Messner v. Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, Inc.

Decision Date24 October 2000
Docket NumberNo. 3:99-cv-60.,3:99-cv-60.
Citation126 F.Supp.2d 502
PartiesOliver S. MESSNER, Plaintiff, v. LOCKHEED MARTIN ENERGY SYSTEMS, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Tennessee

David A Burkhalter, II, Kirk J Angel, Burkhalter & Associates, Knoxville, TN, for plaintiff.

Edward G. Phillips, Edwin H. Rayson, Jr., Kramer, Rayson, Leake, Rodgers & Morgan, Knoxville, TN, Patricia Lane McNutt, Kenneth M. Brown, Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, Inc., Oak Ridge, TN, for defendant.


PHILLIPS, United States Magistrate Judge.

Defendant, Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, Inc. (LM), has moved the court for an order granting it summary judgment and dismissing plaintiff's complaint [Doc. 11]. Plaintiff has responded [Docs. 22, 28]. Defendant has replied to plaintiff's response [Doc. 30]. Plaintiff has filed a supplemental memorandum in opposition [Doc. 33], to which defendant has filed a response in opposition [Doc. 57].

Plaintiff, Oliver S. Messner (Messner) alleges age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 626, and the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA), Tenn.Code Ann. § 4-21-101, et seq.


Messner, who was 64 when he was terminated in April 1998, was hired by LM's predecessor contractor, Union Carbide Corporation, on May 31, 1977 [Messner Dep. at 163]. Plaintiff, a degreed mechanical engineer, worked from 1977 until 1991 in various organizations and positions, specializing in heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) design for nuclear components manufacturing and chemical processes. In September 1991, Messner transferred into the Y-12 Engineering Organization and became the project engineer for Y-12's In-House Energy Management Program (IHEM). From 1991 until his termination in 1998, he was classified as an Engineer IV, Level 9, project engineer, assigned to the IHEM program [Dobbs Aff. ¶ 4].

Since April 1984, pursuant to a contract with the United States Department of Energy (DOE), LM had managed, operated, and maintained three major government-owned facilities in Oak Ridge, Tennessee: the Y-12 Plant (Y-12), the K-25 Site (K-25) and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Effective January 1, 1996, Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation (Energy Research), a sister corporation of LM, became the management and operating contractor for ORNL. Effective April 1, 1998, Bechtel Jacobs Company, LLC (Bechtel Jacobs) became the management and integration contractor for K-25, now known as the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP) [Pierce Aff. ¶ 2].

According to defendant, due to Congressional budget reductions, LM's Central Engineering Services organization (CES), where Messner worked, was forced to conduct a series of reductions in force between 1995 and 1998. In January 1998, because of further budget reductions and a need to refocus its efforts from supporting five facilities to one facility, LM determined that another reduction in force (RIF) was necessary for CES. Plaintiff was one of 28 CES employees involuntarily affected by this RIF, which was announced on February 27, 1998.


CES was one of LM's central organizations, providing engineering support for the operations of the three Oak Ridge facilities, plus LM's facilities at Portsmouth, Ohio and Paducah, Kentucky. When Bechtel Jacobs assumed the operation of ETTP, effective April 1, 1998, CES became the Engineering Division of the Y-12 Plant, and was no longer responsible for providing engineering support to the other four plants, except on a limited ad hoc basis [Dobbs Aff. ¶ 2].

At the time Messner was given the RIF notice in February 1998, Norman Dobbs, then age 54, was the acting director of CES [St. Clair Dep. at 6]. Ed St. Clair, then age 50, was the Y-12 Engineering Site Manager. Id. Fred Felte, then age 57, had been plaintiff's immediate supervisor from about 1993 until the RIF [Messner Dep. at 25-26; Felte Aff. ¶ 2]. Felte reported to St. Clair.

Interestingly, a series of RIFs had occurred in CES prior to the one that affected Messner. By September 30, 1997, CES had reduced its workforce by over 40% through a series of DOE-approved voluntary reduction programs (VRIFs), early-retirement incentives, and involuntary RIFs. By April 30, 1998, after the plaintiff's RIF and the transition of certain employees to Bechtel Jacobs, the number of employees in CES had dropped to 390, a reduction of over 60% from 1992 levels [Dobbs Aff. ¶ 3].


In the summer of 1997, CES began planning to transfer a large number of its employees to Bechtel Jacobs effective April 1, 1998. With respect to engineers, defendant notes that LM was required to transfer engineers who were primarily funded by the environmental maintenance (EM) work that DOE was transitioning from LM to Bechtel Jacobs. LM indicates that plaintiff had not performed any EM work and, therefore, was not eligible to be transferred to Bechtel Jacobs [Dobbs Aff. ¶ 7; Messner Dep. at 52]. CES transferred 145 employees to Bechtel Jacobs effective March 31, 1998 [Dobbs Aff. ¶ 7, Ex. A].


For approximately seven years prior to his RIF, plaintiff was the project engineer for the IHEM program at Y-12 [Messner Dep. at 25-26, 62-63, 79-80; Felte Dep. at 15]. The purpose of the program was to reduce Y-12's energy consumption by retro-fitting buildings to make the mechanical and electrical systems more energy efficient. The IHEM projects were largely HVAC-based, which was Messner's underlying area of expertise [Dobbs Aff. ¶ 5]. Messner noted that he worked with others to identify "potential studies and projects" and then prepared requests to fund certain ones [Messner Dep. at 62-63]. If the DOE funded a project, plaintiff coordinated the design and construction, reported on the status, tracked the costs, and saw that the project was completed [Messner Dep. at 65-66]. Plaintiff did not actually do the design engineering for the projects; rather, as he explained it, "[w]hat I did was check the work. Sometimes I'd review calculations, and I reviewed and signed drawings." The design engineering, which was primarily HVAC-based, was done either by "individuals reporting directly to Ed Pierce or subcontractors" [Messner Dep. at 67-68].

The HVAC design engineers supporting the IHEM projects, supervised by Pierce, worked in the Site Support Group of the IHEM section of the Technical Specialities Department in a completely separate division of CES from Messner. Pierce reported to Mike Davenport, at that time the Manager of Technical Specialities, who in turn reported to R.M. Cannon, the manager of Facility Engineering Services. Cannon reported directly to Dobbs [Dobbs Aff. ¶ 6].

Defendant notes that by early 1998, the IHEM program had been "severely reduced and was essentially finishing up a few remaining projects" [St. Clair Dep. at 33-34]. In the Conference Agreement to the FY 1996 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, Congress had terminated DOE's IHEM program, Pub.L. 104-106, 109 Stat. 402; see 104 Cong. Rec. H11504 (October 31, 1995). Congress specifically rejected DOE's $5.7 million request to fund the IHEM program for FY 1997, see H. Rept. 104-782 at 92, and has provided no further funding for the IHEM program to date. Plaintiff admits that "the DOE funding for [the IHEM program] was declining" [Messner Dep. at 37-38], and that his IHEM work had decreased dramatically from FY 1997 to FY 1998. During FY 1997, Messner had completed eight IHEM projects and had approximately six other projects ongoing [Id. at 70]. At the time of his layoff in April 1998, plaintiff had only one active IHEM project in construction and one project in design [Id. at 71-72]. The rest of the projects had been completed or canceled [Id. at 72]. By the time Messner's job was eliminated, the IHEM work took up less than 20% of the time of the employee who absorbed plaintiff's work [Davenport Aff. ¶ 6].


Defendant indicates that prior to June 1998 (when production was resumed), Y-12 was preparing to "restart" the EUO. This was considered to be an important project for Y-12 [Messner Dep. at 153; see also St. Clair Aff. ¶ 7]. The EUO restart work required an extensive reconstruction of the design basis, as well as addressing maintenance issues and facility upgrades development of new or improved procedures, verification of procedures and readiness reviews [St. Clair Aff. ¶ 7]. As a part of the restart activities, the status of the HVAC systems in Buildings in 9212 and 9215 at Y-12 had to be assessed. A part of this work involved verifying that the HVAC systems were documented on accurate drawings [Messner Dep. at 155-57; St. Clair Aff. ¶ 8]. Several CES engineers, including two project engineers other than the plaintiff, had been assigned to assist with this work.

In late July or early August 1997, the manager in charge of this work, George Trieste, asked St. Clair if Messner could be assigned to the EUO project1 [St. Clair Aff. ¶ 8]. Since St. Clair was aware that the IHEM program "was going down in funding," he agreed that Messner would be a "good match based on Oliver's background and the needs of restart at that time in the HVAC arena" [St. Clair Dep. at 59, 61]. Thus, in early August 1997, St. Clair assigned Messner to work with Trieste in EUO [Messner Dep. at 156; St. Clair Dep. at 59-60; St. Clair Aff. ¶ 8]. Messner, however, reacted negatively to the assignment before it even began. He told St. Clair, "I was willing to go up there, but I was not happy about it because I had five projects I was trying to get completed in [IHEM]" [Messner Dep. at 156]. On August 13, 1997, within a week after being assigned to EUO, Messner sent an e-mail to Felte complaining "The more I think about being railroaded down to RESTART the madder I get" [Felte Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. A]. Messner referred...

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  • Southmayd v. Apria Healthcare, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Tennessee
    • January 31, 2006
    ...who was retained in a RIF is insufficient to establish a prima facie case of age discrimination. Messner v. Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, Inc., 126 F.Supp.2d 502, 513-14 (E.D.Tenn.2000). Instead, it is the manager's motivation that is the key factor, not the employee's perception about hi......
  • Diorio v. Tmi Hospitality, L.P.
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    • October 25, 2017 insufficient to establish pretext in light of her other admitted performance deficiencies. See Messner v. Lockheed Martin Energy Sys., Inc., 126 F. Supp. 2d 502, 514 (E.D. Tenn. 2000) ("An employee's evaluation of his own performance or qualifications is irrelevant as a matter of law.") ......
  • Lawrence v. Timken Co.
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    ...Co., 154 F.3d 344, 350 (6th Cir. 1998); Barnes v. GenCorp., Inc., 896 F.2d 1457, 1468 (6th Cir. 1990); Messner v. Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, 126 F.Supp.2d 502, 520 (E.D. Tenn. 2000). Under McDonnell Douglas, the burden shifts to Plaintiff to prove that Defendant's articulated reason is......
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    • November 6, 2014 judgment 'was so ridden with error that defendant could not have honestly relied upon it.'" Messner v. Lockheed Martin Energy Sys., Inc., 126 F. Supp. 2d 502, 521 (E.D. Tenn. 2000) (quoting Lieberman v. Gant, 630 F.2d 60, 65 (2nd Cir.1980)). Plaintiff argues that "[a]ny comparison ......
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    ...of the plaintiff.”), quoting Smith v. Flax , 618 F.2d 1062, 1067 (4th Cir. 1980); Messner v. Lockheed Martin Energy Systems , 126 F. Supp.2d 502, 520 (E.D. Tenn. 2000) (“A plaintiff cannot show pretext by merely claiming that he was “better qualified” than younger employees who were retaine......
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