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EMANUEL v. OLIVER

March 9, 2000

DAVID C. EMANUEL, PLAINTIFF,
V.
OLIVER, WYMAN & COMPANY, LLC, AND JOHN DRZIK, DEFENDANTS.



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

  OPINION

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 dismissed.

BACKGROUND

A. The Facts

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 bonus, 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 Schuermann.*fn1

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 at 79).

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 108-10).

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).

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).

Defendants documented the various complaints voiced about Emanuel's poor performance. As mentioned above, in January 1997, Emanuel and Drzik met for Emanuel's annual performance review. Drzik drafted a written assessment of Emanuel prior to the meeting; a handwritten note at the top of the document reads, "Delivered by Drzik = 1/14/97." (Meister Decl., Ex. 4). The written evaluation highlighted Emanuel's positive contributions to OWC, but also memorialized the numerous specific criticisms of his communication and management skills expressed by OWC's directors and consultants and noted that "there are a number of areas in which David needs to improve." (Id.). Drzik also listed specific actions that he expected plaintiff to take to improve his performance, as well as more general suggestions of how plaintiff could fulfill his job responsibilities more effectively. (Id.) Plaintiff concedes that the written assessment is an accurate summary of what Drzik told him at the January 1997 review. (Smith Decl., Ex. 1 at 120).

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.).

3. Plaintiff's Discharge

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 143).*fn3

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 ...


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