supervisor position in January of 1994 was based upon her age, in
violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
Plaintiff succinctly contends that "Ann Thorpe was treated
differently in the `reorganization' of Women Christian Alliance
because she is younger than [plaintiff]." (Pl.'s Compl.).
Defendant responds that plaintiff was reassigned to the
position of senior social worker as part of a universally applied
personnel reorganization, and not because of her age. This
reorganization, WCA contends, forms the legitimate,
non-discriminatory basis for its decision to demote plaintiff.
Defendant further contends that plaintiff has offered no evidence
to show that this reason is pretextual.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party can "show
that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment,
the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to
the non-movant. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538
(1986). The court must accept the non-movant's version of the
facts as true, and resolve conflicts in the non-movant's favor.
See Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Amer., Inc.,
974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 912, 113
S.Ct. 1262, 122 L.Ed.2d 659 (1993).
The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the
absence of genuine issues of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265
(1986). Once the movant has done so, however, the non-moving
party cannot rest on its pleadings. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).
Rather, the non-movant must then "make a showing sufficient to
establish the existence of every element essential to his case,
based on the affidavits or by depositions and admissions on
file." Harter v. GAF Corp., 967 F.2d 846, 852 (3d Cir. 1992);
see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255,
106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
A. ADEA Age Discrimination Claim
Defendant argues that it is entitled to judgment on plaintiff's
age discrimination claim brought under the ADEA because no
genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether its
legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for reassigning plaintiff
is a pretext for age discrimination.*fn1
1. Burden shifting evidentiary framework
Under the ADEA, a plaintiff who relies upon indirect or
circumstantial evidence enjoys the benefit of the McDonnell
Douglas rebuttable presumption burden shifting mode of analysis
applied in Title VII cases. First, the plaintiff must establish a
prima facie case of age discrimination by proving that (1) he was
over forty years of age at the relevant time; (2) he was
qualified for the position in question; (3) he suffered an
adverse employment action; and (4) he was replaced by a
sufficiently younger person to permit an inference of age
discrimination.*fn2 Ryder v.
Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 128 F.3d 128, 136 (3d Cir. 1997),
cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1116, 118 S.Ct. 1052, 140 L.Ed.2d 115
(1998) (citing Brewer v. Quaker State Oil Refining Corp.,
72 F.3d 326, 330 (3d Cir. 1995)). The establishment of a prima facie
case creates a presumption that the employer unlawfully
discriminated against the employee. Texas Dept. of Community
Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 1094, 67
L.Ed.2d 207 (1981).
Once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the
defendant must state a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for
the adverse employment action. Ryder, 128 F.3d at 136
(citations omitted). "If the trier of fact believes the
plaintiffs evidence, and if the employer is silent in the face of
the presumption, the court must enter judgment for the plaintiff
because no issue of fact remains in the case." Burdine, 101
S.Ct. at 1094. In other words, once the plaintiff has met its
initial burden, the employer must state the reason for the
adverse action or suffer the entry of judgment against it. If the
defendant states a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the
adverse employment action, the plaintiff must then meet its
burden of persuasion by proving that the defendant's proffered
reasons are not the "true reasons" for its decision, but instead
are merely a pretext for age discrimination. Ryder, 128 F.3d at
136 (citations omitted). The plaintiff can do so by
"demonstrat[ing] such weaknesses, implausibilities,
inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the
employer's proffered legitimate reasons for its action that a
reasonable factfinder could rationally find them `unworthy of
credence.'" Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 765 (3d Cir.
1994). "The ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that
the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff
remains at all times with the plaintiff." Burdine, 101 S.Ct. at
a. Plaintiff's prima facie case
For purposes of this motion, defendant does not challenge
plaintiff's prima facie case.*fn3 Thus, the issue is whether
defendant has met its burden of production by articulating a
legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its action.
b. Defendant's legitimate, non-discriminatory reason
The defendant's burden of articulating a legitimate,
non-discriminatory reason for its action under the McDonnell
Douglas mode of analysis is a relatively light one. Fuentes,
32 F.3d at 763. The defendant need only "articulate any
legitimate reason for the [adverse employment action]; the
defendant need not prove that the articulated reason actually
motivated the [action]." Krouse v. American Sterilizer Co.,
126 F.3d 494, 500-01 (3d Cir. 1997) (applying burden shifting
analysis to ADA claim). The reason stated by the employer must be
"clear and reasonably specific." Burdine, 101 S.Ct. at 1096. As
the Supreme Court explained:
Placing this burden of production on the defendant
thus serves simultaneously to meet the plaintiff's
prima facie case by presenting a legitimate reason
for the action and to frame the factual issue with
sufficient clarity so that the plaintiff will have a
full and fair opportunity to demonstrate pretext. The
sufficiency of the defendant's evidence should be
evaluated by the extent to which it fulfills these
Id. at 1095.
In making the determination of whether the employer has stated
a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason, the court asks two
questions: (1) whether any rational factfinder could find the
existence of facts constituting a prima facie case; and (2)
whether the defendant has met its burden of production, i.e., has
the employer "failed to introduce evidence which, taken as true,
would permit the conclusion that there was a nondiscriminatory
reason for the adverse action." St. Mary's Honor Center v.
Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 113 S.Ct. 2742, 2748, 125 L.Ed.2d 407
(1993). This determination is for the court, and it involves no
assessment of credibility. Id.
While the Third Circuit has not specifically addressed the
quantum of detail necessary to satisfy Burdine's "clear and
reasonably specific" requirement, it is apparent from its
jurisprudence that an inquiry into the adequacy of the
defendant's reason is very much a part of the McDonnell Douglas
framework. For example, in Showalter v. University of Pittsburgh
Medical Center, 190 F.3d 231 (3d Cir. 1999), the defendant
employer terminated the plaintiff as part of a reduction-in-force
plan, claiming the reduction-in-force resulted from budgetary
constraints. Showalter, 190 F.3d at 236. In Kelly v. Drexel
University, 94 F.3d 102 (3d Cir. 1996), the defendant asserted
that it eliminated the plaintiffs position because of a
universitywide effort to cut spending and a related budget
decrease. Kelly, 94 F.3d at 104. In Torre v. Casio, Inc.,
42 F.3d 825 (3d Cir. 1994), the defendant employer alleged that it
transferred the plaintiff as part of a reduction-in-force program
because the plaintiff had a propensity for creating problems for
the employer's management. Torre, 42 F.3d at 832. In
Armbruster v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768 (3d Cir. 1994),*fn4
the defendant argued that an unexpected lack of work forced the
plaintiffs' termination. Armbruster, 32 F.3d at 772. Finally,
in Logue v. International Rehabilitation Assoc., Inc.,
837 F.2d 150 (3d Cir. 1988), the defendant claimed that it reorganized its
personnel structure in order to increase its efficiency. Logue,
837 F.2d at 153. In each one of these cases, whether the
reorganization was necessary or beneficial to the employer
because of financial conditions, or to increase efficiency, or
because of plaintiff's own insubordinate conduct or deficient
performance, the court recognized that the employer had
identified the specific rationale for its actions and had
explained its reasoning in sufficient detail to permit the
plaintiff-employee to legally impeach the defendant-employer's
rationale for the adverse action. In other words, in each case,
the Third Circuit identified and implicitly found that the
defendant-employer's reasons were presented with sufficient
clarity and detail to afford the plaintiff-employee a fair
opportunity to pierce the proffered reasons with facts of record.
In this case, defendant contends that it reassigned plaintiff
simply because of "a desire to reorganize and restructure its
personnel." (Def.'s Mem., p. 6). Defendant offers no details or
explanation concerning the need or rationale for the
reorganization, details of its implementation, or its effect on
other employees. This absence of a "clear and reasonably
specific" reason thus precludes plaintiff from pointing to
"weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or
contradictions in the employer's proffered legitimate reasons"
which render them "unworthy of credence." Fuentes, 32 F.3d at
765; Burdine, 101 S.Ct. at 1095.
The court concludes that, in this case, WCA's statement of its
reason that plaintiff was reassigned as a result of a
"universally applied personnel reorganization" that arose from a
desire to "reorganize
and restructure its personnel" is not sufficiently clear and
reasonably specific to allow plaintiff, at the summary judgment
stage, a full and fair opportunity to show pretext.
Because defendant has failed to establish that it is entitled
to judgment on plaintiff's age discrimination claim, defendant's
motion for summary judgment will be denied.
An appropriate order follows.
AND NOW, this 29th day of November, 1999, it is hereby
ORDERED that defendant Women Christian Alliance's Motion For
Summary Judgment Pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(c) (doc. no. 11) is
It is FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk shall REFER the matter
to the Civil Rights Employment Panel for the possible appointment
AND IT IS SO ORDERED.