Edward Hearn, managing partner of Johnson & Bell Ltd.'s Indiana Office, obtained summary judgment in favor of a fencing products manufacturer involved in an employment discrimination/wrongful termination lawsuit pending in the U.S. District Court, Northern District, Indiana.
Digger Specialties, Inc., a Bremen, IN manufacturer of fencing products for the housing industry, was forced to lay off a significant portion of its workforce due to the housing industry collapse. Two of its employees claimed that their layoff/termination violated federal employment laws. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that they were singled out by Digger's management since they were not Amish (i.e., religious reasons) or because they were older employees (i.e., age discrimination), or both. Plaintiffs pointed to the relatively few complaints regarding their past work performance as alleged evidence of discriminatory intent on the part of their employer in terminating them. The defense filed a motion for summary judgment in the federal court case arguing that the basis for plaintiffs' terminations was the economic downturn. Moreover, defense argued that, due to this downturn, plaintiffs were no longer meeting their employer's expectations.
The federal court agreed and dismissed plaintiffs' case entirely. Importantly, the district court recognized that, while normally a lack or paucity of disciplinary complaints may be used by an employee to show a discriminatory basis for termination, that is not necessarily true in the wake of an economic downturn. Specifically, the court reasoned that, when the economy changes, so does an employer's expectation with regard to the performance of an employee such that an employee who is meeting expectations during an economic boom, might not be meeting the employer's expectations in an economic crisis. The court found that this was the case especially for an employer with business operations tied so heavily to the housing industry.
The court granted Mr. Hearn's motion and dismissed the case. For a copy of the court's decision, click here.