RUNYON v. APPLIED EXTRUSION TECHNOLOGIES (August 30, 2010)

Timothy Runyon began working at Applied Extrusion Technologies' (AET) Terre Haute, Indiana plant in 2005 at the age of 45. A few months later, the company hired Troy Corbett, about fifteen years his junior. The two men worked for the same supervisor and had the same job title. Runyon had two fairly serious and heated altercations with coworkers in his first seven months on the job. Then, in February of 2006, Runyon and Corbett got into a heated argument that escalated into a fight. Both men were suspended for three days and instructed to write letters of apology. Runyon's letter focused more on his desire to remain employed and did not address the fight or issue an apology until its fourth and final paragraph. Corbett's letter, on the other hand, opened with an apology and expressed his sincere regret. Because of the earlier two incidents and the content of the letter, AET fired Runyon. It did not fire Corbett. Runyon brought an action against the company based on the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Judge McKinney (S.D. Ind.) granted judgment as a matter of law to AET at the close of Runyon's case-in-chief. Runyon appeals.

In their opinion, Judges Posner, Flaum, and Wood affirmed. The Court stated that Runyon was wrong in approaching the appeal as if it were a McDonnell Douglas indirect proof analysis. That burden-shifting approach is only appropriate at summary judgment, not after a plaintiff has had an opportunity to present his entire case at trial. The question at that time is whether he presented enough evidence to allow a rational factfinder to rule in his favor. On that question, Runyon must fail. He presented insufficient evidence to carry his burden that his age rather than his behavior was the real reason for his discharge.