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Michael J. Raffe v. American National Red Cross

November 30, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Neal P. McCurn, Senior District Judge

Memorandum, Decision, and Order

I. Introduction

Presently before the Court is a motion by defendants for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff opposes the motion. Decision on the pending motion is based entirely on the submitted papers, without oral argument. For the reasons that follow, the motion is denied in part and granted in part.

II. Background

Unless otherwise noted, the following is undisputed.

Plaintiff Michael J. Raffe ("Raffe") brings this action against defendants American National Red Cross ("Red Cross"), American Red Cross of Tompkins County ("Chapter"), and Chapter Executive Director Jennifer Yarbrough ("Yarbrough") (collectively "Defendants").*fn1 This action was removed to this court from the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Tompkins County.

The Red Cross "is a charitable organization as described in section 501(c)(3) of the United States Internal Revenue Code." Decl. of Michael Yehl, Feb. 15, 2010, ¶ 2, Dkt. No. 43 ("Yehl Decl."). The organization is a "humanitarian organization led by volunteers," that "provides relief to victims of disasters and helps people prepare for, prevent, and respond to emergencies." Id. The Chapter "provides emergency services to the greater Ithaca, New York community." Id. ¶ 3.

The Chapter hired Raffe to serve as the Director of Emergency Services in December 1997. See Aff. of Michael Raffe, Apr. 30, 2010, ¶ 5, Dkt. No. 58("Raffe Aff.").*fn2 Raffe was suspended, without pay, from his position on January 17, 2008. See Ex. A to Decl. of Jennifer Yarbrough, Feb. 16, 2010, Dkt. No. 41-3 ("Yarbrough Decl."). This suspension was to remain in effect until January 26, 2008. Id. Raffe's employment with the Chapter was terminated on January 28, 2008. See Yarbrough Decl. ¶ 35.

Raffe alleges that Defendants violated New York Executive Law § 296 ("Human Rights Law" or "NYHRL") by terminating his employment because of his age. Compl. ¶¶ 20-21. Raffe also alleges that Defendants violated various provisions of the New York Labor Law, including section 191 by failing to pay wages "not later than the regular pay date for the pay period which the termination occurred," section 195 by failing to notify Raffe with written notice of the exact dates of termination and cancellation of employee benefits within five days of his termination, and section 198-c by failing to pay "benefits or wage supplements." Compl. ¶¶ 27, 29-31, 36. Finally, Raffe alleges that Defendants violated 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219 ("Fair Labor Standards Act" or "FLSA") by failing to provide overtime compensation. Compl. ¶ 48.

III. Discussion

A. Summary Judgment Standard

A motion for summary judgment shall be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). The movant has the initial burden to show why it is entitled to summary judgment. See Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 272 (2d Cir. 2006) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986)). If the movant meets its burden, the burden shifts to the non-movant to identify evidence in the record that creates a genuine issue of material fact. See id. at 273 (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986)). A party's factual assertions must be supported by:

(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or

(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(1).

When deciding whether a material issue of fact is in dispute, the court is cognizant that "[a] fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal citation omitted). Also, a material fact is genuinely in dispute "if 'the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Bessemer Trust Co., N.A. v. Branin, 618 F.3d 76, 85 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2510 (1986)).

"In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the district court may rely on any material that would be admissible or usable at trial." Major League Baseball Props., Inc. v. Salvino, Inc., 542 F.3d 290, 309 (2d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation and citation omitted). When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Vt. Teddy Bear Co., Inc. v. 1-800 Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 244 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 90 S. Ct. 1598 (1970)). However, a properly supported summary judgment motion "will not be defeated merely upon a 'metaphysical doubt' concerning the facts . . . or on the basis of conjecture or surmise." Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir. 1991) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 586)).

B. New York Human Rights Law

The New York Human Rights Law, which is codified in the state's Executive Law, prohibits an employer from terminating an employee because of his or her age. See N.Y. EXEC. LAW § 296(3-a)(a). Despite some differences between the state law and the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), "age discrimination suits brought under the [NYHRL] are subject to the same analysis as claims brought under the ADEA." Abdu-Brisson v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 239 F.3d 456, 466 (2d Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). As such, NYHRL age discrimination claims, like ADEA claims, are analyzed "under the same burden shifting framework as claims brought pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1986, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et. seq." Id. (citation omitted); see McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973).

Under McDonnell Douglas, a plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case for age discrimination. Abdu-Brisson, 239 F.3d at 467. To meet this burden, the plaintiff must show that: "(1) he is a member of the protected class; (2) he is qualified for his position; (3) he has suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the circumstances surrounding that action give rise to an inference of age discrimination." Id. at 466-67 (citations and footnote omitted).*fn3 "A plaintiff's burden of establishing a prima facie case is de minimis," and the "requirement is neither onerous . . . nor intended to be rigid, mechanized or ritualistic." Id. at 467 (citations omitted).

After the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of age discrimination, the defendant "may rebut it by articulating legitimate and non-discriminatory reasons for the adverse employment action." Id. at 468-69. A defendant meets this burden "if he presents reasons that, 'taken as true, would permit the conclusion that there was a nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse action.'" Id. (quoting St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 509, 113 S. Ct. 2742 (1993)).

If the defendant meets his burden of articulating a legitimate and non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action, "the presumption of age discrimination dissolves, and the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to prove that the employer's stated reason is merely pretextual and that age discrimination was the true reason for the adverse employment action." Id. at 466.

Finally, although McDonnell Douglas requires a fact-intensive inquiry, "[i]t is now beyond cavil that summary judgment may be appropriate even in the fact-intensive context of discrimination cases." Id.

As noted above, under McDonnell Douglass, the Court must first determine if Raffe has established a prima facie case for age discrimination. Defendants acknowledge that Raffe is a member of a protected age group (first element), and that Raffe suffered an adverse employment action (third element). See Defs.' Mem. of Law at 8, Dkt. No. 45. The remaining issues in the first step are whether Raffe was qualified for the position (second element) and whether Raffe was terminated under circumstances giving rise to the inference of discrimination (fourth element). The Court will discuss these two issues in turn.

1. Whether Raffe Was Qualified For the Position

"[T]he qualification necessary to shift the burden to defendant for an explanation of the adverse job action is minimal; plaintiff must show only that he 'possesses the basic skills necessary for performance of [the] job.'" Slattery v. Swiss Reinsurance Am. Corp., 248 F.3d 87, 92 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Owens v. New York City Hous. Auth., 934 F.2d 405, 409 (2d Cir. 1991)). "[W]here discharge is at issue and the employer has already hired the employee, the inference of minimal qualification is not difficult to draw." Id. (citing Gregory v. Daly, 243 F.3d 687, 696 (2d Cir. 2001)).

Defendants did not discuss whether Raffe was qualified for the position. Raffe states that he had been working "at the Chapter for over ten years" at the time of his termination. Raffe Aff. ¶ 157. There is nothing in the record to call Raffe's qualifications into question.

Thus, the Court finds that Raffe has satisfied the second element of a prima facie case ...

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