Richard Rudolph alleged that, after 15 years as a sales director at the Abbott Park, Ill.-based medtech company, he was let go because of his age at 55 years old.
Rudolph claimed that the company laid out unreasonable performance goals to create an opportunity to force him out. Targets referred to by Rudolph — and whether he achieved them — are subject to dispute between him and his supervisor at Abbott, U.S. District Judge Peter G. Sheridan wrote in his March 2 order denying Abbott’s motion for summary judgment.
Abbott required Rudolph to achieve specific sales performance requirements each month in three regions, make three 30-day sales forecasts with more than 90% accuracy, deliver 100% accurate and current Salesforce.com data at the end of each month and grow distribution partner McKesson’s ambulatory sales by 10% compared to the previous year, according to Sheridan’s description of Rudolph’s claims.
Rudolph said he questioned his supervisor about some of the objectives, namely the mandate to meet plan for each product in each territory every month and the requirement to forecast sales with near-perfect accuracy when a distributor made the product sales, not Rudolph himself.
When the supervisor set up the plan, Rudolph claims the supervisor asked him whether he’d retire soon, while the supervisor allegedly said Rudolph was “anchored in the past.” Abbott eventually terminated Rudolph, but Rudolph claims that Abbott agreed to tell the sales team that he decided to leave, with the supervisor announcing that he had “finally retired.”
According to Sheridan, Abbott conceded that Rudolph had established a prima facie — based on the first impression — case of age discrimination, and the case will proceed because there is indirect evidence of age discrimination.
The court found that Rudolph raised a genuine dispute over whether he was evaluated based on factors unrelated to his own performance and whether Abbott could have genuinely expected him to achieve his assigned targets. There is no dispute over whether he achieved the performance objectives. Rather the questions remain over whether those objectives were unreasonable under the circumstances and whether the supervisor had discriminatory intent when assigning them and eventually terminating Rudolph.
Abbott issued a statement to MassDevice that said: “Abbott promotes and values a diverse and inclusive workforce. We believe this case is without merit.”
In denying Abbott’s motion for summary judgment, Judge Peter Sheridan wrote:
“A reasonable factfinder could conclude that [the supervisor] deliberately set performance goals that [Rudolph] could not meet – or unfairly blamed him for factors beyond his control – in an attempt to create a “legitimate” reason to fire him, as demonstrated by his age-related comments shortly before and after [Rudolph’s] termination. Drawing all inferences in [Rudolph’s] favor, a jury could conclude that [Abbott’s] proffered reason for his termination was pretext. Further, summary judgment is inappropriate where, as here, the evidence is susceptible to different inferences or interpretations, and where motive or intent are contested.”
This story was updated with a statement from Abbott.