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Scofield v. Fishback Financial Corp.

June 14, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Karen E. Schreier Chief Judge


Fishback Financial Corporation (Fishback Financial) and First Bank & Trust, N.A., defendants, move for summary judgment. First Bank & Trust, N.A., moves to dismiss the claims against it because it did not receive service of process. Plaintiff, Gary Scofield, resists these motions.


Scofield was the president of the Watertown branch of First American Bank & Trust. Sometime around April 1, 2006, First American Bank & Trust was acquired by First Bank & Trust, N.A.*fn1 First Bank & Trust operated the Watertown bank under its name and kept Scofield as the bank president.

On January 12, 2007, approximately nine months after the acquisition, Scofield was told by his supervisor, Brian Thompson, to come to Brookings for a performance evaluation.*fn2 Scofield, Thompson, and Jane DeBoer, the Director of Human Resources for Fishback Financial, were present at the meeting. Rather than conduct a performance evaluation, Thompson informed Scofield that he was fired. On April 14, 2008, Scofield filed this suit against Fishback Financial and First Bank & Trust alleging that he was fired because of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA).


Rule 56(c) provides that summary judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the case under the governing substantive law will properly preclude summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Summary judgment is not appropriate if a dispute about a material fact is genuine, that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

The moving party bears the burden of bringing forward sufficient evidence to establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The nonmoving party is entitled to the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts in the record. Vette Co. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 612 F.2d 1076, 1077 (8th Cir. 1980). The nonmoving party may not, however, merely rest upon allegations or denials in its pleadings, but must set forth specific facts by affidavits or otherwise showing that a genuine issue exists. Forrest v. Kraft Foods, Inc., 285 F.3d 688, 691 (8th Cir. 2002).


I. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

Both parties agree that the burden-shifting analysis established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), applies. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 142 (2000) (applying the McDonnell Douglas framework when "the parties d[id] not dispute the issue" even though the Supreme Court had "not squarely addressed whether [the framework] applie[d] to ADEA actions"). Under this framework, "the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination." Id. at 142 (citation omitted). "[Scofield] can establish a prima facie case of age discrimination if he can show that (1) he was at least forty years old; (2) he was terminated; (3) he was meeting his employer's reasonable expectations at the time of his termination; and (4) he was replaced by someone substantially younger." Roeben v. BG Excelsior Ltd. P'ship, 545 F.3d 639, 642 (8th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted).

After the prima facie case is established, "the burden shifts to the defendants to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for their actions." Thomas v. Corwin, 483 F.3d 516, 528 (8th Cir. 2007) (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp., 411 U.S. at 802, 804). "This burden is one of production, not persuasion; it can involve no credibility assessment." Reeves, 530 U.S. at 142 (quotation and citation omitted). "If the employer successfully makes this showing, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show the employer's proffered reason was a pretext." Kasper v. Federated Mut. Ins. Co., 425 F.3d 496, 502 (8th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted).

Despite the burden-shifting nature of the McDonnell Douglas framework, the ultimate burden remains with Scofield to prove unlawful discrimination. Reeves, 530 U.S. at 143. "And in attempting to satisfy this burden, the plaintiff . . . must be afforded the opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination." Id. (internal quotation and citations omitted). "[A] plaintiff's prima facie case, combined with sufficient evidence to find that the employer's asserted justification is false, may permit the trier of fact to conclude that the employer unlawfully discriminated." Id.

It is undisputed that Scofield was over 40 years old at the time he was terminated. The first two requirements for a prima facie case are therefore satisfied. The fourth requirement for a prima facie case is also satisfied because Scofield's position was subsequently filled by someone who was more than 10 years younger than him. See Grosjean v. First Energy Corp., 349 F.3d 332, 336 (6th Cir. 2003) ("Age differences of ten or more years have generally been held to be sufficiently substantial to meet the requirement of the fourth part of [an] age discrimination prima facie case." (citing cases)).

With regard to the third requirement for the prima facie case, meeting the employer's reasonable expectations, Scofield served as a bank president or senior vice president for approximately 28 years. During that time, he was never terminated for being unqualified or for insufficient performance. While employed by First Bank & Trust, Scofield never received any negative performance reviews. This constitutes sufficient evidence for purposes of demonstrating that Scofield was meeting his ...

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