personally, and provided his assessment to the Board on a voluntary basis.
Plaintiff raises several points about Sullivan which he feels support an inference of underlying age discrimination. He observes, for example, that Sullivan was under the age of 40 at the time of Plaintiff's dismissal; Sullivan had little formal training in personnel relations or human resources; Sullivan's assistance was initially obtained for the purpose of providing only financial advice, not personnel advice; Sullivan was not involved in the Green hiring or the ticket service charge issue; Sullivan met Plaintiff on only one occasion; Sullivan did not consult the ECCA personnel handbook in crafting his "performance evaluation" of Plaintiff; Sullivan was advised by a 32 year old board member, Gery Nietupski, to caption his report a "performance evaluation;" and, finally, Sullivan expressed strong opinions about Plaintiff which demonstrate that he viewed Plaintiff as a past relic blocking change.
The Court does not find these factors, either singly or collectively, to be seriously probative of an underlying discriminatory animus. None of the foregoing factors tend to demonstrate either that Sullivan's report was requested or rendered for discriminatory reasons, or that the Board did not actually rely on that report. The mere fact that Sullivan was under the age of 40 at the time is not significant; even if Sullivan had operated with a discriminatory animus, there is no evidence that he had any involvement in the actual decision to terminate Armbruster. See Ezold v. Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen, 983 F.2d at 545 ("stray remarks by non-decisionmakers or by decisionmakers unrelated to the decisional process are rarely given great weight, particularly if they were made temporally remote from the date of decision"). Cf. Armbruster, supra, 32 F.3d at 783 (age-related statements could not be disposed of as "stray remarks" in pretext case where statements were made by decisionmakers and personnel immediately involved in allegedly discriminatory transfers and were made around the time of adverse employment action.) For the same reason Sullivan's comments at deposition, even if they had been discriminatory in nature -- and this Court is unwilling to say that they were
would be irrelevant absent some evidence that his views were shared by the Board and that they formed the basis for the Board's decision to oust Armbruster. Similarly, the mere fact that Attorney Nietupski was 32 years old at the time of requesting the performance evaluation is insignificant absent some additional evidence that Nietupski or other Board members were motivated by age bias.
Plaintiff also points to Sullivan's admission that, from his earliest involvement in January of 1992, it was apparent that the position of operations manager, then held by Casey Wells, would have to be eliminated. Plaintiff finds it significant that Sullivan discussed the need to eliminate the operations manager position with Wells rather than with Armbruster. According to Plaintiff, this is indicative of a plan in early 1992 that Armbruster would be eliminated and Wells would be kept on in his stead. As an initial matter, the Court does not view the mere discussion between Sullivan and Wells concerning Wells's position as necessarily indicative of a plan to oust Armbruster. More importantly, however, Sullivan's actions are less relevant inasmuch as he was not the "decision maker" in the determination to discharge Plaintiff. Even if there was a plan to remove Armbruster, the Court finds no evidence in the record suggesting that such a scheme would have been motivated by Armbruster's age, as opposed to his generally poor performance as managing director.
Nor does the Court see anything so unusual in the procedures utilized by the Board as to cast serious doubt on Defendant's allegation that the Board relied on Sullivan's report and recommendation in deciding to fire Plaintiff. Plaintiff points to several factors supposedly supportive of a finding of pretext: the fact that Sullivan was ostensibly only to render financial advice, yet eventually drew up a performance evaluation of Armbruster; the fact that Sullivan did not consult the ECCA handbook on personnel matters and bypassed the Personnel Committee; the fact that Plaintiff was not confronted with the ticket surcharge issue prior to termination and was immediately placed on forced vacation status; the fact that Wells's position was eliminated, yet Wells was then moved into the managing director job; the fact that Armbruster's question as to why he was placed on forced vacation status was not answered. Although these factors indicate that some irregularity may have occurred and that official procedures may not have been followed in terminating Plaintiff's employment, they are not materially probative on the crucial issue before the Court: namely, whether there is any evidence sufficient for a jury to reasonably conclude that Defendant did not actually rely on Sullivan's report in terminating Plaintiff and/or that age discrimination was the true reason. We are guided by the language in Fuentes, under which Plaintiff must demonstrate "such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherences, or contradictions in the employer's proffered legitimate reasons for its action that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find them 'unworthy of credence.'" 32 F.3d at 765. We do not believe that this burden has been met.
Finally, Plaintiff alleges that the issue of age was explicitly introduced as a factor in the decision to terminate him during an April 28, 1992 Board executive session. At that meeting, Mr. Metzgar expressed the opinion that it would be unfair to terminate Plaintiff, given Plaintiff's past sacrifices and efforts:
My feeling was that somebody who had this much loyalty to the Board and putting that many years of hard work deserved better treatment, particularly as he was reaching the age of Social Security and retirement, et cetera, that to ruin him at this time was, in my opinion, a very cruel and unnecessary -- unless he had done something that I didn't know about and I had mentioned that in prior testimony, I said if you show me that he did something illegal or immoral or - et cetera, et cetera, then I have no problem with that. But for those reasons I said that I just could not go along with the dismissal.
(Metzgar Depo. at 63-64.) The most that this excerpt illustrates, however is that the Board dismissed Armbruster despite his age, not because of it. The central undisputed fact remains that, during Armbruster's tenure as managing director, the Civic Center continued to lose money to the point where Sullivan, a neutral third party and professional accountant, advised that the place was "bleeding to death." Plaintiff himself admitted at deposition that he can point to no evidence indicative of age discrimination in the Board's decision:
Q. What causes you to believe that age had any bearing upon your termination?