The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM BASSLER, District Judge
In 1999, Plaintiff Martha Geaney ("Plaintiff") began working as
an Account Executive for Computer Sciences Corporation ("CSC"), a
company that provides information technology services to private
companies and the federal government. In January 2003, after
Plaintiff failed to meet certain sales goals, CSC gave Plaintiff the option of participating in a performance
improvement plan ("PIP") or of accepting a severance package.
Plaintiff rejected both options and, on January 27, 2003, CSC
terminated Plaintiff's employment.
Plaintiff thereafter sued CSC and three members of CSC's
management team, Robert Fassett, George Bacon, and Edward Mello,
in New Jersey Superior Court, Passaic County, alleging: (1)
breach of contract; (2) sex discrimination in violation of the
New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"); (3) violation of
a non-compete agreement; and (4) fraud. On June 19, 2003, CSC and
the individual defendants removed the case to federal district
court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction.*fn1
The parties completed discovery in May 2004, including
depositions. By Stipulation dated June 28, 2004, Plaintiff
voluntarily dismissed the fraud claim and the claim relating to
the non-compete agreement. Plaintiff also voluntarily dismissed
the Complaint as to defendants Bacon and Mello.
The remaining defendants, CSC and Fassett (collectively,
"Defendants"), now move for summary judgment on the sex
discrimination and breach of contract claims. For the reasons set
forth in this Opinion, Defendants' motion is granted with respect
to the sex discrimination claim and denied with respect to the
breach of contract claim. I. SEX DISCRIMINATION CLAIM
In April 1999, Plaintiff began working for CSC as an Account
Executive, starting at an annual salary of $195,000 plus bonuses.
(Pl. Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 6.) Plaintiff worked primarily out of
CSC's office in West Orange, New Jersey. (Fassett 5/12/04 Dep. at
18.) As an Account Executive, Plaintiff was responsible for
selling CSC's computer consulting services to potential clients.
(Geaney 1/14/04 Dep. at 125.)
In March 2002, CSC reorganized its practice groups and
Plaintiff was assigned to the Diversified Industries and Consumer
Products Practice Group for the New York metropolitan area
("Diversified Group"). (Geaney 1/14/04 Dep. at 130.) As a result
of the reorganization, Robert Fassett became Plaintiff's
supervisor. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that while she was under his
supervision, Fassett discriminated against her on the basis of
her sex.*fn3 Initially, Plaintiff was one of three Account Executives
assigned to the Diversified Group the other two were Roger Doty
and Stephen Georghakis. (Fassett 5/12/04 Dep. at 16-17; 50.) By
mid-2002, both Doty and Georghakis had left the Diversified Group
Doty was transferred to another position within CSC and
Georghakis was terminated after failing to successfully complete
a PIP. (Id.) Plaintiff was then the only Account Executive
assigned to the Diversified Group until August 2002, when Fassett
hired four new Account Executives Robert Newman, David Jewell,
Michael Orozco, and Rick Kilcoyne. (Id. at 28.) During the
entire period that Plaintiff was assigned to the Diversified
Group she was the only female Account Executive assigned to it.
B. Plaintiff's Termination
On January 9, 2003, Fassett met with Plaintiff to discuss
Plaintiff's interim performance evaluation for the six-month
period from April 2002 through October 2002 ("Interim
Evaluation"). The Interim Evaluation showed that Plaintiff was
well below targeted revenue and profit goals. (Pl. Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 95; Ward Cert., Exh. I.) According to Defendants,
because of Plaintiff's "poor sales performance," Fassett gave
Plaintiff two options: she could either participate in a PIP,
with no option for severance pay if she did not successfully
complete the PIP, or she could accept immediate termination with
severance pay. (Pl. Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 98; Def. Rule 56.1
Statement ¶ 19.) Defendants contend, and Plaintiff disputes, that
Fassett's conduct was consistent with CSC policy. (Id. at ¶
On January 10, 2003, Plaintiff informed Fassett that she was
interested in the severance package. (Geaney 1/14/04 Dep. at
170.) Five days later, on January 15, Fassett e-mailed Plaintiff
the details of CSC's severance offer ("Severance Agreement").
(Id. at 174-76.) The Severance Agreement consisted of nine
weeks salary, or $34,085.77, and imposed on Plaintiff a number of
terms and conditions, including a strict covenant not to compete.
(Id. at 174-78.)
After consulting with an attorney, Plaintiff decided that the
Severance Agreement was unacceptable. (Id.) Accordingly, on
January 17, Plaintiff left Fassett a voice message stating that
she was unwilling to sign the Severance Agreement, and that she
was interested in negotiating a different severance package.
(Id. at 177.)
Plaintiff was out of the office from January 18 through January
26, 2003 because of a pre-approved vacation. (Pl. Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 106.) On January 27, the date Plaintiff was
scheduled to return to work, Fassett left Plaintiff a voice
message instructing Plaintiff to come into the office immediately
in order to sign a PIP. (Geaney 1/14/04 Dep. at 182-83.)
Plaintiff did not meet with Fassett on that day because of
several previously scheduled business and personal appointments.
(Id. at 188.) Plaintiff was out of the office again on January
29. This time, George Bacon, Fassett's supervisor and a CSC
Managing Director, called Plaintiff at home to discuss
Plaintiff's employment status. Plaintiff repeated to Bacon that
the terms of the Severance Agreement were unacceptable, and that
she was unwilling to sign a PIP. (Id. at 189-90.)
By letter dated January 29, 2003, CSC formally terminated
Plaintiff's employment. (Cahoon Aff. Exh. L.) The letter, signed
by CSC's Human Resources Manager, stated, in relevant part:
This is to advise you that your employment with CSC
Consulting, Inc. (CSC) will be terminated effective
Friday, January 31, 2003, due to abandonment of your
position. You advised CSC management to contact your
attorney Bill Smith to discuss your employment
Mr. Smith stated to Ward Classen, CSC's Legal
Counsel, that you did not accept CSC's offer of a
buy-out package, that you would not agree to be
placed on a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP") and
that you would not be returning to work. As such, you
have been placed in an unapproved/unpaid status of
absence without approved leave since Tuesday, January
28th. (Id.) Plaintiff thereafter filed suit.
Plaintiff vigorously disputes Defendants' claim that she was
terminated because of poor sales performance and because she
refused to accept either a PIP or the Severance Agreement.
Instead, Plaintiff argues that Fassett took adverse employment
action against her because she is female.
In an employment discrimination case such as this one, the
district court's task at the summary judgment stage is to
"determine whether, upon viewing all of the facts and reasonable
inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to
the plaintiff, there exists sufficient evidence to create a
genuine issue of material fact as to whether the employer
intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff." Hankins v.
Temple Univ. Health Sci. Ctr., 829 F.2d 437, 440 (3d Cir. 1987).
In doing so, the Court must apply the now familiar McDonnell
Douglas-Burdine burden-shifting analysis. See Texas Dept. of
Comm. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981);
McDonnell-Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973); see
also Murphy v. Hous. Auth. & Urban Redev. Agency of the City
of Atlantic City, 32 F. Supp. 2d 753, 763 (D.N.J. 1999) (noting
that the McDonnell Douglas framework "applies to both Title VII
and NJLAD claims for employment discrimination").
First, the plaintiff has the burden of proving by a
preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of discrimination. Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253. Second, if the
plaintiff succeeds in proving the prima facie case, then the
burden shifts to the defendant to articulate some legitimate
nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Id.
Third, if the defendant carries its burden, the plaintiff then
has the opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence
that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant are