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Goudeau v. National Oilwell Varco, L.P.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 16, 2015

MAURICE R. GOUDEAU, Plaintiff -- Appellant,
v.
NATIONAL OILWELL VARCO, L.P., Defendant -- Appellee

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

For Maurice R. Goudeau, Plaintiff - Appellant: Alfonso Kennard Jr., Esq., Acting Assistant Attorney General, Houston, TX; Michelle Mishoe Miller, Terrence Bouvier Robinson, Esq., Kennard Blankenship Robinson, P.C., Houston, TX.

For National Oilwell Varco, L.P., Defendant - Appellee: Christopher Earl Moore, Esq., Attorney, Christine Marie White, Esq., Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., New Orleans, LA.

Before BENAVIDES, SOUTHWICK, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

GREGG COSTA, Circuit Judge:

Maurice Goudeau appeals the district court's summary judgment dismissal of his age discrimination and retaliation claims. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the dismissal of the retaliation claim but reverse the dismissal of the discrimination claim.

I.

The following background construes factual disputes in favor of Goudeau as courts must when the opposing party has moved for summary judgment.

Goudeau began his career in 1993 as a mechanic and millwright at ReedHycalog. He was promoted through the ranks and obtained the position of maintenance supervisor, a post he held when ReedHycalog was acquired by National Oilwell Varco (NOV) in 2008. Goudeau continued to be employed as a maintenance supervisor at NOV's Conroe, Texas facility until he was terminated in 2011 at the age of fifty-seven.

At NOV, Goudeau first worked under a supervisor named Tim Taylor. During that time, Goudeau had no disciplinary problems. In August or September 2010, Mike Perkins became Goudeau's supervisor. On one occasion, when they stepped outside to smoke, Perkins told Goudeau that " there sure are a lot of old farts around here," and asked Goudeau about his job duties. In the same exchange, Perkins inquired about the ages of two older employees whom he also supervised, Joe Jett and Bill Fisher, and how long they had been working for NOV. Perkins then said that he planned to fire both Jett and Fisher.

Goudeau complained to Human Resources (HR) about Perkins's " old farts" comment and about the plan to fire the older workers. Although the HR representative told Goudeau a meeting would be arranged with Perkins, it is unclear if HR ever actually discussed the allegations with Perkins. In any case, following the HR complaint, Perkins stopped socializing with Goudeau, reduced Goudeau's managerial authority, and " really turned the heat up on [him]." Perkins also continued to make ageist remarks. On a number of occasions, Perkins asked if the facility's smoking area was " where the old people meet." Perkins also once remarked that Goudeau wore " old man clothes." Goudeau contends that Perkins also referred to Goudeau as an " old fart." Goudeau does not recall the exact dates when Perkins made the various ageist comments described above, other than that they were all made sometime between August/September 2010, when Perkins became Goudeau's supervisor, and January 2011, when Goudeau received his first disciplinary write-up.

Perkins issued Goudeau that " First Warning" for ignoring a direct request to complete a task. It was the first disciplinary action of Goudeau's eighteen-year career with NOV and its predecessor. Goudeau signed the write-up, but filed written objections to the substance of the allegations and complained to HR that the write-up was a retaliatory measure for opposing Perkins's plan to fire Jett and Fisher. In March 2011, Goudeau received his first annual performance review from Perkins and was given a below-standard rating. Goudeau again complained to HR that the poor review was retaliation, and filed a written statement disputing the deficiencies listed in the review.

The remaining documents in Goudeau's personnel file consist of four write-ups--three are dated July 2011 and one is dated August 2011. Goudeau maintains that he not was presented with these four write-ups until the meeting on August 11 when he was terminated. The three July write-ups include: a " Second Warning," for failing to get machines repaired and costing the plant unnecessarily; a " Third Warning," for failing to perform a monthly inspection of fire extinguishers; and a " Final Warning" for failing to commence an assigned project. Each of these write-ups was signed by Perkins and HR on July 15, 2011, even though the violations described in each write-up occurred on different dates. The " Second Warning" involved a violation that occurred on June 26, 2011. The " Third Warning" described a violation that occurred on July 12, 2011. The " Final Warning" detailed a violation that occurred on July 14, 2011. None contains Goudeau's signature, even though there is an " acknowledgement of receipt of warning" section with a line for " employee signature." Moreover, Goudeau contends that the infractions described in the write-ups did not involve tasks within his job duties. The personnel file also contains a fifth write-up-- a second " Final Warning," dated August 10, 2011, for failing to complete a task requested by Perkins on August 9, 2011. This write-up contains no signatures.

At the August 11 meeting at which Goudeau contends he first saw these written warnings,[1] Perkins terminated Goudeau's employment citing poor job performance and insubordination. Goudeau was not replaced; his duties were instead absorbed by existing employees. At some point after the " old farts" discussion, Perkins also terminated Fisher due to performance ...


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