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ASHTON v. PALL CORP.

January 15, 1999

IGOR ASHTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PALL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Seybert, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Presently pending before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Plaintiff, Igor Ashton (hereinafter "Ashton" or "Plaintiff"), commenced this action on or about August 5, 1996, against his former employer, Pall Corporation (hereinafter "Pall" or "Defendant"), alleging a claim of unlawful termination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA").

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Igor Ashton, was hired in or about March 1988 by the Defendant Pall Corporation as a mechanical engineer. (Pl.'s Dep. at 21.) At that time Plaintiff was 41 years of age. (Pl.'s Dep. at 14.) For the first six years Plaintiff received positive performance reviews and commensurate salary increases. (Pl.'s Local Rule 56.1 Statement (hereinafter "56.1") ¶ 1.) On or about November 1992, Plaintiff assumed the role of maintenance manager. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 1.) Plaintiff's new position entailed, among other things, delegating assignments and training subordinates. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 2.)

In 1993 there was a merger of two subsidiary departments, and as a result, Plaintiff was moved to the Engineering Department. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 2.) On or about June 7, 1993, Plaintiff began reporting to George Grippo, the Director of Manufacturing. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 3.)

On or about February 23, 1994, Plaintiff received a memorandum from George Grippo regarding his unsatisfactory work performance, which stated in relevant part:

  I have instructed you, on several occasions, to make
  sure that your staff is trained. To date, you have
  not followed my instructions, resulting in the
  inefficiency of our operations. . . . This situation
  must change. Please accept this as formal
  notification that you are required to train your
  staff immediately.

(Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 4; Def.'s Ex. C.) This was followed by a second memorandum also entitled "Unsatisfactory Work Performance," dated on or about April 26, 1994, which read in pertinent part:

  I want to bring to your attention some items related
  to maintenance that you have direct responsibility
  for. . . . I have expressed my concerns over the poor
  state of affairs with the maintenance for this area.
  You have also not addressed the training issues for
  the department. There is no plan in place to assure
  that the mechanics are properly trained. You must
  follow-up with me and then let me know the status.
  This issue must be straightened out immediately. . .
  . These issues must be straightened out immediately.
  If they are not, you will be subject to further
  disciplinary action.

(Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 5; Def.'s Ex. D.)

A meeting was held on or about April 27, 1994, in attendance were Igor Ashton, George Grippo and Voula K. Serres, a Human Resources Generalist at Pall. The meeting was convened to discuss Plaintiff's performance. Voula Serres memorialized her impression of the meeting and the specific areas discussed included Plaintiff's "inability to manage the maintenance staff effectively; the lack of technical training that the maintenance staff has; and why [Plaintiff] has not taken proactive steps to change that since the last time this issue was raised over a month ago." (Def.'s Ex. E.) Ms. Serres concluded that the Plaintiff

  realizes that he is not capable of handling the
  managerial and maintenance responsibilities of this
  job. He iterated on several occasions, `I am an
  engineer, not a manager.' When I asked him if he felt
  he can handle the maintenance staff for this
  operation he said, `no, I can't.'

When queried at deposition about this specific exchange, Aston was asked: "During your meeting with Mr. Grippo and Ms. Serres, did you tell Ms. Serres that you were an engineer not a manager?" To which he replied: "Yes, I did." He was then asked: "Did you tell her that you felt that you were not capable of performing the managerial functions?" Ashton replied: "On certain — on existing conditions, no."

On or about May 16, 1994, Grippo conducted Plaintiff's performance evaluation. Grippo indicated that Plaintiff's quality of work, communication skills, and participation and contribution of ideas and solutions were unsatisfactory. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 7; Def.'s Ex. F.) On a scale of 1 to 5, representing in ascending order outstanding, above average, proficient, adequate, and unsatisfactory, Plaintiff received proficient in one category, adequate in three categories and unsatisfactory in four categories. (Def.'s Ex. F.) Plaintiff does not claim that Grippo's memos or the performance evaluations evince his claims of age discrimination. (Pl.'s Dep. at 74).

In or about May 1994, Plaintiff met with Patricia Lowy, Corporate Director of Human Resources at Pall, and requested a transfer. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 8; Pl.'s Dep. at 84-85.) In describing this conversation, Ashton recounted that Lowy informed him: "That I have to look for a job in a different department or I have to leave. And she offered me even help to get [a] head-hunter. This I remember correctly." (Pl.'s Dep. at 84-85.) Soon thereafter, Vlado Matkovich, Pall's Senior Corporate Vice-President, informed Plaintiff that he would be transferred into the Engineering Department. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 8; Pl.'s Dep. at 84-85.)

Sometime between May 1994 and August 1994, Chris Bush, age 32, became Igor's supervisor in the Engineering Department. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 3; Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 10.) Ashton became a Project Engineer and his former responsibilities were assumed by Robert Hoffman, who was also over 40 years of age at the time. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 10.)

Plaintiff claims that once Bush became his supervisor he was no longer included in production meetings and received very little work. (Pl.'s Dep. ¶ 4.) In or about the Fall of 1994, two young engineers were hired including James Muldoon who practically took over all of Plaintiff's responsibilities. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 4.)

On or about March 14, 1995, Bush conducted Ashton's performance evaluation, which reads in pertinent part:

  Igor has been given assignments with clear objectives
  that require feeding back information to me; and has,
  over a time, failed to report on their status.
  Furthermore, the position he fills requires taking
  aggressive action to accomplish tasks that arise in
  the production environment, and has not demonstrated
  the appropriate decisiveness. This lack of initiative
  has resulted in my having frequently to follow-up on
  ...

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