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WRIGHT v. L-3 COMMUNICATIONS CORPORATION

October 21, 2002

DAVID WRIGHT, PLAINTIFF,
V.
L-3 COMMUNICATIONS CORPORATION, AND JOHN DOES 1-10, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stephen M. Orlofsky, United States District Judge

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, David Wright ("Wright"), has sued his former employer, L-3 Communications Corporation ("L-3"), for age discrimination, in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD"), N.J.S.A. § 10:5-1, et seq. (2002). L-3 has now moved for summary judgment. In deciding L-3's motion for summary judgment, I must address an unresolved question of the governing New Jersey state law — namely, what is the fourth element of a prima facie case of age discrimination under the LAD? Based on my review of the case law — specifically, a July 2001 decision of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division — I must dissent from an earlier decision by my esteemed colleague, Judge Wolin, who applied a "sufficiently younger" standard to the fourth element of the prima facie age discrimination case under the LAD. See Swider v. Ha-Lo Indus., Inc., 134 F. Supp.2d 607 (D.N.J. 2001). Instead, I hold that in order to satisfy the fourth element of a prima facie case of age discrimination under the LAD, an LAD plaintiff must only show that his employer sought others to perform the same work after he was terminated from his position.

Applying this standard, I find that the summary judgment record presents genuine issues of material fact, and I shall deny L-3's motion for summary judgment.

II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Defendant L-3 designs and manufactures various products, including gyros, wheels, and sensors, to guide, position, navigate and control satellites, space launch vehicles, the Hubble space telescopes, land rockets, and the space shuttle international space center. See Def.'s 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 3, 5. Wright, who was employed as the Director of Business Development for Space Products in L-3's Teterboro, New Jersey office, see Pl.'s 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 1, 43; Certif. of David J. Wright 6/11/02 ("Wright Certif.") ¶ 14, claims he was throttled out of L-3 because of his age.

Wright did not begin his career in space technology at L-3. He was previously employed in the Space and Navigation Division of another company, Allied Signal. See Wright Certif. ¶ 2. Allied Signal sold this division in 1999, and the sale included certain employees, including Wright, who were transferred along with the Space and Navigation Division. Id. ¶ 4. After L-3 purchased the Allied Signal division, Wright became an L-3 employee in January 2000. Id. ¶ 2.

Not long after Wright joined the company, on or about April 17, 2000, L-3 terminated him, at the age of sixty. See Def.'s 56.1 Statement ¶ 137; Wright Certif. ¶ 5. According to L-3, Wright's termination was not related to his performance, see Wright Certif. ¶ 5, but because the market for space products was "flat," id. ¶ 9. Wright contests this characterization of the market for space products and notes that after his termination, L-3 continued to pursue new business opportunities in the Space and Navigation Division. See id. ¶¶ 17-27. Additionally, three other L-3 employees, Herb Califano, Neil Piscatelli, and Mark Pisani, began soliciting new space opportunities at conventions and trade shows for which Wright, as Director of Business Development for Space Products, had previously been responsible. See id. ¶¶ 31-34. Wright contends that these individuals had little, if any, business development experience. Id.

This Court has jurisdiction over this action based on the diverse citizenship of the parties and the requisite amount in controversy, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (2002). As a federal court sitting in diversity, this Court must apply state substantive law. Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938). I have considered the submissions of the parties and decided this motion on the papers without oral argument pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78 (2002). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment shall be denied.

III. STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

The legal standard governing summary judgment is well-settled. Summary judgment is proper only "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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) (West 2002); see also Anderson v. Consol. Rail Corp. ("Conrail"), 297 F.3d 242, 247 (3d Cir. 2002). An issue is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Conrail, 297 F.3d at 247 (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A fact is material if it bears on an essential element of the plaintiff's claim. Abraham v. Raso, 183 F.3d 279, 287 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-251). Thus, to survive a motion for summary judgment, the party contesting the motion must demonstrate a dispute over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit. Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d Cir. 1995) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-52).

When considering a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. In evaluating the evidence, the court must "view the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Curley v. Klem, 298 F.3d 271, 276-77 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Bartnicki v. Vopper, 200 F.3d 109, 114 (3d Cir. 1999)); see also Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). Notwithstanding this deference towards the non-movant, "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [movant]'s position will be insufficient" to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

Summary judgment is proper "if after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, a party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Conrail, 297 F.3d at 247 (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)).

After one party has filed a properly supported summary judgment motion, the party opposing it must present sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find in its favor. Groman, 47 F.3d at 633 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-52). Moreover, "[w]hen a motion for summary judgment is made and supported . . . an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleadings, but the adverse party's response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).*fn1 "If the adverse party does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against the adverse party." Id.

IV. THE LEGAL STANDARD GOVERNING AGE DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS UNDER THE NEW JERSEY LAW AGAINST DISCRIMINATION

A. THE NEW JERSEY LAW AGAINST DISCRIMINATION

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD") recognizes the opportunity to obtain employment as a civil right. See Bergen Commercial Bank v. Sisler, 157 N.J. 188, 200, 723 A.2d 944, 949 (1999). The statute provides, in relevant part:

It shall be unlawful employment practice, or, as the case may be, an unlawful discrimination:
a. 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 ...

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