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COOPER v. NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF MENTAL HEALTH

March 31, 1997

RALPH A. COOPER, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF MENTAL HEALTH, BRYAN F. RUDES and RICHARD A. LALLIER, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SCULLIN

 This is an action under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., in which Plaintiff claims that his supervisors at the Regional Office of the New York State Office of Mental Health ("OMH"), Defendants Bryan F. Rudes and Richard A. Lallier, demoted him and subsequently terminated his employment on the basis of Plaintiff's age. Plaintiff pleads two causes of action in his complaint. In the first, Plaintiff contends that Defendants OMH, Rudes, and Lallier willfully terminated Plaintiff because of his age in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 623 (a)(1) (Disparate Treatment). Second, Plaintiff contends that Defendants' policies and practices were predicated on impermissible age-based criteria which disparately impacted upon OMH staff over 60 years of age (Disparate Impact). The matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

 Background

 Plaintiff was born on June 22, 1928. From January 1975 until May 6, 1992, Plaintiff was employed by defendant OMH and its predecessor, the Department of Mental Hygiene, in OMH's Central New York Regional Office ("Regional Office").

 Beginning in 1980, Plaintiff was promoted to the title of Standards Compliance Analyst III ("SCA III"). As an SCA III, Cooper was primarily responsible for managing the activities of the Certification and Inspection Unit ("CIU") within the Regional Office. The CIU was responsible for inspecting and certifying the licensed psychiatric programs for inpatient, outpatient, and community residence facilities in a twenty-county Central New York area. In 1988, Plaintiff was promoted to "Standards Compliance Analyst IV" ("SCA IV") at Salary Grade 29. The promotion brought about no immediate change in Plaintiff's responsibilities.

 In 1989, the Regional Office was organized into five general departments, or areas, under the supervision of the Regional Director, titled "Planning," "Fiscal," "Operations," "Residential Services," and "Quality Assurance." Each of these departments was headed by a Director. Rudes Aff., Ex. F, "1989 Organization Chart." At this time, Plaintiff was given the title of Director of Quality Assurance, Quality Assurance Department, and his responsibilities were expanded.

 As Director of Quality Assurance, Plaintiff had responsibility for the areas of "Regional Training," "Quality Assurance and Risk Management" and "Certification and Inspection." Rudes Aff., Ex. F, "1989 Organization Chart." While Plaintiff supervised the Certification and Inspection Unit ("CIU"), Alan Hambrecht managed the CIU's day-to-day operations.

 In March 1990, Plaintiff suffered a serious heart attack that necessitated his absence from the office until October 1990. During Plaintiff's absence, Alan Hambrecht assumed the supervisory responsibilities for the CIU as well as the area of quality assurance and risk management. Upon Plaintiff's return to work in October, Plaintiff resumed his responsibilities, and Hambrecht returned to his subordinate role.

 On September 9, 1991, a reorganization within the Regional Office was announced. The Regional Office's department names were changed to "Quality Improvement," "Community Housing," "Planning and Evaluation," "Administrative and Fiscal" and "Community Systems." Cooper Aff., Ex. F, "1991 Organization Chart." The Quality Improvement department encompassed what had been the Quality Assurance department, including the Certification and Inspection Unit. Linda Betts was named Director of Quality Improvement, and as such assumed all of the responsibilities Plaintiff had held as Director of Quality Assurance. *fn1" Plaintiff was assigned to the newly created position of Coordinator of Incident Review and Risk Management ("Coordinator"), directly under Ms. Betts' supervision. The reasons for the creation of this position, the reassignment of Mr. Cooper to fill it, and the duties which the position was designed to entail are disputed. As Coordinator, Plaintiff retained his title of SCA IV and salary grade 29, yet was relieved of all his former supervisory duties.

 In January 1992, the OMH announced that there would be a statewide reduction in force, effective in May. By letter dated February 19, 1992, Plaintiff was notified that his position was targeted for layoff as a result of the reduction in force. Plaintiff was laid off at the close of business May 6, 1992. *fn2" At that time he was sixty-three years old.

 Discussion

 Under Rule 56(c), summary judgment is warranted if, when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, the court determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Eastman Kodak Co. v. Image Technical Servs., Inc., 504 U.S. 451, 456, 119 L. Ed. 2d 265, 112 S. Ct. 2072 (1992); Commander Oil v. Advance Food Serv. Equip., 991 F.2d 49, 51 (2d Cir. 1993). A genuine issue of material fact is one that a reasonable fact finder could decide in favor of either party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 250, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). The Court is mindful that it must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-movant, drawing all reasonable inferences and resolving all ambiguities in his favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176, 82 S. Ct. 993 (1962) (per curiam).

 Plaintiff claims that his reassignment and subsequent layoff constituted a combined effort by Defendants to unlawfully terminate his employment on the basis of his age. Thus, his first cause of action is for disparate treatment.

 The ADEA protects employees over 40 years of age from discharge by reason of their age. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 623, 631. ADEA disparate treatment claims are subject to the three-step burden shifting analysis developed in the employment discrimination context under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq. See Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston, 469 U.S. 111, 121, 83 L. Ed. 2d 523, 105 S. Ct. 613 (1985); Woroski v. Nashua Corp., 31 F.3d 105, 108 (2d Cir. 1994). Under this analysis, plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of age discrimination. Upon a prima facie showing by plaintiff, the burden of production then shifts to the defendant to proffer a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action at issue. If defendants meet their burden of production, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to demonstrate that defendants' proffered non-discriminatory reason is mere pretext and that the adverse employment action was improperly motivated by plaintiffs age. See Cronin v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 46 F.3d 196, 203 (2d Cir. 1995). At the outset, it is important to note that

 
[a] plaintiff who claims unlawful discrimination in the termination of employment may prevail notwithstanding the fact that his or her job was eliminated as part of a corporate reorganization or reduction in workforce, for even during a legitimate reorganization or workforce reduction, ...

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