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Warner v. Federal Express Corp.

November 9, 2001

FRANCIS J. WARNER, PLAINTIFF
v.
FEDERAL EXPRESS CORPORATION, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brotman, District Judge

FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Presently before the Court is Defendant Federal Express Corporation's ("FedEx") motion for summary judgment requesting the dismissal of Plaintiff Francis J. Warner's ("Warner") age discrimination claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and breach of quasi-contract claim.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On October 3, 1983, Plaintiff Warner was hired by Defendant FedEx as a part-time courier. (Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 1; Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("SOF") ¶ 3, Ex. 4.) On March 19, 1984, Plaintiff was upgraded to a full-time courier at FedEx. (Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 1; SOF ¶ 4, Ex. 5.) Plaintiff continued to work as a courier for FedEx until his termination on November 7, 1997. (SOF ¶ 6.)

FedEx utilizes a Guaranteed Fair Treatment Procedure ("GFTP") that allows employees to protest certain adverse employment decisions, including the decision to terminate an employee. The procedure is set forth in the Federal Express Employee Handbook ("Employee Handbook"). (SOF ¶ 25, Ex. 30.) On October 6, 1997, Plaintiff filed a complaint under the GFTP protesting his most recent performance review and requesting that Defendant lower his goal of stops per hour. (Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 1; SOF ¶ 29, Ex. 34.) During the investigation of Plaintiff's complaint, Defendant alleges that it discovered discrepancies in Plaintiff's delivery and pick-up procedures. (SOF ¶ 30.) Management determined that Plaintiff violated its Acceptable Conduct Policy by falsifying electronic documents and terminated his employment. (Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 1; SOF ¶ 33, Ex. 9.) Plaintiff proceeded to file another complaint under the GFTP protesting FedEx's decision to terminate him. (Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 1, Ex. 1.)

The GFTP entails a three-step process: (1) management review, (2) officer review, and (3) executive review. (SOF, Ex. 30.) At each level of review, FedEx is required to take certain actions to properly process an employee's complaint. (Id.) Plaintiff's complaint proceeded through Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3 of the GFTP. (Id.) The decision to terminate Plaintiff was upheld at each level of review. (SOF ¶¶ 34-36.)

Subsequently, Plaintiff brought this action against Defendant asserting age discrimination and breach of implied employment contract claims. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant discriminated against him on the basis of his age in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD"). In his complaint, Plaintiff asserts that "[t]he Defendant . . . retained younger employees with less experience and targeted the Plaintiff for termination based upon his age and experience." (Pl.'s Am. Compl., First Count.) Plaintiff also alleges that the GFTP established a quasi-contract that was breached by Defendant's failure to properly review the relevant facts of Plaintiff's termination as required by the procedure. (Pl.'s Am. Compl., Third Count.) Presently before the Court is Defendant's summary judgment motion requesting the dismissal of both claims.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

The standard for granting a motion for summary judgment is a stringent one, but it is not insurmountable. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment may be granted only when materials of record "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Serbin v. Bora Corp., 96 F.3d 66, 69 n.2 (3d Cir. 1996). In deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact, the court must grant all reasonable inferences from the evidence to the non-moving party. The threshold inquiry is whether there are "any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).

Supreme Court decisions mandate that a summary judgment motion must be granted unless the party opposing the motion "provides evidence `such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Lawrence v. National Westminster Bank New Jersey, 98 F.3d 61, 65 (3d Cir. 1996) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). Once the moving party has carried its burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, "its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The non-moving party must "make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of [every] element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Serbin, 96 F.3d at 69 n.2 (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)); see also Quiroga v. Hasbro, Inc., 934 F.2d 497, 500 (3d Cir. 1991) (declaring that non-movant may not "rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or . . . vague statements"). Thus, if the non-movant's evidence is merely "colorable" or is "not significantly probative," the court may grant summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50.

III. DISCUSSION

A. New Jersey Law Against Discrimination Claim

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant discriminated against him on the basis of his age in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD"). N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq. The LAD provides that it is an unlawful employment practice for an employer "because of the . . . age, . . . of any individual, to refuse to hire or employ or to bar or to discharge or require to retire, unless justified by lawful considerations other than age, from employment such individual or to discriminate against such individual in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment . . . ." N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(a). Age discrimination claims under the LAD and Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §621 et seq., are governed by the same standards of proof and burdens of persuasion. Lawrence v. National Westminster Bank New Jersey, 98 F.3d 61, 65 (3d Cir. 1996); Swider v. Ha-Lo Industries, Inc., 134 F. Supp.2d 607, 621 (D.N.J. 2001). Therefore, it is appropriate to examine both federal and New Jersey case law to evaluate Plaintiff's age discrimination claim. Swider, 134 F.Supp.2d at 621.

1. Prima Facie Case

First, Plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of age discrimination. To do so, a plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence, "(1) that he is a member of a class protected by the antidiscrimination law; (2) that he was performing his job at a level that met his employer's legitimate expectations; (3) that he was discharged, and (4) that he was replaced by someone sufficiently younger to give rise to an inference of unlawful age discrimination." Swider, 134 F. Supp. at 621; see also Lawrence, 98 F.3d at 65-66. The plaintiff's ...


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