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Beekman v. Office Depot

July 5, 2007

DAVID L. BEEKMAN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
OFFICE DEPOT, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: S. Arthur Spiegel United States Senior District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 44), Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Opposition (doc. 47), and Defendant's Response (doc. 52). For the reasons indicated herein, the Court DENIES in part and GRANTS in part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Defendant Office Depot, Inc. ("Defendant") is a retail business specializing in the sale of business machines, office products, office furniture, and computer hardware/software (doc. 44). Plaintiff David Beekman ("Plaintiff") was employed by Office Depot for eleven years, serving as Manager of the Receiving Department from 2000 until he was terminated on July 19, 2004 (doc. 47).*fn1

Defendant has a forklift operator training and licensing program which requires new employees to participate in an on-line training tutorial and quiz as well as a practical skills evaluation (doc. 44). These evaluations are to be administered by facility managers who are also responsible for filling out the appropriate paperwork afterwards (Id.).

According to Defendant, an employee approached management and expressed concern that his supervisor, Warner Johnson ("Johnson"), was not administering the practical evaluations properly, creating a serious safety issue (Id.). After Defendant investigated Johnson, he admitted that he had falsified some evaluations (Id.). Johnson also indicated that there were two other supervisors involved in falsifying evaluations, including Plaintiff (Id.). Defendant claims that, after further investigation, Plaintiff admitted that he had not been administering the practical skills tests in accordance with the specified procedures (Id.). Defendant subsequently terminated all three managers in July 2004 (Id.).

According to Plaintiff though, his termination was the result of age discrimination (doc. 47). He claims that the Director of Operations for the Office Depot facility at which he worked, Bruce Harris ("Harris"), indicated in a March 2004 managers' meeting that he wanted to infuse the management with "young fresh blood" (Id.). Harris further explained that he would be actively recruiting managers directly from nearby colleges (Id.). It is Plaintiff's assertion that Defendant made room for younger management employees by wrongfully terminating Plaintiff and five other managers who were over the age of 40 (Id.). Because Defendant filled at least three of those positions, including Plaintiff's, with managers age 31 or younger, Plaintiff believes that his age was the true reason for his termination (Id.). Plaintiff also denies confessing to any wrongdoing and further states that, far from falsifying any evaluations, he had not even been involved with the evaluation process for nearly two years (Id.).

Defendant however, contends that Harris' statements in the managers' meeting have been taken out of context and are irrelevant as it was not Harris but the newly hired Regional Human Resources Manager, Irvin Johnson, who made the official recommendation to fire Plaintiff (doc. 52). Defendant reiterates the fact that they only launched the investigation after an unsolicited employee complained about a manager's failure to adhere to the provided safety standards (Id.). Defendant also points out that at no time during the investigation did Plaintiff ever indicate that there had been a period of time when he was not involved with the evaluation process (Id.).

The Complaint was filed on September 29, 2005, alleging: (1) Age discrimination in violation of the ADEA, (2) Age Discrimination in violation of O.R.C. §4112, (3) Age discrimination in violation of Ohio public policy, and (4) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (doc. 1). On February 21, 2007, Defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment on all counts (doc. 44).

II. ANALYSIS

A. Summary Judgment Standard

The narrow question that this Court must decide on a motion for summary judgment is whether there exists a "genuine issue as to any material fact and [whether] the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The Supreme Court elaborated upon the appropriate standard in deciding a motion for summary judgment as follows:

[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, 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.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

The moving party bears the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact as to an essential element of the non-movant's case. Id. at 321; Guarino v. Brookfield Township Trustees, 980 F.2d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 1992); Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479 (6th Cir. 1989). If the moving party meets this burden, then the non-moving party "must set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); see Guarino, 980 F.2d at 405.

As the Supreme Court stated in Celotex, the non-moving party must "designate" specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Guarino, 980 F.2d at 405. Although the burden might not require the non-moving party to "designate" facts by citing page numbers, "'the designated portions of the record must be presented with enough specificity that the district court can readily identify the facts upon which the non-moving party relies.'" Guarino, 980 F.2d at 405 (quoting Inter-Royal Corp. v. Sponseller, 889 F.2d 108, 111 (6th Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 494 U.S. 1091 (1990)).

Summary judgment is not appropriate if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Conclusory allegations, however, are not sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. McDonald v. Union Camp Corp., 898 F.2d 1155, 1162 (6th Cir. 1990). Furthermore, the fact that the non-moving party fails to respond does not lessen the burden on the moving party or the court to demonstrate that summary judgment is appropriate. Guarino, 980 F.2d at 410; Carver v. Bunch, 946 F.2d 451, 454-55 (6th Cir. 1991).

B. Discussion

Defendant moves for summary judgment on each of Plaintiff's four claims (doc. 44). The Court will ...


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