Finnegan's recommendation to terminate Plaintiff. (Palumbo Certif. PP 3-4.) At a meeting on June 27, 1997, attended by Plaintiff, Palumbo and Finnegan, Plaintiff was advised that he was being terminated for poor work performance. (Palumbo Certif. P 5; Finnegan Reply Certif. P 5; Horowitz Certif. Ex. G.) According to Finnegan, at the time of Plaintiff's termination, he admitted "that there was simply too much information for him to absorb and understand." (Finnegan Certif. P 13.)
Plaintiff commenced the instant action on October 4, 1996 pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (the "ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., alleging that he was discharged from his employment on account of his age.
I. Summary Judgment Standards
The legal principles employed by the Court when ruling upon a motion for summary judgment are well-established. Summary judgment may be granted only when it is shown "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); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986); Donahue v. Windsor Locks Bd. of Fire Comm'rs, 834 F.2d 54, 57 (2d Cir. 1987). The moving party bears the initial burden "of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact." Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142, 90 S. Ct. 1598 (1970). The substantive law governing the case will determine those facts that are material, and "only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986).
Once the moving party has come forward with support demonstrating that no genuine issue of material fact remains to be tried, the non-moving party "must come forward with affidavits, depositions, or other sworn evidence as permitted by Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, setting forth specific facts showing that there exists a genuine issue of material fact." Rule v. Brine, Inc., 85 F.3d 1002, 1011 (2d Cir. 1996). In reviewing these materials, the Court "is required to draw all factual inferences in favor of, and take all factual assertions in the light most favorable to, the party opposing summary judgment." Id.
Nevertheless, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48 (emphases omitted). Moreover, "conclusory allegations will not suffice to create a genuine issue. There must be more than a 'scintilla of evidence,'" Delaware & Hudson Ry. Co. v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 902 F.2d 174, 178 (2d Cir. 1990)(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252), and "more than 'some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.'" Aslanidis v. United States Lines, Inc., 7 F.3d 1067, 1072 (2d Cir. 1993)(quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986)). Put another way, "the non-movant cannot escape summary judgment merely by vaguely asserting the existence of some unspecified disputed material facts, . . . or defeat the motion through mere speculation or conjecture." Western World Ins. Co. v. Stack Oil, Inc., 922 F.2d 118, 121 (2d Cir. 1990)(citations and internal quotations omitted). "When no rational jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party because the evidence to support its case is so slight, there is no genuine issue of material fact and a grant of summary judgment is proper." Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994).
II. ADEA Standards
The ADEA makes it "unlawful for an employer . . . to discharge an individual . . . because of such individual's age." 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). The ADEA protects only those employees who, like Plaintiff, are older than forty but less than seventy years of age. See 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1); Woroski v. Nashua Corp., 31 F.3d 105, 108 (2d Cir. 1994). ADEA claims are scrutinized under the burden-shifting analysis for Title VII claims articulated by the United States Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973), and Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 67 L. Ed. 2d 207, 101 S. Ct. 1089 (1981). See, e.g., Raskin v. Wyatt Co., 125 F.3d 55, 60 (2d Cir. 1997); Woroski, 31 F.3d at 108.
In order to establish a prima facie case of age discrimination, Plaintiff must show "1) that he was within the protected age group, 2) that he was qualified for the position at issue, 3) that he suffered an adverse employment decision, and 4) that the position was ultimately filled by a person not of the protected class." Raskin, 125 F.3d at 63-64; see Owens v. New York City Hous. Auth., 934 F.2d 405, 409 (2d Cir. 1991). "The burden of establishing a prima facie case is not onerous, and has been frequently described as minimal." Scaria v. Rubin, 117 F.3d 652, 654 (2d Cir. 1997)(per curiam); see Cronin v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 46 F.3d 196, 204 (2d Cir. 1995)(characterizing plaintiff's initial burden as " de minimis "). Establishment of the prima facie case creates a presumption that the employer's adverse employment decision constituted unlawful discrimination against the employee. See Burdine, 450 U.S. at 254.
After a plaintiff makes out a prima facie case of age discrimination, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment decision. See St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 507, 125 L. Ed. 2d 407, 113 S. Ct. 2742 (1993). "Any legitimate non-discriminatory reason will rebut the presumption [of discrimination] triggered by the prima facie case." Fisher v. Vassar College, 114 F.3d 1332, 1335-36 (2d Cir. 1997)(en banc), cert. denied, 139 L. Ed. 2d 752, 1998 U.S. LEXIS 477, 118 S. Ct. 851 (U.S. 1998). The employer need not conclusively establish the validity of its proffered reason, rather, it merely must show that such reason, "if believed by the trier of fact, would support a finding that unlawful discrimination was not the cause of the [adverse] employment action." St. Mary's Honor Ctr., 509 U.S. at 507.
Once the employer has articulated a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment decision, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to put forth "adequate evidence to support a rational finding that the legitimate non-discriminatory reasons proffered by the employer were false, and that more likely than not the employee's [age] was the reason for the [adverse decision]." Holt v. KMI Continental, Inc., 95 F.3d 123, 129 (2d Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 137 L. Ed. 2d 1027, 117 S. Ct. 1819 (1997); see also Fields v. New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 115 F.3d 116, 119 (2d Cir. 1997)("The ultimate issue . . . is whether the plaintiff has sustained its burden of proving that the adverse action was motivated by an impermissible reason."). In this regard, however, "a finding of pretext, together with the evidence comprising a prima facie case, is not always sufficient to sustain an ultimate finding of intentional discrimination." Fisher, 114 F.3d at 1338. Instead,
a Title VII plaintiff may prevail only if an employer's proffered reasons are shown to be a pretext for discrimination, either because the pretext finding itself points to discrimination or because other evidence in the record points in that direction--or both. And the Supreme Court tells us that "a reason cannot be proved to be a 'pretext for discrimination ' unless it is shown both that the reason was false, and that discrimination was the real reason." We have recognized again and again that a plaintiff does not necessarily satisfy the ultimate burden of showing intentional discrimination by showing pretext alone. A finding of pretext may advance the plaintiff's case, but a plaintiff cannot prevail without establishing intentional discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence.