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CRAVETTS v. FEDERAL RESERVE BANK OF NEW YORK

November 1, 2004.

JOHN H. CRAVETTS, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL RESERVE BANK OF NEW YORK, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HAROLD BAER, JR., District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

Defendant Federal Reserve Bank of New York ("the FRBNY") moves for summary judgment on plaintiff John F. Cravetts' ("Cravetts") Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., claim. For the reasons set forth below, the FRBNY's motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

  From April 12, 1993 to December 2, 2002, Cravetts worked as an electrician in the FRBNY's East Rutherford Operations Center ("EROC") in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Among its many functions, the Federal Reserve provides services, including "financial services to the U.S. government, to the public, to financial institutions, and to foreign official institutions [and] playing a major role in operating the nation's payments systems." Federal Reserve System, Frequently Asked Questions.*fn1 The EROC plays a vital role in these services. As the financial-services arm of the FRBNY, the EROC processes an average of 3.2 million checks each day, which are valued at approximately $4 billion. The "EROC also maintains the largest cash vault in the world and handles over $1 billion in U.S. currency, thousands of pounds of coin, and millions of food coupons each day." Def. 56.1 Statement ¶ 5 (citing Hall Aff. ¶ 3). Finally, the EROC houses one of three Federal Reserve Information Technology ("FRIT") sites in the Federal Reserve system. The FRIT system "provides the national information-technology infrastructure for the Federal Reserve" and operates the computers that process over $2.5 trillion in funds and electronic payments each day. Id. Suffice to say, the EROC plays a vital role in the functioning of the Federal Reserve.

  The EROC facilities are operated, maintained, and repaired by EROC Property Management Division ("EROC PMD"). One of the critical functions of EROC PMD is to provide uninterrupted electrical support for FRIT and the cash and check processing operations at the EROC. The maintenance staff of EROC PMD is comprised of electricians, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning mechanics, carpenters, a plumber, and a painter. During his employ, Cravetts, was one of four electricians on EROC PMD's staff.*fn2 Cravetts was 50 years old when he was hired and 60 years old when he was terminated. The three other electricians, Arthur Denny ("Denny"), George Dingler ("Dingler"), and James Tierney ("Tierney"), were all over 50 years of age during Cravetts' employment with the FRBNY. Many other maintenance staff members were in their 50's or 60's. In fact, the oldest member of the maintenance staff, Howard Wartel, was in his mid-70s during this time.

  The EROC PMD electricians are responsible for, inter alia, the installation, maintenance, and repair of the EROC electrical systems, including those that supply power to FRIT. The EROC computer systems are powered by two Uninterruptible Power Sources ("UPSs). The UPSs are designed to avoid any power fluctuations, which can disrupt the computer systems. The continuity of power is aided by twenty-one Static Transfer Switches ("STSs"), which automatically switch power from one UPS to the other should there be an interruption of service.

  On November 2, 2002, personnel at FRIT informed the EROC Building Operations Director, John. J. O'Neill ("O'Neill"), that circuits previously installed by Tierney had not been properly identified and labeled. O'Neill assigned Cravetts and Denny to fix the problem and they began work on November 17, 2002. Two days later, the employee responsible for the maintenance of the STSs, discovered that ten of the STSs had gone into emergency response on the same day Cravetts and Denny worked on the circuit identification and re-labeling project, and as a result, several of the STSs switched power over to a single UPS. This resulted in a sudden strain on the electrical system. On November 22, 2002, Brian Henry ("Henry"), Chief Engineer,*fn3 met with Cravetts and Denny separately to discuss the events of November 17, 2002. Following these discussions, Henry remained suspicious and therefore obtained surveillance footage of the FRIT data center where Cravetts and Denny worked on the date in question. The video revealed that Cravetts was using an unknown device rather than the professional current tracer, a professionally tested device that is issued to EROC PMD electricians to identify circuits. On November 24, 2002, Henry dropped in on Cravetts and Denny as they completed the circuit project and saw the device depicted in the surveillance video. The device used by Cravetts was a homemade power switch connected by two wires to an electrical plug. Two other similar devices were found in Cravetts' locker. After an investigation and based on the findings of the EROC PMD supervisors, Edward Hall ("Hall"), the person in charge of overseeing EROC facilities, concluded that by using these home-made devices, Cravetts had disregarded safety considerations and exposed vital EROC systems to undue risk. This conclusion was based on the fact that Cravetts' actions could have resulted in an unexpected shut down of important EROC computer systems, thus impairing important FRBNY functions. On December 2, 2002, Hall recommended that the FRBNY terminate Cravetts' employment. Thereafter, pursuant to company policy, two FRBNY human resources employees approved the termination.

  On May 29, 2003, Cravetts filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), in which he complained that his termination was based on impermissible age-related discrimination. Specifically, Cravetts averred that it was a result of his "point[ing] out that a steel railing was a violation of code and posed an electrical hazard [that he] was fired." Def. Ex. 9 at 2. The EEOC dismissed the charge on September 12, 2003 because it was unable to establish a violation and issued a right to sue letter on September 16, 2003. Cravetts instituted the instant lawsuit on December 9, 2003.

  II. DISCUSSION

  A. Standard of Review

  Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Fed.R. Civ. P.") 56(c), a district court must grant summary judgment if the evidence demonstrates that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and [that] the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). "Summary judgment is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed to `secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986) (quoting Fed.R. Civ. P. 1).

  To determine whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the Court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all inferences against the moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962) (per curiam); Donahue v. Windsor Locks Bd. of Fire Comm'rs, 834 F.2d 54, 57 (2d Cir. 1987). However, the mere existence of disputed factual issues is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Knight v. U.S. Fire Ins. Co., 804 F.2d 9, 11-12 (2d Cir. 1986). The disputed issues of fact must be "material to the outcome of the litigation," id. at 11, and must be backed by evidence that would allow "a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The non-movant "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Id. With respect to materiality, "substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

  As in other areas of litigation, summary judgment is available in the context of discrimination suits. Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000). The Second Circuit has, however, urged courts to exercise caution in the grant of summary judgment where intent is an issue, such as in discrimination cases. Gallo v. Prudential Residential Svcs., Ltd., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994). Nevertheless, summary judgment is appropriate "when an employer provides convincing evidence to explain its conduct and the plaintiff's argument consists of purely conclusory allegations of discrimination," thereby eliminating any material issue of fact. Diaz v. Weill Med. Ctr. of Cornell Univ., No. 02 Civ. 7380, 2004 WL 285947, at *14 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 13, 2004).

  To determine whether plaintiff's employment discrimination claims will survive summary judgment, the Court applies the burden-shifting scheme set out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-4 (1973). See Terry v. Ashcroft, 336 F.3d 128, 138 (2d Cir. 2003). Under this scheme, plaintiff must first make out a prima facie case of discrimination. Id. at 137. If plaintiff makes such a showing, the burden shifts to defendant to offer a nondiscriminatory rationale for its actions. Id. at 138. In the final step, plaintiff must adduce sufficient admissible evidence to establish that defendant was more likely than not motivated by discrimination in its actions. Id. "Although intermediate evidentiary burdens shift back and forth under this framework, `[t]he ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff remains at all times with the plaintiff.'" Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 143 (2000) (quoting Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981)). Thus, ...


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