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Heldwein v. Zmd America, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

June 16, 2015

ANDREAS HELDWEIN, Plaintiff,
v.
ZMD AMERICA, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

B. LYNN WINMILL, Chief District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is Defendant ZMD America, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 31). This case stems from the demotion and termination of Plaintiff Andreas Heldwein by Defendant ZMD America, Inc. ("ZMDA"), a subsidiary of ZMDI, Inc. Heldwein alleges that his demotion and termination violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 ("USERRA"), 38 U.S.C. ยงยง 4301-4333.[1] ZMDA's motion for summary judgment was argued on May 20, 2015, and taken under advisement. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny ZMDA's Motion.

BACKGROUND

This case stems from the demotion and termination of Andreas Heldwein by ZMD America, Inc. ("ZMDA"). ZMDA is a California corporation specializing in the design and sale of analog mixed-signal semiconductor solutions and is wholly-owned subsidiary of Zentrum Mikroelecktronik Dresden, AG ("ZMDI"), a German corporation.

Heldwein was originally hired by ZMDI as a Business Line Manager in 2007 and subsequently transferred to ZMDA on August 11, 2008. In late March 2009, Heldwein became the president of ZMDA and managed 27 employees.

ZMDA, however, claims that it became concerned with Heldwein's job performance in early 2009. Specifically, CEO Thilo Von Selchow, who was acting as Heldwein's immediate supervisor, says he was concerned with Heldwein's lack of new business development, his leadership skills, and what Von Selchow described as an overall decline in performance. But Von Selchow positively reviewed Heldwein's performance for each year prior to 2011. Heldwein also received several raises between initially joining ZMDA in 2008 and 2010, when he began earning a salary of $160, 000 a year. In addition, at the end of 2010 fiscal year, Heldwein received a bonus of $75, 000, which was substantially more than the $20, 000 bonus he received in 2009.

On March 15, 2011, Heldwein joined the Idaho Army National Guard. He then attended basic combat training for 11 weeks from April 6, 2011, through June 19, 2011, and attended Officer Candidate School for the last two weeks of July 2011. The first documented incident suggesting that Von Selchow was considering firing Heldwein was on August 12, 2011, when Von Selchow inquired into the terms of Heldwein's employment contract.

Around the same time that Von Selchow inquired into the terms of Heldwein's employment, another man named Frantz Saintellemy, who had known Von Selchow since 2004, officially began working at ZMDA as the Vice President of Corporate Strategy, Business Development, and Sales North America. Saintellemy signed a letter agreement to join ZMDA back in April 2011. Saintellemy apparently was hired to fill the shoes of Carlo Reburghini, who was about to retire. Von Selchow never informed Heldwein of his decision to hire Saintellemy, which Heldwein found upsetting and inconsistent with the trust and communication that had previously existed between him and Von Selchow during the prior four years.

A few months later, in October 2011, Saintellemy and Von Selchow discussed hiring Ed Lam as the Vice President of Marketing for Analog Products. During these discussions, Von Selchow sent an email to Saintellemy, who had been working at ZMDA for only two months, asking whether they could "take out Andreas [Heldwein] instead?" Ex. 10 to Heldwein Decl., Dkt. 40. Eight days later, the Medical Line was merged with another line and Heldwein was "demoted" to a Product Manager under the Power and Analog Business Line. In his new position, Heldwein no longer managed employees and now reported to Saintellemy instead of Von Selchow. Heldwein was also told to no longer attend executive planning meetings.

During a discussion on December 5, 2011, Heldwein told Saintellemy that he would be attending Officer Candidate School in the summer 2012, and could be deployed in fall 2012 as part of his National Guard duties. In response, Saintellemy said that ZMDA would work out a way for Heldwein to "exit" if he had to be gone for an extended period. Heldwein immediately told Saintellemy that he did not want to leave the company. Soon thereafter, in January 2012, Saintellemy informed Heldwein that his new supervisor would be the recently-hired Ed Lam. Heldwein considered this a demotion because he was now at least two positions removed from his long time supervisor, CEO Von Selchow.

In June 2012, Heldwein informed Lam that he would be commissioned as an officer in September 2012, and then would be absent for several months for officer training. Heldwein advised Lam that they should start planning on how to cover Heldwein's absence, to which Lam retorted that ZMDA is "running very lean and no one can pick up work for another person" and asked "how do you think you can get your job done if you are gone with the military all the time?" On an earlier occasion, Lam joked about "military intelligence" being an oxymoron.

Heldwein attended a second two-week training in late July and returned August 4, 2012. He also attended a weekend OCS Graduation on September 9, 2012, where he was commissioned as an officer. Three days later, Heldwein's analog product line merged with the LED line and his position was eliminated. David Hubanks, the PPM over the LED line, was tasked with managing the merged product line. Heldwein trained Hubanks on the products that Hubanks would be taking over. In the spring of 2013, ZMDA hired two employees to support Hubanks and Lam in analog products. These employees' responsibilities were similar to those previously held by Heldwein.

The actions which Heldwein contends violated the USERRA are: 1) ZMDA hired a new product manager following Heldwein's attendance at basic training; 2) ZMDA demoted Heldwein from an executive position to a product manager; 3) Heldwein was again demoted after he informed ZMDA of pending obligations at Officer Candidate School; and 4) ZMDA terminated ...


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