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Wood v. Technology for Energy Corporation

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville

May 14, 2015

KELSEY R. WOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
TECHNOLOGY FOR ENERGY CORPORATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

THOMAS A. VARLAN, Chief District Judge.

This civil action is before the Court on Technology for Energy Corporation's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 12]. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition [Doc. 17], and defendant replied [Doc. 19]. After careful consideration of the record and the law, the Court will grant the motion for summary judgment.

I. Background

Defendant Technology for Energy Corporation designs and manufactures diagnostic instruments for four industries: aviation, electric power, material testing, and nuclear [Doc. 13-1 p. 41]. The company formed its aviation division in 1990, following its acquisition of ACES Systems [ Id. ]. Defendant designs, manufactures, and sells ACES Systems products within the United States and internationally [ Id. ].

Plaintiff began working for defendant as a Product Support Coordinator in November 2010 [ Id. at 42]. As a Product Support Coordinator, her job responsibilities included initiating and coordinating all records and activities relating to aviation product repairs and/or re-calibrations [ Id. ]. Her annual salary was $29, 120 and she earned commissions and bonuses [ Id. ].

On July 25, 2011, defendant offered plaintiff the position of Regional Sales Coordinator within the aviation division [ Id. at 21, 29]. According to plaintiff, the job duties of this position varied from that of Product Support Coordinator; as a Regional Sales Coordinator, she was more "sales focused" [ Id. at 23]. She also was responsible for getting leads, quoting and selling customers, and making follow-up calls [ Id. at 12]. Plaintiff worked as a Regional Sales Coordinator from September 1, 2011, through her termination on June 14, 2013 [ Id. ]. Her annual salary was $35, 016, plus commissions and bonuses [ Id. at 21, 42].

William "Buddy" Simpkins set plaintiff's salary [ Id. at 42]. Simpkins set the salary by using Ron Smith's starting salary of $33, 000 as a benchmark; Smith began as a Regional Sales Coordinator in 2000 [ Id. ]. Simpkins also considered plaintiff's skill level, the fact that salaries had been pretty flat since 2000, slow economic conditions in the market, the health of the company, and the risk of hiring a person who has not been proven in the field [ Id. ]. At the time plaintiff began as a Regional Sales Coordinator, Smith's salary was $59, 200, and his salary remained the same through plaintiff's termination date [ Id. ]. Prior to working as a Regional Sales Coordinator, Smith served approximately twenty years in the United States Air Force ("USAF") [ Id. at 36]. While in the USAF, Smith worked approximately five years in aircraft maintenance and the balance of his career was in recruitment and sales [ Id. ].

Eric Hale was also an employee of defendant [Doc. 13-1 at 5]. His starting salary was $21, 600 [ Id. at 42]. He initially worked as an inside sales supervisor within an industrial product sales group, but he helped start defendant's aviation division in 1990 [ Id. at 37-38]. Then, he worked in sales and performed the same job responsibilities as a Regional Sales Coordinator until he resigned on or about January 21, 2000, to pursue another job opportunity [ Id. at 42]. At the time of his resignation, his salary was $50, 000 [ Id. ]. Hale returned to be a Regional Sales Coordinator in 2006, with a salary of $50, 000 [ Id. at 37-38]. Simpkins explains that his salary accounted for his prior experience with defendant and the fact that he was the most effective sales person within the aviation division at the time he resigned [ Id. at 42]. When plaintiff began as a Regional Sales Coordinator in September 2011, Hale's salary was $56, 300 [ Id. at 42-43]. His salary was the same on the date of plaintiff's termination [ Id. ].

Plaintiff does not contest that Smith and Hale had more experience in the Regional Sales Coordinator position than did plaintiff [ Id. at 6]. Indeed, the two, Smith and Hale, generated more sales and higher sales revenue than plaintiff [ Id. at 43]. From September 2011 through June 2013, the sales numbers for Smith, Hale, and plaintiff were $3, 175, 572, $2, 977, 162, and $1, 380, 277, respectively [ Id. ]. And over the same time period, the three respectively had 795, 958, and 715 customer orders [ Id. ]. The three also respectively had 5, 294, 5, 299, and 1, 261 customer contacts, and according to historical data, a higher the number of customer contacts correlated with a higher number of sales [ Id. ]. Finally, the three respectively had 411, 541, and 289 customer quotes from the same period [ Id. ].

On two occasions, plaintiff's supervisor, Larry Lehman, counseled plaintiff so that she could increase her sales production [ Id. at 14-15]. On or about April 30, 2013, Lehman placed plaintiff on a Production Improvement Plan, which was designed to raise her sales numbers [ Id. at 24, 30-31]. Neither Smith nor Hale were placed on a Production Improvement Plan [ Id. at 44].

During the time plaintiff was a Regional Sales Coordinator, defendant maintained two different commission plans [ Id. ]. From January 1, 2012, until January 31, 2013, one hundred percent of all earned commissions were pooled together and paid in equal shares to the three Regional Sales Coordinators [ Id. ]. From February 1, 2013, until July 1, 2013, eighty percent of the earned commissions were pooled together and paid in equal shares to the Regional Sales Coordinators, but the remaining twenty percent of earned commissions were paid to those responsible for generating the sales resulting in the commissions [ Id. ] After plaintiff's termination, defendant modified the commission plan so that seventy percent of the earned commissions were pooled together and paid in equal shares to the Regional Sales Coordinators, but the remaining thirty percent of earned commissions were paid to those responsible for generating the sales resulting in the commissions [ Id. ]. Defendant implemented each of these plans to increase sales [ Id. at 45].

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issues of material fact exist. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 n.2 (1986); Moore v. Philip Morris Cos., Inc., 8 F.3d 335, 339 (6th Cir. 1993). All facts and all inferences to be drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Burchett v. Kiefer, 301 F.3d 937, 942 (6th Cir. 2002). Yet, Joince the moving party presents evidence sufficient to support a motion under Rule 56, the nonmoving party is not entitled to a trial merely on the basis of allegations." Curtis Through Curtis v. Universal Match Corp., 778 F.Supp. 1421, 1423 (E.D. Tenn. 1991) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 317). To establish a genuine issue as to the existence of a particular element, the nonmoving party must point to evidence in the record upon which a reasonable finder of fact could find in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The genuine issue must also be material; that is, it must involve facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id.

The Court's function at the point of summary judgment is limited to determining whether sufficient evidence has been presented to make the issue of fact a proper question for the factfinder. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. The Court does not weigh the evidence or determine the truth of the matter. Id. at 249. Nor does the Court search the record "to establish that it is bereft of a genuine issue of material fact." Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479-80 (6th Cir. 1989). Thus, "the inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for a trial-whether, in other words, there are any genuine ...


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