United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville Division
W. Phillips, United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment [doc. 14], Defendant's Brief in Support
of the Motion [doc. 15], Plaintiff's Response [doc. 18],
Defendant's Reply [doc. 20], Plaintiff's Supplemental
Response [doc. 26], and Defendant's Supplemental Reply
[doc. 31]. For the reasons herein, the Court will deny the
1953, Robbie Dale Belew (“Mr. Belew”) began his
career with Defendant SECO Architectural Systems, Inc.
(“SECO”)-a company that fabricates and installs
wall panels primarily for large-scale construction
projections-in 1991 as a sheeter, or an installer of metal
siding. [Belew Dep., doc. 15-1, 50:25; 51:1-11; Creighton
Decl., doc. 15-2, ¶¶ 2, 13]. Mr. Belew later became
a construction manager with SECO and was responsible for the
oversight of projects in states throughout the Southeast.
[Belew Dep. at 61:15-25; 62:1-5; Creighton Decl. ¶ 6].
By 2014, SECO employed three construction managers, each of
whom was based in a different state. [Creighton Dec. ¶
6]. As one of those three construction managers, Mr. Belew
was based in Jacksboro, Tennessee, where he maintained an
office. [Belew Dep. at 101:24-25, 102:1; Creighton Decl.
¶ 6]. At some time in 2014, SECO published a
company-wide newsletter called “The SECO Outlook,
” [doc. 18-1], in which Joseph Creighton (“Mr.
Creighton”), SECO's president and co-owner,
[Creighton Decl. ¶ 1], wrote:
It has been said that the future belongs to the young. It has
also been said that those that don't plan for the future,
won't have much of a future!
In the ever-changing business world, which moves faster with
every passing day, those companies that don't plan and
prepare for the near-term future or the long term future,
simply won't have a future!
Of course, one of the pillars of SECO's core philosophy
has been to always self-perform our field operations. As
such, since day-one, back in 1989, SECO's field forces
have been direct SECO employees. In fact, several of the
foremen who started out with SECO leading our field efforts
are still leading our field efforts nearly 25 years
This amazing longevity is the primary reason that SECO's
field personnel are the most experienced professionals in the
If there is any downside to all of this experience, it's
that some of our long timers are, shall we say, not
“spring chickens”! Looking forward, SECO
management has recognized the need to take advantage of our
seasoned personnel as teachers and mentors of the next
generation of foreman and crew leaders. This is an ongoing
process, of course, but several of our next-generation field
leaders have already come to the forefront.
These “young guns”, the future of SECO's
field leadership, have taken full advantage of the vast
knowledge and skills possessed by our experienced leaders and
have thereby accelerated their learning process.
We'd like to introduce you to some of our future stars
and their primary mentors.
. . . .
We are very fortunate to have all of these dedicated young
professionals on our team.
With this kind of talent within our field leadership
supplemented by dozens of top-notch technicians and
craftsmen, it looks as if SECO's customers of the future
will continue to have their needs met by the best field force
in America, just like our customers of today!
A big thank you goes out to our senior guys for
helping to secure a bright future for SECO by selflessly
passing on their invaluable knowledge to the next generation!
SECO Outlook at 15-16; Creighton Dep., doc. 26-1, 66:10-25;
December 2014, Mr. Creighton maintains that he and SECO's
founder and co-owner, Dick Waldron, “began discussing
ways to streamline company operations and cut costs”
and decided that SECO did not require three construction
managers. [Creighton Decl. ¶¶ 3, 7-9]. As a result,
they demoted Mr. Belew, who was about sixty years old at the
time, to a position that required him to perform safety
audits and order equipment for construction projects, [Belew
Dep. at 75:14-25; 76:1-23]; terminated one of the other
construction managers, who was forty-five years old,
[Creighton Decl. ¶ 10]; and promoted the third
construction manager, Troy Strickland (“Mr.
Strickland”),  who assumed responsibilities for all of
SECO's construction projects, [id. ¶ 9].
Mr. Belew, in his new position, “no longer had any
management authority, ” [id. ¶ 10], and
he not only had fewer ...