job. Skrjanc, however, alleges that he was trained as an electric motor mechanic and that this was the job he was originally hired to do. He also asked for a job in the machine department. But Allen told Skrjanc that he was "too talented" for the job and should seek employment with one of Great Lakes's competitors.
Approximately six weeks after Skrjanc was laid off, Great Lakes hired David Feeney as an electric motor mechanic. As a new employee, Feeney was not eligible for a leave of absence until he had been employed for 12 months.
Great Lakes Service also ran advertisements in the classified section of the newspaper in March of 1998 for a pump mechanic, before Skrjanc was laid off and before the decision to restructure the pump unit was made. No one was ever hired for this position. The supervisor who placed the ad, Lindemer, was not privy to the board-level decision process regarding the divestment of the IDP franchise.
Skrjanc underwent surgery on his foot in October of 1998. He started working for DAI Ceramics in March of 1999 as a maintenance supervisor, where he makes slightly more per hour than he did when he left Great Lakes Service.
B. Procedural background
On November 23, 1998, Skrjanc filed suit against Great Lakes Service in the Court of Common Pleas for Lake County, Ohio, alleging unlawful discrimination pursuant to the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654, and Ohio public policy. The case was removed to the Northern District of Ohio on the basis of the federal question involved. On May 3, 2000, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Great Lakes Service, pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on both the FMLA and Ohio public policy claims.
Regarding the FMLA claim, the district court followed the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework for employment discrimination cases based on indirect evidence. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). The district court concluded that (1) Skrjanc had presented a prima facie case of discrimination, (2) Great Lakes Service had articulated a nondiscriminatory reason for Skrjanc's dismissal; namely, that it was part of a restructuring of the company's pump business, and (3) Skrjanc failed to produce evidence that Great Lakes Service's nondiscriminatory rationale for discharging him was in reality a pretext designed to mask discrimination. The district court also concluded that if Great Lakes did not violate the FMLA, it could not have violated any Ohio public policy based on the FMLA. This appeal followed.
A. Standard of review
We review de novo the district court's grant of summary judgment. Holloway v. Brush, 220 F.3d 767, 772 (6th Cir. 2000). Summary judgment is proper where there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In deciding a motion for
summary judgment, the court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The judge is not to "weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,...
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