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HOGAN v. GENERAL ELEC CO.

August 11, 2000

JOHN J. HOGAN AND DAVID J. REES, EACH INDIVIDUALLY, AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHER PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
V.
GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY; STEPHEN D. HOLLENBERG, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS AN EMPLOYEE OF GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY; AND RONALD R. PRESSMAN, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS AN EMPLOYEE OF GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs, John Hogan ("Hogan") and David Rees ("Rees"), individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, commenced the current action alleging age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621-34, and the New York State Human Rights Law ("HRL"), N.Y.Exec.Law § 296(6) (McKinney 1993 & Supp. 2000). Carmen Laporta ("Laporta") and William Sheahan ("Sheahan") became "opt-in" plaintiffs after the filing of the initial complaint.

II. FACTS

On July 17, 1995, General Electric Power Systems ("GEPS") conducted an involuntary reduction-in-force ("RIF") at its Schenectady, New York facility. Defendant General Electric Company ("GE") claims the RIF was required because of increased global competition which facilitated a need to reduce costs to remain competitive. The terminations during the RIF took place in the Marketing & Sales Division of GEPS. Among those terminated were the plaintiffs in this action.

At the time of the RIF, there were one-hundred seventy-four (174) workers eligible for termination in the Marketing & Sales Division. Of the 174, ninety-nine (99) were over the age of forty, and seventy-five (75) were under forty. Between nineteen (19) and twenty-two (22) employees were terminated as a result of this RIF.*fn1 It is undisputed that sixteen (16) of the employees terminated were over the age of forty.

During all relevant times, defendant Ronald Pressman ("Pressman") was Vice President of the Marketing & Sales Division of GEPS, and defendant Stephen Hollenberg ("Hollenberg") was the General Manager of the Global Sales Integration and Support unit, a sub-unit of the Marketing & Sales Division. The RIF was conducted after the offering of a voluntary job elimination package did not produce the needed cost reduction. Managers of the various departments within the Marketing & Sales Division were instructed to select individuals for layoff pursuant to the GEI & PS Human Resources Procedure, Subject Lay Off. If an employee's job was "unique" and non-essential to the functioning of GEPS, they were directly laid off. If there was a need to eliminate some employees performing similar jobs, the managers were instructed to use a "layoff determination comparison matrix" to rank employees. (Weyl Aff.Ex. B at 3.) These matrices ranked employees based on five criteria: performance, productivity, criticality of skills, versatility/adaptability, and length of service. According to this system, length of service with GE, a factor strongly correlated with age, benefitted the employee. After the initial termination decisions were made and reviewed by mid-level management, Pressman was required to personally review the termination of any employee with more than twenty years of service at GEPS. According to the defendants, the human resources and legal departments also reviewed the terminations.

Laporta, age fifty-eight at the time of the RIF, was a Specialist of Technical Manuals with twenty-three years of service with GE. He organized the schedule for the creation of the service manuals for GEPS' products. Laporta was originally placed on a matrix with twenty-six (26) other employees where he ranked fifth. However, after a meeting attended by defendant Hollenberg and other GEPS management, Laporta's position was labeled "unique," he was taken off the matrix, and was immediately terminated.

Hogan, who was fifty-four at the time of the RIF, was the Manager for Transaction Methods and Systems with twenty-eight years of service with GE. In this position, Hogan developed various computer programs and integrated new programs into existing apparatus. Hogan claims to have worked with three (3) other people, ages twenty-nine, forty, and forty-one. However, his position was labeled "unique," and he was not placed on a matrix for comparison.

Rees, age fifty-eight at the time of the RIF, was a Program Development Manager with twenty-nine years of service with GE. Rees' main responsibility was organizing "State of the Art" conferences and seminars. These conferences were eliminated as part of GEPS' cost-cutting measures. Rees allegedly worked with three (3) other people, ages twenty-six, thirty-one, and forty. Nevertheless, his position was also labeled "unique," and he was not placed on a matrix for comparison.

Sheahan, who was fifty-one at the time of the RIF, was a Sales Manager with twenty-six years of service with GE. In this position, he assisted in the development of power plant projects in Asia. Sheahan worked with four (4) other people, ages thirty-six, thirty-eight, forty-one, and fifty-six. Sheahan was placed on a comparison matrix and placed second out of five (5). While the three (3) lower ranked employees were also "terminated," two quickly found other work within GE. Of the 5, only Sheahan and his fifty-six year old co-worker could not find jobs within GE.

After this suit commenced, plaintiffs hired Dr. Debojyoti Sarkar ("Dr. Sarkar") of Integral Research, Inc. to prepare a statistical report on the RIF to determine if there was any correlation between the age of an employee and termination. This report determined that age was significantly related to termination in the RIF. Dr. Sarkar evaluated the statistics holding education ...


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