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BARON v. PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY

July 18, 2000

PATRICIA BARON, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
V.
PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

Plaintiffs, Patricia Gayle Baron, Lisa Diaz, Laura Toole and Amos Ilan, filed separate wrongful discharge complaints against their former employer, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and its Commissioners and Chief Officers, A. Paul Blanco, Richard Codd, Louis J. Lacapra, Kathleen Donovan, Charles Gargano, Lewis Eisenberg, James Hellmuth, Henry Henderson, Robert Janiszewski, Peter Kalikow, George O'Neill, Alan Philibosian, Melvin Schweitzer, Vincent Tese and Frank Wilson, on September 13, 1996. The complaints alleged violations of (1) 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("1983") for infringement of property, due process, equal protection and contract rights, (2) 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a), Title VII and the Civil Rights Act of 1991 for discrimination based on sex, (3) the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") for age discrimination, (4) New York Human Rights Law, New York State Executive Law § 296 ("HRL") for discrimination based on age and sex, (5) N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to 10:5-42, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD"), for age and sex discrimination and (6) New York and New Jersey common law of contracts. Pursuant to the court's order of December 12, 1996, plaintiffs' cases were consolidated.

On February 17, 1997, defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment as to all claims asserted against the Port Authority Commissioners ("Commissioners"), as to the § 1983 claims of deprivation of contract, property and due process rights against all defendants and as to the Title VII and ADEA claims against the supervisors and the Port Authority. In a Memorandum Opinion of June 29, 1997, this court granted defendants' partial summary judgment motion as to the Title VII and ADEA claims and as to the HRL and LAD claims. Baron, et al., v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, et al., 968 F. Supp. 924 (S.D.N.Y. 1997). In a September 5, 1997 Memorandum Opinion, the court granted defendants' partial summary judgment motion with respect to the § 1983 procedural due process claims and the claims asserted against defendant Commissioners in their personal and official capacities. Baron, et al. v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 977 F. Supp. 646 (S.D.N Y 1997). On January 22, 1999, plaintiffs filed a stipulation of discontinuance withdrawing all equal protection claims against defendants. On December 27, 1999, the remaining defendant, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, filed a motion for partial summary judgment with respect to plaintiffs' remaining claims, those for common law breach of contract and § 1983 deprivation of Contract Clause rights. This court now grants defendant's motion, dismissing plaintiffs' contract claims under the common law of New York and New Jersey and § 1983, thereby dismissing plaintiffs' case in its entirety. The court assumes familiarity with the prior proceedings in this case and only discusses those facts pertinent to the matter immediately before the court.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

I. THE PARTIES

Plaintiffs are New York citizens who were terminated from their respective positions by defendants pursuant to a reduction in force ("RIF") on September 15, 1995.

Defendant Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (the "Port Authority") is a bi-state agency created by Compact in 1921 between the States of New York and New Jersey to develop terminal, transportation and other facilities of commerce within the Port of New York District.

II. THE DISPUTE

A. Plaintiffs' Allegations

Plaintiffs allege that when they interviewed with, were hired by, and worked for the Port Authority, they were continuously informed and reassured that the Port Authority maintained a policy of staff retention. Plaintiffs allege that they rejected other job offers in choosing or remaining with the Port Authority due to the assurances regarding the Port Authority's policy of staff retention. The plaintiffs did not enter into written employment contracts with defendant Port Authority.

Plaintiff Patricia Baron accepted a position with the Port Authority in 1966. Baron alleges that during her interviews, Port Authority managers made statements with respect to their job security policy, ensuring her that the Port Authority was a "career service agency," that the only way she could lose her job was by doing something inappropriate, that employees would be "judged based on their performance and longevity within the agency" and that employment decisions would be guided by "merit and length of service." Pl's Mem. Opp'n Summ. J. at 3. Baron also alleges that when she as given the personnel manual, the Guide for Port Authority Personnel, she was instructed to read it because it contained the basic rules governing her employment. Id. at 4. In addition, Baron alleges that she rejected outside job offers during her tenure with the Port Authority because she believed that her seniority made her job secure. Id. at 6.

Plaintiff Amos Ilan accepted a position with the Port Authority in 1970. In accepting the Port Authority position, Ilan alleges that he turned down an outstanding job offer. During his interviews at the Port Authority, Ilan alleges that he was told that he could expect to have a "job for life," that the Port authority was "run as a true meritocracy, in which advancement, salary increases and other employment decisions were based strictly on ability, dedication and length of service," and that the Port Authority wanted a "career work force." Id. at 7.

Plaintiff Laura Toole left her job after receiving an employment offer from the Port Authority in 1984. Id. at 9-11. She claims in accepting the offer, she rejected an offer of an increased salary with her current employer in favor of the Port Authority position, which paid at a lower salary rate. Id. at 11. Plaintiff alleges that she was told by managers in her interviews that the Port Authority had a tradition of "career service" and of "people working at the Port Authority until they retired." According to Toole, the managers spoke of the significance of seniority, and assured her that "you have to be a criminal to leave here." Id. at 10. In 1989, during a reduction in force ("RIF"), Toole requested a copy of the Port Authority Instructions (" PAI's") governing RIF's. Id. at 11-12. An administrative assistant in her department gave her a copy of the relevant PAI's. Id. at 12. In 1993, Toole alleges that she rejected an outside job offer based on the her understanding of the PAI's and her managers' oral assurances of job security. Id. at 12.

Plaintiff Lisa Diaz left her job in 1987 to join the staff of the Port Authority after receiving a call from a Port Authority manager offering her a position with the Port Authority. Id. at 12-13. During her interviews, Diaz claims that managers assured her that "only through some misconduct or some malfeasance would one be in jeopardy of their position," that Port Authority employees have "the equivalent of tenure" and that "the opportunity for someone to be fired was extremely remote except for . . . misbehavior or other improper action." Id. at 13. With respect to RIF's, Diaz claims that during her interview, in a discussion about "redeployment" policies and "excess staff," she was told that "people could either make career changes [or] have other opportunities at the Port Authority." Id. at 14. Diaz also alleges that during her employment, she had a discussion regarding pending legislation with the Port Authority's general counsel in which she was told that since the Port Authority was large, that it "had the ability to absorb many changes" in the event of a RIF. Id. at 15. Diaz claims that she rejected offers for other jobs paying higher salaries during her tenure, preferring the Port Authority because of her understanding of the Port Authority's job security policy. Id. at 15-16.

B. Port Authority Reduction in Force Policies

Plaintiffs base their claims on two Port Authority policies relating to RIF's: (1) the Guide for Port Authority Personnel, Tenure of Office and (2) Port Authority Instructions ("PAI's") 20-1.12.

At or about the time Baron was hired, the Port Authority issued a booklet entitled "Guide for Port Authority Personnel," (the "Guide") which Baron claims was given to her on her first day of work. Pls'. Mem. Opp'n to Summ. J. at 4; Def's Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 8. The Guide was not issued when the other plaintiffs were hired. Def's Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 8. The Guide includes an explanation of the Port Authority's RIF policies, stating that seniority and merit will be considered in RIF decision-making and that the Port Authority will attempt to reappoint laid off personnel. Id. Regarding seniority and merit considerations, the Guide states, "[i]n the event of any reduction in the work force merit and ability as well as length of services and salary step will [be] considered in deciding how the reduction will be accomplished." Id. Ex. D at 66. As to seniority specifically, the Guide states that "[g]enerally, only staff members with relatively short Port Authority service in the lower salary-range steps will be laid off." Id. With respect to reappointment, the Guide provides, "the Port Author[ity] will make every reasonable effort to place the employees affected [in] vacant positions elsewhere in the Port Authority," and that "[i]t is also a basic Port Authority policy that any employee who, as a result of a reduction in force, is either placed in a position with a lower salary or temporarily laid off will be given preferred consideration for reappointment to a position in his old class." Id. The introduction to the Guide indicates that the statements are not rules, and are subject to change:

This booklet is called a guide, rather than a rule book, because it is just that — a guide to help you become familiar with the more important features of the Port Authority's personnel policies. In times to come, some of the policies and procedures in the following pages may be changed to fit ...

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