United States District Court, D. Arizona
ORDER AND OPINION [RE: MOTION AT DOCKET 32].
JOHN W. SEDWICK, Senior District Judge.
I. MOTION PRESENTED
At docket 32, defendant Early Warning Services, L.L.C. ("Early Warning") moves for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on plaintiff Donna Rittenhouse's two claims. Rittenhouse's opposition to Early Warning's motion is at docket 36. Early Warning filed a reply at docket 38. Oral argument was not requested and would not assist the court.
Rittenhouse worked for Early Warning as a production control analyst ("PCA") from 2008 to 2012. Rittenhouse's initial supervisor was Nancy Bustamante, who reported to Darla Nutting. Lorena Gayton was Rittenhouse's "team leader" and "first point of contact."
In the beginning of 2012 Gayton became Rittenhouse's supervisor. Rittenhouse claims that Gayton had an "age-based animus." Rittenhouse alleges that Gayton judged her mistakes more harshly than those of her younger colleagues. After Gayton documented a series of Rittenhouse's mistakes and presented them to Early Warning's management, Early Warning discharged Rittenhouse in September 2012. Rittenhouse claims she was discharged because of her age.
Her complaint asserts two causes of action: first, that Early Warning's discharge violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"); and second, a request for declaratory relief regarding this alleged ADEA violation.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is appropriate where "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." The materiality requirement ensures that "only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Ultimately, "summary judgment will not lie if the... evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." However, summary judgment is mandated under Rule 56© "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."
The moving party has the burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Where the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, the moving party need not present evidence to show that summary judgment is warranted; it need only point out the lack of any genuine dispute as to material fact. Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must set forth evidence of specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial. All evidence presented by the non-movant must be believed for purposes of summary judgment, and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-movant. However, the non-moving party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials, but must show that there is sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute to require a fact-finder to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.
The ADEA prohibits employers from discharging workers aged 40 or older because of their age. Rittenhouse's discriminatory discharge claim alleges disparate treatment under the ADEA. For her claim to survive summary judgment, she must first establish a prima facie case of age discrimination. If she can do so, the burden of production shifts to Early Warning to articulate a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for discharging her. It would then be Rittenhouse's responsibility to demonstrate that there is a material genuine issue of fact as to whether Early Warning's purported reason is pretext for age discrimination.
A. Prima Facie Case
For Rittenhouse to establish a prima facie case of discriminatory discharge under the ADEA, she must show that she was (1) discharged; (2) 40 years of age or older; (3) performing her job satisfactorily; and (4) replaced by "a substantially younger employee with equal or inferior qualifications." The parties do not dispute the first two elements. The only questions, then, are whether Rittenhouse can show that she was performing her job satisfactorily and that she was replaced by a substantially younger employee with equal or inferior qualifications.
On summary judgment, the evidence necessary to establish a prima facie ADEA claim is "minimal." It "may be either direct or circumstantial, and very little is required." It "does not even need to rise to the level of a preponderance of the evidence." "The plaintiff need only ...