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ORISEK v. AMERICAN INST. OF AERO. & ASTRONAUTICS

September 3, 1996

OLGA ORISEK, Plaintiff, against AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF AERONAUTICS AND ASTRONAUTICS, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: PARKER

 BARRINGTON D. PARKER, JR., U.S.D.J.

 BACKGROUND

 This action for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., is before this Court on the motion of defendant American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics ("the Institute") for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff Olga Orisek claims the Institute discriminated against her on the basis of age, gender and national origin by terminating her after 17 years of employment. The Institute moves for summary judgment on the grounds that (1) Orisek cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination on the basis of age, gender or national origin, (2) even if Orisek can establish a prima facie case, she cannot demonstrate that the Institute's legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating her was pretextual, and (3) compensatory and punitive damages are not available under the ADEA and are limited to $ 50,000 under Title VII.

 Orisek is a 60-year old woman of Czechoslovakian origin. She worked for the Institute in the New York Division from 1976 until she was terminated in 1993, first in a clerical position and finally in the User Services Department in the position of Operations Computer Support Analyst.

 For fifteen years, through May 1991, Orisek received excellent performance evaluations. In 1987, she was promoted to the position of Operations Computer Support Analyst for the Institute. In 1990, she also worked as Assistant Librarian. In May of 1991, Orisek applied for the position of Library Manager. She was interviewed for the position by the Director of the Institute's New York Division, Barbara Lawrence, but it was offered to and accepted by David Purdy, a 33-year old American man.

 Also in 1991, NASA cut back the Institute's funding and ordered the Institute to close its microfiche department. As a result, seven people were laid off. Forced to reduce costs, the Institute reorganized from a traditional management hierarchy to a lateral system emphasizing cross training, a team approach, and fewer departments. As part of that reorganization, in June of 1991, Orisek was reassigned from the supervision of Irene Bogolubsky, the Institute's Technical Director, to the User Services Department under the direction of Geoff Worton.

 In November 1992, the Institute was told that NASA had reduced its 1993 grant from $ 3.6 million to $ 3.1 million, and became aware that further cuts in funding would occur. With a view towards reducing the Institute's labor force of 58 plus three vacancies, Lawrence directed her managers to conduct a company-wide peer review of employee work performance, evaluating each individual on the basis of their flexibility, productivity and performance. In February 1993, Worton evaluated each individual in the User Services Department. Orisek received the only unsatisfactory evaluation. She and six other employees, one from each department, were terminated in March 1993. Orisek's position of Computer Support Analyst was eliminated.

 In December 1993, NASA eliminated all funding to the Institute's New York Division, a budget loss of $ 2.75 million. An additional twenty employees were laid off in a third reduction-in-force at the end of that year. A fourth layoff occurred in April 1995 as a result of further dwindling funds. The Institute operates today with a staff of less than 20.

 DISCUSSION

 Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes summary judgment if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The Court's responsibility is to perform "the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial -- whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." McNeil v. Aguilos, 831 F. Supp. 1079, 1082 (S.D.N.Y. 1993) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1985)); Western World Ins. Co. v. Stack Oil, Inc., 922 F.2d 118, 121 (2d Cir. 1990). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See McNeil, 831 F. Supp. at 1082 (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176, 82 S. Ct. 993 (1962) (per curium) (other citations omitted)). See also Coach Leatherware Co. v. AnnTaylor, Inc., 933 F.2d 162, 167 (2d Cir. 1991) (citation omitted).

 "The burden of establishing a prima facie case is a modest one, but it has substance nevertheless." Viola v. Phelps Medical Sys., 42 F.3d 712, 716 (2d Cir. 1994) (internal quotation and citation omitted). To establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination under Title VII and the ADEA, Orisek must show (1) she was a member of a protected group, (2) she was qualified for her job, (3) she was discharged, and (4) the discharge occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. See Viola, 42 F.3d at 715-16. There is no dispute that Orisek has shown that she was a member of a protected group and that she was discharged. The Institute ...


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