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Willard v. Twin City Printing and Litho

August 7, 2007


Memorandum Opinion and Order

Plaintiff Bobby Willard ("Willard") sues Defendant Twin City Printing and Litho, Inc. ("Twin City"), for age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, discrimination under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993, and health benefits retaliation under ERISA (doc. #1). Twin City has moved for summary judgment (doc. #13). Willard conceded his ADA and Arkansas Civil Rights Act claims. The Court concludes that Willard has presented a genuine issue of material fact as to his ADEA and ERISA claims. Twin City's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

I. Facts

Twin City employed Willard primarily as a "stripper"*fn1 for many years.*fn2 Willard contends he performed other jobs within his department. In the past, the position of stripper was critical for the printing industry. However, in 2002 Twin City purchased and installed a computer-to-plate ("CTP") system. This new technology significantly diminished the need for strippers. Twin City contends the technology that used strippers has been universally phased out in the printing industry. When the CTP system was installed, Twin City employed three strippers: Willard, Donnie George, and Doug Reeves. George and Reeves transferred to different positions at Twin City where they used the CTP system and other computer technology to make printing plates. This made Willard the only stripper, although according to Willard he continued to perform other jobs in the department.

In July 2005, Twin City's management, Bob and Mike Simpson, met with Willard and discussed his role in the company. Willard admits he told Bob and Mike Simpson that he would prefer to remain in his current position rather than transferring. However, Willard contends he was never told that if he did not transfer his employment would be terminated. Willard claims that had he been told his employment would be terminated, he would have accepted a transfer. Instead, Twin City hired Darrell Wilson, a man under thirty years old, to work in Willard's department. Willard argues Wilson effectively replaced him.

In the fall of 2005, Twin City continued to upgrade its equipment by purchasing a digital press and removing other equipment Willard used as a stripper. Willard insists, however, that he continued to perform other jobs in the department sufficient to fill a full-time position. He claims he trained himself on new tasks within the department, while Twin City trained other younger employees.

In December 2005, Willard was diagnosed with prostate cancer and needed surgery. In February 2006, Willard underwent surgery. Seventeen days after the surgery, while Willard was recuperating at home, Twin City fired Willard. Bob Simpson sent a letter to Willard at home. Although Twin City now argues Willard demonstrated a poor attitude at work and a reluctance to transfer to a new position, the termination letter does not reference any disciplinary problems. In fact the letter states, "In no way is this [termination] a reflection on your job performance. Since 1962, you have been a valuable asset to this company. If you desire to pursue another endeavor, we will gladly write you a referral letter." (doc. #21-4).

II. Discussion

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of a case, and a factual dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The non-movant "must show there is sufficient evidence to support a jury verdict in [his] favor." Nat'l Bank of Commerce v. Dow Chem. Co., 165 F.3d 602, 607 (8th Cir. 1999). The court views the facts and the inferences to be drawn from the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has expressed a strong preference against granting summary judgments in employment discrimination cases. "Summary judgments should seldom be used in cases alleging employment discrimination." Johnson v. Minn. Historical Soc'y, 931 F.2d 1239, 1244 (8th Cir. 1991) (citing Haglof v. Nw. Rehabilitation, Inc., 910 F.2d 492, 495 (8th Cir. 1990)). "Summary judgments should be sparingly used and then only in those rare instances where there is no dispute of fact and where there exists only one conclusion." Johnson, 931 F.3d at 1244. "All evidence must point one way and be susceptible of no reasonable inferences sustaining the position of the non-moving party." Id. "Because discrimination cases often depend on inferences rather than on direct evidence, summary judgment should not be granted unless the evidence could not support any reasonable inference for the non-movant." Crawford v. Runyon, 37 F.3d 1338, 1341 (8th Cir. 1994).

B. ADA Claim & Arkansas Civil Rights Act Claims

In his response to Twin City's motion, Willard conceded that his ADA and Arkansas Civil Rights Act claims should be dismissed. Therefore, Willard's claims based on the ADA and Arkansas Civil Rights Act are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

C. ADEA Claim

The ADEA provides that it is unlawful "for an employer . . . to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or ...

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