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PRINCE v. GOLUB CORPORATION

September 27, 2004.

SANTO PRINCE, Plaintiff,
v.
THE GOLUB CORPORATION, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEAL McCURN, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM, DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

  Plaintiff, Santo Prince ("Prince"), filed this age discrimination action against his former employer, defendant, the Golub Corporation ("Golub"), on May 30, 2003.*fn1 Plaintiff's complaint ("the Complaint") sets forth causes of action for age discrimination pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), see 29 U.S.C. 621, et seq., and the New York Human Rights Law ("NYHRL"), see N.Y. Executive Law § 296(1). See Compl. ¶¶ 5-16. Presently before the court is a motion for summary judgment by defendant. Oral argument was heard regarding the present motion on September 23, 2004 in Syracuse, New York. Decision was reserved.

  II. BACKGROUND*fn2

  Defendant Golub is a privately held corporation that "operates over 100 Price Chopper supermarkets in upstate New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, northeastern Pennsylvania and Vermont[.]" Mem. of Law in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 1, Dkt. No. 18. Plaintiff Prince was an at-will employee of Defendant Golub who worked as a truck driver for Price Chopper in Syracuse from 1992 until he was terminated on March 7, 2002. Prince was 53 at the time he was hired, and 63 at the time of his termination.

  On January 29, 2002, Golub received a letter from D. Scott Balok ("Balok"), a driver with Golub's Syracuse facility, in which Balok made complaints against Prince for, among other things, harassment and intimidation. Included in this letter were allegations that, among other things, Prince displayed a pocketknife to Balok with the blade exposed during an argument, and that Prince had verbally threatened other drivers in discussions with Balok. See App. to Aff. of Brian M. Culnan, July 30, 1994 at 145-148, Dkt. No. 18. Balok also notified Golub that Prince urinated in a glass cleaner spray bottle, which he left behind in the cab of his truck, intending another driver to use it during that driver's shift. See id. at 146.

  According to Golub, Prior to 2002, Prince had been counseled several times due to concerns with his work performance and/or behavior. In support of this statement, Golub submitted documentation of seven violations committed by Prince from 1993 through 2001, including three violations for working excess hours in an 8-day period, one violation for a "minor preventable accident" with damage, and one violation for a verbal altercation with another driver. See App. to Culnan Aff. at 166, Dkt. No. 18. Prince admits he was disciplined in 1996,*fn3 but contends that he was under no disciplinary actions at the time of his termination, nor did Golub have any problems with his work performance at that time. See Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 3, Dkt. No. 23. Moreover, according to Prince, he made his deliveries in a timely and safe manner. See id. at ¶ 3A.

  Upon receipt of the Balok letter, Wesley Holloway ("Holloway"), Director of Associate Relations and Corporate Diversity Initiatives for Golub, was assigned to investigate Balok's allegations. As part of the investigation, Holloway interviewed Balok, as well as five other personnel members who worked out of Golub's Syracuse facility. One of the other personnel members, Tom Chinault ("Chinault"), told Holloway that Prince possessed a "bayonet" taped to the end of an umbrella. See App. to Culnan Aff. at 154, Dkt. No. 18. Chinault later testified that the incident during which he saw the bayonet occurred in "[a]bout [19]98." Dep. of Thomas M. Chinault, Sr., 28:4-13, App. 2 to Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Statement of Material Facts, Dkt. No. 23.

  While Golub states that Holloway conducted his investigation in good faith, Prince disagrees, noting that he was not given an opportunity to participate in the investigation until the day of his termination. See Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 8, Dkt. No. 18; Pl's Resp. to Def.'s Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 8, Dkt. No. 23.

  On March 7, 2002, Holloway and Prince met to discuss the allegations of harassment and intimidation made against Prince by his fellow Syracuse truck drivers. Prior to meeting with Prince, Holloway and security officer Bob Wood observed Prince urinating on a 55-gallon drum near a New York State Thruway EZ Pass tollbooth. See Dep. of Wesley L. Holloway, June 30, 2004, at 15:23-17:1, App to Culnan Aff. at 122-124, Dkt. No. 18. Holloway later testified that this incident, by itself, was not grounds for Prince's termination. See id. at 17:2-3.

  Holloway believed the allegations of threats and intimidation to be credible, and informed Prince of his belief at the March 7 meeting. Specifically regarding the allegation that Prince urinated in a spray bottle, although Holloway was not able to definitively establish the contents of the bottle or Prince's actions in relation thereto, see Holloway Dep., at 29:10-19, App 4 to Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Statement of Material Facts, Dkt. No. 23, he nonetheless found the allegation to be credible, see id. at 30.

  Golub has policies that prohibit its employees from engaging in harassment or intimidation of co-workers. Thus, at the March 7 meeting, Holloway notified Prince that he was being terminated due to the results of the investigation regarding the aforementioned allegations. Golub has established an internal "appeal" process, of which Prince availed himself. However, upon appeal, Golub affirmed its decision to terminate Prince.

  Prince contends that after he was terminated, Golub replaced him with a 29-year-old individual. See Pl's Resp. to Def.'s Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 2A, Dkt. No. 23. Golub does not dispute this fact, but notes that at the time of Prince's termination, there was a lack of interest from its employee truck drivers in working on the "Syracuse run" in which Prince had been employed. Therefore, it placed a newspaper announcement for that position, and over five months after Prince's termination, a 29-year-old individual responded to the newspaper ad and was hired. See Def.'s Reply Statement of Material Facts at ...


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