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LUXENBERG v. GUARDIAN LIFE INSURANCE CO.

February 27, 2004.

LAWRENCE LUXENBERG, Plaintiff, -against-, THE GUARDIAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, THE GUARDIAN LIFE INSURANCE OF AMERICA SEVERANCE PLAN, and THE SEVERANCE COMMITTEE OF THE GUARDIAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA SEVERANCE PLAN, Defendants


The opinion of the court was delivered by: SHIRA SCHEINDLIN, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Lawrence Luxenberg filed this action against his former employer, Guardian Life Insurance Company of America ("Guardian"), as well as Guardian's Severance Plan and Severance Committee. Luxenberg alleges that Guardian: (1) discriminated against him on the basis of age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et sea. and the New York City Human Rights Law ("NYCHRL"); (2) unlawfully retaliated against him by terminating his employment in response to his complaint of age discrimination, in violation of the ADEA and NYCHRL; and (3) violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1000 et seq., by denying him severance pay. Luxenberg voluntarily dismissed Page 2 his age discrimination claims. Guardian now moves for summary judgment on plaintiff's retaliation claim, contending that Luxenberg has not produced sufficient evidence in support of his claim.*fn1 For the reasons stated below, Guardian's motion for summary judgment is granted.

 I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  Guardian hired Luxenberg as a securities analyst in May 1983. He was promoted several times. See Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts Pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.1 ("Def. 56.1") ¶¶ 1-3. Specifically, in April 1998, Luxenberg was promoted to co — lead manager of Guardian's flagship mutual fund, the Guardian Park Avenue Fund ("the Fund"), and in March 2000, Luxenberg was promoted to lead manager. See id. ¶¶ 2-3. Under Luxenberg's management, the Fund performed well until September 2000. See id. 1 4.

  Between September 2000 and March 2001, the Fund experienced a downturn and underperformed its benchmark, the S&P 500 Index, by approximately twenty percent. See id. ¶ 5. Citing the poor performance of the Fund, on March 26, 2001, Joseph Sargent, Guardian's then President and Chief Executive Officer, and Frank Jones, Guardian's then Chief Investment Officer, removed Luxenberg as lead manager. He was retained as a research Page 3 analyst because Guardian wanted Luxenberg to remain part of the Fund's investment team, even after the hiring of a new lead manager.*fn2 Id. ¶¶ 6-8; 4/14/03 Deposition of Lawrence Luxenberg ("Luxenberg Dep."), Ex. A to 8/28/03 Declaration of Edward Cerasia II, attorney for defendants ("Cerasia Dec."), at 67-68. See Def. 56.1 ¶ 8. In June 2001, Guardian hired a new manager for the Fund, Richard Goldman, who began work on July 23, 2001. See id. ¶¶ 14, 21.

  On July 20, 2001, Luxenberg told Jones to expect a call from his then — attorney, Ron Geffner. See id. ¶ 17. Geffner called later that day and told Jones that, in his view, Luxenberg had been constructively discharged*fn3 and that Luxenberg wanted to negotiate an "amicable separation" from Guardian. See id.; Plaintiff's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts Pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.1 ("Pl. 56.1") ¶ 17b. Jones referred Page 4 Geffner to Douglas Kramer, head of Guardian's Human Resources Department, with whom Geffner tried to negotiate a severance package. See Def. 56.1 ¶ 117c.

  Jones immediately notified Sargent of Geffner's telephone call, and thereafter was not involved in the details of Luxenberg's separation because he believed it had become a legal issue. See Def. 56.1 ¶ 17d; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 19. Nonetheless, Jones was under the impression that Guardian was interested in providing Luxenberg with a severance package. See Pl. 56.1 ¶ 18b.

  On Goldman's first day of work, Jones told him that Luxenberg was leaving and that it was just a matter of working out the details. See id. Given this information, Goldman did not see a long — term role for Luxenberg on his investment team. See Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 23-25. After Goldman began managing the Fund, Luxenberg was given very little, if any, work to do. See 4/29/03 Deposition of Richard Goldman ("Goldman Dep."), Ex. F to Cerasia Dec., at 93-96; 9/25/03 Declaration of Lawrence Luxenberg ¶¶ 19-21; see also Pl. 56.1 51 21b, 26a.

  On August 27, 2001, Luxenberg's new attorney, Daniel Alterman, wrote to Sargent claiming that Luxenberg had been relieved of his position as Fund manager because of his age.*fn4 Page 5 See Def. 56.1 ¶ 32; Luxenberg Dep. Ex. 14, Ex. B to Cerasia Dec. (the "August 27 letter"). Additionally, Alterman noted that "[Luxenberg] cannot resign if he wishes to preserve the deferred compensation to which he is entitled. Ironically . . . if our client were [sic] terminated, he would not lose the deferred compensation he has earned." See Def. 56.1 ¶ 32. Sargent forwarded this letter to Guardian's legal department.*fn5 See id. 5 35. In a conversation following Guardian's receipt of the letter, Alterman reiterated to Jones that plaintiff felt that he had been constructively discharged. See 9/25/03 Declaration of Daniel Alterman ("Alterman Dec."), attorney for plaintiff, ¶ 4.

  Guardian claims that from August through September 2001, Luxenberg "showed up for work late, often stayed only a few hours, and did no productive work." Def. 56.1 ¶ 29. Luxenberg strenuously denies these allegations, stating that he was present at the office "except when absent for scheduled meetings and conferences, a previously scheduled two — week August vacation and religious observances." See Pl. 56.1 ¶ 29a. Luxenberg further notes that Jones and Goldman did not assign him any work after July 23, 2001. See id. ¶ 29d. Page 6

  Upon finalizing his restructuring plans in late September 2001, Goldman decided that he did not want four employees, including Luxenberg, as part of the Fund's new investment team.*fn6 See Def. 56.1 ¶ 44. On September 26, 2001, Goldman met with two Guardian executives, Kevin Reynolds and Thomas Greaney, and informed them that "the situation with Mr. Luxenberg had become terrible." Goldman complained that Luxenberg worked only limited hours and that Luxenberg's presence was undermining Goldman's new team. See Def 56.1 ¶ 46. Reynolds reported these observations to Sargent, who subsequently terminated Luxenberg on October 2, 2001. See id. ¶ 50. At the time of his termination, Luxenberg was forty — six years old.

  Notably, beginning in June 2001, Luxenberg began setting up an outside hedge fund, Lexington Avenue Partners ("LAP"), in the event he was terminated by Guardian. See Def. 56.1 ¶ 11, Pl. 56.1 ¶ 12c. From July through September 2001, plaintiff viewed potential office space, spent $10,000 in legal fees, and worked on a marketing presentation for LAP. See Def. 56.1 ¶ 12. Luxenberg's name did not appear in any LAP documents until after he was terminated from Guardian, although he was the only investor in LAP prior to October 2, 2001. See Pl. 56.1 ¶ 12b; Luxenberg Dep. at 228. Immediately after his termination in Page 7 October 2001, Luxenberg became manager of LAP. See Def. 56.1 ¶ 13.

 II. LEGAL STANDARDS

  A. Summary Judgment ...


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