The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra S. Beckwith, Chief Judge United States District Court
Before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 19) Plaintiff opposes the motion (Doc. 23), and Defendant has replied. (Doc. 25) Plaintiff claims that Defendant impermissibly terminated her employment based on her age.
Listermann was hired in February 2000 as an Office Secretary at St. John the Baptist Church. Listermann was 63 years old when she started working at St. John's, replacing a woman who voluntarily retired at the age of 62. Listermann was chosen over another applicant, who was in her late 30s or early 40s. Her duties changed over time, as the parish and its staff grew in the months after she was hired. Her job description (Exhibit 2) lists her duties, which included preparing the parish bulletin and maintaining the parish calendar, along with a number of other office and administrative duties. Her direct supervisors were Donna Sunderhaus, and Father Timothy Kallaher. Ms. Sunderhaus was hired in March 2000 as Business Manager; she was 56 years old when hired.
The parish bulletin is a general interest publication sent to all parishoners on a weekly basis, and containing information on, and announcements of, parish and community events. The parish calendar is a master list of all scheduled activities for the parish. One critical function of the master calendar is to avoid any double-booking of parish facilities. Both of these publications are maintained and produced using computer-based programs.
Listermann's job duties changed in June 2002, after she and another parish secretary, Jean Foster, met with Sunderhaus and Pat Crowder (Director of Religious Education) to discuss balancing staff workloads. Defendant states that Listermann assumed the duties of the "Office Manager/Secretary," although Listermann denies that she formally accepted an "office manager" position. There is no doubt that Listermann received a pay raise in conjunction with the changing job functions. Listermann continued her responsibility for the calendar and the bulletin in her new position.
Defendant contends that Listermann's job performance was less than satisfactory, both before and after the June 2002 shift in duties. As a result, in June 2003, Sunderhaus met with Listermann and told her she would be on probation until the end of August 2003. Sunderhaus' notes of her meeting with Listermann to discuss this probation (Listermann Exhibit 9) state that they discussed problems with the bulletin and the calendar during this meeting. Sunderhaus also noted other problems, such as Listermann's failure to properly train students who provide after-school office help, and an incident where Listermann left a document in a copy machine rather than copying it and mailing it with the parish bulletin.
According to Sunderhaus, Listermann was continuing to make many mistakes in her work at the end of her probationary period in August 2003. Listermann's responsibility for the parish bulletin was transferred to Foster, who had also taken over Listermann's job of sending out monthly parishoner birthday letters. (Listermann testified that this particular task was "not taken away" from her, but that she wanted to keep the calendar as opposed to keeping the bulletin, which was much harder for her to do. Listermann Deposition at p. 72.)
Defendant contends that even after the probationary period and the changes to her workload, Listermann continued to make many mistakes in the calendar and in other areas. These mistakes included a missed home communion visit; double-booking of events caused by errors in the calendar; wrong names placed on baptismal certificates; and an incident involving a volunteer whom Listermann told to come back another time because Listermann was too busy to do the project the volunteer had come to the parish to do. The volunteer later told Pat Crowder that she had been offended by Listermann's response.
The parish staff met on a regular basis, and notes were kept for many of these meetings. Sometime after Listermann began working for the parish, the meetings were divided in two parts: all staff would attend the first part of the meetings, for general administrative matters. The second part of the meeting involved only pastoral staff, and the office staff would leave. The pastoral staff discussed confidential parish issues, including employee matters. Sunderhaus and Crowder state that Listermann's job difficulties were often discussed in the pastoral group meeting. Crowder testified that negative comments about Listermann were not put in the meeting minutes "because the minutes were put out in mailboxes. We wouldn't want her - and I'm sorry, we were friends - we wouldn't want her feelings getting hurt seeing what we were saying about her." (Crowder Deposition at p. 106.) Sunderhaus confirmed this statement, noting that the only complaints documented in minutes would have been about the calendar mistakes, "things that could have been said in front of Ruth." (Sunderhaus Deposition at p. 55.) Other parish employees (Pat Crowder, Doug Schmutte, and David Kissell among others) support Defendant's contention that Listermann's job performance was unsatisfactory in many respects.
In June 2004, Sunderhaus and Father Kallaher met with Listermann and told her she would be "retired" at the end of June. Listermann protested that she didn't want to retire, but was told the parish needed someone better on the computers. She asked what would happen if she did not retire; Sunderhaus told her she would be fired. Listermann also asked about her pension, because her five-year vesting period would not expire until February 2005.
A few days later, Listermann met with Sunderhaus again, and Sunderhaus offered her the option of staying with the parish in a part-time position, at a lower hourly rate, through February 2005 so that Listermann could receive her pension. According to Listermann, Sunderhaus also told her that she had "crossed" Pat Crowder, and had "ruffled her feathers," something that Sunderhaus suggested played a role in the decision to "retire" Listermann. (Listermann Deposition at pp. 203-204.) Listermann declined the offer of a part-time job, and her employment was terminated at the end of June 2004.
Defendant does not dispute that Listermann was never given a formal written warning about her job performance. The parish "Personnel Policy Guidelines" (Doc. 23, Exhibit D) state in pertinent part that "dismissal is generally a last resort and occurs after the employee has received a written warning and has been given an opportunity to improve performance or conduct." The written warning is to be signed by the employee and the supervisor, and placed in the employee's personnel file.
One of Listermann's fellow parish employees was Jill Rengering. Ms. Rengering was hired in February 2001 as a bookkeeper, replacing Joan Otten who retired at that time. Rengering wrote a letter to Listermann on September 8, 2004. The ...