Act (ADEA) and the New York State Human Rights Law. The Defendant
District moves for summary judgment. The motion is granted.
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 force —
actually hired another person to fill the plaintiff's position three
months later. Thus, the plaintiff in that case set forth numerous issues
of fact from which a reasonable jury could reject the defendant's stated
non-discriminatory reasons for terminating the plaintiff.
In this case, in order to demonstrate that the District's stated
reasons for not re-hiring him are merely a pretext for discrimination,
Ranieri points to what he deems are his superior credentials for the
job. I will assume arguendo that his credentials are objectively
superior. However, one cannot draw from an unwise decision any inference
that it was reached on forbidden grounds. The law does not require an
employer to hire the best qualified person, and as long as the evidence
does not tend to support and inference of age discrimination, the
district does not have to prove that it made the wisest or best choice.
Montana v. First Fed. Savings and Loan Ass'n of Rochester, 869 F.2d 100,
106 (2d Cir.1989) (noting that federal courts do not have a "roving
commission to review business judgments"); Dister v. Continental Group,
Inc., 859 F.2d 100, 106 (2d Cir.1988) ("[e]vidence that an employer made
a poor business judgment generally is insufficient to establish a
question of fact as to the credibility of the employer's reasons"); Davis
v. State University of New York, 802 F.2d 638, 643 (2d Cir.1986). Here,
the evidence — what there is of it — does not give rise to
any inference of forbidden motive. Accordingly, the defendant's motion
for summary judgment is granted and the case is dismissed with prejudice
and with costs awarded to defendant.
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