Earley v. Champion Intern. Corp.

Decision Date02 August 1990
Docket NumberNo. 89-7163,89-7163
Citation907 F.2d 1077
Parties53 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 968, 54 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 40,150 Vernon EARLEY and Garey Noe, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CHAMPION INTERNATIONAL CORP., Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Claudia H. Pearson, Michael Quinn, Gordon, Silberman, Wiggins and Childs, Birmingham, Ala., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Kelly J. Koelker, Sharon A. Cobb, R. Lawrence Ashe, Jr., Weyman T. Johnson, Jr., Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, Atlanta, Ga., Wesley Redmond,

Cabaniss, Johnston, Gardner, Dumas & O'Neal, Birmingham, Ala., for defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

Before JOHNSON and EDMONDSON, Circuit Judges, and PECKHAM *, Senior District Judge.

EDMONDSON, Circuit Judge:

This appeal is from a summary judgment for defendant. Because we conclude that plaintiffs established no more than a colorable claim of age discrimination, we affirm. We also conclude that the district court acted within its discretion in denying plaintiffs' motion to compel discovery on a nationwide basis.

In 1985, Champion International Corporation merged with St. Regis Corporation, necessitating the consolidation and reorganization of corporate staff and employees at Champion facilities. Each facility prepared a master plan--entailing streamlined operations--setting out its part of a company-wide force reduction. The manager of the Materials Department at Champion's paper manufacturing mill in Courtland, Alabama, proposed eliminating nineteen jobs in his department; plaintiffs' jobs were targeted. In 1986, under a new manager, the plan was revised and implemented. 1 Ultimately ninety-eight employees at the Courtland facility lost jobs as a result of the reduction in force ("RIF"). Many employees older than plaintiffs retained their jobs, and many employees younger than plaintiffs were terminated.

In 1987, Noe and Earley were terminated as part of Champion's RIF. Since the RIF, Champion has neither restored the eliminated positions nor hired a replacement for either plaintiff. Earley and Noe filed charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Then Earley and Noe instituted the present action, seeking relief under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), as amended, 29 U.S.C. Secs. 621, et seq., for alleged discriminatory discharge.

DISCUSSION

Upon review of a grant of summary judgment, we apply the same legal standard that bound the district court. Rollins v. TechSouth, Inc., 833 F.2d 1525, 1528 (11th Cir.1987). Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The trial court "must consider all the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party," Rollins, 833 F.2d at 1528, and "resolve all reasonable doubts in favor of the non-moving party." Barnes v. Southwest Forest Indus., Inc., 814 F.2d 607, 609 (11th Cir.1987). A trial court, however, is not required "to resolve all doubts in such a manner." Barnes, 814 F.2d at 609.

"Summary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed 'to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.' " Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2555, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 1). "[The summary judgment] standard mirrors the standard for a directed verdict under the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a), which is that the trial judge must direct a verdict if, under the governing law, there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). "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.

Consideration of a summary judgment motion does not lessen the burdens on the non-moving party: the non-moving party still bears the burden of coming forward with sufficient evidence on each element that must be proved. Rollins, 833 F.2d at 1528. "[I]n ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the judge must view the evidence presented through the prism of the [movant's] substantive evidentiary burden." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254, 106 S.Ct. at 2513. The trial judge must bear in mind the "actual quantum and quality of proof necessary to support liability" in a given case. Id. "[I]f on any part of the prima facie case there would be insufficient evidence to require submission of the case to a jury, we must affirm the grant of summary judgment [for the defendant]." Barnes, 814 F.2d at 609.

"[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment ... 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. In such circumstances, there can be 'no genuine issue of material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the non-moving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. The moving party is 'entitled to a judgment as a matter of law' because the non-moving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23, 106 S.Ct. at 2552.

Where as here discovery has been conducted, "there is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 106 S.Ct. at 2511 (citations omitted) (emphasis added); accord Hudson v. Southern Ductile Casting Corp., 849 F.2d 1372, 1376 (11th Cir.1988). Summary judgments for defendants are not rare in employment discrimination cases. See, e.g., Mauter v. Hardy Corp., 825 F.2d 1554 (11th Cir.1987); Grigsby v. Reynolds Metal Co., 821 F.2d 590 (11th Cir.1987); Palmer v. District Bd. of Trustees of St. Petersburg Junior College, 748 F.2d 595 (11th Cir.1984); Pace v. Southern Ry. Sys., 701 F.2d 1383 (11th Cir.1983); Simmons v. McGuffey Nursing Home, Inc., 619 F.2d 369, 371 (5th Cir.1980). 2 Summary judgment is appropriate in this case because plaintiffs have failed to carry their burden of proof on elements of the prima facie case.

A. Prima Facie Case

In an employment discrimination case, the plaintiff must first make out a prima facie case. When the defendant produces legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for the adverse employment action, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to establish that these reasons are pretextual. Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981).

The inference of intentional discrimination raised by a plaintiff's prima facia case "may be stronger or weaker, depending upon the facts of the particular case." Grigsby, 821 F.2d at 595. "To a large extent, of course, the strength or weakness of the inference of discrimination created by the employee's prima facie case defines the nature of the employer's rebuttal." See Meiri v. Dacon, 759 F.2d 989, 997 (2d Cir.1985). In some cases, the defendant's evidence of a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for its actions may be so strong as to rebut completely the inference raised by the plaintiff's prima facie case. Grigsby, 821 F.2d at 596.

The defendant may be entitled to summary judgment if he produces evidence of legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for the employment action. To survive summary judgment, the plaintiff must then present concrete evidence in the form of specific facts which show that the defendant's proffered reason is mere pretext. Mere conclusory allegations and assertions will not suffice. Mauter, 825 F.2d at 1558; Grigsby, 821 F.2d at 596-97; Palmer, 748 F.2d at 599; Steckl v. Motorola, Inc., 703 F.2d 392, 393 (9th Cir.1983); Pace, 701 F.2d at 1391; Simmons, 619 F.2d at 371. Most important, the plaintiff always bears the ultimate burden of proving discriminatory treatment by a preponderance of the evidence. Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253, 101 S.Ct. at 1093.

A plaintiff may establish a prima facie case of age discrimination in three ways: by presenting direct evidence of discriminatory intent; by meeting the test set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973); or by demonstrating through statistics a pattern of discrimination. Insufficient data exist here to prove a pattern of discrimination; so, we address no further the statistical proof issue.

1. Direct Evidence

Plaintiffs seek to avoid summary judgment by relying on what they claim to be direct evidence of discrimination, but this is not a direct evidence case. "Direct evidence of discrimination would be evidence which, if believed, would prove the existence of a fact [in issue] without inference or presumption." Carter v. City of Miami, 870 F.2d 578, 581-82 (11th Cir.1989) (emphasis added); accord Castle v. Sangamo Weston, Inc., 837 F.2d 1550, 1558 n. 13 (11th Cir.1988); Rollins, 833 F.2d at 1528 n. 6. "[O]nly the most blatant remarks, whose intent could be nothing other than to discriminate on the basis of age, ... constitute direct evidence of discrimination." Carter, 870 F.2d at 582. One example of direct evidence would be a management memorandum saying, "Fire Earley--he is too old." But the evidence at issue here, at most, suggests discrimination leaving the trier of fact to infer discrimination based on the evidence; by definition then, the evidence is circumstantial. Rollins, 833 F.2d at 1529.

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