The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael J. Davis Chief Judge United States District Court
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 32)
Plaintiff was hired in July 2000 by Defendant St. Paul Motorsports, Inc. d/b/a St. Paul Harley‐Davidson/Buell ("SPHD") as a line technician. He was later transferred to Wild Prairie Motorsports, Inc. d/b/a Wild Prairie Harley‐
Davidson/Buell ("WPHD") and promoted to Technical Advisor. He was laid off during a reduction‐in‐force ("RIF") in May 2009. In this action, Plaintiff claims that Defendants did not institute a bona fide RIF and that he was terminated because of his age. He has asserted claims for age discrimination under federal and state law.
Plaintiff was hired at SPHD as a line technician when he was 48 years old. At the time of his hire, Dan Sagisser was the Technical Advisor at SPHD, a position above the line technician. (Vander Pol Aff., Ex. C (Sagisser Dep. at 11).) As a line technician, Plaintiff was responsible for routine maintenance and specific mechanical issues with motorcycles. (Id. Ex. E (Kirsch Dep. at 18); Ex. A (Fillmon Dep. at 50).) Plaintiff established himself as an effective and capable technician and that his colleagues considered him to be knowledgeable. (Id. Ex. C (Sagisser Dep. at 18‐19, 27); Ex. A (Fillmon Dep. at 117); Ex. D (Mitchell Dep. at 16); Ex. G (Giannetti Dep. at 34‐35).)
While Plaintiff did quality work, his proficiency tended to be at the lower end. (Id. Ex. D (Mitchell Dep. at 25‐27); Ex. E (Kirsch Dep. at 33).) Proficiency is measured by the number of hours a technician bills versus the amount of time they had available to work. (Id. Ex. G (Giannetti Dep. at 40).) At his deposition, Plaintiff conceded that his proficiency was low and that he needed to improve. (Id. Ex. E (Kirsch Dep. at 33, 98‐99, 161).) Plaintiff attributes his low proficiency rating to the fact that he spent time mentoring and assisting other technicians, and because he was given difficult diagnostic jobs. (Id. Ex. E (Kirsch Dep. at 99‐ 100, 169).) Plaintiff further asserts that other, more experienced technicians had historically low proficiency ratings as well. (Id. Ex. B (Blomgren Dep. at 50, 96); Ex. C (Sagisser Dep. at 28‐29).)
In February 2008, Defendants opened a second shop in Eden Prairie ‐ the WPHD. Prior to the opening of WPHD, Plaintiff was approached by L.J. Fillmon, the Service Department Manager for both SPHD and WPHD, and asked if he wanted to transfer to WPHD, and that he would be promoted to Technical Adviser if he did transfer. (Id. Ex. E (Kirsch Dep. at 42‐43). Plaintiff agreed to the transfer and the promotion.
The role of the Technical Advisor is to mentor technicians, ensuring productivity and quality work on the shop floor, acting as a liaison between management and the technicians, addressing concerns with management, handling interpersonal or behavior issues, ordering parts and tools and assisting sales staff and service writers. (Id. Ex. H (Job Description); Ex. C (Sagisser Dep. at 14‐17); Ex. E (Kirsch Dep. at 43).) While Plaintiff worked at WPHD, he occasionally had discussions with other technicians about behavior that he deemed unacceptable. For example, Plaintiff spoke with line technician Dan Donahue regarding the cleanliness of his work station. (Id. Ex. E (Kirsch Dep. at 79‐80).) Plaintiff also addressed the issue of certain technicians playing their radios too loud at a technician meeting. (Id. at 49.) Plaintiff admits that not all line technicians were receptive to his professional mentorship or leadership. For example, line technician Chuck Langland was transferred to WPHD from SPHD, and Plaintiff was warned that he may be difficult to manage. (Id. at 74‐75.) Plaintiff asserts that concerns about Langland were well‐founded, as Langland repeatedly disregarded the chain of authority established to access parts and supplies by not going through Plaintiff. (Id. at 74‐78.)
Defendants assert that after Plaintiff was transferred to WPHD, Plaintiff experienced teaming issues with almost all the other technicians. Plaintiff's supervisor, Fillmon, testified that it was not uncommon to hear about conflicts Plaintiff had with other technicians. (Id. Ex. A (Fillmon Dep. at 89‐91, 201).) Defendants further assert that several of the technicians expressed frustration with Plaintiff: that he was flustered by his leadership role; Plaintiff accused another technician of stealing parts; accusing another of giving parts away; and shouting at technicians across the shop. (Novotny Aff., Ex. 3 (Employee Statements).)
Despite Defendants' concerns about his performance as a Technical Advisor, in Plaintiff's Performance Review dated December 31, 2008, Plaintiff was ranked "Exceeds Expectations" in most areas. He received "Exceeds Some Expectations" in the areas of "Proficiency", "Communication" and "Conflict Resolution." (Id. Ex. 5.)
Plaintiff alleges that in March or April 2009, Sagisser informed Plaintiff and Glen Olson that Defendants wanted to hire younger employees. (Vander Pol Aff., Ex. E (Kirsch Dep. at 132‐33).) At about this time, management was discussing the possibility of a RIF, as the economic downturn caused business to slow in 2008 and 2009. (Id. Ex. G (Giannetti Dep. at 49); Ex. E (Kirsch Dep. at 34‐ 35).) In addition, the economic downturn happened at the same time as the WPHD opened, causing additional financial stress. (Id. Ex. G (Giannetti Dep. at 49, 103‐04); Ex. E (Kirsch Dep. at 34‐35).)
In May 2009, Fillmon put together a list of employees from the Service Department to be included in the RIF. (Id. Ex. A (Fillmon Dep. at 155‐56); Ex. V.) Fillmon testified that when he put together the layoff list, he looked at employees who had behavioral issues, not meeting expectations, and had low proficiencies. (Id. Ex. A (Fillmon Dep. at 158, 161, 197, 214‐15).) Included on the list was Plaintiff and Glen Olson ‐ two of Defendants' oldest employees. (Id. Ex. V.) The other oldest employee, Sagisser, was not included on the list, but Sagisser was part of the RIF discussions and would not have recommended himself for layoff. (Id. Ex. C (Sagisser Dep. at 67); Ex. U.) The layoff list was approved by the owner of SPHD and WPHD, Tom Giannetti. (Id. Ex. G (Giannetti Dep. at ...