The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOSEPH E. IRENAS
Plaintiff was employed by the defendants from 1972 until 1986, and again from January of 1989 until August of 1991, at which time his employment was terminated. Sixteen months after his termination, plaintiff filed a complaint in which he asserted claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq.
The defendants now move for summary judgment, alleging that the evidence of age discrimination adduced by the plaintiff is insufficient to create a triable issue of fact. Because we find that plaintiff has failed to present sufficient evidence of a discriminatory animus behind the defendants' decision to terminate his employment, summary judgment will be granted in favor of the defendants.
Defendant SL Waber, Inc. ("Waber") is a subsidiary of defendant SL Industries, Inc., that manufactures and distributes "multiple outlet strips, surge suppressors and other products designed to protect sensitive electrical and electronic equipment from power line surges, disruptions, and noise." Defendants' Brief in Support at 1-2.
Plaintiff Reed Waldron was employed by SL Waber from 1972 until 1986, when he was laid off pursuant to a reorganization/personnel cutback.
Plaintiff took a position with PTL, a division of the Pentron Corporation, which lasted for approximately two months. He then accepted a position with Electronic Protection Devices, a division of General Power Corp., which lasted for approximately two years.
Plaintiff received three promotions during his second "tour of duty" with Waber. In December of 1989, plaintiff was given responsibility for the Consumer market as well as the Industrial. In July of 1990, after Waber decided to divide the position of Industrial Market Manager into Electrical and Electronics market components, plaintiff was elevated to the newly-created position of Electrical Market Manager.
In March of 1991, with the departure of the Electronics Market Manager, the positions were consolidated, and plaintiff was named Industrial Market Manager.
On August 8, 1991, plaintiff was advised that his position would be terminated due to a planned reorganization. Defendants explain that the decision was made to reintroduce the bifurcated Electronics Manager/Electrical Manager system, and that, "having had an opportunity to observe and assess Mr. Waldron's performance and abilities for more than a year, Waber made a legitimate business judgment that he was not the best candidate for either of the two newly-created positions." Brief in Support at 7. At the time of his termination, plaintiff was 63-3/4 years old.
Plaintiff filed suit in this District on December 30, 1992, alleging claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD"), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq. Extensive discovery was completed, and a trial date was set for April 18, 1994.
On March 28, 1994, defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment, alleging that the evidence of age discrimination adduced by the plaintiff was insufficient to create a triable issue of fact. In addition, defendants argued that plaintiff's rehiring by the company at age 61 created a "strong inference" that age discrimination was not the real reason for his termination. Plaintiff responded that his evidence was "fully sufficient, both to establish a prima facie case and to case serious doubt on the credibility of [the defendants'] proffered defenses."
A. Standard of Review in Summary Judgment Cases
Under Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 56(c), "summary judgment is proper 'if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986).
At the summary judgment stage, it is not the role of the judge to weigh the evidence or to evaluate its credibility, but to determine "whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 249. There is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for that party. Id. A non-moving party may not rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. If the non-moving party's evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. Bixler v. Central Penn. Teamsters Health & Welfare Fund, 12 F.3d 1292 (3d Cir. 1993); Trap Rock Indus. Inc. v. Local 825, Int'l Union of Operating Engineers, 982 F.2d 884, 980-91 (3d Cir. 1992).
The substantive law governing the dispute will determine which facts are material, and only disputes over those facts "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). Finally, summary judgment should be granted unless a dispute over a material fact is genuine, which the Court has defined as such that "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.
B. Plaintiff's Claims for Age Discrimination
Age discrimination claims under the LAD and the ADEA are - governed by the same standards and burden of proof structures applicable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. See generally Erickson v. Marsh & McLennan Co., 117 N.J. 539, 550, 569 A.2d 793 (1990); Clowes v. Terminix Int'l, Inc., 109 N.J. 575, 595, 538 A.2d 794 (1988). Given this identity of standards, the Court will consider plaintiff's LAD and ADEA claims together.
The ADEA makes it unlawful for an employer "to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's age." 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). To recover under the ADEA, a plaintiff must prove "by a preponderance of the evidence that age was the determinative factor in the employer's [adverse employment] decision." Bartek v. Urban Redevelopment Authority, 882 F.2d 739, 742 (3d Cir. 1989). The three-stage shifting allocation of the burden of proof, originally developed in the context of Title VII employment discrimination cases, see McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973); Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 67 L. Ed. 2d 207, 101 S. Ct. 1089 ...