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SUTTELL v. MANUFACTURERS HANOVER TRUST CO.

March 23, 1992

Suttell, Plaintiff, against Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co., Defendant.

FREEH


The opinion of the court was delivered by: LOUIS J. FREEH

LOUIS J. FREEH, United States District Judge

 Defendant Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. ("Manufacturers Hanover" or the "Bank") moves for summary judgment on plaintiff Ross Suttell's ("Suttell") age discrimination claim. For the reasons stated at oral argument and below, defendant's motion is granted.

 FACTS

 Suttell was hired by Manufacturer Hanover's Stock Transfer Administration Department as an Account Administration Specialist on November 16, 1987. He was fifty-six (56) years old at the time. *fn1" (Defendant's 3(g) Statement P1). *fn2" As an Account Administration Specialist, Suttell was responsible for handling accounts for the Bank's corporate customers, including "co-transfer agency accounts" and "full transfer agency accounts." *fn3" (Id. PP2, 11).

 As is commonly known, in October 1987, the financial services industry, including the Bank, sustained substantial losses as a result of the stock market crash. (Id. P6; Harrison Aff. P2). This decline in the financial services industry persisted through 1989 and 1990, and caused a decline in the volume of business in Suttell's department, as well as others. (Defendant's 3(g) Statement P6).

 In response to the decline in business, in November 1987, senior officers in each major area of the Bank were instructed to reduce overhead expenses and staff. (Harrison Aff. P4). As part of this program to reduce costs, Suttell's supervisor, Lawrence Dennedy ("Dennedy"), developed a plan to merge certain functions of Suttell's department with the Reorganization Services Department, to form a new department to be known as the Equity Services Department. (Defendant's 3(g) Statement PP8-9; Dennedy Aff. P12). Under Dennedy's plan, the new Equity Services Department could employ 20 of the 24 Account Administration Specialists who had previously been assigned to the Stock Transfer Services and Reorganization Services Departments, as long as those Specialists remaining were trained to handle both reorganizational and transfer agency responsibilities. (Defendant's 3(g) Statement P10; Dennedy Aff. P14). Obviously, under this plan, three Account Administration Specialists would have to be discharged.

 According to the Bank, Suttell's position was eliminated when he was terminated, and he has not been replaced. Rather, the accounts that Suttell used to service have been redistributed among other Account Administration Specialists. (Defendant's 3(g) Statement PP16-17; Dennedy Aff. P23). Suttell disagrees and contends that he was replaced by a younger Account Specialist from the Reorganization Services Department (Suttell Aff. P35). Suttell further contends that his performance at the Bank had never been less than satisfactory. (Suttell Aff. PP22-34). As a result, Suttell claims that the Bank's decision to terminate him was based on age, in violation of the Age Discrimination Act of 1987 (the "ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq.

 DISCUSSION

 Under the ADEA, an employer may not discharge or otherwise discriminate against an employee on the basis of age. 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). However, a plaintiff alleging that he has been terminated on account of age has the burden of proving that his age was "the 'determining factor' in his discharge in the sense that, 'but for' his employer's motive to discriminate against him because of age, he would not have been discharged." Pena v. Brattleboro Retreat, 702 F.2d 322, 323 (2d Cir. 1983) (citations omitted). See also Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 101 S. Ct. 1089, 1093, 67 L. Ed. 2d 207 (1981) (plaintiff in age discrimination case bears "ultimate burden" of proving that the defendant intentionally discriminated against him based on age). While an age discrimination plaintiff need not establish that age was the "principal reason" for his discharge, plaintiff does have to show that age was a "significant contributing factor" in the termination decision. Lowe v. Commack Union Free School Dist., 886 F.2d 1364, 1375 (2d Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 494 U.S. 1026, 110 S. Ct. 1470, 108 L. Ed. 2d 608 (1990). See also Paolillo v. Dresser Industries Inc., 865 F.2d 37, 40 (2d Cir. 1989) (plaintiff is "required to show only that the reasons offered by [the employer] were not its only reasons and that the age of [the plaintiff] 'made a difference' in its decision").

 The Supreme Court has established a three-step inquiry applicable to both Title VII and age discrimination claims. *fn4" First, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination, by showing that (1) he was a member of a protected class; (2) he was qualified for the position from which he was discharged; (3) he was discharged; and (4) the discharge occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. If the plaintiff satisfies each of these requirements, the burden of production shifts to the defendant, to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions. *fn5" If the defendant does so, the burden shifts again, and the plaintiff must then demonstrate that the employer's stated reason was actually a "pretext for discrimination." See Hollander v. American Cyanamid Co., 895 F.2d 80, 83 (2d Cir. 1990) (outlining applicable standard). See generally McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 1819, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973).

 Manufacturers Hanover correctly notes that general principles of summary judgment apply with equal force to age discrimination claims. (Motion at 12). Thus, summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). However, because intent and state of mind are frequently disputed in age discrimination cases, courts have approached summary judgment motions in that context with caution. See Dister v. Continental Group, Inc., 859 F.2d 1108, 1114 (2d Cir. 1988).

 With regard to the elements required for a plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, it is undisputed that Suttell was a member of a protected class, that he was qualified for the position from which he was discharged, *fn6" and that he was discharged. As the record stands, however, the circumstances of Suttell's discharge do not give rise to an inference of age discrimination. Suttell does not dispute that he was discharged along with two other Account Administration Specialists as part of an overall effort on the part of the Bank to reduce staff. Rather, Suttell asserts that the mere fact that ...


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