The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stephen M. Orlofsky, United States District Judge
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
sought others to perform the same work after he was terminated from his
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: