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Kuo v. Computer Associates International

September 27, 2007

CHIN KUO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMPUTER ASSOCIATES INTERNATIONAL, INC., DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM & ORDER on Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (doc. #17)

This case arises from Plaintiff Chin Kuo ("Plaintiff" or "Kuo") having taken leave under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Upon his return from leave, Kuo asserts he was given a lesser position than he previously held before his leave and that, because he was placed in this lesser position, he was subsequently laid off. Defendant Computer Associates International, Inc., Kuo's former employer ("Defendant", "CA", or the "Company"), asserts that it was Kuo who asked to be moved to a new--albeit "lesser"--position upon his return from leave. In any event, the Company maintains that Kuo's subsequent lay-off was a mutually exclusive event to his FMLA leave; because of budget constraints, a decision was made to lay off employees in Kuo's group, including Kuo.

Defendant now moves for partial summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim that the Company terminated Kuo in retaliation for his having exercised his rights under the FMLA.*fn1

Plaintiff vigorously opposes granting summary judgment in Defendant's favor, arguing that (1) he has established a prima facie case of retaliation, and (2) he has presented sufficient evidence of pretext on the Company's part, such that a jury could conclude that the Company's articulated reason for its action is pretextual and that the real reason for its action was retaliation for Kuo's exercising his rights that are protected under the FMLA. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are gleaned from the Parties' Rule 56.1 Statements and are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

Kuo is a computer software engineer who first worked for a company later acquired by CA and, after the acquisition in late 1996, then worked for CA. The Company terminated Kuo on May 4, 2005.

In the Fall of 2004, Kuo was a senior vice president with a development center (or unit) of CA, the so-called BrightStor storage brand unit. BrightStor consisted of data protection software products (including storage products) of which there were various versions or "releases". Kuo's unit generated more than $200 million in annual revenue for the Company.

As a senior vice president, Kuo had approximately 125 people reporting to him, earned a base salary of $200,000, and participated in the Company's incentive compensation plan with a success bonus target of $20,000 for 2004. One of Kuo's many duties as a senior vice president was hiring and terminating personnel.

Kuo's original supervisor was Frank Yang (Yang"), but in earlier September 2004, Yang left the BrightStor unit to lead an architecture group (the "Architecture Group") that would focus on the development of BrightStor release 12 ("r12"). Christopher Broderick ("Broderick") replaced Yang as Kuo's direct supervisor.

Earlier in 2004, Kuo's wife gave birth to their son. In October 2004, when Kuo's wife was returning to full-time work, Kuo requested paternity leave under the FMLA to care for his infant son. His request was made to Broderick by e-mail. The two meet a day after Kuo sent his e-mail to discuss Kuo's leave and coverage of Kuo's duties during the leave. Kuo's and Broderick's recollection of the discussion diverges. According to Defendant, it was Kuo who "discussed with Broderick his long-term interests at CA" with Kuo explaining "he was looking for a position that was much more 'hands-on' and 'closer to the technology,' a position that required "less delegation of work and less supervision of other people." (Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Partial Summ. J. ("Def.'s Summ. J. Mem.") at 5.) Conversely, Plaintiff recalls "Broderick expressed concern[s] about Kuo's impending absence because of the importance of Kuo's position and steered the conversation towards the prospect of permanently replacing Kuo . . . ." (Pl.'s Opp'n Mem. at 4.) Therefore, "Broderick asked Kuo what he was interested in doing in the next steps in his career." (Id.) While responding to Broderick's inquiry that he (Kuo) "would be interested in working on more strategic new products development" and "expressed an interest in working with Yang's Architecture Group on the development of r12," Kuo never told Broderick he was dissatisfied with his current position "or that he was looking for a new job." (Id.) Yet, after this discussion, there seemed to be an agreement that upon Kuo's return from leave, Kuo would work in Yang's group. (Cf. Def.'s Summ. J. Mem. at 5 ("After this conversation, Kuo understood that upon his return from leave, he would work under Yang in the Architecture Group."), with Pl.'s Opp'n Mem. at 5 ("Based on Kuo's pre-leave communications with Broderick, Kuo understood that, upon his return from leave, he would work in Yang's group to define and help lead the r12 project.").) When Kuo went on leave on November 8, 2004, he was permanently replaced in the BrightStor group by Matthew Dickson ("Dickson").

However, it is unclear whether Kuo's group change would result in other changes for him. Defendant makes no mention of how the change in group would affect Kuo's rank, compensation and other benefits. On the other hand, Kuo propounds that "[a]t no time prior to . . . going out on leave . . . did anyone from CA even suggest to Kuo any reduction in his title or compensation." (Pl.'s Opp'n Mem. at 5.) Indeed, "Kuo would not have agreed, and did not agree, to such a reduction in connection with leaving the [BrightStor group] and working with the r12 Architecture Group." (Id.) Rather, "based on numerous communications from CA, Kuo believed that his title and compensation in his post-leave position would be equivalent to his pre-leave position." (Id.)

With the Company's approval, Kuo extended his original eight-week leave to the maximum twelve-week leave allowed under the FMLA. Thus, he returned to the Company on January 31, 2005, and, upon his return, began working with Yang as a member of the r12 Architecture Group. Kuo also avers that upon his return, "he made repeated attempts to meet with Broderick to have a substantive discussion about his new role, but Broderick was not available." (Pl.'s Opp'n Mem. at 6.) It was not until February 14, 2005, that Broderick advised Kuo that his title would be changed from "Senior Vice President" to "Vice President" and that he would no longer be eligible to participate in the Company's incentive compensation plan;*fn2 however, Kuo's base compensation level would remain unchanged at $200,000 per year. The Parties do not dispute that Kuo did not complain about this change. (Cf. Def.'s Summ. J. Mem. at 8 ("[A]t no time during his tenure at CA did Kuo complain to Yang, Broderick, or anyone else about this change in his title and incentive compensation."), with Pl.'s Opp'n Mem. at 7 ("Kuo was extremely surprised and disappointed upon learning about the demotion, but he did not complain about it because he was concerned about potential retaliation if he pressed the issue. Kuo also hoped that he could eventually convince CA to reverse the demotion." (Citations and footnote omitted; emphasis added)).) The Company maintains that Kuo's new position warranted these reductions because it "had significantly less responsibility than his prior role." (Def.'s Summ. J. Mem. at 8.) Kuo opposes this assertion, stating he " believed that r12 was going to be an important project for the future of the BrightStor business," and therefore, he "reasonably believed that helping to lead such a strategically significant group was an appropriate role for someone with his background and that the position would enhance his career at CA." (Pl.'s Opp'n Mem. at 6.) In other words, Kuo avers that his changed position did not warrant the reductions he endured.

In late December 2004, the initial work on CA's 2006 fiscal year began with Phoebe Hsu ("Hsu"), Broderick's business operations manager, gathering information for the process. For his part, Yang submitted a proposed budget for the Architecture Group in January 2005. Yang's budget was not approved in January or February 2005. Instead, during that time, Hsu "reviewed development plans for BrightStor, and analyzed the focus of BrightStor in an effort to determine budget requirements." (Def.'s Summ. J. Mem. at 6.) "Hsu developed plans for three possible budgetary scenarios as compared to the 2005 fiscal year: an increase in the BrightStor development budget (Plan A); the same amount of funding (Plan B); and a decrease in the BirghtStor development budget (Plan C)." (Id. at 6-7.) Kuo maintains that there were indications as early as January 2005 that the r12 project of the Architecture Group was in jeopardy of being eliminated, to wit (1) the ...


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