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Kennedy v. Pioneer Credit Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

May 29, 2018




         Donnie Kennedy filed his Complaint [1] in this Court on December 28, 2016 alleging that his former employer, Pioneer Credit Company, fired him because of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §621 et. seq. Kennedy was sixty-two years old at the time he was fired. Now before the Court is Defendant Pioneer Credit's Motion for Summary Judgment [39], requesting judgment in its favor on all of Kennedy's claims and dismissal of this action with prejudice. The issues are fully briefed and ripe for review.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Kennedy worked in the consumer finance industry for more than thirty years, starting as a collector and quickly working his way up to a branch manager. Starting in 1986, Kennedy managed branches for a few different companies in Northeast Mississippi, including branches in Amory, Booneville, and Tupelo, Mississippi. In 2010, the owners of Pioneer recruited Kennedy to open a new branch in Tupelo. Kennedy accepted the job, and recruited his own staff to run the branch.

         In December of 2014, the owners sold the company to Mariner Finance. Mariner kept doing business under the name Pioneer but made many other changes, including implementing a new computer system that removed manager discretion in deciding whether to make loans. Some of these changes were hard for Kennedy, and he did not like some of the changes.

         Early in 2016, Kennedy's area supervisor Jim Campbell told him that Mariner planned to close the nearby Pontotoc branch and move all of the Pontotoc accounts to Tupelo. On March 2, 2016, Pioneer Vice President Ricky Hentz came to the Tupelo Branch and told Kennedy that he was there to let him go. After Pioneer fired Kennedy, it closed the Pontotoc branch and promoted the assistant manager from the now closed Pontotoc branch, Corey Caygle, to branch manager at the Tupelo location. Kennedy was sixty-two years old when Pioneer fired him. Caygle was thirty-one years old when he took over as manager at the Tupelo branch.

         Pioneer now requests summary judgment in its favor arguing that Kennedy cannot establish a prima facie case of age discrimination, and that even if he could, he cannot show that “but for” his age, he would not have been terminated.

         Standard of Review 3

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs summary judgment. Summary judgment is warranted when the evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The rule “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, 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.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

         In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the non-movant, “but only when . . . both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). When such contradictory facts exist, the Court may “not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000).

         The moving party “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The nonmoving party must then “go beyond the pleadings” and “designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (citation omitted).

         Age Discrimination

         Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, an employer may be liable for “discharg[ing] any individual . . . because of such an individual's age.” 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). To prove discriminatory termination under the ADEA, a plaintiff must show that but for the alleged discrimination, he would not have been terminated. Gross v. FBL Financial Servs., Inc., 557 U.S. 167, 176, 129 S.Ct. 2343, 174 L.Ed.2d 119 (2009). When, as here, a plaintiff seeks to establish his claim with circumstantial evidence only, the Court assesses the sufficiency of the evidence using the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. Miller v. Raytheon Co., 716 F.3d 138, 144 (5th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).

         Within the McDonnell Douglas contours, Kennedy must first establish a prima facie case of age discrimination, “at which point, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the employment decision.” Berquist v. Wash. Mut. Bank, 500 F.3d 344, 349 (5th Cir. 2007). If Pioneer meets its burden of production, Kennedy must introduce evidence from which a jury could infer that Pioneer's proffered reasons are not true -but are instead a pretext for discrimination- or that even if the proffered reasons are true, Kennedy was terminated “because of” his age. Miller, 716 F.3d at 144 (citing Gross, 557 U.S. at 180, 129 S.Ct. 2343). To demonstrate pretext under the ADEA, Kennedy must offer evidence to rebut each of the employer's ...

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