from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Mississippi.
STEWART, Chief Judge, and JONES and OWEN, Circuit Judges.
E. STEWART, CHIEF JUDGE.
2014 and 2018, the defendants, Transocean Offshore Deepwater
et al., reduced their offshore fleet by 59%. While reducing
their fleet, Transocean fired the plaintiff, Robert
McMichael, along with over 7, 300 other employees. McMichael
claims he was fired because of his age, in violation of the
Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA").
Transocean argues that they fired him for other reasons, just
like the thousands of other employees they let go in the same
district court agreed with Transocean, granting their motion
for summary judgment. According to the district court,
McMichael failed to raise a genuine question of material fact
about Transocean's reasons for firing him. The sole issue
on appeal is whether McMichael presented enough evidence to
show that Transocean's reasons for firing him were
pretext for age discrimination. Because we agree that
McMichael failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact,
FACTUAL BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY
2001, Transocean hired McMichael as a Driller I, assigning
him to an offshore drilling rig. He was 46 years old. Over
the next eight years, he worked as a driller and toolpusher
on various rigs, earning several promotions and pay
raises. Then, in 2009, Transocean assigned him to
a rig called the Discoverer Clear Leader ("DCL").
He worked on the DCL until Transocean fired him in April of
2015. He was 59 years old.
firing came in the middle of a large downturn in the oil and
gas industry. From 2014 until July of 2018, Transocean
reduced its offshore fleet by 44 rigs. The reduction in rigs
also led to a large reduction in workforce. During this
period, Transocean fired 7, 320 employees. Transocean also
cut almost half of its toolpusher workforce. In less than two
years, they laid off 25 toolpushers-48% of all toolpushers.
early 2015, when McMichael was fired, Transocean "cold
stacked" six drilling rigs, reducing the employees on
those rigs from 989 to 0. The DCL was one of those rigs.
Transocean fired 80 employees from the DCL before eventually
taking the entire rig out of service in November of 2017.
Transocean fired all but one toolpusher from the DCL.
task of managing the workforce reduction fell on
Transocean's HR Department, which devised and implemented
a system for the project. The system was called the
high level, the high-grading process ranked employees so that
Transocean could retain its top talent. Higher-ranked
employees were more likely to keep their jobs; lower-ranked
employees were more likely to lose theirs.
more granular level, the high-grading process had three basic
parameters-(1) performance, (2) ranking, and (3) potential.
Performance is a score based on the employee's most
recent performance appraisal, which has two components: the
Total Performance Score and the Appraisal Score. An employee
can receive one of five possible Total Performance Scores: 1
being Unsatisfactory, 2 being Conditional, 3 being Fully
Successful, 4 being Superior, and 5 being Outstanding. These
scores are then converted into a percentage: Unsatisfactory
equaling 40%, Conditional equaling 60%, Fully Successful
equaling 80%, Superior equaling 100%, and Outstanding
Appraisal Score is based on the total number of points an
employee scores on his most recent performance appraisal.
Reviewers assign employees points in response to twelve
different questions. For example, reviewers must determine
each employee's "Knowledge of Tasks &
Operation," "Delegating Authority and
Responsibility," and "Professionalism." Each
question is worth six possible points, making the maximum
score 72 points. Transocean then divides the employee's
actual score by 72, producing the Appraisal Score. They then
average the Total Performance Score with the Appraisal Score
to produce the performance metric. So, for example, if an
employee receives a Total Performance Score of Superior
(100%) and receives 62 out of 72 points on the Appraisal
Score (86%), he will receive a performance score of 93%.
second parameter-ranking-is set by the rig manager. A rig
manager sets an employee's ranking by comparing him to
all other employees with the same job title on the rig the
manager oversees. For example, if a manager oversees five
toolpushers, he must rank them from first to fifth. After
assigning the employee a ranking, the manager combines the
ranking with "additional performance-related
factors" to produce the employee's ranking score,
which is expressed as a percentage. .
managers also assign the final parameter-potential. Potential
refers to the employee's potential for promotion to the
next position or higher. If the manager thinks the employee
has no potential for promotion, he assigns the employee a
score of zero, and the employee receives a potential
percentage score of 60%. If the manager assigns a potential
score of one, the employee receives a potential percentage
score of 80%. A score of two or higher earns the employee a
potential percentage score of 100%.
setting these three measures, Transocean averages them to
determine the employee's "Total Score." Because
these rankings are difficult to apply across rigs, given that
each rig manager oversees only a handful of toolpushers, the
HR Department noted that they are merely meant to facilitate
conversations between the HR Department and rig managers, who
retain ultimate responsibility for the lay-off decisions.
last performance appraisal came in 2014. Gary Mosley and
Robert Blansett completed the appraisal and assigned
McMichael a Total Performance Score of 3 "Fully
Successful." This earned him a score of 80%. McMichael
scored 61% on the Appraisal Score, earning 44 out of 72
possible points. Averaging these two scores, his final
performance score was 71%.
the performance appraisal, Robert Kennedy, the rig manager,
assigned McMichael his ranking and potential scores. He
ranked McMichael fourth out of the four toolpushers under his
supervision, which translated to 25%. He also assigned
McMichael a 0 for potential, which earned him a potential
score of 60%. Kennedy assigned McMichael these low scores
because (1) he spent more time in the toolpusher office than
he should have; (2) he did not have great leadership skills;
(3) his computer skills were weak; (4) he did not interact
well with customers; and (5) he did not have strong planning
skills. His final score was 52%. After assigning ranking and
potential scores, Kennedy discussed McMichael with the HR
Department and made the decision to fire him on April 25,
2015. Kennedy did not know McMichael's age when he fired
firing McMichael, Kennedy was responsible for hiring his
replacement. He chose Jody Eckert. Eckert was 49 years old
and received a rating of 4 "Superior" on his most
recent performance appraisal, earning him a Total Performance
Score of 100%. He earned an Appraisal Score of 67%,
receiving 48 out of 72 possible points. Eckert's final
performance score was 84% when rounded up. His manager also
assigned him a ranking of 33%, and his potential score was
60%. The average of Mr. Eckert's ...