The Seventh Circuit recently reiterated the rule that admissible testimony must be based on personal knowledge in a case alleging age discrimination. See Widmore v. Sun Chemical Corporation, No. 13-2313 (7th Cir., Nov. 19, 2014). Being blamed for problems that were not your fault is not sufficient to establish that your employer was motivated by an impermissible purpose, and speculation as to the employer’s state of mind does not create a material factual dispute about whether the reason for termination was pretextual.
George Widmar worked for Sun Chemical Corporation as a Plant Manager for sixteen years. Sun Chemical terminated Widmar’s employment in 2009, claiming that the company was unsatisfied with Widmar’s performance. “The gist of his case is that Sun Chemical falsely blamed Widmar [for many of the problems involving its products] to cover up for the fact that it was firing him because of his age.”
However, the court was quick to note that, at first blush, this case did not seem as if it was appropriate for summary judgment disposition: “Generally, when the fact sections of the opposing briefs read like two unrelated stories, that is a clue for a court to look for material facts that require a trial to resolve. …That certainly seemed to be the case here.”
Although the two sides’ stories were dissimilar, the court could not simply end its analysis on a cursory review of the facts. The district court and the court of appeals examined the briefs and record carefully and found that much of the disagreement was created by deficiencies in Widmar’s recitation.
Widmar’s declaration and deposition were “not only self-serving, but also irrelevant in establishing that age was a motivating factor in his termination.” (R. 201, p. 6). Self-serving affidavits can indeed be a legitimate method of introducing facts on summary judgment.
Additionally, Widmar failed to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e) and Federal Rule of Evidence 602, “both of which require that testimony be based on personal knowledge. Personal knowledge can include reasonable inferences, but it does not include speculating as to an employer’s state of mind, or other intuitions, hunches, or rumors.”