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Bruce Klastow v. Newtown Friends School

June 6, 2012

BRUCE KLASTOW,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEWTOWN FRIENDS SCHOOL, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

MEMORANDUM

Bruce Klastow ("Plaintiff") brings this civil action against the Newtown Friends School ("Defendant") for violations of his right to be free from age discrimination and retaliation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"). Defendant moves for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the motion.

I.BACKGROUND*fn1

Defendant is a Quaker-related grade school that operates in Newtown, Pennsylvania. Klastow Dep. 18:14, July 29, 2011; Compl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 1. From 1996 to August 2010, the Head of School was Steven Nierenberg. Nierenberg Dep. 10:19-23, Sept. 12, 2011. Nierenberg oversaw the daily operations of the school. Id. at 12:5-12. And from 1998 to the present, the Upper School Head, grades six through eight, was Jody Smith. Jody Smith Dep. 9:10-25, Oct. 7, 2011. Smith oversees operations of the Upper School, evaluates Upper School faculty, and participates in the committee involved in hiring new faculty. Id. at 10:2-16.

In 1979, Defendant hired Plaintiff, born in 1949, as a part-time physical education teacher. Klastow Dep. 6:24, 14:16-20. By the 2008-2009 school year, Plaintiff was a full-time history and math teacher. Id. at 16:5-9. Defendant employed Plaintiff pursuant to a year-to-year contract, which was terminable at will. Id. Ex. 11. Plaintiff reported directly to Jody Smith. Jody Smith Dep. 20:22-24.

In June 2008, Newtown Friends School Business Manager Alice Gens discovered an issue concerning Plaintiff's use of the school's credit card for personal items. Gens Dep. 10:4-15, Oct. 7, 2011. When Gens met with Plaintiff in June about the issue, Plaintiff told her he did not have his own credit card with him, so he used the school's card that was issued to him. Id. at 10:24-11:9. Plaintiff also disclosed that Gens should expect to see two additional charges on the next billing statement, but he understood not to use the card for personal items in the future. Id. at 11:5-9. Additional charges appeared on the next billing statement, as Gens expected, but she was unable to contact Plaintiff during the summer for reimbursement. Id. at 12:4-10. In September 2008, Gens again spoke to Plaintiff about additional personal charges, which she did not expect, that again appeared on the school's credit card for gasoline, a bar or restaurant bill, and a rental car. Id. at 12:23-13:11. Plaintiff reimbursed Defendant for the personal expenses. Id. at 13:18. But after the second incident, Gens informed Nierenberg, who met with Plaintiff in September. Nierenberg Dep. 81:17-23. Nierenberg warned Plaintiff that any additional personal use of the school's credit card would result in his termination. Id. 90:4-10; Klastow Dep. Ex. 8.

Around August 2008, Defendant placed Marion Smith, a fourth-grade teacher with whom Plaintiff shares a personal relationship, in a professional development and assistance program called the Teacher Assistance Track ("TAT"). Klastow Dep. 43:7-11, 56:6-19; Jody Smith Dep. 19:12-15. If the head of either the Lower School or Upper School determines that a teacher at the school needs additional support in terms of performance improvement, the head, in conjunction with the Head of School, places the teacher on the TAT. Jody Smith Dep. 19:16-21, 20:1-12. In March 2009, Defendant terminated Marion Smith for the reasons Nierenberg placed her on the TAT. Klastow Dep. 61:20-62:10.

In March 2009, Gens learned of a discrepancy in expenses and funds for the school's ski club. Gens Dep. 26:2-5. Plaintiff was a coordinator of the ski club and collected checks and cash from students and parents to fund the club's trips. Klastow Dep. 24:25-25:3, 94:17-20. Plaintiff delivered the funds to the school's bookkeeper to cover the club's expenses. Gens Dep. 25:16-20. The bookkeeper informed Gens of a $3,000 to $4,000 discrepancy in the club's funds resulting from expenses relating to the club's recent trips. Id. at 26:10-15. Gens contacted the organizers to learn that Plaintiff was in charge of collecting funds from the students and parents for the recent trips. Id. at 26:19-27:9.

At Gens' request, Plaintiff brought Gens an envelope with checks, but the checks were insufficient to cover the club's expenses. Id. at 27:13-19. Gens made numerous requests for Plaintiff to provide the remaining funds. Id. at 28:4-10. Nierenberg asked Plaintiff to leave the school and go home to retrieve the remaining funds. Nierenberg Dep. 94:5-12; Jody Smith Dep. 35:15-18; Gens Dep. 28:11-13. Plaintiff returned with the cash in an envelope with students' names written on the outside of the envelope. Gens Dep. 33:6-10. Although the amounts listed on the envelope matched the cash in the envelope, the ski club's funds were still insufficient to cover its costs. Id. at 31:9, 33:11-13. Nevertheless, Gens declined any further attempt to reconcile the club's budget because doing so would have involved the students, which she was unwilling to do. Id. at 33:20-22. Nierenberg decided Plaintiff would not handle the club's funds the next year. Nierenberg Dep. 96:14-16.

On April 22, 2009, at a Meeting for Worship, Plaintiff stood and made a speech concerning the leadership at the school and certain changes occurring there. Klastow Dep. 73:12-20. A Meeting for Worship is a weekly gathering of Quakers and members of the community wherein individuals are encouraged to rise and speak about issues the community faces. Id. at 73:24-74:13. At this particular meeting, students, parents, faculty, and administrators from the school were present. Id. at 74:15-22. At least some in attendance viewed Plaintiff's remarks as an attack on the school's current leadership, specifically Nierenberg. Gens Dep. 35:6-16; Jody Smith Dep. 41:1-4; Nierenberg Dep. 115:8-11; Klastow Dep. Ex. 6.

On April 24, 2009, Plaintiff, Jody Smith, and Nierenberg met to discuss the incident. Jody Smith Dep. 43:13-14; Klastow Dep. 120:4-7; Klastow Dep. Ex. 5. And on May 12, 2009, Nierenberg placed Plaintiff on paid leave for the remainder of the school year and rescinded Plaintiff's contract for the 2009-2010 school year.*fn2

Klastow Dep. Ex. 2. Nierenberg explained that his reasons for his decision were Plaintiff's misuse of the school's credit card, difficulty handling the ski club's funding, and inappropriate comments at the Meeting for Worship. Id.

II.PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On November 8, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendant that alleges one count of discrimination (Count I) and one count of retaliation (Count II) in violation of the ADEA. Compl. ¶¶ 17-29. On January 14, 2011, Defendant answered. Answer 1, ECF No. 4.

On November 21, 2011, Defendant filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment. Mot. for Summ. J. 1, ECF No. 14. Plaintiff responded. Pl's Resp. 1, ECF No. 15. And Defendant moved for leave to reply and attached a proposed reply brief to the motion. Def.'s Reply 1, ECF No. 16. The matter is now ripe for disposition.*fn3

III.LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate if there are no genuine disputes of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). "A motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by 'the mere existence' of some disputed facts, but will be denied when there is a genuine issue of material fact." Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the litigation, and a dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

The Court will view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. "After making all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor, there is a genuine issue of material fact if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party." Pignataro v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 593 F.3d 265, 268 (3d Cir. 2010). While the moving party bears the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, meeting this obligation shifts the burden to the nonmoving party, who must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

IV.DISCUSSION

Under the ADEA, an employer may not discharge an individual because of his age or discriminate against an individual because he opposed an unlawful employment practice or participated in a proceeding under the ADEA.*fn4 See 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1), (d) (2006). Absent direct evidence of discrimination, a plaintiff may prove a claim of unlawful discrimination in violation of the ADEA under the McDonnell Douglas framework.*fn5 See

Smith v. City of Allentown, 589 F.3d 684, 691 (3d Cir. 2009); Brewer v. Quaker State Oil Ref. Corp., 72 F.3d 326, 330 (3d Cir. 1995) (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973)). First, Plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. See Smith, 589 F.3d at 691. Defendant rebuts the presumption of age discrimination raised by a prima facie case by proffering legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for terminating Plaintiff. See id. Finally, the ultimate burden rests with Plaintiff to demonstrate that Defendant's proffered reasons are pretext and Defendant's true reason for terminating him was unlawful discrimination or retaliation. See id. The ...


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