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Linggi v. TE Connectivity Corp.

United States District Court, D. Oregon

July 3, 2019

CHRISTOPHER LINGGI, Plaintiff,
v.
TE CONNECTIVITY CORPORATION, Defendant.

          Jessica Ashlee Albies and Whitney B. Stark, Albies & Stark, llc, Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          James M. Barrett and Christopher A. Morehead, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, pc, Of Attorneys for Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL H. SIMON, DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Christopher Linggi (“Linggi”) brings this lawsuit against his former employer TE Connectivity (“TEC”), alleging that TEC retaliated against him by terminating his employment for opposing and reporting what he believed to be legal wrongdoing during a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) inspection at his workplace. Plaintiff asserts state law claims under Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 659A.030 and 659A.199 and for common law wrongful discharge. TEC moves for summary judgment or, alternatively, for partial summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, TEC's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         STANDARDS

         A party is entitled to summary judgment if the “movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party has the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Clicks Billiards Inc. v. Sixshooters Inc., 251 F.3d 1252, 1257 (9th Cir. 2001). Although “[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge . . . ruling on a motion for summary judgment, ” the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position [is] insufficient.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 255 (1986). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         BACKGROUND

         A. TEC and Its Personnel

         Plaintiff is a former employee of TEC, a company that designs and manufactures connectors and sensors for products used in a variety of industries, including the medical industry. TEC operates several facilities, including a facility in Wilsonville, Oregon that manufactures cables and subparts used in medical devices regulated by the FDA. Plaintiff worked for TEC in Wilsonville, Oregon from April 2012 through April 2015 and again from November 2015 through March 2017. On March 17, 2017, TEC terminated Plaintiff's employment.

         During Plaintiff's first period of employment at TEC (from April 2012 through April 2015), he worked as a manufacturing engineer. When he returned to TEC in November 2015, Plaintiff's position was Manager of Quality Systems. In that role, Plaintiff supervised TEC's quality management compliance at three facilities: Wilsonville, Oregon; Guyamas, Mexico; and Suzhou, China. Before working for TEC, Plaintiff had no previous experience in quality control.

         When Plaintiff was rehired by TEC in November 2015, his supervisor was David Vose. Shortly thereafter, Vose left TEC. Plaintiff was next supervised remotely by Jeff Sears, who was responsible for Global Operations and Quality Assurance and Regulatory Affairs. Sears left TEC in June 2016. After Sears left, Plaintiff was directly supervised by Mark Andrews, the Senior Operations Manager in Wilsonville. Plaintiff also had a “dotted line” reporting relationship to Joan McCabe, TEC's Senior Vice President of Quality and Regulatory.

         McCabe joined TEC in April 2016, when TEC acquired Creganna Medical, where she had been in charge of its Quality Department. McCabe was located in Galway, Ireland, but she and Plaintiff communicated by telephone on a semi-weekly basis. Andrews (Plaintiff's on-site supervisor) did not work in TEC's Quality Department.

         B. TEC's Planned Reduction in Force

         In April 2016, TEC acquired Creganna Medical, which had its own quality and operations departments. After the acquisition, TEC reorganized into two subdivisions: (1) Surgical and Cables; and (2) Interventional. Vish Ananthan was appointed to lead the Surgical and Cables Division. TEC determined that it needed to “right size” or restructure the Surgical and Cables Division through a reduction in force (“RIF”). The goals of the RIF included reducing the number of TEC employees at the Wilsonville facility by 24 employees and reducing the number of TEC employees worldwide by 82 employees.

         Kyleen Beistline, TEC's Senior Manager of Human Resources, and Vish Ananthan were jointly in charge of the RIF, although the names on the final RIF list were subject to final approval by TEC's corporate and legal departments. TEC scheduled layoffs associated with the RIF to take place in waves beginning in October 2016. On July 14, 2016, Beistline met with all department leaders to review employees that each leader had identified as potential candidates for the RIF. At this meeting, Mark Andrews identified Plaintiff as a potential candidate for the RIF. Andrews stated that he included Plaintiff on the RIF list because Plaintiff was one of the highest paid employees, yet Plaintiff's role was in flux and his duties had shrunk in scope as the nature of the organization was changing. When Plaintiff had been rehired into the Quality Department in November 2015, he supervised five employees, but by July 2016 that number had been reduced to three. Although performance was not a factor in Plaintiff's inclusion on the RIF list, the fact that that Plaintiff was relatively inexperienced and new to the role contributed to Andrews' decision to place Plaintiff on the RIF list. At the July 14 meeting, the department leaders also discussed whether Plaintiff should be moved to another position within the company, but ultimately decided to place Plaintiff's name on the RIF list.

         On July 17, 2016, Beistline sent an email to Conrad Johnson at TEC, attaching a list of the names that the department leaders had suggested for the RIF. Plaintiff's name was included on that list. On September 13, 2017, Beistline sent another email, this time to Robert Rizzitello at TEC with a copy to Anthanan. This email included an updated RIF list, which also continued to contain Plaintiff's name. On September 22, 2016, Beistline emailed the latest RIF list to Lauren Breen, a labor and employment attorney at TEC, and Plaintiff's name remained on that list. On September 27, 2016, a revised RIF list was sent to TEC's corporate group for approval. That list continued to include Plaintiff's name.

         Any changes to the RIF list needed to be approved by Anthanan as well as by the finance and human resources departments. Throughout the months during which the RIF list was being modified, Plaintiff's inclusion on that list did not change. Although the RIF list was an evolving document and names would be removed if a listed employee retired or resigned, the consistent goal of the RIF list was to reduce the total number of employees, not to eliminate any specific employee. As a result, some employees whose names were initially on the RIF list were not ultimately terminated.

         On October 7, 2016, Andrews met with Plaintiff to speak with him about the possibility of Plaintiff transferring to a position in TEC's engineering department, which was supervised by Bill Veith. Although the planned RIF was not yet generally known within TEC and Andrews could not tell Plaintiff that his name was on the RIF list, Andrews hoped to encourage Plaintiff to move to a new position within the company so that he would not be terminated. Vieth needed a project manager in the engineering department, and Andrews knew that Plaintiff's position was in danger. Andrews thought that with Plaintiff's background and work experience in engineering, this position might be a good fit for him. Andrews decided to approach Plaintiff with this idea, even though the engineering position was not a management-level position and was classified at a lower grade than Plaintiff's job in the Quality Department.

         During that meeting, Andrews gave Plaintiff “mixed performance feedback, ” stating both negative and positive things about Plaintiff. Andrews suggested that Plaintiff meet with Bill Veith, the engineering department manager. Andrews also alluded to a potential restructuring within TEC. Plaintiff left the meeting confused and concerned about his job security.

         On October 9, 2016, Plaintiff sent an email to Brenda Gilman, a human resources representative, stating that Andrews had told him that his position was going to be affected by an upcoming restructuring and asking what he should do. Gilman forwarded Plaintiff's email to Andrews, who responded to Plaintiff, telling him that his conclusions about his position being affected by a restructuring were “incorrect and premature.”

         Plaintiff believed that moving to the engineering position would be a demotion, even though his salary would remain unchanged. On October 24, 2016, Gilman reached out to Andrews and inquired whether Plaintiff had discussed the engineering position with Veith. Andrews responded that Plaintiff needed to be on the RIF list, and it was up to Veith to make Plaintiff a job offer in the engineering department before Plaintiff was scheduled to be let go. In late October, Plaintiff met with Vieth and declined the position in the engineering department.

         TEC's RIF happened in several waves, or stages. Each employee whose name was on the list was assigned a date on which he or she would be notified of termination. TEC originally scheduled Plaintiff's termination for November 11, 2016. On November 10, Ananthan emailed Beistline and told her that he had heard “from the grapevine” that Plaintiff was planning to resign from his position at TEC.[1] Anthanan asked Beistline to postpone Plaintiff's termination date, and Beistline moved Plaintiff's termination date from November 2016 to early 2017. TEC then scheduled Plaintiff to be notified of his upcoming termination on January 20, 2017, with an effective termination date of February 3, 2017.

         On December 5, 2016, however, Plaintiff suffered a seizure at work and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Plaintiff took concurrent short-term disability leave and leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and the Oregon Family Leave Act (“OFLA”) through January 4, 2017. Plaintiff later extended his approved short-term disability leave through March 24, 2017. (Plaintiff's FMLA and OFLA benefits expired on February 27, 2017.) TEC further delayed Plaintiff's scheduled RIF date due to his medical leave.

         C. FDA Inspection in September 2016

         TEC is an FDA registered contract manufacturer of medical device components. On September 8, 2016, McCabe learned that there would be an FDA inspection at TEC's Wilsonville facility. McCabe flew to Wilsonville to prepare for that inspection. Preparations for the FDA inspection began on September 10, 2016, and the inspection began on September 13, 2016. Plaintiff and Kevin Ankrum, among others, assisted McCabe in preparing for the FDA inspection.

         On September 10, 2016, three days before the inspection began, Plaintiff was working at the Wilsonville facility with Ankrum and McCabe. Plaintiff and McCabe reviewed an internal audit and Corrective Action Preventative Action (“CAPA”) that Plaintiff, Ankrum, and Troy Brewster, another TEC employee, had prepared. McCabe asked to see previous versions of the global internal audit schedule, but Plaintiff reported that they were not in the records. McCabe reviewed the existing global internal audit schedule and began to make handwritten changes to the document. McCabe also instructed Plaintiff to make these changes and then reprint the front page of the document.

         In response to McCabe's request, Plaintiff showed “immediate discomfort.” Plaintiff believed that McCabe was requesting falsification and backdating of a record and further believed that the changes to the document should have reflected the current date, not the date that Plaintiff had originally completed and signed the record. Plaintiff told McCabe something to the effect of “this doesn't feel right.” McCabe replied, “Well, Chris, you're the only approval required so they shouldn't be hard to find.” McCabe then “winked” and “smiled” at Plaintiff. Plaintiff concluded that McCabe's wink indicated that she knew that he was opposed to her request.[2] Ultimately, Plaintiff did not revise, reprint, or sign the document as requested. On September 13, 2016, when the FDA inspector asked to review the global audit schedule, Plaintiff presented the original schedule to the inspector. McCabe was present when Plaintiff did this and, thus, presumably knew that he had not complied with her request.

         Also on September 10, 2016, McCabe and Plaintiff were reviewing each individual open CAPA, and McCabe identified a CAPA initiated by an overdue preventative maintenance for equipment relating to environmental control systems for the facility. McCabe instructed Plaintiff that “an assessment was needed to state [that] an initial review determined there was no impact to systems in control of product quality.” That same day, McCabe reviewed TEC's quality manual and complaints procedure. During her review, McCabe identified obsolete references to medical device reporting. Plaintiff explained that he had removed some of the references from the quality manual because he had been instructed to do so by Sears, his previous supervisor. Plaintiff also explained that the remaining references were in the document because Sears had instructed him to update the quality agreements with customers before revising the procedures.

         In further preparation for the inspection, on September 10, 2016, McCabe reviewed an internal audit report that Plaintiff had completed under the supervision of Sears. Plaintiff had initiated the internal audit because he recognized that TEC had deficiencies in the area of training, although Plaintiff believed that he could not have been responsible for the failures identified in the training audit because he had not been working at TEC during the time period during in which the failures had developed. After reviewing the training audit report, McCabe sent an email to Plaintiff and Ankrum in which she described the training audit report as “scathing” and expressed her displeasure with the report.

         On September 10, 2016, at 8:20 p.m., McCabe sent an email to Andrews, expressing her disappointment with Plaintiff's work. In her email, McCabe wrote, “[a]fter a day of diving into the QMS [Quality Management Systems] aspects it is extremely clear that Chris L[inggi] is in his job and way over his head. He is very committed but has no clue how to protect us and in fact [I] feel is more a risk than a [sic] asset. . . . Anyway - just want to give you a heads up. We'll get through the next week but [I] think we need to make changes later.” ECF 41-1 at 54 (emphasis added); ECF 30-2 at 22 (same document). Andrews responded the following day, saying “I'm leaning toward similar thoughts.” Id.

         Also on September 10, 2016, after Plaintiff finished preparations for the audit for the day, Plaintiff reached out to his former supervisor, Jeff Sears, who no longer worked for TEC. Plaintiff had serious concerns about McCabe's conduct that day and believed that her actions amounted to violations of federal or state law, FDA regulations, or TEC policies. Plaintiff contacted Sears and described to him McCabe's instruction to modify the internal audit report. Sears agreed that this action sounded unlawful. Sears advised Plaintiff to take notes regarding his concerns, escalate his concerns, and ask simple ...


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