United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendant Ensign United States
Drilling, Inc.'s (Ensign) Motion for Summary Judgment
pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, in which Ensign contends that
Plaintiff Pete Garcia presents no genuine dispute as to any
material fact related to his age discrimination claim under
the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). (Doc. # 31.)
For the following reasons, the Court denies the motion.
following facts are undisputed.
Garcia began working for Ensign in 2000 and spent most of his
tenure there working as a derrickhand on Ensign drilling
rigs. (Doc. # 31 at ¶¶ 1-2.) In June 2012, Mr.
Garcia requested a transfer from Ensign Rig No. 161 in North
Dakota to Ensign Rig No. 17 in Limon, Colorado. (Id.
at ¶¶ 6-7.) At the time, the only position open on
Rig No 17 was an entry-level floorhand position.
(Id. at ¶ 10.) The “Driller” on Rig
No. 17 was Jeff Harrington, and the Senior Rig Manager (Mr.
Harrington's direct supervisor) was Ron Gentry.
(Id. at ¶¶ 8, 12, 14.) Mr. Harrington
interviewed Mr. Garcia for the open floorhand position, and
with Mr. Gentry's approval and recommendation, Mr.
Harrington hired Mr. Garcia at the time of the interview.
(Id. at ¶¶ 17, 19, 20.)
October 2012, after about four months working as a floorhand,
Ensign terminated Mr. Garcia from his position. (Doc. #31,
Appx. at 12.) Mr. Garcia was fifty-seven years old at the
time. (Doc. # 32 at ¶ 5.) On October 26, 2015, Mr.
Garcia initiated this suit against Ensign, alleging that his
termination violated the ADEA. (Doc. # 1.)
September 1, 2016, Ensign filed the instant motion for
summary judgment (Doc. # 31), contending that Mr. Garcia
cannot demonstrate genuinely disputed issues of material fact
with regard to the legality of his termination. Ensign
specifically argues that, even if age played a factor in Mr.
Garcia's termination, it was not the “but-for
cause” and Mr. Garcia cannot present undisputed
evidence suggesting otherwise. In his response (Doc. # 32),
Mr. Garcia argues the contrary position-that summary judgment
is unwarranted because direct and circumstantial evidence
sufficiently demonstrate a genuine dispute over issues of
material fact regarding whether age was the determinative
factor in his termination.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
judgment is appropriate if the moving party demonstrates that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that
it is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). In applying this standard, the Court views the
evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party. Adler v. Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998) (citing
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). A fact is material if,
under the applicable substantive law, it is essential to the
proper disposition of the claim. Id. (citing
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986)). A dispute of fact is genuine if there is sufficient
evidence on each side so that a rational trier of fact could
resolve the issue either way. Id. (citing
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).
moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating an
absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement
to judgment as a matter of law. Id. at 670-71. Once
the movant has met this initial burden, the burden shifts to
the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477
U.S. at 256. The nonmoving party may not simply rest upon its
pleadings to satisfy its burden. Id. Rather, the
nonmoving party must set forth specific facts that would be
admissible in evidence in the event of trial from which a
rational trier of fact could find for the nonmoving.
Adler, 144 F.3d at 671. To accomplish this, the
facts must be identified by reference to affidavits,
deposition transcripts, or specific exhibits incorporated
LAW GOVERNING ADEA CLAIMS ON SUMMARY
mentioned, Mr. Garcia brings one claim for
relief-discrimination under the ADEA, which prohibits an
employer from terminating an employee “because of such
individual's age.” See 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1).
The ADEA enables employers to exercise “sound business
judgment in personnel matters[; they] may discipline and
terminate at will employees for any reason, so long as such
termination is not unlawful.” Kosak v. Catholic
Health Initiatives of Colo., No. 08-cv-01505, 2009 WL
3497782, at *4 (D. Colo. Oct. 28, 2009) (unpublished).
prevail on a claim under the ADEA, a plaintiff must prove by
a preponderance of the evidence (which may be direct or
circumstantial) that age was the “‘but-for'
cause of the employer's adverse decision.”
Gross v. FBL Fin. Servs. Inc., 557 U.S. 167, 176- 78
(2009); Riggs v. AirTran Airways, Inc., 497 F.3d
1108, 1114 (10th Cir. 2007). The “but for” causal
standard does “not require[ ] [plaintiffs] to show that
age was the sole motivating factor in the employment
decision.” Jones v. Oklahoma City Pub. Sch.,
617 F.3d 1273, 1277-78 (10th Cir. 2010) (quoting
Wilkerson v. Shinseki, 606 F.3d 1256, 1266 (10th
Cir. 2010)). Instead, an employer may be held liable under
the ADEA if other factors contributed to its taking an
adverse action, as long as “age was the factor that
made a difference.” Id. (quoting
Wilkerson, 606 F.3d at 1266); accord Hazen Paper
Co. v. Biggins, 507 U.S. 604, 610, 113 S.Ct. 1701, 123
L.Ed.2d 338 (1993) (requiring an ADEA plaintiff to show that
age had a “determinative influence on the
outcome” of her employer's decision-making
cases of circumstantial evidence, “plaintiffs may use
the McDonnell Douglas . . . analysis to prove age
discrimination under the ADEA.” Jones, 617
F.3d at 1278; see McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green,
411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under that analysis, a plaintiff bears
the initial burden of setting forth a prima facie case that:
“1) [he] is a member of the class protected by the
[ADEA]; 2) [he] suffered an adverse employment action; 3)
[he] was qualified for the position at issue; and 4) [h]e was
treated less favorably than others not in the protected
class.” Sanchez v. Denver Pub. Schs., 164 F.3d
527, 531 (10th Cir. 1998). Throughout the analysis,
“[t]he plaintiff ... carries ...