The opinion of the court was delivered by: McMAHON, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT DISMISSING COMPLAINT
From 1996 until 2000, James Ranieri was the boys' varsity basketball
coach at James O'Neill High School. Pursuant to District policy, coaching
positions were filled annually for one year terms. Ranieri was the only
candidate for the position when he took it in 1996, and he was the only
candidate for the position in the years 1997, 1998 and 1999 as well.
During those years, he enjoyed both success (two Section IX championships
and Coach of the Year honors in 1998) and failure (a 9-12 record in his
fourth and final year as coach).
After the disappointing 2000 season, three new candidates — no
doubt sensing an opportunity — applied for the position of boys'
basketball coach. All four candidates were qualified for the position.
All four, including Ranieri, were interviewed by the District's new
superintendent, Dr. Geniene Guglielmo, in accordance with new procedures
that Dr. Guglielmo instituted upon her arrival. These procedures mandated
that candidates set forth their goals and objectives for the coaching
position. Dr. Guglielmo, who kept careful notes of her interviews with the
four candidates (at which each was asked exactly the same questions),
eventually recommended another candidate, Peter Marotta, to the Board of
Education. Her stated reason was that she was more impressed with the
goals and objectives he identified for the program. The Board, by 5-2
vote, approved her choice for the position.
At the time Marotta was selected for the coaching position previously
held by Ranieri, Plaintiff was 53 years old and Marotta was 43 years old
— both over 40, and thus within the ADEA protected class, but with
Marotta a decade younger. Marotta was not without coaching experience,
but Ranieri's was both substantially greater and substantially more
recent; he had been the coach of the junior varsity team for some years
prior to becoming the varsity coach and, as noted above, he had enjoyed
some success (as well as some disappointment) during his years as varsity
To establish a claim for disparate treatment under ADEA, Ranieri must
first set forth a prima facie case of age discrimination. Auerbach v.
Board of Educ. of the Harborfields Cent. Sch. Dist. of Greenlawn,
136 F.3d 104, 109 (2d Cir. 1998). "[P]laintiffs bear the initial burden
of demonstrating that the actual motivation for the employer's decision
was the employee's age." Id. (citing Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins,
507 U.S. 604, 610, 113 S.Ct. 1701, 123 L.Ed.2d 338 (1993)).
In order to prove a prima facie case of age discrimination, Ranieri
must demonstrate the following: (1) the plaintiff is a member of a
protected class; (2) plaintiff is qualified for his position; (3)
plaintiff suffered adverse employment action; and (4) the circumstances
surrounding the action give rise to an inference of age discrimination.
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d
668 (1973). The Second Circuit has clearly stated that the plaintiffs
burden in establishing a prima facie case is de minimis. Auerbach, 136
F.3d at 109-10; Criley v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 119 F.3d 102, 104 (2d
Plaintiff has met this minimal burden. He was over forty years old when
he was fired, and thus is a member of the protected class. Ranieri was
qualified for the position, but was not re-hired after the 2000 football
season. Defendant argues that the final element of the prima facie case
has not been satisfied because Ranieri's replacement is also a member of
the protected class. However, the Supreme Court has held that this is not
a proper element of a prima facie case of age discrimination. "The fact
that one person in the protected class has lost out to another person in
the protected class is . . . irrelevant, so long as he has lost out
because of his age." O'Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corp.,
517 U.S. 308, 312, 116 S.Ct. 1307, 134 L.Ed.2d 433 (1996). While it is
true that an age disparity may not support an inference of age
discrimination if there is only an insignificant difference, id. at
312-13, 116 S.Ct. 1307, the Second Circuit has found that an eight year
age difference is significant. Tarshis v. Riese Org., 211 F.3d 30, 38 (2d
Cir. 2000). Because there is a ten-year age difference between the
plaintiff and his replacement, he has set forth the fourth element of a
prima facie case of age discrimination.
Defendant has also satisfied its burden of articulating a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for not re-hiring Ranieri — namely his
losing record in his final year of coaching, and Guglielmo's
dissatisfaction with his stated goals and objectives for the program.
Thus, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to "present sufficient
evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that [defendant] discriminated
against him because of his age." Hollander v. American Cyanamid Co.,
172 F.3d 192, 199 (2d Cir. 1999). Ranieri has not met this burden.
The record contains a number of immaterial facts (such as the brief
duration of Coach Marotta's tenure and the alleged fact that Dr.
Guglielmo's predecessors handled the coach appointment process
differently than she did). It also contains one disputed fact that is
arguably material. Ranieri alleges that Dr. Guglielmo told him he did not
get the coaching position because he "did not fit into our long-term
program." (Cplt. ¶, Ranieri EBT at 43-44). Guglielmo denies having
made this remark. For purposes of this motion, I
accept Ranieri's testimony as true, because it is this remark, coupled
with the fact that Marotta was ten years younger than Ranieri, that
plaintiff relies on to sustain a claim of age discrimination. The record
is otherwise devoid of any other evidence that might support an inference
that the Superintendent's decision was motivated by Ranieri's age. And
that is the key. Ranieri does not allege that he had any entitlement to
the varsity coaching position; he could not, because it is District
policy to post coaching positions every year, and no one is guaranteed
reappointment. (Def's. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 11, 13). So he can maintain
this action in the face of a dispositive motion only if the evidence he
identifies raises a genuine issue of material fact about whether age was
a motivating factor in the decision not to rehire him for the position.
See Schnabel v. Abramson, 232 F.3d 83, 88 (2d Cir.2000) (affirming grant
of summary judgment where plaintiff could not offer evidence "that he was
discriminated against because of his age")(italics in original). The
evidence before me raises no such issue.
Stray workplace remarks that have no demonstrated nexus to the
personnel action complained of are insufficient to defeat a motion for
summary judgment. Danzer v. Norden Systems, Inc., 151 F.3d 50, 56 (2d
Cir. 1998); Ngwu v. Salvation Army, 96 Civ. 0058-59, 1999 WL 2873, at *5
(S.D.N.Y.Jan.4, 1999); O'Connor v. Viacom, Inc., No. 93 Civ. 2399 (LMM),
1996 WL 194299, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Apr.23, 1996). for example, in Woroski
v. Nashua Corp., 31 F.3d 105, 108-10 (2d Cir.1994), the Second Circuit
sustained the dismissal of an ADEA case on motion where an employer made
statements that older employees were not as aggressive as younger
employees, and expressed concerns regarding the higher costs of employees
with greater seniority. In Warren v. Chemical Bank, No. 96 Civ. 6075
(BSJ), 1999, WL 1256249, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Dec.22, 1999), the court
dismissed an ADEA claim on a motion for summary judgment where the only
evidence tending to show that age was a factor was a manager's comment
that "she did not know plaintiff was that old." See also Girma v.
Skidmore College, 180 F. Supp.2d 326, 339 (N.D.N.Y.2001) ("stray remarks
of a decision-maker, without a more definite connection to the employment
decision, are insufficient to prove a claim of employment
discrimination."; Spence v. Maryland Cas. Co., 803 F. Supp. 649, 668
(W.D.N.Y.1992) ("Isolated and ambiguous statements are too abstract, in
addition to being irrelevant and prejudicial, to support a finding of age
Here plaintiff relies on a single remark that falls well within the
parameters of "ambiguous" and "abstract." Plaintiff has no idea what Dr.
Guglielmo meant by her "long term plans" comment; he never asked and she
never fleshed it out. The words themselves carry no necessary age-based
meaning. Ranieri has not set forth any evidence that defendant's stated
reasons for not re-hiring him were merely pretextual. Thus, this cases is
distinguishable from Carlton v. Mystic Transp. Inc., 202 F.3d 129 (2d
Cir.2000). In Carlton, the plaintiff had established his prima facie case
of age discrimination by alleging that his employer suggested that he
should retire, and gave his job responsibilities to two employees, one 18
years younger than the plaintiff and one 25 years younger. The court
found that looking at the totality of the evidence, the employer's
reference to retirement was something more than a stray comment, since
the defendant gave contradictory reasons for the plaintiff's terminating
to the court and to the EEOC, and because the defendant — who
the plaintiff was fired as part of a reduction in work ...