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Chapotkat v. County of Rockland

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 4, 2014

COUNTY OF ROCKLAND; DIANNE T. PHILIPPS in her official capacity as Executive Director of the Rockland County Sewer District No. 1 and in her individual capacity, Defendants.


NELSON S. ROMN, District Judge.

Ajayveer Chapotkat ("Plaintiff") brings this action against the County of Rockland and Dianne T. Philipps ("Defendants") for age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. Before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is GRANTED.

I. Factual Background[1]

Plaintiff is a Hindu Indian man who was born in 1958. Second Amended Complaint ("Sec. Amend. Compl.") ¶ 1. Plaintiff began working at the Rockland County Sewer District No. 1 ("RCSD") on July 20, 1987, when he was hired as a Pollution Control Assistant ("PCA"). Id. at ¶ 9. The RCSD is a treatment plant and contains a laboratory where wastewater is tested and analyzed. Rule 56.1 Statement ("56.1") ¶ 9. PCAs work in the laboratory and are managed by a Pollution Control Supervisor ("PCS"). Id. at ¶ 10. The PCS is tasked with managing the laboratory, ensuring that testing is done correctly, maintaining the laboratory's New York State Department of Health's Environmental Laboratory Approval Program ("ELAP") certification, and reporting test results to the Chief Operator. Id. at ¶ 11. The current Chief Operator, George Gonos ("Gonos"), supervises the operations at RCSD. Id. at ¶ 9, 18. Gonos has served in that capacity at RCSD since 1989. Id. at ¶ 18. Defendant Dianne T. Philipps ("Philipps") is the current Executive Director and the highest-ranking employee at RCSD. Id. at ¶ 6-7. She assumed the role of Executive Director in March 2004. Id. at ¶ 17.

In February 2010, the then-PCS, Leo Fung, informed Philipps that he would be retiring in April 2010. Id. at ¶ 72. Mr. Fung was hired as a PCS by Gonos and began working at RCSD on January 3, 2000. Id. at ¶ 37. Throughout Mr. Fung's tenure as PCS, there were four PCAs: Plaintiff, Linda Hoffman ("Hoffman"), Mr. Vasa and Mr. Patel. Id. at ¶ 44. Beginning in early 2008, the County of Rockland was struggling financially and the County Executive sent a memo encouraging County commissioners and Department heads to "strive to seek methods to control payroll expenses." Philipps Dec. Ex. A. Upon learning that Mr. Fung was to retire, Philipps proposed that the open PCS position be filled internally in order to reduce the number of PCAs from four to three and reduce costs.[2] 56.1 at ¶ 75. Gonos held a meeting with the PCAs in March or early April 2010 during which he announced that Mr. Fung was planning to retire and that if anyone was interested in the position, they could apply. Id. at 90; Sec. Amend. Compl. ¶ 21.

Hoffman applied for the open PCS position soon after that meeting and the Rockland County Department of Personnel ("Personnel Department") received her application on April 7, 2010. 56.1 ¶ 93-94; 97. Mr. Fung submitted his official resignation letter on April 7, 2010 announcing that he would retire on April 24, 2010. Id. at ¶ 98. As of April 23, 2010, Hoffman was the only person who had applied for the vacant PCS position. Id. at ¶ 99. Due to the fact that she was the only one who applied for the position at the time Mr. Fung retired, and because it was necessary for the laboratory to have a supervisor, Hoffman was appointed as the temporary laboratory director. Id. at ¶ 108. She officially remained a PCA but assumed additional duties, including with respect to ELAP certification. Id. at ¶ 109. On April 29, 2010, Plaintiff applied to the Personnel Department for the vacated PCS job. Id. at ¶ 113.

On May 25, 2010, Plaintiff, Mr. Vasa, and Mr. Patel sent a letter to Philipps stating that the three signees advocated eliminating the PCS position altogether and instead, have each of the PCAs assume additional duties. Weissman Dec. Ex. N. Plaintiff, Mr. Vasa, and Mr. Patel had previously approached Gonos to express the same proposition, a fact which was also noted in the letter. Id. The letter also complained that Mr. Fung had been training Hoffman "secretly for several months, " apparently upon the PCAs belief that Mr. Fung discriminated against them due to differing political and religious beliefs. Id. The letter stated specifically that "[o]ur intent is to highlight the fact that the 3 minority Laboratory Analysts are not being given an equal opportunity and have potentially been discriminated [against]." Id. Philipps responded to this letter on June 3, 2010, stating that the PCS position was required and could not be eliminated. Weissman Dec. Ex. P. She additionally stated that although the PCAs conflicts with Mr. Fung were never brought to her attention, she was referring the letter to the Office of Employee Rights, Relations and Training. Id. The three PCAs replied to this letter on July 26, 2010, referring to such as a "formal complaint of discrimination." Weissman Dec. Ex. R. The July 26 letter further affirms that Mr. Fung's religious beliefs overwhelmed the workplace. Id.

The Personnel Department is the entity that reviews job applications and makes a determination of whether an applicant is qualified under the civil service requirements for a certain position. 56.1 ¶ 139. On June 14, 2010, Hoffman's application was approved by the Personnel Department. Id. at ¶ 140. On June 17, 2010, Plaintiff was asked to supplement his application with proof that he did complete four credits in microbiology and that his foreign university degree was the equivalent of a bachelor's degree. Weissman Dec. Ex T. Following submission of supporting documentation, the Personnel Department approved Plaintiff's application on September 7, 2010. 56.1 ¶ 143.

In the fall of 2010, [3] Philipps and Gonos interviewed Plaintiff and Hoffman, the two candidates who had applied for the PCS position. Id. ¶ 144. Each candidate was asked how they would react to having one less PCA operating in the laboratory. Id. at ¶ 148. Hoffman stated that this could be done. Id. at ¶ 149. Plaintiff states that he did not object to the reduction in staff. Sussman Ex. 4 201:22-202:11. Philipps recalled that Plaintiff "had a negative attitude" about the suggestion but did not remember Plaintiff's exact response to the question. Weissman Dec. Ex. E 123:12-124:9. At Plaintiff's interview, Plaintiff claims that Gonos asked Plaintiff his age. Chapotkat Dep. 202:16-203:6. Gonos allegedly stated that he did not like the selection process, and so he preferred candidates who would stay in the position for a long time. Id. Plaintiff said that he planned to work for another fifteen years. Id. at ¶ 153. Neither Gonos nor Philipps remember Gonos making an inquiry into Plaintiff's retirement plans, although Philipps does recall Plaintiff volunteering the fact that he planned to work fifteen more years. Id. at ¶ 154.

Hoffman was appointed as the provisional PCS in early 2011.[4] Id. at ¶ 164. The appointment was provisional pending the PCS civil service examination. Id. at ¶ 165. Plaintiff was informed that Hoffman had been selected after he wrote a letter to Philipps inquiring of the status of the position, after which Plaintiff met with Philipps and Gonos and they informed him of their choice. Pl.'s Reply to Def.'s Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 164.

Plaintiff filed a complaint with the EEOC and received a "Notice of Right to Sue" dated August 10, 2011. Compl. Ex. A. Plaintiff commenced this lawsuit on September 6, 2011. Dock. No. 1. In Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, he alleged discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, age, religion, and gender.

The Personnel Department announced on November 30, 2011 that a civil service examination for the PCS position would be administered on February 4, 2012. 56.1 ¶ 167. Plaintiff submitted an application for the permanent position on December 20, 2011. Id. at ¶ 168. The Personnel Department informed Plaintiff on January 6, 2012 that his application was rejected due to the fact that it failed to show that Plaintiff had completed 155 undergraduate credits. Id. at ¶ 170. Plaintiff was conditionally approved to take the civil service exam on January 19, 2012 on the condition that he submit proof that he completed 155 credits. Id. at ¶ 172. Plaintiff faxed a letter to Joan Silvestri, the Personnel Department Commissioner stating that the January 19 letter contradicted the approval of his application for the provisional PCS position in September 2010. Id. at ¶ 173. Ms. Silvestri responded the same day, stating that she had personally reviewed his application and confirmed that there were deficiencies. Id. at ¶ 174. Following that exchange, Plaintiff did not attempt to clarify his education credentials with the Personnel Department. Id. at ¶ 177.

Both Plaintiff and Hoffman took the civil service exam on February 4, 2012. Id. at ¶ 178. Hoffman received a score of 90; Plaintiff scored a 75. Id. at ¶ 179-80. On April 20, 2012, Ms. Silvestri informed Plaintiff of his score and informed him that he would not be placed on the eligible list (a list of candidates who meet the civil service qualifications and pass the civil service exam) until he corroborated his education credentials. Plaintiff did not submit any further materials. Id. at ¶ 181. On May 2, 2012, Hoffman was appointed to the permanent PCS position. Id. at ¶ 188.

In a letter to the Court sent by Plaintiff on September 23, 2013, Plaintiff voluntarily withdrew all claims other than his age discrimination claims. Accordingly, the Court addresses only Plaintiff's claim that he was denied the PCS ...

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