Larimer v. Dayton Hudson Corp.

Decision Date05 May 1998
Docket NumberNo. 97-2127,97-2127
Citation137 F.3d 497
Parties77 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1545, 72 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 45,192 Jeannine K. LARIMER and James Larimer, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. DAYTON HUDSON CORPORATION and Target Stores, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Kenan J. Kersten (argued), Kersten & McKinnon, Milwaukee, WI, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

John M. Loomis, Katherine L. Williams (argued), Beck, Chaet, Loomis, Molony & Bamberger, Milwaukee, WI, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before CUMMINGS, COFFEY and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.

Jeannine Larimer appeals from the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Dayton Hudson Corporation, the owner of Target Stores, her employer. In her complaint, she alleged that Target failed to promote her on numerous occasions in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act 1 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. 2 She also brought a state law claim for breach of contract. In addition, Mrs. Larimer's husband, James, brought a state law loss of consortium claim based on all of his wife's claims against Target. We believe the district court correctly determined that summary judgment was appropriate for the discrimination claims and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the district court with respect to those determinations. However, on the record now before us, we believe that a genuine issue of material fact exists with respect to Mrs. Larimer's state law contract claim. Accordingly, we remand that claim to the district court for further proceedings.

I BACKGROUND
A. Facts

Mrs. Larimer has been an employee of Target since August 1978. She began as a department manager in training and two months later became a department manager. In May 1987, she became an area manager. In December 1988, she became an area manager in Wisconsin and has held that title at three different Target locations in Wisconsin. All of these stores are located within one district of the corporation. That district has a total of fourteen stores.

Target uses the following five criteria to promote an employee to an executive level: (1) satisfactory or better performance; (2) strong communication skills; (3) outstanding customer service; (4) the ability to attain assistant store manager level; and (5) a college degree or other education (preferred but not required). The record contains no explanation as to how Target's promotion system works or who makes final decisions with respect to promotions to the executive level.

In the district court, Mrs. Larimer contended that Target failed to promote her because of her sex and age. She claimed that she had been passed over for promotion twenty times since March 1989 and that at all times the positions had been filled with men or younger women who had scored lower in performance evaluations and had less experience than she. In presenting her case, she relied upon both direct and indirect evidence of discrimination. Her direct evidence of age and sex discrimination included a statement made by one of her store managers to the effect that she needed to be "more perky" and "have a bounce in [her] step." R.31 at 6. This statement was made in the context of the September 19, 1990 promotion of another female employee in her twenties to Customer Service Manager. Mrs. Larimer contends that this characterization was a sexual stereotype and also demonstrates age bias. She relies, as well, upon an April 1992 incident when the district manager told her she would never be anything other than an area manager because she had "no young, fresh ideas." R.22, Ex. 1 at 5. The district manager also said, "I am not saying you are old but your ideas won't be fresh." Id.

B. Decision of the District Court

The district court rejected Mrs. Larimer's arguments and granted Target summary judgment. With respect to the first comment, the court pointed out that the allegation of sex discrimination failed because the successful candidate was a woman. With respect to age discrimination, the court pointed out that, at the time of the promotion in question, Mrs. Larimer was not in the protected category because she was not yet 40 years old. 3 Additionally, noted the court, "perkiness" does not necessarily imply femininity or youth nor does the statement regarding "young, fresh ideas" refer to age.

The district court then turned to Mrs. Larimer's attempt to prove discrimination through the indirect burden-shifting method. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). As an initial matter, the district court noted that the complaint made it difficult to discern the specific promotions that allegedly had been denied, the qualifications for those promotions or the identity of the person who was actually promoted to them. However, the district court found it unnecessary to wrestle with these initial difficulties because it was possible to decide the motion by focusing on whether Target had a legitimate reason for not promoting Mrs. Larimer. The court determined that the unrebutted evidence showed that Target had determined that Mrs. Larimer did not have the qualifications for promotion to the management level that she sought. The company had documented performance problems including a lack of commitment, enthusiasm, sense of urgency and upward mobility. Target also noted her failure to pursue higher education and problems in dealing with subordinates. In the view of the district court, Mrs. Larimer's response was simply that she was generally qualified for the promotions that she sought; moreover, she did not discuss any of the specific developmental needs consistently noted in her performance evaluations. The court held that her conclusory statements that she was qualified for promotion were insufficient to create an issue of fact. It also noted that a company must be allowed discretion to make business decisions. Here, the evaluations identified, on a continuing basis, areas in which Mrs. Larimer needed to improve and about which she offered no dispute. Consequently, the court concluded, she had failed to establish sufficient facts to conclude that Target's stated reasons for refusing to promote her were pretextual. The district court further concluded, without extensive discussion, that Mrs. Larimer had not established the requisite elements of an actionable claim for breach of contract under Wisconsin law.

II DISCUSSION

The applicable standard for evaluating the district court's grant of summary judgment is well established. We conduct plenary review of a district court's entry of summary judgment. See Bahl v. Royal Indem. Co., 115 F.3d 1283, 1289 (7th Cir.1997). However, we are obliged to review the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and to draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See id. We shall uphold a grant of summary judgment only when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to the interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show 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). " 'This standard is applied with added rigor in employment discrimination cases, where intent and credibility are crucial issues.' " Sample v. Aldi Inc., 61 F.3d 544, 547 (7th Cir.1995) (quoting Sarsha v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 3 F.3d 1035, 1038 (7th Cir.1993)). Nonetheless, "[i]f the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on an issue, ... that party may not rest on the pleadings and must instead show that there is a genuine issue of material fact." Id. In this case, Mrs. Larimer asserts that there are genuine issues of fact precluding summary judgment on her age and sex discrimination claims as well as her state law breach of contract claim.

A.

We turn first to the district court's disposition of the federal discrimination claims. With respect to Mrs. Larimer's evidence of direct discrimination, we agree with the district court that the evidence is insufficient to sustain a jury verdict. Mrs. Larimer first contends that several remarks made by her store manager in connection with the promotion of a younger female in September 1990 constitute sufficient evidence of age and sex discrimination to withstand summary judgment. The store manager explained to Mrs. Larimer that she was not promoted because she was not "perky" and did not have a "bounce" in her step. As an initial matter, we note that this incident does little to support Mrs. Larimer's claim of sex discrimination because the employee promoted was a woman. Similarly, with respect to Mrs. Larimer's age discrimination claim, we note that, at the time of this incident, Mrs. Larimer was not yet protected by the ADEA because she was 39 years old. Moreover, we agree with the district court that the remarks attributed to her store manager are not sufficient evidence of either age or sex discrimination. Mrs. Larimer next relies on an April 1992 incident when the district manager told her that she would not be promoted above the position of area manager because she had "no young, fresh ideas." Again, we agree with the district court that this statement does not necessarily refer to age. Indeed, common experience suggests that one's age has no necessary correlation to whether or not one's ideas are "young" or "fresh". 4

We also believe that the district court correctly held that Mrs. Larimer had not established a genuine issue of triable fact under the indirect method of proof. The district court was correct in determining that Target had proffered a nondiscriminatory reason for its decision not to promote Mrs. Larimer beyond the position of area manager. In this regard, we think it is important to emphasize that Mrs. Larimer had enjoyed a long and successful career...

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