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Maxfield v. Brigham Young University

United States District Court, D. Idaho

June 19, 2014

ROBERT MAXFIELD, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY - IDAHO, Defendant

Page 1078

For Robert Maxfield, Plaintiff: Amanda Elizabeth Ulrich, DeAnne Casperson, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Holden Kidwell Hahn & Crapo, PLLC, Idaho Falls, ID.

For Brigham Young University - Idaho, Defendant: James D Holman, LEAD ATTORNEY, THOMSEN & STEPHENS, Idaho Falls, ID; Curt R Thomsen, THOMSEN and STEPHENS LAW OFFICES PLLC, Challis, ID.

Page 1079

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

Candy W. Dale, United States Magistrate Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Robert Maxfield brings this action against his employer, Brigham Young University -- Idaho (the University), alleging he was discharged and not rehired in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et. seq., and as a result, he was unlawfully denied his pension benefits under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et. seq. Maxfield alleges also a state law claim for age discrimination under the Idaho Human Rights Act, Idaho Code § 67-5901 et. seq. The University filed its motion for summary judgment on September 23, 2013, and the Court conducted a hearing on April 21, 2014.

After carefully considering the parties' arguments and the record before it, the

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Court issues this Memorandum Decision and Order granting in part and denying in part the University's motion.

FACTS[1]

Maxfield graduated from Brigham Young University in 1984, and began his postgraduate career at BYU as a career counselor that same year. In 1988, Maxfield accepted a position at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, as the placement center director in the Career Services Office. In 2000, Ricks College changed from a two-year junior college to a four-year university, and became known as Brigham Young University -- Idaho (the University). Maxfield remained the career placement director, but his job duties increased as he took on more responsibility for career placement, internships, and teacher placement. The University hired Guy Hollingsworth in 2000 or 2002 to direct the internship program. During this period, Maxfield and Hollingsworth worked together out of the same office. Maxfield describes his working relationship with Hollingsworth as " decent." Maxfield Depo. at 46 (Dkt. 27 at 10). The two worked in the same office together until 2006.

In February of 2006, the University merged the student employment and career services office to form the Internship and Career Services Office. Guy Hollingsworth became the director of this new office, which served all University students. In April of 2006, the University placed Maxfield in a different office--the Field Services Office in the Department of Education. As Director of Teacher Career Services, Maxfield was responsible for student-teacher placement, career counseling for education majors, and coordination of career fairs for the University's education majors. In August of 2009, Dean Cloward became head of the Field Services Office and Maxfield's supervisor.

In early 2011, the University decided to combine its Internship and Career Services offices with its Academic Counseling office, creating the Academic Discovery Center, or ADC. The intent was to combine academic advising, internship, and career services, and thereby streamline the services provided to University students. The organizing committee [2] recognized there was a duplication of effort between the ADC and the Teacher Education Department, where Maxfield worked. Both offices were helping students with career placement, but the ADC provided service to all University students, while the Teacher Education Department limited its career counseling services to teacher education students.

In February of 2011, Dean Cloward informed Maxfield of the reorganization, and asked Maxfield whether it made more sense for Maxfield's position to remain in the Department of Education or to move to the ADC. Maxfield indicated he would prefer to remain in the Field Services Office to serve education students better, but that he would go wherever he was needed. Maxfield understood from Dean Cloward that the University would have career counseling positions within the

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ADC, and he could either stay in the Field Services Office, or work in the ADC. Maxfield Depo. at 123 (Dkt. 27 at 18).

On May 5, 2011, the University decided to consolidate the Teacher Education Department's Teacher Career Services Office with the ADC. As part of the reorganization, Maxfield's job duties would be moved to the ADC and redistributed, but Maxfield would not move to the ADC and he would no longer have a position. On June 6, 2011, Maxfield met with Dean Cloward, Larry Thurgood, Kevin Stanger, and Beth Baldwin. Maxfield was informed that his employment was being terminated, and that there was no longer a position available for him in the Teacher Education Department, but he was free to apply for any open position at the University. Maxfield was not provided notice of his termination prior to the June 6, 2011 meeting. Anderson Depo. at 65 (Dkt. 36-7at 8). Maxfield asked if his job performance had been a factor in the decision to terminate his employment, and he was told he had done nothing wrong. Dean Cloward and Larry Thurgood provided Maxfield with positive letters of recommendation. There is no evidence in the record of any negative or adverse performance reviews of Maxfield's performance

Maxfield had enough paid leave to continue to receive a paycheck through August 31, 2011, and the University treated Maxfield as an unpaid employee through December 31, 2011, to allow him to accrue continued Deseret Mutual Retirement Association (" DMBA" ) benefits. Broadhead Depo. Ex. 60 (Dkt. 36-5). Maxfield was informed, however, that June 10, 2011, would be his last day of work, meaning he had to pack up his office, wrap up ongoing projects, and train individuals [3] taking over his job responsibilities. At the time his employment was terminated, Maxfield was 54 years of age, he had been working at the University for 27 years in a career development and advising capacity, and he earned a salary of $70,440.

Unlike in 2006 when the University reassigned Maxfield from the Internship and Career Services Office to the Teacher Education Department, the University decided not to reassign Maxfield to the ADC. The University set forth several reasons, as follows: (1) Guy Hollingsworth, who was now working in the ADC, did not want to be " forced to take" Maxfield, although the ADC would consider Maxfield if he applied for specific openings; (2) in Baldwin's opinion, it can be difficult to force a transfer and require the recipient of the transfer to create a new job opening for the transferee; (3) Maxfield expected to maintain his same salary and rank, even though he knew all the positions into which other people were transferred were of lower rank; [4] and (4) Maxfield had expressed

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his preference to remain in the Field Service Office of the Teacher Education Department. The University was aware that its reorganization " affected a long-term employee nearing a qualifying age for retirement." Baldwin Depo. Ex. 84 (Dkt. 36-4 at 16). There is no dispute that Maxfield was the only employee affected by the reorganization who was not provided a position within the ADC.

Maxfield testified he worked twenty-six years for the University and attained recognition for his work beyond the University. Maxfield Depo. at 159-163 (Dkt. 27). After the reorganization, numerous employees within the ADC called Maxfield to ask for assistance with their jobs. Id. Although Maxfield would have liked to have returned to the University at his original salary, he " would have taken less, but no one asked [him] anything like that." Id. He applied for alternative positions in the University, and would have been fine with going " anywhere [he] could fit." Id. Maxfield was not hired for any of the positions for which he applied.

At the time of Maxfield's termination from employment on June 6, 2011, four Career and Academic Counseling positions, which were considered new positions, were open in the ADC. Baldwin Depo. at 118 (Dkt. 36-4 at 8). The University was accepting applications for those positions through June 12, 2011. Id. at 146 (Dkt. 36-4 at 9). Maxfield, however, did not apply for those positions. Maxfield states Baldwin informed him of the open positions, but that he did not apply because he was asked to finish packing his office and complete his work by June 10, 2011. Baldwin believed Maxfield was qualified for the four open positions. The University admitted also that Maxfield was suitably qualified for several other positions open in May and August of 2011, which positions included Support Services Coordinator, Tutoring Services Coordinator, Student Honor Coordinator, First Year Experience Coordinator, Student Support Coordinator, and Admissions Coordinator. Baldwin Depo. at 153-56, and Ex. 44 (Dkt. 36-4 at 18).[5]

The four academic counseling positions in the ADC were filled with three individuals as follows: Tyler Christensen (age 34); Vance King (age 29) and Natalie Whittaker (age 31). All three were hired at lower salaries than Maxfield. Casperson Aff. Ex. 10 (Dkt. 36-10). In November, Mindy Harris (age 33), an administrative assistant, was promoted to the fourth open academic counseling position at a salary of $45,900 per year. Casperson Aff. Ex. 9 and 10 (Dkt. 36-8, 36-9, 36-10).

Within the newly organized ADC, Maxfield's prior career counseling and teacher placement duties were distributed among employees Debbie Willis (age 49), Carrie Valora (age 34), and Vance King (age 29), who were working in the ADC. Baldwin Depo. at 182 (Dkt. 36-4 at 13); Ex. 53 (Dkt. 36-4 at 24). Employees who previously worked in different departments and whose job responsibilities were assumed by the ADC continued in their employment within the ADC, and were not required to interview or apply for their positions. Baldwin Depo. at 167-169; Ex. 53 (Dkt. 36-4 at 11-12; 24). Baldwin described the process as continuing the individual's employment by retaining their existing job responsibilities, and adding additional responsibilities required by the reorganization. Baldwin Depo. at 167 (Dkt. 36-4 at 11). Rebecca Chidester (age 31) and Stephanie Donahoo (age 32), both of whom previously worked in the

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Online Learning Department, are two examples of employees who retained their job responsibilities and began working in the ADC without having to apply or interview. Id. at 168.

In July of 2011, the ADC experienced job turnover. Maxfield applied for two open positions, one for academic coordinator/team lead and the second for academic counselor. Baldwin Depo. at 118 (Dkt. 36-4 at 8). Maxfield, along with three other individuals,[6] were interviewed for the two positions. According to an email dated August 3, 2011, and written by Baldwin to Fenton Broadhead, all four interview candidates " did well in the interview process and presented suitable qualifications," but the University hired Michael Cornick (age 35) and Chris Humphreys (age 35) at salaries of approximately $50,000. Ex. 230 (Dkt. 36-18 at 13); Aff. of Casperson Ex. 9, 10 (Dkt. 36-11 at 1-36-12 at 20). Baldwin claims Maxfield was not hired because he made " disqualifying statements" about how he struggled with tedious detailed work, and both positions required highly detailed work. Baldwin Depo. at 200 (Dkt. 24 at 20-21). Maxfield denies making any disqualifying statements during his interview, explaining he stated instead ...


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