Harbison-Walker Refractories, Div. of Dresser Industries, Inc. v. Brieck

PETITIONER: Harbison-Walker Refractories, Div. of Dresser Industries, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Brieck
LOCATION: Canton Police Department

DOCKET NO.: 87-271
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 488 US 226 (1988)
ARGUED: Oct 31, 1988
DECIDED: Dec 12, 1988

ADVOCATES:
Andrew M. Kramer - on behalf of the Petitioner
Brian J. Martin - on behalf of the Respondent
James H Logan - on behalf of the respondent
James P. Logan - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Harbison-Walker Refractories, Div. of Dresser Industries, Inc. v. Brieck

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 31, 1988 in Harbison-Walker Refractories, Div. of Dresser Industries, Inc. v. Brieck

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now on Number 87-271, Harbison-Walker Refractories versus Eugene Brieck.

Mr. Kramer, you may proceed whenever you're--

Andrew M. Kramer:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case involves a legal question under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure of whether a reasonable jury on the basis of the entire record in this case could find that Respondent was laid off and not recalled because of his age.

Since the court below reversed the District Court's grant of Petitioner's motion for summary judgment, it is first appropriate to review the facts underlying this matter.

Petitioner Harbison-Walker provides technology and specialized refractory products to high-temperature natural resource industries, the largest of which is the steel industry.

As the business fortunes of the steel industry declined in the early eighties, so did the business fortunes of Harbison-Walker.

Between 1980 and 1982 Harbison's employment was reduced from approximately 5,400 employees to 2,700 employees.

In 1982 sales declined some 31 percent, the posted and net operating loss of $21 million or $20.5 million, and employment in that year alone was reduced 38 percent.

In making decisions as to which groups of employees would be laid off, Harbison considered among other things length of service and the skills necessary to perform work in a reduced work environment.

Among the employees hardest hit by the downturn were those working in the company's iron and steel marketing group.

Within that group were four installation specialists.

Respondent who at the time of this action was aged 55 with 17 years of service; Mr. Malarich, aged 59 with approximately 16 years of service; Mr. Faust, aged 39 with approximately 16 years of service; and Mr. Meixell, aged 59 with approximately two and one half years of service.

Because of a substantial reduction in shipments, Petitioner elected in early July 1982 to lay off, among others, two of its installation specialists, the Respondent who was 55 years old, and Mr. Meixell, who was 59 but was the least senior of the installation specialists.

Petitioner retained the 59-year-old, Mr. Malarich, and the 39-year-old, Mr. Faust, because they possessed more diverse or versatile skills and had higher job performance evaluations.

Mr. Faust, the 39-year-old, had previously worked for Petitioner as a sales correspondent, and his work duties included pricing and margin work, which work he continued to perform after he became an installation specialist.

The skills of pricing and margin work were skills that Respondent concedes and the courts below found he did not have and would require training to perform.

Faust had before his--

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Kramer, when you say, "The courts below found", this came up on summary judgment, so you're obligated, of course, to take the facts against you--

Andrew M. Kramer:

--Yes.

William H. Rehnquist:

--and to the extent that they can be.

Andrew M. Kramer:

Yes.

The courts noted that there was no record evidence to support the assertion, Mr. Chief Justice, that Mr. Brieck, the Respondent in this case, had performed that work while employed at Harbison, and there is an affidavit at pages 52 and 53 in the record from the Respondent himself in which he concedes that, in fact, those were jobs that he had not performed but, to the extent he had not, he could be easily trained to perform them.

Prior to the layoffs in question, Mr. Faust, the 39-year-old, had spent approximately 60 percent of his time doing office work and 40 percent of his time doing installation work outside of the office.

Business conditions worsened.

In late July of 1982, Mr. Malarich, the 59-year-old, was laid off.

Three months later, Mr. Faust himself, was laid off.

In the spring of 1983, Mr. Malarich, the 59-year old, was recalled, first on a temporary and then on a permanent basis.

In the summer of 1983, Mr. Malarich, the 59-year-old, at that time approximately approaching 60, indicated to Petitioner that he was going to elect to retire that fall.

At that time Petitioner recalled Mr. Faust, the 39-year-old.