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GORHAM v. AMERICAN TEL. & TEL. CO.

February 4, 1991

JOAN C. GORHAM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMERICAN TELEPHONE AND TELEGRAPH COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Clarkson S. Fisher, District Judge.

OPINION

Before this court is a motion for summary judgment by defendant, American Telephone and Telegraph Company, Inc. ("AT & T"), against plaintiff, Joan C. Gorham. Gorham brought suit against AT & T alleging age, race and sex discrimination claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1966; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et. seq. ("ADEA"), and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-12 ("NJLAD"). AT & T claims that Gorham has no cause of action under § 1981 and that she has failed to meet her prima facie case under the ADEA and the NJLAD. For the following reasons, defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

FACTS

Plaintiff is a black female over the age of 40. She was hired by AT & T in 1963 as a Clerk and worked her way up to District Manager in 1978. In November of 1985, plaintiff began reporting to Richard Dennis, Director of EEO/Affirmative Action at AT & T. Dennis assigned plaintiff to the project of interviewing high-level officers and managers of AT & T to ascertain the degree of EEO/AA awareness in the corporation. This assignment entailed conducting the interviews, organizing the comments, summarizing the results and making recommendations. The project came to be known as "New Initiatives for a Changing AT & T" ("New Initiative study"). In addition to plaintiff, there were three other employees primarily assigned to this project.

The New Initiative study was warmly received and Dennis praised the work of all the employees involved, including plaintiff. Dennis Dep. at 23; Exhs. 1, 2 and 3. He gave her a Superior appraisal, a rating between Outstanding and Good. Gorham Dep. 4/10/90 at 129-30.

After the completion of the study, in March, 1987, Dennis assigned plaintiff to Bernard Daleske, Division Manager, EEO/AA, advising that the company needed her in that position to effectuate certain of the New Initiative study's recommendations. Gorham Dep. 1/16/90 at 118-19. While under Daleske, plaintiff was placed in charge of ten subordinates of the first and second management levels. Three months later, in June, 1987, Daleske received a note that had been left earlier that day under his office door from the subordinates of Joan Gorham complaining about her style and management.*fn1 Daleske Dep. at 19-20. At a meeting Daleske organized to discuss the problems, he was handed yet another and more extensive memorandum containing complaints about plaintiff. This was signed by nine of plaintiff's ten subordinates. Exh. 5; Daleske Dep. at 22-4. Of the signers, one was black and one was Hispanic, seven were female, and four were in the age-protected category. Gorham Dep. 1/16/90 at 39-42; 4/10/90 at 27-28. Part of the text of that letter is as follows:

  We are asking that you evaluate the situation with
  the skill you have nurtured as a manager. We are
  asking that Joan be repositioned in an environment
  which will be beneficial to her, but one that
  excludes a staff of subordinates.

AT & T claims that Daleske met with plaintiff and presented the June 24 memo to her, and that she denied that it accurately portrayed the situation. Daleske Dep. at 26-7; Exh. 5, p. 1.

On September 3, 1987, plaintiff's subordinates left another note with the Director, Richard Dennis. This note implored Dennis to become involved personally by moving plaintiff out of the organization and stated that employees were leaving the group because of plaintiff. Exh. 6. AT & T claims that Dennis met soon after with Daleske to consider using an outside consultant to assist in resolving the problem. Plaintiff contends she initiated the idea of a consultant and that AT & T denied her the use of same while providing another with a consultant. AT & T claims the plaintiff's subordinates, fearing retaliation by plaintiff, decided they did not want to meet with her and a consultant, and instead some chose to leave the group. Daleske Dep. at 37-39.

Daleske recounted the situation, including discussions with plaintiff's subordinates and their stated reasons for not choosing to meet with the consultant, in Exhibit 7.

Although plaintiff disputes it, her annual evaluation for 1987, completed by Daleske and approved by Dennis, confirmed the difficulty with her subordinates. Exh. 8. For example: "Aspects of Ms. Gorham's management style served as a source of conflict between her and members of her organization. This fact accounts for her reduced level of involvement in various areas of responsibility." By this time four of plaintiff's subordinates had already abandoned the group.

In November 1987 the company reorganized the entire Human Resources organization. Dennis moved to another directorate, and Miss Doreen Yochum was appointed to the newly-created position of Director of Quality in Career Systems within the Human Resources organization. Yochum Dep. at 9. Her responsibilities included the EEO and Affirmative Action work and the development of a Quality Plan for Career Planning and Development Services. Plaintiff requested and obtained a meeting with Yochum, and in February 1988 plaintiff was assigned to a District Manager position reporting to Yochum despite advice from Dennis to Yochum that Gorham was not promotable. Yochum Dep. at 46-48. Plaintiff's new responsibilities required her to work with various other parts of the Human Resources Organization.

Later that same month, February 1988, Yochum received complaints about plaintiff from various individuals in the organization, including a two-page letter from Jeannette Galvanek, detailing the negative feedback about plaintiff. Id. at 59-63, Exh. 9. She stated that plaintiff's work efforts were disorganized and poorly prepared, displayed a lack of inner personnel skills and reflected an inflated view of her own effectiveness and an overall poor judgment. Yochum advised plaintiff that employees had lodged complaints about her work performance. Gorham Dep. 1/24/90 at 16567; Yochum Dep. at 61, 63. In fact, Yochum's superior, William F. Buehler, Group Vice President of Human Resources, stated at deposition that a group of managers in Human Resources met with him and complained bitterly about plaintiff's management style and supervisory traits. Buehler Dep. at 19-21.

In March 1988, Yochum placed the Division Manager, Lex McCusker, in charge of giving direct assignments to plaintiff because Yochum felt that plaintiff needed hands-on supervision and assignments that were more measurable in nature. Yochum Dep. at 33, 35-36. McCusker assigned plaintiff three tasks from March to early July 1988. He estimated that the time required to perform the three tasks was a total of six days; and he recounted at deposition that plaintiff had not accomplished even one in six weeks. Exh. 10.

On June 21, 1988, McCusker sent a memorandum to plaintiff regarding her Quality Newsletter and Quality Library assignments he had given her. Exh. 12. This document criticized plaintiff's performance in several important areas. For example, she had failed to speak with other company employees, as McCusker had previously directed her to do. Plaintiff contends that McCusker never told her she was to report to McCusker and that they were peers. Gorham Aff. at Para. 14. AT & T contends that she conceded that McCusker, a Division Manager, was higher in the AT & T echelon than she and that Director Yochum had instructed her to perform Quality-related tasks which McCusker assigned to her and that she was obligated to perform those assignments.

On July 5, 1988, Yochum met with plaintiff. Daleske attended the first half of the meeting to discuss plaintiff's 1987 appraisal. McCusker attended the second half to discuss plaintiff's performance in 1988. Gorham Dep. 1/24/90 at 126-27. Yochum documented the meeting in a detailed memorandum to the file, as did Daleske and ...


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