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Erpenbeck v. Premier Golf Management

November 22, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herman J. Weber, Senior Judge United States District Court


This matter is before the Court upon Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 14), which Plaintiff has opposed (Doc. 20), and to which Defendant has replied. (Doc. 28). Both parties also have filed proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law (Docs. 15, 19), and have responded to the opposing party's filing. (Docs. 18, 29).

Procedural History/The Parties' Claims

On June 20, 2005, Plaintiff David Erpenbeck filed this action against Defendant Premier Golf Management, Inc., his former employer, setting forth claims of age discrimination under federal and Ohio law, as well as a state law claim for breach of Ohio public policy. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff alleges that shortly after assuming management responsibility for the golf courses where Plaintiff was employed, Defendant terminated the 48-year-old Plaintiff's employment and replaced him with a younger employee, while also retaining younger, similarly-situated employees. Plaintiff requests reinstatement, damages, prejudgment interest and attorneys' fees.

On August 4, 2006, Defendant filed its motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 14).

Defendant contends that without even knowing Plaintiff's age, it terminated Plaintiff's employment as a cost-cutting measure in light of his high salary, and that it retained two similarly-situated employees older than Plaintiff who were earning lower salaries. Urging that Plaintiff has presented no evidence other than his age to support the theory that his age was a factor in Defendant's termination decision, and also has no evidence to counter Defendant's legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its termination decision, Defendant suggests that such lack of evidence defeats Plaintiff's claims in their entirety. In addition, Defendant argues that irrespective of Plaintiff's ability to set forth a prima facie case of age discrimination, Plaintiff cannot maintain an Ohio public policy claim. Defendant requests that summary judgment be entered against Plaintiff as to his entire complaint.

Plaintiff, however, contends that genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment. (Doc. 20). For example, he argues that one decision maker had met him and that Defendant had access to employment records showing his age before terminating him, that Defendant has given different explanations at different times for terminating his employment, and that Defendant never offered him the opportunity to remain employed at a lower salary. Plaintiff urges that such material inconsistencies implicate credibility issues that must be resolved by a jury.

Standard Applicable to Motions for Summary Judgment

The summary judgment procedure under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 was designed to secure a just, speedy and inexpensive determination of any action. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327, 106 S.Ct. 342 (1986). Rule 56(c) permits the Court to grant summary judgment as a matter of law, however, only after the moving party has identified as the basis of its motion "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any," which demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323.

The party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment "may not rest upon mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but ... must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986) (quoting First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 88 S.Ct. 1575 (1968)). The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158 90 S.Ct. 1598 (1970)).

The function of the court is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. There is no genuine issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. Id. (citing Cities Serv., 391 U.S. at 288-289). If the evidence is merely colorable, Dombrowski v. Eastland, 387 U.S. 82, 84, 87 S.Ct. 1425 (1967), or is not significantly probative, Cities Serv., 391 U.S. at 290, judgment may be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

"The courts have long recognized that the utility of summary judgment as a method of resolving employment discrimination claims involving questions of intent and motivation is limited." Tragler v. Rondy Inc., 45 F.3d 431, 1994 WL 709285 at *4 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing Thornbrough v. Columbus & Greenville R.R., 760 F.2d 633, 640-41 (5th Cir. 1985)). Accordingly, the question of an employer's motive "is one rarely susceptible to resolution at the summary judgment stage,"Ross v. Campbell Soup Co., 237 F.3d 701, 706 (6th Cir. 2001), and courts may be justifiably reluctant to grant summary judgment where "motive and intent are crucial elements and the proof is in the hands of the alleged wrongdoers." Cooper v. City of North Olmsted, 795 F.2d 1265, 1272 n.4 (6th Cir. 1986) (quoting Reed v. Lockheed Aircraft Corp., 613 F.2d 757, 759 (9th Cir. 1980)).


Analysis of Plaintiff's Age ...

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