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Manlove v. Aktiengesellschaft

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

June 28, 2019

JONATHAN MANLOVE, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,

          Christopher H. Steger, Magistrate Judge.



         Before the Court is Defendants' (collectively, “Volkswagen”) motion for partial judgment on the pleadings as to Plaintiff Jonathan Manlove's class-action claims under the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”), Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-101 et seq., and collective-action claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., or, alternatively, motion to strike the class- and collective-action allegations from the complaint (Doc. 88).[1] For the following reasons, the Court will DENY Volkswagen's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts, alleged in Plaintiff's amended complaint (Doc. 12), are accepted as true for the purposes of this motion.[2] Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft (“Volkswagen AG”), a German corporation, manufactures automobiles at production plants throughout the world. (Id. at 6-7.) Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. (“Volkswagen America”), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Volkswagen AG, is the “operational headquarters for [its] presence in North America.” (Id. at 7.) Volkswagen Group of America Chattanooga Operations, LLC (“Volkswagen Chattanooga”) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Volkswagen America that “operates the Volkswagen Chattanooga Assembly Plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.” (Id.)

         Volkswagen AG “shares common employees” with Volkswagen Chattanooga, as well as “a unified set of human resource, performance evaluation, and compensation policies” through an internal management system. (Id. at 4.) Volkswagen AG also “direct[s] the method of promotion for workers in Chattanooga, including through the elimination of the management assessment centers” and “maintain[s] a common internal employee platform through which open positions and job transfers are conducted.” (Id. at 5-6.) Volkswagen AG holds “regular meetings in Chattanooga to set directly personnel work activities and production.” (Id. at 5.)

         In November 2016, “Volkswagen AG Brand Chief” Dr. Herbert Diess announced a rebranding effort known as “TRANSFORM 2025” and a new global policy known as “Pact for the Future” (the “Pact”), which would “focus on . . . ‘significant improvements in efficiency and productivity.'” (Id. at 9-10.) According to Volkswagen, it planned to achieve increased efficiency through a combination of early retirement and “natural fluctuations.” (Id. at 2, 10.) Additionally, Volkswagen explained that implementing the Pact would include the elimination of 30, 000 jobs globally, including 7, 000 outside Germany. (Id. at 12.) Dr. Karlheinz Blessing, a Volkswagen AG Human Resources Board Member, stated in a press release that the Pact would “make Volkswagen slimmer, faster, and stronger.” (Id. at 10.)

         In March 2017, Volkswagen held a human-resources conference, during which it emphasized that “human resources transformation [was] crucial for the success of the pact for the future.” (Id.) Volkswagen described one of the key topics of the conference as the “development of the workforce of the brand and its locations.” (Id. at 11.) That same month, Volkswagen transferred a human-resources employee from Germany to Volkswagen Chattanooga to serve as the Senior Vice President of Human Resources. (Id. at 2, 11.)

         A month later, a new manager in her thirties replaced Manlove's boss, who was in his sixties. (Id. at 2.) Then, on June 6, 2017, Volkswagen issued a press release concerning its plans for a “fundamental personnel transformation” in the “next few months.” (Id. at 11.) Addressing an early-retirement program for German workers, Dr. Blessing stated that “employees who would rather continue to work are saying that they will make an active contribution, will qualify for new tasks and will be prepared to transfer to another business area or location.” (Id.) The next week, Volkswagen announced a new head of the Chattanooga plant “who would report directly” to Hinrich J. Woebcken, the CEO of both Volkswagen America and Volkswagen AG's North American region. (Id.) Then, on June 26, 2017, Volkswagen AG issued another press release, in which Dr. Diess stated, “We are expecting our management levels to become younger and slimmer[.]” (Id. at 12 (original emphasis removed).) Dr. Diess continued, “We are becoming slimmer, leaner and younger. This will make Volkswagen faster and more efficient at the same time as providing new motivation for junior managers.” (Id.) Two days later, Mike Beamish, Executive Vice President of Human Resources for Volkswagen America, circulated a memorandum to employees, stating that the Pact would have no effect on jobs in the United States. (Id. at 12-13.)

         On June 29, 2017, Volkswagen transferred Manlove, who was fifty-three years old at the time, from his position of Assistant Manager to the lower-ranking and lower-paid position of Supervisor in another department. (Id. at 6, 15-16.) A human resources representative told Manlove he would continue to receive the higher Assistant Manager salary for only the first year in the new position. (Id. at 14.) She also told him the demotion was for “economic reasons” and unrelated to his performance. (Id. at 15.) His transfer occurred after the new manager of In-House Logistics reorganized that department and eliminated two of five Assistant Manager positions, including his position and the position of another employee older than fifty. (Id.) Two younger employees and one older than fifty filled the three surviving Assistant Manager positions. (Id.) That older employee, however, supervised only twelve employees in his new position, as opposed to the ninety he supervised before the reorganization. (Id.)

         Before the Pact was announced, seven of the fourteen employees in Logistics[3] at or above a Grade-8 salary level were over fifty years of age. (Id. at 16) Afterwards, only three of fourteen employees at or above Grade 8 were over fifty years of age. (Id.)

         Plaintiff Jonathan Manlove filed this action on June 29, 2018, and an amended complaint on September 18, 2018. (Docs. 1, 12.) He sues Volkswagen for injunctive relief against Volkswagen's policy “in his individual capacity and on behalf of a class of current and former employees 50 years of age and older who work for Volkswagen in the United States.” (Doc. 12, at 1.) Specifically, Manlove asserts: (1) individual and collective-action claims under the ADEA, pursuant to Section 16(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 216(b); and (2) individual and class-action claims under the THRA, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. (Doc. 12, at 3, 21.)

         With regard to his collective-action claims under the ADEA, Manlove alleges that he and all Volkswagen employees in the United States fifty years old or older are similarly situated in that “Volkswagen transferred, demoted, or otherwise pressured them into leaving their employment as part of its common plan and scheme to phase out older workers.” (Id. at 20.) He claims “[t]here is a common nexus of fact and law suggesting that Plaintiff and members of the collective action were discriminated against in the same manner.” (Id. at 20-21.)

         With regard to his THRA claims, Manlove asserts class-action claims on behalf of “all Volkswagen employees [fifty years old or older] who worked at any of Volkswagen's Tennessee facilities from November 2016 through the date of the final judgment.” (Id. at 21.) He asserts that this class can fulfill the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a), and both 23(b)(2) and 23(b)(3) in large ...

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