United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Nancy J. Winkelman, Plaintiff,
AgStar Financial Services, ACA, Defendant.
Jeffrey D. Schiek, Esq., and Philip G. Villaume, Esq.,
Villaume & Schiek, P.A., Bloomington, MN, on behalf of
L. Middleton, Esq., Littler Mendelson, PC, Minneapolis, MN,
and Tessa K. Mlsna, Esq., Gray Plant Mooty, Minneapolis, MN,
on behalf of Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MONTGOMERY U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
August 17, 2017, the undersigned United States District Judge
heard oral argument on Defendant AgStar Financial Services,
ACA's (“AgStar” or the “Company”)
Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 18]. Plaintiff Nancy
J. Winkelman (“Winkelman”) alleges that AgStar
retaliated against her in violation of the Age Discrimination
in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 623(a). Compl. [Docket
No. 1] ¶¶ 20-35. For the reasons set forth below,
AgStar's motion is granted.
AgStar and its Annual Review Process
is a Financial Services company that provides a broad range
of financial services for agricultural and rural clients in
northwestern Wisconsin and Minnesota. Bridger Decl. [Docket
No. 22] ¶ 2.
to this dispute is AgStar's annual employee review
process. In January and February of each year, supervisors
conduct annual performance reviews of their team members.
Mlsna Decl. [Docket No. 21] Ex. A (“Winkelman
Dep.”) 129:7-10. Supervisors are instructed to rate
their team members' performance as “On
Target” or “Unsatisfactory” using
performance metrics. Bridger Decl. Ex. 2. By comparing an
employee's performance metrics to that of their peers,
the performance metrics largely serve as the basis for annual
salary adjustments and promotion decisions. Bridger Decl.
¶ 4; Mlsna Decl. Ex. F; Paur Decl. [Docket No. 23]
year, AgStar sets an overall budget for salary increases, and
the Human Resources (“HR”) department prepares
Salary Administration Guidelines to assist supervisors in
distributing the salary increases within the budget. Bridger
Decl. ¶ 7. These guidelines also provide insight into an
employee's progression through the salary range for their
supervisors make initial recommendations of their
employees' salary increases and promotions. Winkelman
Dep. 99:16-100:8. The initial recommendations are reviewed
and approved by upper management to ensure consistency with
AgStar's budget for annual pay increases. Mlsna Decl. Ex.
V (“Kramer Dep.”) 25:23-26:7.
Winkelman's 2011 Charge of Discrimination
starting working at AgStar as a Farm Records Technician in
1994. Winkelman Dep. 55:19-20. She currently works at salary
grade 11 as a Senior Business Analyst in AgStar's
Baldwin, Wisconsin location. Id. Since 1994,
Winkelman has received an annual salary increase and has been
promoted every three to four years. Id. 43:21-24;
164:3-6. Winkelman's supervisors have rated her “On
Target” in all of her annual performance reviews.
Id. 49:2-6; 129:20-23.
5, 2011, Winkelman filed a Charge of Discrimination with the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).
Schiek Aff. [Docket No. 27] Ex. C at 2-5 (“2011 EEOC
Charge”). Winkelman alleged that her then-supervisor,
Mel Pearson (“Pearson”), made salary and
promotional decisions based upon her age and gender.
Id. Winkelman cross-filed the 2011 charge with the
Wisconsin Equal Rights Division (“ERD”).
Id. at 1.
HR representative, Leah Bridger (“Bridger”),
investigated Winkelman's allegations. Winkelman Dep.
103:15-21; Mlsna Decl. Ex. P (“Bridger Dep.”)
39:12-18. Bridger spoke with Winkelman to develop an
understanding about her claim. Bridger Dep. 39:20-25. Bridger
then interviewed Pearson and Winkelman's higher-level
supervisors, Owen Thompson (“Thompson”) and Jeff
Kramer (“Kramer”). Id. 40:13-16. Bridger
stated that her investigation did not substantiate
Winkelman's claims, and concluded that AgStar did not
discriminate against Winkelman. Id. 42:12-21.
August 3, 2012, the EEOC dismissed Winkelman's charge
without finding evidence to support her allegations of
discrimination. Mlsna Decl. Ex. C. The ERD claim remained
open until Winkelman voluntarily withdrew it on June 16,
2014. Schiek Aff. Ex. S.
Winkelman's 2014 Performance Review
2013, Pearson retired and Bryan Paur (“Paur”),
who was Winkelman's peer, was promoted into Pearson's
position. Mlsna Decl. Ex. S (“Paur Dep.”)
13:9-14. Paur directly supervised three employees, including
Winkelman. Paur Dep. 11:4-8.
Paur Evaluates Winkelman's Performance
evaluated Winkelman's year 2014 performance in January
and February 2015. Winkelman Dep. 129:11-19; Paur Dep.
21:13-15. During this evaluation period, Winkelman was a
Business Analyst, salary grade 10. Paur Decl. ¶ 4. In
that position, Winkelman worked with AgStar's
intermediate sized clients and underwrote loan applications,
completed accrual earning and financial reconciliation, and
monitored loan performance. Id.
productivity results were largely based on nine objective
performance metrics: 1) number of loans closed; 2) loan
amount requested; 3) loan amount approved; 4) financial
statements reviewed; 5) earnings statements reviewed; 6)
number of financial reviews completed; 7) overrides; 8) farm
visits; and 9) client information files. Paur Decl. ¶ 5,
Ex. 1. Paur determined that, compared to her peers, Winkelman
scored below average on some, above average on a few, and
around average on ...