Blizzard v. Marion Technical Coll.

Decision Date19 December 2012
Docket NumberNo. 11–3441.,11–3441.
Citation698 F.3d 275
PartiesPeggy BLIZZARD, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. MARION TECHNICAL COLLEGE; Jeffrey Nutter, Defendants–Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

ARGUED:Thomas A. Sobecki, Toledo, Ohio, for Appellant. Drew C. Piersall, Office of the Ohio Attorney General, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellees. ON BRIEF:Thomas A. Sobecki, Toledo, Ohio, for Appellant. Drew C. Piersall, Julie B. Smith, Office of the Ohio Attorney General, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellees.

Before: SILER and WHITE, Circuit Judges; REEVES, District Judge. *

OPINION

DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

This case arises from Appellant Peggy Blizzard's termination from her employment with Appellee Marion Technical College. Blizzard filed suit against her supervisor and the college asserting claims for age discrimination and retaliation, as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of public policy. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on all claims. Blizzard now appeals the dismissal of her age discrimination and retaliation claims. For the reasons described below, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

I.

Blizzard was born on January 18, 1951. In 1992, she was hired as a part-time Associate Accounts Payable Clerk in the Business Office at Marion Technical College (MTC). Blizzard was promoted to Accounts Payable Clerk 1 in 1996. She was terminated from that position in April 2008, at 57 years of age.

Blizzard's supervisor, Jeffrey Nutter, began as MTC's Controller on April 29, 2001. In this position, he oversaw the MTC business office and its staff: Blizzard, Betty MacNail, and Jean Thomas (who was born on July 14, 1964). Nutter's superiors at MTC were Dr. Richard Bryson, President, and Doug Boyer, Vice President of Financial and Administrative Services.1 In 2005, MTC began installing a new management information system on its campus. The implementation of the new software was overseen by Nutter and Joy Moore, Director of Management Information Systems. Training sessions for the new technology began in March 2006. Although the parties disagree as to Blizzard's level of understanding of the software, it is undisputed that she experienced difficulty with the system. It is at this point that the parties diverge regarding the facts surrounding Blizzard's employment difficulties and her subsequent termination.

MTC asserts that Blizzard was resistant to the new software and fell behind in learning to use it. According to MTC, Blizzard's subsequent issues at work arose from her difficulties adapting to the new technology. Blizzard, on the other hand, contends that her problems stemmed from Nutter's treatment of her. She alleges that Nutter gave Thomas special treatment. Specifically, Blizzard maintains that Nutter was more lenient with Thomas regarding infractions such as taking long breaks, talking on her cell phone, and socializing in the office. In addition, Blizzard alleges that Nutter gave Thomas more opportunities for training on the new software programs and sometimes required Blizzard to work extra hours so that Thomas could attend training sessions.

In 2006 and 2007, Blizzard made several oral complaints to various persons at MTC. Blizzard complained to Parker on May 25, 2006 that she was working longer hours than Thomas. Several days later, she told Hauenstein that she was treated differently than younger employees because they were getting away with bad behavior at work. Blizzard also told Hauenstein that she felt Nutter treated her in an emotionally abusive and intimidating manner, while younger employees were treated with respect and kindness. In December 2007, Blizzard told King that she was considering filing a written grievance.

In June 2006, Nutter evaluated Blizzard's work performance, rating her as falling below expectations in several areas including attitude, judgment, team effort/leadership, and technical skills. Blizzard submitted a response to the evaluation, disputing Nutter's appraisal of her work. However, according to MTC, Blizzard's poor performance continued after the evaluation. On April 19, 2008, Nutter wrote a memo entitled “Conduct of Peggy Blizzard,” which documented his reasons for recommending her termination. Boyer approved the decision to terminate Blizzard's employment and Hauenstein dismissed her three days after Nutter's memo.

After Blizzard's dismissal, Thomas was assigned to perform the majority of Blizzard's job responsibilities in addition to her own. In August 2008, MTC hired 28–year–old Kristina Walters as a cashier. Three months later, MTC hired Janice Teeter to perform the Accounts Payable Clerk duties. Teeter was 51 years old when she accepted the position. Although she began in a temporary capacity, Teeter was hired as a full-time employee on July 20, 2009.

Blizzard filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on June 30, 2008, claiming retaliation, age discrimination, and sex discrimination. On July 16, 2009, she filed a complaint against MTC and Nutter 2 in the Northern District of Ohio, asserting claims for age discrimination and retaliation under the federal Age Discrimination Enforcement Act (ADEA) and Ohio law, as well as claims for “Breach of Policy” and intentional infliction of emotional distress. MTC moved for summary judgment on all of the claims against it on July 8, 2010. On March 30, 2011, the district court granted MTC's motion and entered judgment in favor of the defendants. Blizzard timely appealed.

II.

This court reviews a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. ACLU of Ky. v. Grayson Cnty., 591 F.3d 837, 843 (6th Cir.2010); Watkins v. City of Battle Creek, 273 F.3d 682, 685 (6th Cir.2001). Summary judgment is required when the moving party shows, using evidence in the record, “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); seeFed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing conclusively that no genuine issue of material fact exists. CenTra, Inc. v. Estrin, 538 F.3d 402, 412 (6th Cir.2008). Once a moving party has met its burden of production, “its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Reviewing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the court must ultimately determine ‘whether the evidence presents a 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.’ Vill. of Oakwood v. State Bank & Trust Co., 539 F.3d 373, 377 (6th Cir.2008) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251–52, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)); see Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348.

A. Age Discrimination Claims

The ADEA prohibits an employer from discharging an individual “because of such individual's age.” 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). Section 4112.14 of the Ohio Revised Code provides that no employer shall “discharge without just cause any employee aged forty or older who is physically able to perform the duties and otherwise meets the established requirements of the job.” Ohio Rev.Code Ann. § 4112.14(A). Age discrimination claims brought under the Ohio statute are “analyzed under the same standards as federal claims brought under the [ADEA].” Wharton v. Gorman–Rupp Co., 309 Fed.Appx. 990, 995 (6th Cir.2009) (citing Minadeo v. ICI Paints, 398 F.3d 751, 763 (6th Cir.2005)).

The burden of persuasion is on the plaintiff to show that “age was the ‘but-for’ cause of the employer's adverse action.” Gross v. FBL Fin. Servs., Inc., 557 U.S. 167, 177, 129 S.Ct. 2343, 174 L.Ed.2d 119 (2009). A plaintiff “may establish a violation of the ADEA by either direct or circumstantial evidence.” Geiger v. Tower Auto., 579 F.3d 614, 620 (6th Cir.2009). Where, as here, the plaintiff fails to present direct evidence of age discrimination, the claim is analyzed using the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Under McDonnell Douglas and its progeny, once the plaintiff succeeds in making out a prima facie case of age discrimination, the defendant must “articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for the termination. Id. at 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817. “If the defendant meets this burden, then the burden of production shifts back to the plaintiff to demonstrate that the proffered reason is a pretext.” Sutherland v. Mich. Dep't of Treasury, 344 F.3d 603, 615 (6th Cir.2003).

1. Prima Facie Case

To establish a prima facie case of age discrimination, a plaintiff must show: (1) membership in a protected group; (2) qualification for the job in question; (3) an adverse employment action; and (4) circumstances that support an inference of discrimination.” Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002). An allegation that the plaintiff was replaced by a younger individual supports an inference of discrimination only if the difference in age is significant. See Grosjean v. First Energy Corp., 349 F.3d 332, 336 (6th Cir.2003) (explaining that an inference of discriminatory intent cannot be “drawn from the replacement of one worker with another worker insignificantly younger” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

Here, MTC argues that Blizzard failed to meet her burden of establishing a prima facie case of age discrimination. Although it concedes that she has presented evidence to support the first three elements of her claim, MTC maintains that Blizzard “cannot establish the fourth prong of her prima facie case as her replacement was not significantly...

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