Conkwright v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp.

Decision Date30 May 1990
Docket NumberNo. N-88-3350.,N-88-3350.
Citation739 F. Supp. 1006
PartiesRobert Douglas CONKWRIGHT v. WESTINGHOUSE ELECTRIC CORP.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Phillips P. O'Shaughnessy, Paul W. Spence and Sandbower, Gabler & O'Shaughnessy, P.A., Baltimore, Md., for plaintiff.

Monte Fried, Rosemary A. Gladue, and Frank, Bernstein, Conaway & Goldman, Baltimore, Md., for defendant.

NORTHROP, Senior District Judge.

This is an age discrimination case involving a reduction in work force at defendant Westinghouse Electric Corporation's ("Westinghouse") facilities at Baltimore-Washington International Airport ("BWI") and in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Westinghouse hired plaintiff, Robert Douglas Conkwright ("Conkwright") in 1967 at the age of 42 to fill a series of marketing positions within the company until 1981.1 In 1982, on his own initiative, Conkwright sought and secured a transfer as a division special representative to the Contracts Management section of the Integrated Logistics Support Divisions ("ILSD") of Westinghouse's Defense and Electronics Center ("D & EC"). From that time until mid-1985, Conkwright's work focused on domestic programs with some additional international orientation.

Westinghouse was advised, in August, 1985, that it had lost a major defense contract known as "DIVADS".2 Since the Contracts Division had some management responsibility on the DIVADS program, a reorganization became necessary to accommodate the expected loss. Following the reorganization and after reviewing the impact of the loss of the DIVADS contract, Westinghouse management elected to conduct a reduction in work force ("RIF") for D & EC. As a function of the impending RIF, divisions managers and directors were assigned a certain number of employees to be eliminated from the previously authorized management and professional head count within their groups. Managers were permitted to "credit" unfilled requisitions, quits, transfers and retirements towards any required reduction in their workforce. The director of Contracts Management, ILSD, subtracting the "credited" positions, determined that three professional employees should be targeted for layoff. Lower level managers within Contract Management were instructed to identify the "lowest rated" employees within their groups. The three lowest rated employees were to be included in the layoff nomination. Conkwright was among the three employees found to be the lowest rated.

Thereafter, D & EC management personnel met to discuss the impending RIF, the reasons for it, and the basis for selecting targeted employees. Westinghouse's in-house labor counsel reviewed anti-discrimination laws, including ADEA, with all managers. Managers were informed that layoffs were to be based on employee performance. Prior to implementing the RIF, Westinghouse created a committee of four upper-level management personnel to review the proposed list of lowest performing employees. A member of the committee questioned Conkwright's presence on the nomination list. After consultation with Conkwright's immediate supervisor, it was confirmed that his nomination was based solely on work performance. Thus, Conkwright remained on the list.

On November 8, 1985, Conkwright was advised that his layoff would be effective December 6, 1985. At that time, it was explained to Conkwright that the basis of the layoff was work performance and that his employee ratings were among the lowest within his group. After consulting a Westinghouse group designed to assist employees with the layoff, Conkwright chose early retirement effective January 1, 1986.

Three months later, on March 7, 1986, Conkwright filed an age discrimination charge with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations ("MCHR"). Following a "fact finding" conference, on July 22, 1988, the MCHR issued a probable cause finding that Conkwright's termination was likely based on his age. This lawsuit was filed on November 7, 1988. Following extensive discovery, Westinghouse moved for summary judgment. (Paper Number 16). Conkwright opposes the motion and a reply has been filed. (Paper Numbers 17 and 18). Conkwright claims Westinghouse's termination of his employment was in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. At the time of his termination, Conk-wright was sixty years of age. Conkwright seeks an award of back pay, front pay, attorneys' fees, and other relief under the ADEA. Additionally, Conkwright contends that his termination violated Section 510 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. Finally, plaintiff asserts pendent state law claims of abusive discharge and breach of employment contract.

Both parties have submitted exhaustive memoranda accompanied by voluminous exhibits; numerous lengthy depositions have taken place. After careful consideration of these materials, this Court finds that no hearing is necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons stated below, Westinghouse's motion for summary judgment shall be granted.

I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT PRINCIPLES

The standard applicable to motions for summary judgment is clear. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, to grant a motion for summary judgment, the Court must find that the pleadings, together with the depositions, interrogatories and affidavits on file, establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Barwick v. Celotex Corp., 736 F.2d 946, 958 (4th Cir.1984); Purity Products, Inc. v. Tropicana Products, Inc., 702 F.Supp. 564, 567 (D.Md. 1988), aff'd, 887 F.2d 1081 (4th Cir.1989); Pfeifer v. Lever Bros., 693 F.Supp. 358, 362 (D.Md.1987), aff'd, 850 F.2d 689 (4th Cir. 1988). A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of specifying the basis upon which it contends judgment should be granted and of identifying that portion of the record which, in its opinion, demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Charbonnages De France v. Smith, 597 F.2d 406, 414 (4th Cir.1979). The non-moving party must thereafter produce specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2509-10, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); White v. Rockingham Radiologists, Ltd., 820 F.2d 98, 101 (4th Cir.1987).

The Supreme Court has emphasized that Rule 56 mandates the entry of summary judgment "after adequate time for discovery ... against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. at 2552. Thus, "the inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial—whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250, 106 S.Ct. at 2509-10. In making that analysis, the evidence and all justifiable inferences therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1609, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970); Gill v. Rollins Protective Services Co., 773 F.2d 592, 595 (4th Cir.1985), reh'g denied, 788 F.2d 1042 (4th Cir.1986).

The Supreme Court explained the summary judgment standard by stating:

The judge must ask himself not whether he thinks the evidence unmistakably favors one side or the other but whether a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the plaintiff on the evidence presented. The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.

Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, 106 S.Ct. at 2512; Pfeifer, 693 F.Supp. at 362.

The Fourth Circuit has recognized that trial judges have "an affirmative obligation ... to prevent `factually unsupported claims and defenses' from proceeding to trial". Felty v. Graves-Humphreys Co., 818 F.2d 1126, 1128 (4th Cir.1987) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-25, 106 S.Ct. at 2553). Furthermore, the Fourth Circuit in Ballinger v. North Carolina Argric. Extension Serv., 815 F.2d 1001 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 897, 108 S.Ct. 232, 98 L.Ed.2d 191 (1987), addressed the appropriateness of granting a summary judgment motion in employment discrimination cases. The Court stated:

We have emphasized repeatedly the drastic nature of the summary judgment remedy and have held that it should not be granted unless it is perfectly clear that there are no genuine issues of material fact in the case ... Further, since `summary judgment is seldom appropriate in cases wherein particular states of mind are decisive as elements of a claim or defense,' ... courts must take special care in cases such as the instant one because motive often is the critical issue in employment discrimination cases. Nevertheless, `the fact that motive is often the critical issue in employment discrimination cases does not mean that summary judgment is never an appropriate vehicle for resolution.' ... This is so because `... the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.'

Ballinger, 815 F.2d at 1004-05 (emphasis in the original), quoting International Woodworkers of America, AFL-CIO v. Chesapeake Bay Plywood Corp., 659 F.2d 1259, 1272 (4th Cir.1981); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48, 106 S.Ct. at 2509-10.

Applying these principles to the facts of record in this case, this Court concludes that Westinghouse's motion for...

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