The opinion of the court was delivered by: PARKER
Anderson Parker brings this diversity action under the New York Human Rights Law (Executive Law § 290 et seq.) against his former employer, Chrysler Corporation ("Chrysler), for discrimination. Presently before the Court is Chrysler's motion, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 for summary judgment.
Parker, a black male, worked for Chrysler at its facility in Tappan, New York from 1972 through 1991. The crux of Parker's complaint is that Chrysler forced him to retire on account of his race. Critical to this summary judgment motion, therefore, are the circumstances surrounding Parker's resignation.
On April, 1991, Parker received a brochure for Chrysler's newly implemented Special Early Retirement Voluntary Termination Incentive Program ("VTIP"). The package was accompanied by a cover letter signed by Chrysler's president, Lee Iacocca, which explained that, as a result of "slim profits," Chrysler needed to reduce its workforce by 3,000. The letter also explained that choosing the program was completely voluntary. The VTIP package included $ 62,000, a Chrysler vehicle, six months of continued life and health insurance coverage, and savings plan benefits. The brochure also offered information sessions and outplacement counseling in connection with the VTIP.
According to Parker, as soon as he received the VTIP brochure, his supervisors, Skip Dahlman and Jim Garden, repeatedly asked him if he had decided whether he would accept the offer. Garden told Parker that if he did not accept the VTIP, he could be placed in a 30-60-90 day probation program with the possibility of termination if his job performance was considered unsatisfactory. During this time, three other supervisors relinquished their supervisory positions and resumed their former positions on the plant floor. When Parker asked what would happen if he resigned as a supervisor and returned to the floor, Dahlman responded that he would be one of the first to be laid off, although in reality his union contract included a no lay off clause. Dahlman also told Parker that as long as he was the warehouse manager, Parker would never work in the warehouse again. Apparently, Dahlman then threatened Parker with tasks that he was overqualified to do.
During this time period, Parker spoke with a number of individuals about the VTIP. He used the outplacement services to seek a new job. Moreover, Parker spoke with management about the plan. He spoke with Bill Bloomberg, a manager from Detroit, Bob Jasper, the Tappan plant manager, and Dahlman. He also spoke with his brother (another Chrysler employee from the Tappan facility) and his fiancee. On April 29, 21 days after receiving the VTIP brochure, Parker signed it. On April 30, he resigned. Out of eight supervisors at the Tappan facility in 1991, Parker was the only black supervisor, although during recent years, the facility had numerous black supervisors. One other supervisor, Joe Debartola signed the VTIP. On April 29, 1994, Parker filed a complaint in Rockland County Supreme Court seeking damages against Chrysler for discrimination based on race in violation of New York Executive Law § 296. Chrysler removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446. This motion followed.
At the outset, we address defendant's contention that because Parker left Chrysler with a VTIP, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461 governs this action. Chrysler argues that § 514(a) of ERISA, which provides in part that ERISA "shall supersede any and all state laws insofar as they may relate to an employee benefit plan" governed by ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1144(a), applies to Parkers's signing of the VTIP. Not all state law claims brought in an action involving an employee benefit "relate to" that plan within the meaning of 514(a); rather such claims generally "relate to" a benefit plan when they arise out of some action taken in the execution or administration of the plan. See Owens v. Metropolitan Life Ins., 865 F. Supp. 100, 102-03 (N.D.N.Y. 1994); see also McNamee v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 692 F. Supp. 1477, 1478 (plaintiff's claims were not covered by ERISA because he did not seek benefits under the plan, but rather damages for defendant's failure to permit vesting of the plan as promised). Chrysler relies primarily on Barbagallo v. General Motors Corporation, 818 F. Supp. 572 (S.D.N.Y. 1993). In that case, plaintiff attacked the structure of a plan as discriminatory because of age. Here, however, Parker does not challenge the plan's structure, nor does he dispute the execution or administration of the plan but rather challenges the events which culminated in his decision to accept the plan. Accordingly, we reject defendant's argument and we analyze this matter as we analyze other discrimination claims.
B. Standard For Summary Judgment
Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a motion for summary judgment must be granted if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party must initially satisfy a burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986); see also Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994). The nonmoving party must meet a burden of coming forward with "specific facts, showing that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial," Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) by a showing sufficient to establish the existence of [every] element essential to the party's case, and on, which the party will bear the burden of proof at trial.
In deciding whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, "the court is required to draw all factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought." Ramseur v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 865 F.2d 460, 465 (2d Cir. 1989). The Court is to inquire whether there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for the party," Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986), however, and to grant summary judgment where the nonmovant's evidence is merely colorable conclusory, speculative or not ...