TROY LEWIS V BRAUN-BRUMFIELD INCAnnotate this Case
STATE OF MICHIGAN
COURT OF APPEALS
TROY LEWIS and LOLA LEWIS,
May 22, 1998
Washtenaw Circuit Court
LC No. 94-003333-CZ
BRAUN-BRUMFIELD, INC., and DAVID P.
Before: Young, Jr., P.J., and Wahls and White, JJ.
Plaintiff Troy Lewis sued his former employer, defendant Braun-Brumfield, Inc. (BBI), and its
former operations manager, David P. Groeber, for age discrimination in violation of the Elliott-Larsen
Civil Rights Act, MCL 37.2101 et seq.; MSA 3.548(101) et seq. Lola Lewis, plaintiff’s wife, asserted
a derivative claim for loss of consortium.1 Following a bench trial, the court found that BBI had
discriminated against plaintiff based upon his age in violation of the Civil Rights Act. The trial court
awarded plaintiff $309,000 in damages for lost earnings, benefits, and emotional distress, but rejected
Mrs. Lewis’ claim for loss of consortium as well as plaintiff’s claims brought against Groeber
individually.2 BBI appeals as of right from that judgment. Plaintiffs cross-appeal the trial court’s
determination of damages as well the dismissal of Mrs. Lewis’ loss of consortium claim. We affirm in
part, reverse in part, and remand for recalculation of damages.
BBI is a book manufacturing company located in Ann Arbor. Plaintiff had been employed at
BBI since 1963. He progressed steadily through BBI’s production department and was promoted to
plant manager in 1989. As plant manager, he reported directly to BBI’s president. Plaintiff received
excellent performance reviews from 1989 through 1991, and presented additional evidence that he
performed his job in a commendable manner through February 1994. He received raises and year-end
bonuses each year he served as plant manager, including 1993. In 1993 plaintiff’s plant manager salary
was $67,700, plus a $15,000 bonus for 1992.
In 1988, BBI was acquired by Sheridan Press. Sheridan made Arnold Ziroli president of BBI
in 1992. In August 1993, Ziroli told plaintiff that he was looking for an operations manager for the BBI
plant. The operations manager job appeared virtually identical to the plant manager position. In
February 1994, Ziroli asked plaintiff to step down as plant manager and offered him the job of
supervisor of camera/opticopy, which was two management levels lower than the plant manager
position and paid $45,500 per year. Plaintiff accepted this new position in February 1994. Ziroli
himself assumed the plant/operations manager duties until May 1994, when he hired David Groeber as
operations manager. At the time of this first demotion, plaintiff was fifty-four years old, Ziroli was fifty
years old, and Groeber was fifty-nine years old. After a dispute with Ziroli, Groeber left BBI in
December 1994, and Ziroli again took over the plant/operations manager’s duties until August 1995,
when thirty-four-year-old Carl Whitley was promoted to production manager.
On September 13, 1994, Groeber told plaintiff that they were reorganizing the prepress
department at BBI and eliminating the supervisor of camera/opticopy position. Plaintiff was offered one
of two entry-level jobs, both of which paid less than $30,000 per year. The camera/opticopy
supervisors job duties were assumed by the prepress supervisor, a new position. In November 1994,
BBI hired a thirty-seven-year-old as prepress supervisor. Plaintiff was not offered the new job of
prepress supervisor, which was not posted at the time he was demoted from his position as supervisor
of camera/opticopy. Plaintiff had previously worked as prepress supervisor for seventeen years, and
was quite familiar with the current technologies in use for that job. In fact, plaintiff had asked to be
made prepress supervisor after his first demotion. Rather than take one of the hourly jobs offered to
him, plaintiff tendered his resignation.
In November 1994, plaintiff accepted an offer to work as a manufacturing consultant for Prizma
Industries, a Colorado book printer, at $52,000 per year. Plaintiff was still employed at Prizma at the
time of trial. In contrast to his employment at BBI, plaintiff received limited health benefits at Prizma and
no pension benefits.
Following a bench trial, the court found that defendant had discriminated against plaintiff based
upon his age by replacing him as plant manager and by demoting him from the subsequent supervisor
job. The court ruled that the fact that Groeber was older than plaintiff did not defeat plaintiff’s age
discrimination claim with respect to plaintiff’s demotion from the plant manager job. The trial court
awarded damages in the amount of $309,000, including $50,000 for “[e]motional distress and
embarassment and humiliation,” as well as attorney fees of $45,000, costs of $7,798.19, and statutory
prejudgment interest. However, the court declined to award damages either for a bonus that plaintiff
claimed he earned in 1993 as plant manager, or for bonuses that plaintiff claimed he would have been
entitled to in the future. The trial court also dismissed Mrs. Lewis’ loss of consortium claim, as well as
plaintiff’s claims brought against Groeber individually. The trial court denied BBI’s motion for new trial,
but granted its motion for mediation sanctions, awarding sanctions in the amount of $4,000.
BBI first disputes the trial court’s factual findings, arguing that plaintiff failed to prove that either
of his demotions were a result of age discrimination. A trial court’s findings of fact in a bench trial will
not be set aside unless clearly erroneous. MCR 2.613(C); Phardel v Michigan, 120 Mich App 806,
812; 328 NW2d 108 (1982). Findings are clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to
support them, the reviewing court is left with a firm conviction that a mistake has been made. Phardel,
We agree with BBI that plaintiff failed to prove age discrimination in his initial demotion from the
plant manager position.
Because plaintiff introduced no direct evidence of age discrimination, in order to prove his claim,
plaintiff was obligated to establish a prima facie case under the familiar approach established in
McDonnell Douglas v Green, 411 US 792; 93 S Ct 1817; 36 L Ed 2d 668 (1973).3 Under the
McDonnell Douglas approach, when the plaintiff’s claim is based on discharge from employment, a
prima facie case creating a rebuttable presumption of age discrimination requires a showing by the
plaintiff that “(1) the plaintiff is a member of a protected class, (2) the plaintiff was discharged, (3) the
plaintiff was qualified for the position, and (4) the plaintiff was replaced by a younger person.”
Meagher v Wayne State University, 222 Mich App 700, 711; 565 NW2d 401 (1997).4 If the
plaintiff is successful in establishing a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to the defendant
to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its decision. Id. If the defendant makes such an
articulation, the plaintiff bears the burden of persuading the factfinder that the employer’s proferred
reason was merely a pretext to discrimination. Id.
Plaintiff argued, and the trial court agreed, that plaintiff was “replaced” as plant manager by
thirty-four-year-old Whitley, who, as stated, became plant/operations manager in August 1995, ten
months after plaintiff terminated his employment with BBI and eighteen months after plaintiff was
demoted, during which time the job was exclusively performed by Ziroli (fifty years old) and Groeber
(fifty-nine years old).5 In order to overcome this obvious problem in his proofs under the “replaced by
a younger person” element of the McDonnell Douglas paradigm, plaintiff argues that he was “older”
than Ziroli, and further that Groeber’s tenure was limited and he was not a true replacement for plaintiff.
We find the four year age difference between plaintiff and Ziroli (respectively aged fifty-four and fifty) to
be legally insignificant giving rise to no presumption of discrimination.6 Further, we reject as too
attenuated plaintiff’s claim that he was “replaced” by Whitley when (1) Whitley was placed 1 ½ years
after plaintiff was demoted, and (2) previous to this placement, the plant manager position was held by
persons who were either very close to plaintiff’s age (Ziroli) or older (Groeber). The trial court clearly
erred in finding that plaintiff established that his demotion from the plant manager position was a result of
unlawful age discrimination.
BBI contends that plaintiff failed to carry his burden of rebutting BBI’s proffered
nondiscriminatory reasons behind his demotion from the supervisor of camera/opticopy position and
proving that age discrimination was a motivating factor in that decision. We disagree.
BBI’s primary nondiscriminatory reason proffered for its action was that it was reorganizing the
company in order to achieve maximum efficiency and so acting out of economic necessity, and that the
thirty-seven-year-old it hired to replace plaintiff was the better candidate. However, the record
contains circumstantial evidence from which it is reasonable to infer that BBI used its reorganizations to
remove or demote its older production supervisors. BBI claimed that plaintiff was demoted because he
failed as supervisor of camera/opticopy. However, the record reveals little or no evidence which would
indicate that plaintiff’s performance was substandard. We are not persuaded that the trial court clearly
erred in finding that age discrimination was a motivating factor behind BBI’s decision to demote plaintiff
from his supervisory position.
We have reviewed the remainder of BBI’s claims of error and conclude that none of them
On cross-appeal, plaintiffs argue that the trial court erred in finding that Mrs. Lewis did not
suffer loss of consortium due to BBI’s actions. We disagree. While Mrs. Lewis may have suffered
mental anguish and disruption to her life caused by the loss of plaintiff’s job and the family’s subsequent
move to Colorado, we are not persuaded that this species of injury falls within the ambit of those
normally associated with loss of consortium damages under Michigan law, such as loss of conjugal
fellowship, companionship, services, or other “incidents of the marriage relationship.” See Berryman v
Kmart, 193 Mich App 88, 94; 483 NW2d 642 (1992). The trial court did not clearly err in finding no
loss of consortium. MCR 2.613(C); Triple E v Mastronardi, 209 Mich App 165, 171; 530 NW2d
Plaintiffs next contend that the trial court erred in failing to consider the regular year-end
bonuses which plaintiff received as plant manager when calculating his damages for lost earnings.
However, this issue is moot because we are reversing the trial court’s finding that plaintiff’s demotion
from the plant manager position was motivated by age discrimination. On remand, the trial court is
directed to recalculate economic damages based upon plaintiff’s compensation as supervisor of
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this
opinion. We do not retain jurisdiction.
/s/ Myron H. Wahls
/s/ Robert P. Young, Jr.
Because Mrs. Lewis’ claim was merely derivative, any reference to “plaintiff” in the singular will be to
Mr. Lewis only.
In addition to the civil rights claim made a
gainst Groeber individually, plaintiffs also alleged that
Groeber tortiously interfered with a contractual relationship between plaintiff and BBI. Plaintiffs do not
appeal the trial court’s judgment of no cause of action on those claims.
“‘Direct evidence and the McDonnell Douglas formulation are simply different evidentiary paths by
which to resolve the ultimate issue of [the] defendant’s discriminatory intent.’” Harrison v Olde
Financial Corp, 225 Mich App 601, 610; 572 NW2d 679 (1997) (citation omitted).
The McDonnell Douglas approach was adopted by our Supreme Court in Matras v Amoco Oil Co,
424 Mich 675; 385 NW2d 586 (1986), and recently has been reaffirmed. See Lytle v Malady, 456
Mich 1, 27-30; 566 NW2d 582 (1997); Town v Michigan Bell Telephone Co, 455 Mich 688, 694
696; 568 NW2d 64 (1997).
Plaintiff conceded at oral argument that the duties of the plant/operations manager position from
February 1994 (after plaintiff was demoted) until August 1995 (when Whitley was promoted) were
performed only by Ziroli or Groeber.
BBI, relying on Lytle, supra at 35-36, urges that a plaintiff in an age discrimination case must prove
that he was replaced by a “substantially younger” person. While we note that our Supreme Court was
careful to indicate that this standard was particularly relevant in a reduction in force case, the rationale
for employing this standard is equally applicable in the garden variety age discrimination suit. Such a
conclusion is aptly illustrated by the weakness of plaintiff’s argument in this case. Unlike the analogous
federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 USC 621 et seq., the Civil Rights Act
contains no designated protected group (i.e., persons older than forty), but merely prohibits
discrimination on the basis of age. Consequently, given that the McDonnell Douglas paradigm creates
a presumption of unlawful discrimination in the absence of an articulated legitimate, nondiscriminatory
business reason, see Lytle, supra at 29, we conclude that de minimus differentials in age between the
plaintiff and the purported replacement cannot give rise to a presumption of age discrimination.