The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chin, District Judge.
In this employment case, plaintiff David Emanuel alleges that
defendants, a financial consulting firm and its president,
unlawfully terminated his employment because of his age.
Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendants present compelling
evidence that Emanuel was terminated not because of his age but
because of his poor job performance — specifically, because he
lacked the communication, management, and leadership skills
required of a senior employee. Moreover, the undisputed evidence
shows that plaintiff was hired when he was forty-seven years old,
that he was fired just eleven months later when was he was
forty-eight years old, and that the same person who fired him
hired him. Plaintiff has presented no evidence that defendants'
proffered nondiscriminatory reason for terminating his employment
is false. On the record before the Court, no reasonable jury
could conclude that defendants discharged Emanuel because of his
age. Defendants' motion is therefore granted and the complaint is
Construed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the facts
are as follows:
1. Plaintiff's Employment with Defendant
Defendant Oliver, Wyman & Company, LLC ("OWC") is a strategy
consulting firm dedicated to the financial services industry.
Defendant John Drzik is the President of OWC.
Emanuel was forty-seven years old when OWC hired him as the
Global Head of Research in June 1996. Drzik outlined plaintiff's
job responsibilities in a letter dated June 4, 1996. OWC expected
Emanuel to carry out specified substantive research duties and to
"provide leadership and direction" to the three or four
consultants he would supervise in the research department.
(Meister Decl., Ex. 6 at 2). In addition, Emanuel was expected to
"interact with [OWC's] clients" and have "substantial contact
with . . . OWC Directors." (Id.). OWC anticipated that Emanuel
would be considered for a director position within a year of his
hiring. (Id.). The June 4 letter also detailed Emanuel's annual
compensation, which consisted of a combination of salary and
guaranteed to equal at least $200,000. (Id.).
In fact, after his employment commenced, plaintiff had
substantial contact with OWC's directors and consultants, working
on research projects and generally acting as a "problem solver"
for the firm. (Emanuel Decl., ¶ 10). In addition, Emanuel
supervised a staff of three consultants in the research
department — Natasha Haase, Andy Hickman, and Til
2. Plaintiff's Work Performance
Emanuel's performance was disappointing in certain respects
from the outset. Although plaintiff claims that he never received
any "substantive" or "specific" negative feedback regarding his
communication and management skills (Emanuel Decl., ¶¶ 10, 12,
13), he concedes that on numerous occasions, various OWC
directors, including his direct supervisor, Drzik, made him aware
that he was not performing up to expectations in those areas.
(See Smith Decl., Ex. 1*fn2 at 46-47, 67-70, 78-80, 86).
For example, Emanuel had only been at OWC for about a week when
he gave an "impromptu, without notes, without slides" oral
presentation at a firm gathering where he was introduced as
Global Head of Research; an OWC director, Peter Carroll, told
plaintiff that "it wasn't a good idea to do that kind of
presentation" and that he "probably shouldn't have given the
speech without slides." (Smith Decl., Ex. 1 at 46-47; see also
E. Smith Decl., ¶ 5). Emanuel later received more negative
feedback from Carroll; in August or September 1996, Carroll told
plaintiff that he "was not doing too well." (Smith Decl., Ex. 1
Similarly, in September or October of 1996, Elaine Smith, OWC's
chief financial officer, told Emanuel that she thought he might
be "hav[ing] trouble getting assimilated." (Id. at 68). Smith
had other conversations with plaintiff during his tenure at OWC,
during which she told him that his performance was poor and that
"his communication style was not in line with the firm's norm"
because he was "verbose and rambling." (E. Smith Decl., ¶ 6).
Drzik also criticized Emanuel's performance; in November 1996,
after Emanuel orally presented a report to an OWC committee of
directors, Drzik told him that his presentation had not been
satisfactory. (Smith Decl., Ex. 1 at 70).
Prompted by the negative feedback he had received and
recognizing that he "could use a bit more help," Emanuel took a
one-day course to improve his communication skills in August
1996. (Smith Decl., Ex. 1 at 108; see also Emanuel Decl., ¶
10). OWC supported Emanuel's participation in the seminar;
indeed, the firm paid for the course. (Smith Decl., Ex. 1 at
Despite plaintiff's efforts, the negative feedback from OWC
directors and officers continued into 1997. At Emanuel's
performance review in January 1997, Drzik described to plaintiff
in detail the various concerns expressed by the firm's directors
about plaintiff's performance. Emanuel recalls that Drzik
criticized his lack of preparation for presentations and that he
and Drzik discussed Emanuel's style of communication. (Smith
Decl., Ex. 1 at 86, 104). In addition, Drzik told plaintiff that
the research staff had complained about his supervision of them,
and suggested that plaintiff "back off" from the consultants.
(Id. at 58-59, 61-63, 66, 103). Drzik also listed several
projects that he expected Emanuel to complete by the end of the
year. (See id. at 98-99, 105).
After the January 1997 review, plaintiff claims that he acted
upon several of Drzik's suggestions on how to improve his
communication skills. (Id. at 121-22). For example, in
approximately March 1997, Emanuel attended an in-house seminar on
giving presentations, led by an OWC director, Harvey Weinberg.
(Id. at 113, 126, 131). At some point, OWC suggested that
Emanuel take another communication seminar, but he did not do so.
(Id. at 106). In addition, at another unspecified point, OWC
suggested that Emanuel receive further in-house training on
making presentations, but it is unclear whether he received any
such instruction. (Id. at 112-114).
In addition to the concerns expressed by OWC directors and
officers, concerns were raised by Emanuel's staff of research
consultants. Emanuel was aware that the three consultants he
supervised had complained to Drzik and other OWC directors about
Emanuel's poor supervisory and management skills. (Smith Decl.,
Ex. 1 at 52-55, 57-63, 66, 103). For example, soon after Emanuel
was hired, Natasha Haase asked to be transferred out of the
research group because she was "frustrat[ed]" by Emanuel's
communication, supervisory, and managerial skills. (Haase Decl.,
¶ 4). Specifically, Haase testified that Emanuel called meetings
without an agenda or even a stated purpose, that he once left a
rambling hour-long voice-mail message for her, and that he had
distracting and unprofessional personal habits. (Id.). Haase
found plaintiff's skills to be so deficient that she believed he
was a hindrance to her professional development. (Id.). She
concluded that she could not effectively work under Emanuel,
asked an OWC director if she could be reassigned to another
department within the firm, and was in fact transferred to
another position. (Id. at ¶ 5-6). Emanuel acknowledges that he
"got [a] sort of reaction from [Haase]" that she could not work
with him. (Smith Decl., Ex. 1 at 53). Haase returned to the
research department after Emanuel was fired.
The other two consultants on Emanuel's staff also complained
about him to OWC directors. According to Andy Hickman and Til
Schuermann, plaintiff was "exceedingly difficult to work with"
because he "constantly interfer[ed]" in their work and seemed
resentful when other OWC consultants took their research
questions to Hickman or Schuermann rather than plaintiff.
(Hickman Decl., ¶¶ 4, 5; see Schuermann Decl., ¶¶ 3, 6). In
addition, Hickman and Schuermann assert that Emanuel was "a poor
verbal communicator" who was unable to speak concisely and
coherently. (Schuermann Decl., ¶ 5; Hickman Decl., ¶¶ 4-5).
Schuermann states that plaintiff also had "extraordinarily poor"
management abilities, in that he was unable to prioritize
research requests and was ineffective at allocating assignments
among his staff. (Schuermann Decl., ¶ 4). Both Schuermann and
Hickman took their complaints to OWC management; Hickman even
told Drzik that he would quit if things did not change.
(Schuermann Decl., ¶ 7; Hickman Decl., ¶ 6). Drzik informed
Emanuel of the consultants' complaints at the January 1997 review
and on other occasions, and Emanuel admits to being told of his
staff's unhappiness with him. (Smith Decl., Ex. 1 at 57-59,
61-63, 103, 116-18; Ex. 2 at 104-05).
Specifically, the written review noted that the "primary area
of discontinuity [was] communication, both formal and informal."
(Meister Decl., Ex. 4). By way of example, the written evaluation
recounted the poorly-received formal presentations that drew
negative comments from Carroll and Drzik, and observed that
Emanuel's credibility had been hurt by these weak presentations.
(Id.). The review also echoed the numerous complaints about
Emanuel's verbal communication difficulties. Emanuel's expertise
was characterized as "difficult to access" because of his
communication weaknesses, and thus "some [d]irectors [were] less
likely to approach him with client problems" (id.); this
observation dovetails with the statements of Hickman and
Schuermann that directors often came to them instead of Emanuel
because of Emanuel's communication problems.
In addition, the written assessment documents defendants' other
concerns with plaintiff's performance — the lack of initiative
and management weaknesses for which Emanuel was eventually fired.
Drzik noted that plaintiff was "less proactive and less focused
than our firm's norm," particularly with regard to his
participation in meetings with OWC directors. (Id.). Drzik
further observed that after six months, Emanuel had not yet
provided the "overall vision and leadership" to the research
department that OWC expected of him. (Id.).
In the months following his January 1997 performance review,
plaintiff continued to receive sporadic negative comments from
OWC directors about his work. (Smith Decl., Ex. 1 at 124, 126,
129-31). In May 1997, Drzik again met with Emanuel and informed
him that he was being fired. According to plaintiff, Drzik told
him "you would have worked out real well here if we hired you ten
or twenty years ago." (Id. at 137). Drzik does not recall using
those words; instead, he remembers telling Emanuel that he "might
have been more successful" with OWC if he had joined the firm
earlier in his career. (Meister Decl., Ex. 2 at 81).
Afterward, Drzik memorialized in a written summary what had
transpired, "to summarize the terms and circumstances surrounding
[Emanuel's] departure." (Smith Decl., Ex. 2 at 98; see Meister
Decl., Ex. 3). The post-meeting notes indicated that Drzik had
explained to Emanuel that he was being terminated because of his
weak oral communication skills, poor managerial abilities, and
lack of initiative, problem areas that had been pointed out to
Emanuel in January 1997. (Meister Decl., Ex. 3). Emanuel was
discharged because he "ha[d] not responded successfully to
feedback in January review and has therefore not developed in
line with needs. Generally not working out as Global Head of
Research, not seen as viable Director candidate." (Id.).
Plaintiff disputes the accuracy of Drzik's post-meeting summary,
claiming that the document lists several items that were not
discussed at the May 1997 meeting. (Smith Decl., Ex. 1 at
After the termination meeting, Emanuel drafted a letter of
reference for himself, and submitted it to Drzik for his
signature. Drzik then drafted his own version, incorporating much
of Emanuel's draft letter but making a few changes. (Smith Decl.,
Ex. 1 at 146-47; Ex. 8). In the letter, Drzik noted that Emanuel
was a "reliable and capable . . . subject matter expert" who
could "write clearly and simply on complex subjects." (Id., Ex.
8). No mention, positive or negative, was made of Emanuel's
management or verbal communication skills.
As agreed at the May 1997 meeting, Emanuel remained at OWC
until July 31, 1997, continuing to work on research projects and
seeking a new position at the ...