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Mattera v. JPMorgan Chase Corp.

September 30, 2010

JOFFRE M. MATTERA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JPMORGAN CHASE CORP. AND JOHN F. O'NEILL, JR., IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES PURSUANT TO NYEL SECTION 290 ET SEQ., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard J. Holwell, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court is defendants JPMorgan Chase Bank and John F. O'Neill's motion for summary judgment [20] on plaintiff Joffre M. Mattera's claim that defendants discriminated against him and terminated his employment based on his age, and also in retaliation for complaining of defendants' allegedly discriminatory actions, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. ("ADEA"), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000 et seq. ("Title VII"),*fn1 and the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law §§ 290 et seq. ("NYHRL"). Plaintiff held various positions at JPMorgan Chase and its predecessor entities ("JPMC") from 1985 through September of 2006 when he was fired. Plaintiff was sixty-one years old at the time and was replaced by an experienced forty-nine-year-old man. Plaintiff claims he was subjected to ongoing disparate treatment eventually concluding in his termination because of his age, and that he was terminated in retaliation for complaining of that discrimination. Defendants respond that plaintiff was fired due to performance deficiencies. Defendants bring this motion for summary judgment on the grounds that plaintiff can neither make out a prima facie case for discrimination or retaliation, nor rebut as pretext defendants' legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for their actions. While plaintiff has established a prima facie case of discrimination, no reasonable jury could conclude from the facts, viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, that age discrimination was the "but-for" cause of plaintiff's termination. Therefore, defendants' motion for summary judgment as it applies to plaintiff's claim of discrimination is GRANTED. Moreover, because plaintiff's complaints of discrimination were not causally connected to his termination, defendants' motion as it applies to plaintiff's claim of retaliation is GRANTED.

I. FACTUAL SETTING

The following facts, documented by evidence and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, are relevant to this opinion.

A. Background

JPMC hired Joffre M. Mattera ("Mattera"), born November 23, 1944, for its finance department in 1985. (Pl.'s 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 1-2.) In 1986, plaintiff was transferred to JMPC's Customer Billing System, and then to Financial Management in 1987 where his positions were Senior Financial Management and Second Vice President. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 5.) Plaintiff remembers his performance evaluations during this period to have been very good because of the success of the management billing system. (Id. ¶ 6; Mattera Dep. 37.) In 1993, plaintiff was transferred to Card Member Services, and from 1996 through July of 2004 held the position of Vice President, Senior Financial Analyst in that department. (Pl.'s 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 7-8.) In late summer 2004, plaintiff was hired in to JPMC's Treasury Services Department, where he worked until his termination on September 25, 2006. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 97.) His responsibilities included managing two staff members; explaining forecasting, budgeting, and accounting processes and policies to managers and other staff; and developing a system to track market expenses. (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff's salary was $115,800 in 2004 and $119,700 in 2005. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) He received a $15,000 bonus for 2004 and a $10,000 bonus for 2005. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.)

Plaintiff's original supervisor in Treasury Services, from late summer 2004 through March 2005 was Hong Patterson. (Id. ¶ 10.) In April 2005 defendant John F. O'Neill, Vice President, Plan Reporting Analyst, and CFO of Financial Groups at JPMC, became plaintiff's immediate manager and direct supervisor. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 15-16.) O'Neill had the authority to fire employees, so long as he exercised that authority within company policy. (Id. ¶ 17; O'Neill Dep. 17-18.) That policy included collecting regular feedback, using biannual performance evaluations to set and measure specific objectives, and rating employees based on predetermined evaluation criteria. (O'Neill Dep. 18.)

B. Acts of Disparate Treatment

Plaintiff claims that during the period between O'Neill becoming his supervisor in April 2005 and his termination in September 2006, O'Neill subjected plaintiff to ongoing discriminatory treatment. For the most part, however, plaintiff's claims involve being "singled out for something" (but not knowing exactly what), and being "treated differently" by O'Neill in work and social settings. (Mattera Dep. at 55, 64.)

Plaintiff claims several themes of disparate treatment. Plaintiff claims he was not allowed to converse with other employees nor were other employees allowed to converse with him. (Id. at 64.) He claims when people walked by his desk they "would not even acknowledge my presence," and that he was "kept isolated from the group." (Id.) Plaintiff claims O'Neill spoke to him in a different tone of voice than he spoke to other employees, did not engage him in office "chatter," did not say "good morning" to him, would not go to lunch with him, and that this made plaintiff feel "removed . not feel part of a team, not feel part of a group." (Id. at 70.) He claims that other employees engaged in social talk about sports, but never included him. (Id.) He claims that this isolation was because O'Neill wanted to harass and discriminate against him because of his age in order to terminate him, and "could not see any other reason" why he would have been so isolated. (Id. at 78, 85.) Plaintiff's "feeling [was JPMC] wanted a younger-looking group in this bank." (Id. at 122.)

Plaintiff also points to more specific instances of disparate treatment. O'Neill required plaintiff to meet one-on-one with him every Monday. (Id. at 71.) During these meetings O'Neill took extensive notes. (Id.) O'Neill met one-on-one with all employees he supervised, but not with the same frequency as with plaintiff. (Id.; O'Neill Dep. at 27.) Plaintiff claims that when other employees left JPMC O'Neill would assign their duties only to plaintiff instead of divvying those duties up among all the employees, and that those duties were of a clerical nature normally given to less experienced employees. (Mattera Dep. at 74.) No particulars are proffered, however, as to this allegedly disparate treatment. Plaintiff also claims O'Neill prevented plaintiff from explaining his alleged performance failings (discussed below). When plaintiff would try to offer explanations, O'Neill would raise "his arm straight out, take his hand open it up and put it into my face." (Id. at 82.) Furthermore, plaintiff claims that when he spoke in meetings, O'Neill would "talk down to me like, what a dumb way to do it." (Id. at 86.) Plaintiff claims a co-worker told him he should just stop talking in meetings because "[a]ll [O'Neill] will do is put you down." (Id. at 87.)*fn2

C. Comments and Conduct Relating to Age

Plaintiff presents no evidence that anyone within JPMC ever discussed or made any comments relating to plaintiff's age. (Id. at 65, 68.) Nor did any supervisor or co-worker ever engage in any sort of conduct regarding the fact that plaintiff was an older person. (Id. at 65.) Thus, plaintiff's evidence that age discrimination was the reason for his termination is, in toto, a generalized claim of disparate treatment, the fact that his replacement was younger, his inability to see any reason other than age for his termination, and his belief, supported by no evidence documentary or otherwise, that JPMC wanted a "younger-looking" bank. (See Id. at 71, 78, 85, 122; Pl.'s 56.1 statement ¶¶ 101-102.)

D. Performance Evaluations

During this same period, O'Neill prepared plaintiff's 2005 Performance Appraisal ("2005 Report"), taking in to account that whole year; plaintiff's 2006 Midyear Performance Appraisal ("2006 Report"); and plaintiff's June 2006 Final Written Warning (the "Warning"). (Def.'s 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 6, 12; Pl.'s 56.1 Statement ¶ 59.) All of these reports highlight numerous performance deficiencies, largely not refuted by plaintiff.

The 2005 Report contained midyear and year-end "objectives," short- and long-term "development needs" and due dates, performance summary positives and negatives, and general "manager comments." (Blecher Decl. Ex. G.) Plaintiff's "objectives" mostly included specific technical goals, but also directed plaintiff to develop closer relationships across Treasury Services, provide guidance to business managers, and continue to gain a better understanding of the business. (Id.) Plaintiff's short-term development needs included coordinating deliverables better with business managers, and long term-needs included further technology and forecast systems skills training. (Id.) Performance positives included that plaintiff was a team player and got along well with co-workers, was good at providing detailed analyses, and was willing to help others. (Id.) Negatives included not providing management caliber leadership, not making progress in forecast accuracy, submitting inaccurate and untimely reports that had required revision or intervention, and an inability to coordinate multiple activities. (Id.)

At year's end, the positives no longer stated that plaintiff provided detailed analyses, but did state that plaintiff was "knowledgeable about finance terms." (Id.) Negatives included that plaintiff neither provided any insight into nor developed new methods for improving forecast accuracy, that plaintiff spent three extra months completing a project after O'Neill was informed it had been completed, that plaintiff failed to process certain important data after being reminded numerous times, and that he continued to have poor skills in organization, coordination, and technical matters. (Id.) Moreover, O'Neill noted that plaintiff's performance had dropped in the past half year, that he had been making careless mistakes, that it took plaintiff over two months to complete tasks O'Neill completed in two weeks, that plaintiff had failed to perform simple and straightforward instructions two months after they had been given, that plaintiff failed to see certain risks, that plaintiff could not handle multiple assignments without his performance suffering, that he barely met deadlines, that he was unable to grasp new productivity tools, that he refused O'Neill's assistance when it was offered, and that O'Neill was forced to shift some of plaintiff's work to a co-worker to ensure plaintiff met his future deadlines. (Id.). O'Neill concluded that plaintiff needed to make significant improvements in effort, execution, and efficiency in the next year, and to re-establish a "normal" workload; plaintiff's comments in the report included, "Thank [sic] for your help and guidance." (Id.)

On June 26, 2006, plaintiff received a Final Written Warning, signed by both O'Neill and Human Resources Representative Robin Yudkoff. (Blecher Decl. Ex. H.) The Warning informed plaintiff that he had failed to meet certain previously-implemented objectives, including failure to make progress in forecast accuracy, failure to improve understanding or the efficiency of reporting processes, failure to perform certain specifically directed tasks, and failure to take training classes that would assist in remedying these problems. (Id.) The Warning concluded that plaintiff "has been unable to accept his share of the departments [sic] workload," directed plaintiff to complete his objectives and re-establish an acceptable workload within 30 to 60 days, and informed plaintiff that if improvement by that time was not satisfactory then a recommendation for termination would follow. (Id.) The Warning's "restriction period" ended on August 25, 2006. (Id.) Plaintiff signed, acknowledged, and understood the implications of the Warning. (Id.; Mattera Dep. at 100.)

Plaintiff's next performance appraisal, also prepared by O'Neill, was issued for mid-year 2006, after plaintiff had received the Warning. (O'Neill Dep. 40.) Many of plaintiff's objectives directed him towards the same goals as those in the 2005 Report, with further orders to improve accuracy and understanding, and to provide better guidance. (Blecher Decl. Ex. I.) Plaintiff's positives included, in full, a "team first attitude," working well with his peers, and a pleasant disposition. (Id.) His negatives included failures of progress in forecast accuracy and understanding of reporting processes, a failure to take advantage of training classes, and a subpar level of execution. (Id.) The 2006 Report concludes, "Jeff was given his final written warning on June 26th with specific objectives to be reached within 30-60 days. Jeff is still working on completing the objectives." (Id.)

E. Responses to Performance Evaluations and Complaints of Discrimination

Plaintiff's responses to the 2005 and 2006 Reports and to the Warning were limited. Plaintiff testified that he did not challenge the 2005 Report because he felt too intimidated by O'Neill. (Mattera Dep. at 82.) After receiving the Warning in June 2006, plaintiff did speak with Mike Moran, O'Neill's direct supervisor (Id. at 91; O'Neill Dep. at 19.) Plaintiff informed Moran that plaintiff could resolve the issues stated in the Warning, and Moran directed plaintiff to document how he would resolve those issues. (Mattera Dep. at 91.) Plaintiff also spoke with Treasury Services marketing group staff in order to implement further forecasting processes, and obtain certain marketing information, but those suggestions and requests were denied. (Id. at 92-95; Blecher Decl. Ex. J; Pl.'s 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 60-61.)*fn3

Plaintiff also met with Yudkoff and O'Neill concerning the Warning shortly after receiving it. (Mattera Dep. at 100.) In that meeting plaintiff argued that the allegations of poor performance were "unfounded and contrived." (Id. at 101.) Yudkoff and O'Neill directed plaintiff to respond to the Warning in writing. (Id. at 103.) At some point during that meeting O'Neill left and plaintiff was alone with Yudkoff. (Id. at 101.) While alone with Yudkoff, plaintiff stated that he thought his performance was satisfactory and that "he did not understand what he needed to do to get better." (Yudkoff Dep. at 18.) Plaintiff also said "[he] really fel[t] [he] was discriminated against and didn't state the reason." (Mattera Dep. at 101.) This was plaintiff's first mention, to anyone, of any discrimination.

On August 11, 2006, plaintiff wrote a detailed report to Yudkoff, O'Neill, and Moran responding to the performance deficiencies highlighted in the Warning. (Pl.'s 56.1 Statement ¶ 63: Blecher Decl. Ex. J.) Therein plaintiff explained that he had not reached or was slow to reach the objectives in question because the marketing group was uncooperative and declined to provide the requested information and because it took several inquiries to get certain other information. (Blecher Decl. Ex. J.) As to the remainder of the Warning, plaintiff either failed to respond or responded in a manner not addressing the Warning's concerns.*fn4 Plaintiff's response nowhere mentioned discrimination of any kind. (See Id.)

After submitting the response, plaintiff had another meeting with O'Neill and Yudkoff. (Pl.'s 56.1 Statement ¶ 83.) The meeting focused on plaintiff's work performance, although plaintiff did tell both O'Neill and Yudkoff he felt "discriminated against." (Mattera Dep. at 106-107.) O'Neill and Yudkoff did not respond to that allegation but instead focused on plaintiff's performance issues. (Mattera Dep. at 108.)

Later in August plaintiff began reaching out to Merrill Winter, an employee relations representative. Until late September, however, plaintiff never spoke to Winter and was only able to trade voicemails with him. (Id. at 118.) On September 22 plaintiff wrote Winter an email stating that he would like to discuss his feeling that O'Neill had been discriminating against him. (Id. at 119.)*fn5 This was the first time plaintiff mentioned discrimination to Winter. Finally, on September 25 plaintiff spoke to Winter on the telephone and complained of O'Neill's discriminatory treatment. (Pl.'s 56.1 Statement ¶ 88.) Winter advised plaintiff that he would "look into it." (Mattera Dep. at 118.) Sometime after plaintiff first attempted to call Winter, Winter informed Yudkoff that plaintiff had contacted him. (Yudkoff Dep. at 35; Winter Dep. at 28; Blecher Decl. Ex. L.)*fn6 Yudkoff assumed that plaintiff had contacted Winter to discuss the Warning and provided ...


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