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Mayenschein v. WS Packaging Group Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

November 29, 2016

JENNIFER A. MAYENSCHEIN, Plaintiff,
v.
WS PACKAGING GROUP INC., Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge.

         Plaintiff Jennifer Mayenschein filed suit against her former employer, WS Packaging Group Inc. (WSPG), asserting claims for age discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Arising under federal law, her claims provide this court with jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Mayenschein was born on December 2, 1967 and was over forty at the time of her termination. The case is now before the court on WSPG's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons below, WSPG's motion will be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         WSPG produces high-quality label and packaging products in seventeen printing and packaging facilities throughout the United States. (Stipulated Material Facts (SMF) ¶ 1, ECF No. 38.) On May 1, 2011, Steve Bishara, WSPG's Chief Human Resources Officer/Chief Administrative Officer, hired Mayenschein, then age 43, as its Corporate Director of Human Resources in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Id. ¶¶ 2-3.) As a Corporate Director of Human Resources, Mayenschein provided support to the company's leaders as well as certain members of the Human Resources team and oversaw twenty-eight employees. (Id. ¶ 4; Pl.'s Proposed Findings of Fact (PPFOF) ¶ 1, ECF No. 45.) Her role did not require substantial day-to-day operational responsibility or involvement with WSPG's printing and packaging facilities. (Def.'s Proposed Findings of Fact (DPFOF) ¶ 5, ECF No. 39.) She earned a starting salary of $121, 082 per year, received a $20, 000 sign-on bonus, and accepted $45, 500 in relocation assistance. (SMF ¶¶ 6-7; PPFOF ¶ 2.) At the time her employment ended, Mayenschein earned $129, 000 per year. (SMF ¶ 9.)

         In October 2013, WSPG's Chief Executive Officer, Rex Lane, instructed Bishara to reduce the Human Resources Department's salary expenditures by as close to $150, 000 as possible over the ensuing 13.5 months, while also creating the least possible impact and disruption to WSPG's workforce. (Id. ¶ 19; DPFOF ¶ 10.) The reduction was part of a general cost-cutting measure Lane had instituted throughout the company. Bishara told Mayenshein and Kathryn McBride, WSPG's other Corporate Director of Human Resources, that he was required to cut $150, 000 from the Human Resources budget and would be the sole decisionmaker. (SMF ¶¶ 21-22; PPFOF ¶ 8.)

         WSPG contends that Bishara created a spreadsheet to analyze numerous scenarios for the impending reduction in force (RIF). (DPFOF ¶ 12.) The spreadsheet listed each employee targeted for a potential layoff and his or her respective salary. (Id. ¶ 13.) Bishara created four hypothetical scenarios identifying the employees involved and the amount of the potential salary reduction. (Id. ¶ 14.) He recognized that he would likely absorb the laid-off employees' job duties and was mindful of the tasks that would align with his own schedule and responsibilities. (Id. ¶ 16.) Three out of the four scenarios in the spreadsheet required Bishara to eliminate more than one employee and eliminate at least one non-corporate employee to meet Lane's directive. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) The fourth scenario required Bishara to layoff only Mayenschein, the second highest paid employee after Bishara and a corporate employee. (SMP ¶ 18.)

         WSPG claims that, after reviewing the options, Bishara decided to eliminate Mayenschein's position. (DPFOF ¶ 19.) He determined eliminating her position would result in a reduction of $145, 226 in salary expenditures over the next 13.5 months and would be the least disruptive to WSPG's operations as a whole. (Id. ¶ 25.) Bishara determined he could more easily absorb Mayenschein's job duties as opposed to any other employees', and he would not be required to remove any non-corporate human resources employees. (Id. ¶¶ 22-24.)

         On November 6, 2013, Bishara informed Mayenschein that he elected to eliminate her position as a cost-cutting measure. (Id. ¶ 26; SMF ¶ 23.) Bishara explained that eliminating her position would have the least impact on the Human Resources Department and resulted in the highest financial savings. (SMF ¶ 25.) In response, Mayenschein argued that she should be retained because she was more qualified, better educated, and more experienced than McBride, the other Corporate Director. (Id. ¶ 26.) At the time, McBride was 32 years old. (Id. ¶ 13.)

         The next day, November 7, 2013, Mayenschein provided Bishara with a memorandum reiterating why she should be retained in lieu of McBride. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.) She also requested twelve months' severance pay. (Id. ¶ 28.) Bishara indicated that his decision to eliminate her position was final and that WSPG would create a severance package for her. (Id. ¶ 29.) Mayenschein contends that in this meeting, she told Bishara that she thought his decision to eliminate her position was age discrimination and that Bishara did not respond to her age comment. (PPFOF ¶ 27.)

         On November 8, 2013, Mayenschein offered to reduce her salary to $104, 026, which was $988 lower than McBride's salary. (SMF ¶ 30.) Bishara again responded that the decision to eliminate her position was final. (Id. ¶ 31.) WSPG contends that Bishara declined her offer because reducing her salary by nearly 20% would have an adverse effect on her morale and overall job satisfaction and he would still be required to layoff another individual. (DPFOF ¶¶ 31-33.) He told her that she was welcome to remain employed at WSPG while it finalized the terms of her severance package. (SMF ¶ 32.) Mayenschein stated that because he was not willing to allow her to reduce her salary and she was unable remain employed at WSPG, she would immediately relinquish her duties. (Id. ¶ 33.) Mayenschein's last day of employment with WSPG was November 8, 2013. (Id. ¶ 36.) She was 45 years old. WSPG claims that at no point before Mayenschein relinquished her job duties did she ever complain that the elimination of her position had anything to do with her age. (DPFOF ¶ 38.)

         Mayenschein filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Rights Division (ERD) on January 16, 2014. (SMF ¶ 37.) The ERD conducted an initial investigation of her claims and issued a determination of no probable cause. (Def.'s Appx. Ex. G, ECF No. 40.) The EEOC issued a right to sue letter on May 1, 2015. (SMF ¶ 41.) Mayenschein filed this lawsuit alleging age discrimination and retaliation in violation of the ADEA on July 15, 2015. (Id.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). All reasonable inferences are construed in favor of the nonmoving party. Foley v. City of Lafayette, 359 F.3d 925, 928 (7th Cir. 2004). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment must “submit evidentiary materials that set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Siegel v. Shell Oil Co., 612 F.3d 932, 937 (7th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). “The nonmoving party must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Id. Summary judgment is properly entered against a party “who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the ...


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