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Hutchins v. Cessna Aircraft Co.

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

January 6, 2014

KATHY HUTCHINS, Plaintiff,
v.
CESSNA AIRCRAFT COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

KATHRYN H. VRATIL, District Judge.

Plaintiff brings suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 623 ("ADEA"), and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1140 ("ERISA"), claiming employment discrimination and interference with pension benefits as a result of the termination of her employment. This matter is before the Court on the following motions: (1) Defendant Cessna Aircraft Company's Motion To Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (Doc. #25) filed March 28, 2013; (2) Defendant Cessna Aircraft Company's Motion To Dismiss Or Strike Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (Doc. #32) filed May 1, 2013; and (3) Cessna Aircraft Company's Motion For Summary Judgment (Doc. #40) filed July 26, 2013. For the following reasons the Court overrules defendant's motions to dismiss and sustains defendant's motion for summary judgment.

Legal Standards

Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Vitkus v. Beatrice Co. , 11 F.3d 1535, 1538-39 (10th Cir. 1993). A "genuine" factual dispute is one "on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff, " and requires more than a mere scintilla of evidence. Liberty Lobby , 477 U.S. at 252. A factual dispute is "material" only if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id. at 248.

The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Justice v. Crown Cork & Seal Co. , 527 F.3d 1080, 1085 (10th Cir. 2008). Once the moving party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to show that a genuine issue remains for trial with respect to the dispositive matters for which she carries the burden of proof. Nat'l Am. Ins. Co. v. Am. Re-Ins. Co. , 358 F.3d 736, 739 (10th Cir. 2004); see Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). As to these matters, the nonmoving party may not rest on her pleadings but must set forth specific facts. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2); Matsushita , 475 U.S. at 586-87; Justice , 527 F.3d at 1085. Conclusory allegations not supported by evidence are insufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Jarvis v. Potter , 500 F.3d 1113, 1120 (10th Cir. 2007); see Kidd v. Taos Ski Valley, Inc. , 88 F.3d 848, 853 (10th Cir. 1996).

When applying this standard, the Court must view the factual record in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion for summary judgment. Duvall v. Ga.-Pac. Consumer Prods., L.P. , 607 F.3d 1255, 1260 (10th Cir. 2010); see Ricci v. DeStefano , 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009). Summary judgment may be granted if the nonmoving party's evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly probative. Liberty Lobby , 477 U.S. at 250-51. Essentially, the inquiry is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52.

Facts

The following facts are uncontroverted or presented in the light most favorable to plaintiff:[1]

Plaintiff began employment at Cessna in 1978 as an Accounting Clerk in the Finance and Accounting Department. In February of 1979, she transferred to the Engineering Department as a Project Clerk. While she was on maternity leave in 1982, Cessna had a reduction in force and laid off plaintiff until April of 1983. Upon her return, plaintiff became a Tech Aide/Data Analyst in the Interior Engineering Department. Plaintiff remained in the Interior Engineering Department until 2011, where she consecutively held the positions of Engineering Group Leader, Engineering Section Supervisor and Engineering Business Partner. In a reorganization effective September 11, 2011, Cessna transferred plaintiff to the Finance Department where she became a Finance Business Partner ("FBP"). On August 31, 2012, Cessna terminated plaintiff from the position of FBP but told her that she would remain on the payroll until September 30, 2012, so she could look for another position within the company. If she did not find another position, her employment would terminate on September 30, 2012 and she would receive a severance package contingent on signing a severance agreement. Plaintiff did not apply for any other positions within Cessna, however, and Cessna terminated her employment on September 30, 2012.

Plaintiff's last move within the Interior Engineering Department, which occurred in November of 2010, was a demotion. Because of restructuring within the Department, plaintiff's responsibilities had diminished and her salary decreased by about 7.5 per cent. Cessna then had a significant reduction in workforce and the Interior Engineering Department lost about half of its employees. In an ensuing restructuring, Cessna determined that all individuals who performed finance-related duties should move to the Finance Department rather than remain in the departments which they supported. Plaintiff was included in this transfer and continued to provide budget-related services to the Interior Engineering Department, but she also became responsible for supporting half of the Engineering Department. In this role, plaintiff was responsible for providing guidance and support for manpower planning, expense budgets and reports, capital equipment and labor reports. Plaintiff's transfer to the Finance Department was a lateral move, but she was aware that performance expectations within Cessna were increasing and that employees were expected to perform at a higher level.

The expectations and job criteria for the position of FBP (specifically a Grade 10 FBP, the level which plaintiff held) are set out in a Finance Grade Matrix which includes the following criteria. A Grade 10 FBP is expected to apply extensive knowledge of other related finance disciplines and develop technical solutions to complex problems, which requires the regular use of ingenuity and creativity. A Grade 10 FBP also is expected to perform work without appreciable direction, and to exercise considerable latitude in determining the objectives of the assignment. Morever, a Grade 10 FBP is expected to set objectives and deliver results that have a significant impact on achieving Finance results, because any errors may result in the failure to achieve important Finance objectives. Furthermore, a Grade 10 FBP is expected to have a bachelor's degree and/or at least nine years of relevant experience, and it is preferred that a Grade 10 FBP have an MBA or an applicable professional license. Indeed, Cessna prefers that FBPs at all grades (4, 6, 8 and 10) have an MBA or a professional license. Doc. #41-12 at 6.

Plaintiff concluded her post-secondary education in 1995 when she received a two-year associate's degree. Plaintiff used Cessna's tuition reimbursement program to obtain her associate's degree and although she was eligible to do so, she never applied for additional tuition reimbursement or pursued further education. Of those who held FBP positions during plaintiff's tenure, she was the only one without a four-year college degree. All but one had a four-year accounting or finance degree, and that one individual was a lower Grade 6. Even before plaintiff became an FBP, she recognized her need for additional education. On April 25, 2011, in the "Development Plan Focus" section of her employee profile, plaintiff wrote the following: "Further develop my skills related to budget reporting and forecast coordination by continuing my education related to Finance as well as tool utilization (such as Excel and Essbase)." Doc. #41-13 at 4. After that date, however, plaintiff took no finance-related training courses or classes.

Upon her transfer to the Finance Department, plaintiff was supervised by Michele Gifford, who had recently been promoted to Director of Finance. Gifford, who holds a bachelor's degree in accounting and an MBA, began working at Cessna in 1998 and had been in a managerial position in the Finance Department since 2006. Her role as Director of Finance was to be the internal liaison between the Finance Department and the different areas that the department supported.

When plaintiff was in the Interior Engineering Department, several employees who worked with her believed that she did a good job. They described her work as primarily providing spread sheets or other sorts of tactical number crunching, as opposed to strategic analysis (which plaintiff did not do). None of these employees supervised plaintiff or had any ...


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