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Tomasso v. Boeing Co.

April 19, 2006


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 03-cv-04220) District Judge: Honorable Edmund V. Ludwig.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Becker, Circuit Judge.


Argued January 18, 2006.

Before: ROTH, FUENTES, and BECKER, Circuit Judges.


Joseph J. Tomasso appeals the District Court's grant of summary judgment against him in an age discrimination suit against the Boeing Company, which laid him off during a reduction in force ("RIF"). Tomasso asserted claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"). The ADEA and PHRA claims are governed by McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).*fn1 Although Boeing conceded that Tomasso made out a prima facie case of age discrimination, the District Court found that Tomasso failed, in the pretext phase, to produce sufficient evidence to discredit Boeing's rationales for his layoff.

Before this Court, as before the District Court, Boeing offered several reasons for Tomasso's layoff. Some of these rationales, if believed, could fully explain the decision; other explanations appear partial and secondary. We conclude that Tomasso adduced evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Boeing's proffered reasons are pretextual. First, under our decision in Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759 (3d Cir. 1994), Tomasso has shown sufficient implausibilities and inconsistencies in Boeing's primary rationales to avoid summary judgment. Second, a rational factfinder could dismiss the secondary reasons as pretextual, not because they played no role in Tomasso's layoff but because they cannot explain the layoff sufficiently. We will therefore reverse the District Court's grant of summary judgment against Tomasso on his ADEA and PHRA claims.*fn2

I. Facts

Tomasso began working for Boeing in 1962, when he was 18. In 1979, he entered the Supplier Quality Department, which oversees the quality of aircraft component parts to be delivered to Boeing by its subcontractors. Eventually Tomasso was promoted to Procurement Quality Specialist 4, placing him at the second highest of four procurement quality specialist positions. Procurement quality specialists would visit the sites where component parts were manufactured, verify the quality of the parts to be delivered, and monitor the subcontractors' operations.

In October of 2001, after having worked at Boeing for nearly 40 years, Tomasso received a 60-day notice of possible layoff. Afterwards, although he had been a salaried employee, he was offered only an hourly position in a different department. Tomasso refused to accept this major demotion, viewing it as "a slap in the face." He thought that accepting the new position would be tantamount to "going back 40 years and starting all over again." Tomasso was thus laid off in January of 2002 at age 59, following 22 years in the Supplier Quality Department, and a total of 39 years of service to Boeing. He was able to retire and collect a pension.

Tomasso's layoff resulted from Boeing's decision in 2001 to reduce operating costs and overhead by twenty percent at the site where Tomasso worked. As part of the plan, Boeing undertook a RIF in the Supplier Quality Department. Shortly before the RIF, Boeing had done away with a retention totem rating system that had been used to identify which employees would be laid off in the event of a RIF. Under the retention totem rating system, any employee, such as Tomasso, who had worked at Boeing for 30 years or more was in the group least likely to be laid off. The retention totem rating system had been in place for at least 10 years prior to 2001, the year the RIF began.

Rather than using the retention totem rating system, Boeing decided which employees to lay off by having managers rate them on evaluation forms. The evaluation form for the Supplier Quality Department required that employees be assigned a score on a scale from one to five in nine categories: organizational skills, problem solving, quality of work, quantity of work, technical competence, leadership, attitude, communications, and teamwork. A score of one meant "[n]eeds [i]mprovement," three meant "[a]cceptable," and five meant "[s]trong." The employees received an overall score equal to the sum of the scores in each of the nine categories.

Prior to the evaluation, employees were placed into groups with other employees performing the same or similar work. The employees in Tomasso's group were supervised by several different managers, and the managers rated their own employees. Tomasso was evaluated by his manager, Joseph Wood.

Tomasso received a score of 21, ranking last out of 43 employees in the Supplier Quality Department. He received the following scores in the individual categories:

Organizational Skills: 2

Problem Solving: 3

Quality of Work: 2

Quantity of Work: 2

Technical ...

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