318 F.3d 1066 (11th Cir. 2003), 01-14069, Steger v. General Elec. Co.

Docket Nº:01-14069.
Citation:318 F.3d 1066
Party Name:Elizabeth STEGER, Plaintiff-Appellant-Cross-Appellee, v. GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee-Cross-Appellant.
Case Date:January 17, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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318 F.3d 1066 (11th Cir. 2003)

Elizabeth STEGER, Plaintiff-Appellant-Cross-Appellee,

v.

GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee-Cross-Appellant.

No. 01-14069.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

January 17, 2003

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Harlan S. Miller, III, Parks, Chesin & Miller, P.C., Matthew C. Billips, Miller, Billips & Ates, P.C., Atlanta, GA, for Elizabeth Steger.

Jack L. McLean, Jr., Mary Ann Oakley, Holland & Knight LLP, Atlanta, GA, Robert R. Niccolini, McGuire Woods, LLP, Baltimore, MD, for General Elec. Co.

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

Before BIRCH, HILL and HALL[*], Circuit Judges.

BIRCH, Circuit Judge:

Elizabeth Steger appeals the district court's judgment for General Electric Company ("GE") following jury verdicts for GE and the denial of her motions for judgment as a matter of law. In her complaint, Steger claimed that, during the course of her employment, GE violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621-634, by terminating her during a reduction in force

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based on her age, and violated the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), by paying her differently than her male colleagues.1 On appeal, she argues that GE failed to meet its burden of persuasion on her age and gender claims. She also maintains that the district court erred by permitting GE to introduce evidence on an affirmative defense which it had not raised in its answer, precluding her from introducing evidence of bias, refusing to allow her to amend the complaint to add the bankruptcy trustee as a necessary party, and denying her motion for new trial. Because we find that GE met its burden of persuasion, and that the district court did not err in its challenged rulings or abuse its discretion in denying her motions to amend or for a new trial, we AFFIRM .2

I. BACKGROUND

A. Steger's Employment History

Elizabeth Steger was hired by GE in 1970 and, during the course of her employment, worked in collections.3 In 1991, GE eliminated the Corporate Financial Services Organization (CFSO), which had provided billing, collection, and accounting support to GE's various businesses, and set up a "Customer Account Support Organization" ("CASO") in which the employees were hired as "individual collectors" or "credit specialists." R34 at 230; R36 at 712-13. The employees hired as collectors included some individuals who had previously held positions as supervisors and as managers. Steger was assigned to CASO as a credit collector or specialist and was responsible for securing the payment of large invoices from GE's domestic customers. Steger, who had previously worked as a collector in the Corporate Pool component of the CFSO, received numerous awards, commendations, and high evaluations in her prior positions and in CASO and was "next to the highest in terms of productivity" from August 1994 to March 1995. R42 at 281-82.

CASO was initially supervised by Wade Sperry and managed by Sam Player and Rick Crookes. Sperry, Player, and Crookes hired 14 employees for CASO from the 25-30 former Corporate Pool collectors. The salaries in CASO were initially set by Sperry, in his position as manager of the financial operation for the customer service division of GE's power systems, and later by either Bill Heskett or Tom Blanckaert. Consistent with GE's practice at the time, the employees who had previously worked in Corporate Pool retained their previous salaries.

All of the collectors performed the same job, which required the same skills, effort, and responsibility, and which was performed under similar working conditions. In 1991, the salaries of the female CASO collectors ranged from $27,300 to $42,500; the salaries of the male CASO collectors

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ranged from $31,100 to $59,400. In 1991, Steger earned $33,500, the same as one female collector and one male collector, and more than two female collectors and two male collectors. Between 1991 and 1995, the average increase in compensation for female CASO collectors was 22.8%, the average increase for male employees was 18.3%, and the average increase for former managers, all of whom were male and who received "lump sum" increases, was 12%. R36 at 749-51. By 1995, the female CASO collectors' salaries ranged from $32,000 to $51,500; the male CASO collectors' salaries ranged from $36,300 to $61,600. In 1995, Steger earned $38,600, which was more than one female collector and the same as one male collector.

In April 1995, Steger was terminated from her employment with GE during a reduction in force ("RIF"). At the time of her termination, Steger was 60 years old and had worked for GE for 25 years. The RIF was conducted under a written company policy. The policy provided that the company manager complete a "Layoff Determination Comparison Matrix" on "employees who report to him/her who are to be placed on layoff" by assigning a score in the areas of "Performance," "Productivity/Contribution," "Adaptability/Versatility," "Criticality Skills," and "Company Service."4 R42 at 315-16; Pl.Ex. 1 at 8 & Ex. 1. The matrix did not factor age or retirement eligibility. Although the terms for the rated criteria were not defined within the policy, a memo provided guidelines to be used in "assign[ing] numbers to the different categories."5 R44 at 577; R42 at 341; Def. Ex. 36. Steger, and other GE employees, were scored by GE manager Jeffrey Whittingham. In scoring the employees, Whittingham relied upon his conversations during 1994 and 1995 with Player, and the employee's evaluations.

Steger's evaluation for 1994 rated her as "fully meet[ing]" the expected performance and indicated that she was "selectively promotable." Def. Ex. 51. Within the evaluation comments, Player had noted that Steger was

effective in getting her customers to pay large invoices, but the detail part of the job is not effectively covered.[ ] She needs to understand the research part of the job which eliminates the small items in her assignment and to gain a fuller understanding of the CASC system. She loses respect of her co-workers by transferring past due items without calling first.

Id. In the Development Planning section, Player stated that Steger should "[c]ontinue in [her] present assignment," but that she "would be more effective in a supervised position." Id. Whittingham testified that he remembered Player telling him some specifics regarding Steger's performance

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including "her not passing or passing back past dues and things of that nature," R43 at 506, "that she was on the low end of fully satisfactory, [ ] sometimes didn't follow up on accounts, was argumentative, and didn't have the best relationships with people," id. at 509, and that she was "abrupt" and had problems getting along with her coworkers. Id. Whittingham said that Player advised him that Steger "was a person who had a career with GE that was limited principally in the collections area thereby making her adaptability in the long term fairly narrow." Id. at 523. Player testified that, in January 1995, he criticized Steger regarding the misapplication of cash and advised her that she could be fired for "handling accounts like this." R44 at 712-13.

Once the comparison matrix was completed, the data was compiled into a "RELATIVE MATRIX" which listed 59 employees who were subject to possible layoff. Pl.Ex. 54. Steger was listed as number 55 on the relative matrix. Jane Elliott, as financial services manager, reviewed the matrix and committed to a head count reduction of 11, leaving her 47 employees. After the matrix was reviewed and approved by GE's human resources and legal departments, the layoffs were implemented.

Although GE notified most of the employees subject to layoff in March 1995, GE delayed Steger's layoff until April 1995 to allow her to qualify for a Special Early Retirement Option ("SERO"), which required the elimination of the employee's position, approval by the employee's supervisor, and an employee of at least 55 years of age and 25 years of service. However, a few days before Steger received official notification of the layoff, she provided GE with a copy of her birth certificate showing that she was born in 1934 instead of 1939. Because her birth certificate showed that she was 60, instead of 55, years old, Steger was entitled to normal retirement and a special lump sum payment of approximately $17,000. After Steger's layoff, the financial function in the office where she had worked was shut down, her position was eliminated, and her workload was redistributed to other employees at other locations.

B. Legal Proceedings

Steger filed a complaint claiming that she was terminated based on her age and that her pay had differed from that of her male co-workers based on her gender. GE set forth 24 affirmative defenses in its answer. The affirmative defenses alleged, inter alia, that Steger's Equal Pay Act claim was barred by the statute of limitations, that GE's employment decisions were based on legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons, that GE acted in good faith, and that Steger could not establish a cause of action under the Equal Pay Act.

Through discovery, Steger asked GE to explain the alleged gender-based salary disparity:

Please state in full detail every legitimate business reason and/or other factor used in determining the salary paid to employees of [GE's] Power Systems Group and identify each and every individual who played a decisionmaking, consultative, and/or advisory role in determining the salary to be paid to the employees of the Power Systems Group.

R1-15, Ex. A at 6. GE objected to the interrogatory as "overly broad, unduly burdensome," and seeking irrelevant information. Id., Ex. C at 8. After Steger filed her motion to compel an answer, the district court found that Steger was "entitled to all available information...

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