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HALL v. DAKA INT'L

December 17, 1996

LOIS L. HALL, Plaintiff, against DAKA INTERNATIONAL, INC., d/b/a DAKA RESTAURANTS, IRA ADLER, AND STEVEN ANDERSEN, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCAVOY

 I. BACKGROUND1

 Plaintiff Lois Hall alleges that she was discriminated against on the basis of her age, sex, and race by her former employer, defendant Daka International, and two of her former supervisors, Ira Adler and Steven Andersen. Daka is a contract food service company with 500 branches throughout the United States, including schools, colleges, private corporations and other businesses. Daka currently employs between 7,000 and 10,000 employees.

 Hall, a white female, was a manager at Daka until she was laid off in February, 1994. At Daka, Hall held a series of managerial positions at different Daka branches in upstate New York. In each position she had overall responsibility for the food service operation at the branch to which she was assigned. Hall's last regular full-time position with Daka was as Food Service Manager at St. Joseph's Provincial House, a residential home of prayer for nuns, in Latham, New York. At St. Joseph's, Hall was responsible for planning meals for the approximately 250 sisters and their guests, supervising approximately twenty hourly food service employees, and managing a budget of almost $ 1 million.

 In 1992, Defendants aver that Hall's supervisor, defendant Steven Andersen, began to receive complaints from the sisters at St. Joseph's concerning menu problems and staff morale problems. (Anderson Aff. at P5.) Following these complaints Andersen and his immediate supervisor, Leo Titus, met with Sisters Yvette and Johanna--the co-administrators at St. Joseph's--to discuss the situation at St. Joseph's. The sisters told Daka that they considered the problems to be very serious and that they were considering alternatives to Daka. (Anderson Aff. at P11.) Daka suggested that Hall could be transferred to another location and that a new Food Service Manager could be found for St. Joseph's. (Anderson Aff. at P11.) The sisters agreed that in the interests of the employees and the residents of St. Joseph's, this would be the best solution. (Sister Yvette Martin Aff. at P6.)

 In January 1994, at the conclusion of her temporary assignments, Hall took a one-month paid vacation. Upon her return from vacation in early February 1994, Defendant asserts that there were no temporary positions or regular full-time positions that Hall could fill. (Andersen Aff. at P16.) Accordingly, Plaintiff was laid off effective February 6, 1994. (Complaint at P7(c).)

 Although Daka states that it had no policy obligating it to locate a new position for an employee who had been removed from a prior position, following her layoff, Hall applied for three positions listed on the Daka job postings she received. According to Defendants, Hall was not hired for those positions because of her "mediocre" performance under defendant Adler (Adler Aff. at 112), who was the manager for two of the potential positions, and because she allegedly did not have the experience necessary to handle the increased work responsibilities required of the third position. (Ruffen Aff. at P5.)

 On November 28, 1994, Hall filed a discrimination charge with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("DHR") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC). Hall's affidavit in support of her discrimination charge alleged that she was discriminated against on the basis of her age. On June 20, 1995, the EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue that provides that Plaintiff may bring an action in federal court on the basis of her claim of age discrimination if such action is brought within 90 days of the receipt of Notice.

 A. THE CLAIMS

 Plaintiff Hall's Complaint asserts claims for age discrimination, sex discrimination, and reverse race discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000-2 et seq., New York Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. L. § 290 et seq., and New York Civil Rights Law, N.Y. Civ. Rts. L. § 40-c et seq. Plaintiff also claims a violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1140, for discrimination in connection with her eligibility for pension benefits. Plaintiff requests reinstatement, back pay, forward pay, compensatory, and punitive damages.

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

 Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), a court may grant summary judgment if it appears "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." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). Furthermore, it is the substantive law that will determine what facts are material to the outcome of a case. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

 Initially, the moving party has the burden of informing the court of the basis of its motion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). If the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The Court must then resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986). However, the non-moving party must do more than simply show "that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. Only when the Court concludes that no rational finder of fact can find in favor of the non-moving party should summary judgment be granted. Gallo v. Prudential Residential, Servs., Ltd., 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994).

 Plaintiff brings claims for age discrimination under the ADEA, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and for sex discrimination and reverse race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000-2 et seq. Because the standards for liability under the ADEA and Title VII are similar, standards developed under Title VII are often applied to ADEA claims. See, e.g., McKennon v. Nashville Banner Pub. Co., 513 U.S. 352, 115 S. Ct. 879, 884, 130 L. Ed. 2d 852 (1995) ("The substantive, antidiscrimination provisions of the ADEA are modeled upon the prohibitions of Title VII."). Accordingly, much of the law outlined here under this Court's ADEA analysis is equally applicable in analyzing Plaintiff's Title VII claim, which is discussed infra.

 Initially, the Court notes that although summary judgment is no longer a disfavored process for the elimination of groundless claims, see Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322 (summary judgment favored to dispose of meritless claims), a district court should be wary of granting summary judgment in an ADEA case because the device is generally inappropriate where, as is typical, an employer's state of mind is relevant. Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1224. This is not to say that summary judgment is wholly inappropriate; rather, as the Second Circuit has noted, "the summary judgment rule would be rendered sterile . . . if the mere incantation of intent or state of mind would operate as a talisman to defeat an otherwise valid motion. The purposes of summary judgment . . . apply no less to discrimination cases than to . . . other areas of litigation." Meiri v. Dacon, 759 F.2d 989, 998 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 829, 88 L. Ed. 2d 74, 106 S. Ct. 91 (1985). Considering the relative ease of bringing a suit alleging discrimination and the difficulty and expense of defending against such a suit, courts correctly find summary judgment proper where allegations of discriminatory intent are merely conclusory.

 i. Prima facie case under ADEA

 Under the ADEA, an employer is prohibited from discharging an employee "because of [the employee's] age." 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). However, an employer may lawfully discharge an employee based on reasonable factors other than age. 29 U.S.C. § 623(f)(1). In the Second Circuit, ADEA cases are analyzed under the familiar framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973), a Title VII case. See Promisel v. First American Artificial Flowers, 943 F.2d 251, 259 (2d ...


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