280 F.3d 579 (6th Cir. 2002), 00-1022, Cicero vs. Borg-Warner Automotive Inc.

Docket Nº:00-1022
Citation:280 F.3d 579
Party Name:Thomas L. Cicero and Marlene Cicero, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Borg-Warner Automotive, Inc., a Delaware Corporation, and Borg-Warner Automotive Automatic Transmission Systems Corporation, a Delaware Corporation, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:January 02, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 579

280 F.3d 579 (6th Cir. 2002)

Thomas L. Cicero and Marlene Cicero, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

Borg-Warner Automotive, Inc., a Delaware Corporation, and Borg-Warner Automotive Automatic Transmission Systems Corporation, a Delaware Corporation, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 00-1022

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

January 2, 2002

Argued: September 19, 2001

[x]

Page 580

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Before: BATCHELDER and COLE, Circuit Judges; GWIN, District Judge.[xx]

COUNSEL ARGUED: Margaret A. Lynch, KELL & LYNCH, Birmingham, Michigan, for Appellants. Thomas L. Fleury, KELLER, THOMAS, SCHWARZE, SCHWARZE, DuBAY & KATZ, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellees.

ON BRIEF: Margaret A. Lynch, Michael V. Kell, KELL & LYNCH, Birmingham, Michigan, for Appellants. Thomas L. Fleury, Jonathon A. Rabin, KELLER, THOMAS, SCHWARZE, SCHWARZE, DuBAY & KATZ, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellees

GWIN, D. J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which COLE, J., joined. BATCHELDER, J. (p. 26), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.

OPINION

GWIN, District Judge.

Plaintiffs, Thomas Cicero and his wife Marlene Cicero, appeal from a district court order granting summary judgment to Defendant Borg-Warner Automotive Automatic Transmissions Systems Corp. ("Borg-Warner"). The district court gave Borg-Warner judgment on Thomas Cicero's age discrimination claim and dismissed Page 582

Plaintiff Marlene Cicero's loss of consortium claim.

In this case the plaintiffs sued for age discrimination under Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act ("Elliott-Larsen Act") and the common law of Michigan. Cicero said that Borg-Warner, his former employer, discriminated against him based on age when it fired him. Finding that Cicero failed to establish a prima facie case of age discrimination because he did not show he was qualified for his position, the district court granted Borg-Warner's summary judgment motion.1 The district court dismissed Plaintiff Marlene Cicero's loss of consortium claim because it was derivative of Thomas Cicero's claim. The plaintiffs appeal from the district court's decision on both claims.

I. Overview of Appeal

This case comes from Borg-Warner's firing of Plaintiff Thomas Cicero from his job as human resources manager. In giving Borg-Warner summary judgment, the district court misread the requirements for establishing a prima facie case of discrimination set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed. 2d 668 (1973).

In deciding that the district court erroneously granted summary judgment, we first examine whether Cicero showed all of the elements necessary to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the McDonnell Douglas analysis. The district court found that Cicero did not show that he was qualified, an element of the prima facie case. We find the district court erred when it made this ruling.

After finding that Cicero was qualified, we next look to whether Borg-Warner comes forward with a nondiscriminatory justification for firing Cicero. Because Borg-Warner does come forward with a nondiscriminatory justification, we then consider if Cicero shows evidence sufficient to make out an issue that Borg-Warner's justification is a pretext.

II. Background

A. Procedural Background

Plaintiffs-Appellants Thomas and Marlene Cicero sued Defendants-Appellees Borg-Warner Automotive and Borg-Warner in the Circuit Court for the County of Wayne, Michigan. In their complaint, the Ciceros alleged that the appellees unlawfully fired Thomas Cicero because of his age. The plaintiffs brought their claim under Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and the common law of Michigan. Mich. Comp. Laws § § 37.2101 et seq. (2001). Marlene Cicero filed a claim for a loss of consortium. The Ciceros asked for compensatory and other damages resulting from Thomas Cicero's termination.

Claiming diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1)(1) (2001), the defendants removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The defendants then filed a motion for summary judgment on the plaintiffs' age discrimination and loss of consortium claims.

In deciding Borg-Warner's motion for summary judgment, the district court used the familiar McDonnell Douglas-Burdine tripartite test. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed. 2d 668 (1973), later clarified by Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed. 2d 207 (1981). Under the first stage Page 583

of that test, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. See McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S.Ct. at 1817. To establish a prima facie case of discrimination, a plaintiff must show that (1) he is a member of a protected class, (2) he was qualified for his job and did it satisfactorily, (3) despite his qualifications and performance, he suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) that he was replaced by a person outside the protected class or was treated less favorably than a similarly situated individual outside his protected class. See id.; see also Johnson v. Univ. of Cincinnati, 215 F.3d 561, 572-73 (6th Cir. 2000); Mitchell v. Toledo Hosp., 964 F.2d 577, 582 (6th Cir. 1992).

The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment. In giving Borg-Warner judgment, the district court found that Cicero did not make out a prima facie case because he did not show he was qualified for his position.

The district court declined to decide whether Cicero's replacement was substantially younger, an alternative for showing Borg-Warner replaced him with a person outside the protected class. In dicta, the district court then discussed the remaining stages of the McDonnell Douglas test. If Cicero had established a prima facie case, the district court found Borg-Warner had given a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for Cicero's discharge. The district court then reasoned that Cicero did not show Borg-Warner's reason for his firing was pretextual. Plaintiffs-Appellants appealed the decision to this Court.

B. Factual Background

On August 1, 1994, Cicero began working for Federal Mogul as the human resources manager for its Precision Forged Products Division ("Forged Products Division"). In April 1995, Borg-Warner bought the Forged Products Division from Federal Mogul and kept Federal Mogul's management staff, including Cicero. On November 20, 1997, Borg-Warner fired Cicero and several other members of the management staff. Cicero says that Borg-Warner fired him because of his age.

Borg-Warner says that it fired Cicero for reasons unrelated to his age. To scrutinize this argument, we first look to the factual background of Cicero's employment. Because we review decisions of summary judgment de novo, and summary judgment requires that all reasonable inferences be drawn in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, we construe the facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs-Appellants.

III. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. See Doren v. Battle Creek Health Sys., 187 F.3d 595, 597 (6th Cir. 1999). To decide whether summary judgment is appropriate, this Court applies the same legal standards as the district court. See Cline v. Catholic Diocese of Toledo, 206 F.3d 651, 657 (6th Cir. 2000).

Summary judgment is only appropriate when the evidence submitted shows "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Ultimately the Court must decide "whether the evidence presents 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." Terry Barr Sales Agency, Inc. v. All-Lock Co., 96 F.3d 174, 178 (6th Cir. 1996) (internal quotation marks omitted).

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  1. The McDonnell Douglas Test

Plaintiff Cicero brought this age discrimination claim under Michigan's Elliott-Larson Civil Rights Act and under Michigan common law. The U.S. Supreme Court case McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green provides the standard by which to analyze a discrimination claim under the Elliott-Larsen Act. See, e.g., Tinker v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 127 F.3d 519, 522 (6th Cir. 1997) (applying the McDonnell Douglas elements to an age discrimination claim brought under the Elliott-Larsen Act); Lytle v. Malady, 458 Mich. 153, 172-73, 173 n.19, 458 N.W.2d 906, 914-15, 915 n.19 (1998) (noting the Supreme Court of Michigan's adoption of the McDonnell Douglas test for age discrimination).

The McDonnell Douglas Court established a three-stage process for analyzing discrimination claims. First, the plaintiff must show a prima facie case of discrimination, which gives rise to a presumption of discrimination. Second, the burden shifts to the defendant to rebut the presumption by offering a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the plaintiff's discharge. Third, the plaintiff must then show the defendant's proffered reason for discharge is a pretext for discrimination. See McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802-04; Lytle, 458 Mich. at 172-74, 579 N.W.2d at 914-15.

The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment after it found that Cicero did not establish a prima facie case of age discrimination. Additionally, the district court noted that Cicero likely did not show that the defendants' reason for firing him was a pretext for discrimination. We address these issues below.

1. The Prima Facie Case

In granting the defendants' motion for summary judgment, the district court...

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