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Jamie Vargas v. Piramal Glass Ltd.

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY


June 27, 2012

JAMIE VARGAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PIRAMAL GLASS LTD., PIRAMAL GLASS USA INC., JAMES G. MOORE AND DEAN HARDING, DEFENDANTS.

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

OPINION

This matter has come before the Court on defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's claims that defendants violated his rights under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Plaintiff contends he was terminated from employment due to his age. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Jamie Vargas, began working for defendant Piramal Glass's predecessor, The Glass Group, in Mays Landing, New Jersey in 1978, and he continued his employment with defendant when it purchased the Mays Landing facility in 2005. Plaintiff started as a utility worker, and eventually became a machine operator. By late 2008, economic conditions required defendant to implement a reduction in force (RIF) at the Mays Landing facility. On May 15, 2009, thirty employees were laid-off, including plaintiff.

The month before, however, three positions became available at defendant's Williamstown, New Jersey facility. One of those positions was a setup mechanic, which was a job similar to the machine operator position at the Mays Landing facility. The other two positions were in the maintenance department. Plaintiff and three other machine operators were considered for the one setup mechanic position in Williamstown. Defendants James Moore, Vice-Present of Supply Chain and Decorating Operations, and Dean Harding, the human resources manager, met with three key managers at the Mays Landing facility to determine whom to hire for those three positions in Williamstown. Migdael Molina, who was 39 years old, was awarded the setup mechanic position. Two other employees, aged 54 and 56, were offered the maintenance department jobs.

Plaintiff, who was 51 years old at the time of the layoff, claims that defendants discriminated against him because of his age, and violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination*fn1 , when they did not hire him for the setup mechanic position and was ultimately terminated from employment due to the RIF. Defendants have moved for summary judgment in their favor, arguing that plaintiff has failed to support his claim. Plaintiff has opposed defendants' motion.*fn2

DISCUSSION

I. Jurisdiction

When defendant removed plaintiff's complaint to this Court, the complaint contained both federal and state claims. As a result, this Court had jurisdiction over plaintiff's federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), which provides in relevant part, "[I]n any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution."

As noted above, in her opposition to defendant's motion for summary judgment, plaintiff did not oppose the entry of judgment in defendant's favor on his federal claim. Even though the Court "may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction" when the court "has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction,"

28 U.S.C. § 1367(c), the Court has chosen to continue exercising its supplemental jurisdiction to resolve the remaining state law claim. At this stage in the case, where there has been a full period of discovery and a fully briefed summary judgment motion pending, and where the state law claim is part of the same case and controversy as the now-dismissed federal claim, judicial economy, convenience and fairness to the litigants weigh in favor of maintaining supplemental jurisdiction in this case. See Kach v. Hose, 589 F.3d 626, 650 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726-27 (1966) (other citations omitted)) (explaining that the "decision to retain or decline jurisdiction over state-law claims is discretionary," but that "discretion, however, is not unbridled," and it "should be based on considerations of 'judicial economy, convenience and fairness to the litigants'"); see also Borough of West Mifflin v. Lancaster, 45 F.3d 780, 788 (3d Cir. 1995) ("[W]here the claim over which the district court has original jurisdiction is dismissed before trial, the district court must decline to decide the pendent state claims unless considerations of judicial economy, convenience, and fairness to the parties provide an affirmative justification for doing so.").*fn3

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "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, 330 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

An issue is "genuine" if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence "is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Marino v. Industrial Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004)(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. A party opposing summary judgment must do more than just rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001).

III. Analysis

Plaintiff contends that defendants discriminated against him because of his age when he was terminated. In order to successfully assert a prima facie claim of age discrimination under the NJLAD, plaintiff must show that: he (1) belongs to a protected class; (2) applied for or held a position for which he was objectively qualified; (3) was not hired or was terminated from that position; and (4) the employer sought to, or did fill the position with a similarly-qualified person. Gerety v. Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort, 877 A.2d 1233, 1237 (N.J. 2005). In the case of age discrimination, the fourth element "require[s] a showing that the plaintiff was replaced with a candidate sufficiently younger to permit an inference of age discrimination." Nini v. Mercer County Community College, 968 A.2d 739, 743 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2009) (citing Zive v. Stanley Roberts, Inc., 867 A.2d 1133 (N.J. 2005)). If plaintiff can establish a prima facie case, the burden of production then "shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employer's action." Id. (citation omitted). If the employer provides such a reason, plaintiff must show that the reason "was merely a pretext for discrimination." Id. (citation omitted).*fn4

Here, plaintiff has established a prima facie case: he was 51 years old; he was objectively qualified for the setup mechanic position;*fn5 he was not hired for that position; and the person who was hired was 12 years younger. Plaintiff, however, cannot meet his burden, beyond this prima facie showing, to demonstrate that his age "played a role in the decision making process," and that it had a "determinative influence on the outcome of that process." Bergen Commercial Bank v. Sisler, 723 A.2d 944, 953 (N.J. 1999).

Defendants have explained their reasons for not choosing plaintiff for the setup mechanic position in Williamstown: (1) plaintiff's supervisors did not recommend him for the job because, for the previous few years, he was only performing the bare minimum requirements of his mechanics job, his attitude was "horrible," and he lacked the initiative and flexibility to perform the duties of the setup job; (2) he had been disciplined for sleeping on the job and for poor attendance; (3) he had been terminated from employment with defendant twice before for misconduct, and had been reinstated only after agreeing to be placed on permanent disciplinary probation; (4) the person they chose for the job, Mr. Molina, consistently went "above and beyond" the demands of his job, including performing extra work to make sure the facility ran smoothly, he had never been terminated, and he was not on probation at the time he was offered the setup mechanic position.

In response to defendants' legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for not offering the new position to him, plaintiff argues that those reasons were a pretext, and his age was the true reason they selected Mr. Molina over him. To support his theory, plaintiff contends: (1) Mr. Molina really did not go "above and beyond," he was disciplined in 1993 for sleeping on the job, and he was the cousin of one of the supervisors*fn6 ; (2) plaintiff received service awards in 2000; (3) he had more seniority than Mr. Molina, and defendant was required to hire the more senior person pursuant to the Mays Landing CBA; (4) he was denied two previous requests to transfer to the Williamstown facility; (5) a female co-worker in a different department with different managers had complained in the past about sex discrimination; (6) his former manager, who was 16 years older than plaintiff, and who retired in January 2008, more than a year before the RIF was implemented, said to plaintiff that he was "fat and old and she was going to put him out the door," and she hit him on the head with a rolled-up newspaper.

Plaintiff's proof is insufficient for a factfinder to conclude that plaintiff's age made a difference in defendants' decision to not offer him the setup mechanic position. Sisler, 723 A.2d at 955. Other than one remark regarding plaintiff's age by his former supervisor that she said at some point more than a year before plaintiff was denied the job, and the fact that Mr. Molina was 12 years younger than plaintiff, plaintiff has not provided any other evidence--direct or circumstantial--to show that his age had any bearing on the setup mechanic hiring decision.*fn7 Moreover, any allegations regarding the requirement to offer plaintiff the job simply because he had more seniority than Mr. Molina is irrelevant, as the Mays Landing CBA did not apply to the Williamstown facility, and defendants' obligations under the CBA are a separate consideration from the NJLAD analysis.

Despite plaintiff's disagreement with his supervisors' assessment of his capabilities as compared to Mr. Molina's, there is nothing in the record that shows that defendants exhibited hostility towards plaintiff's age. Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 756 (3d Cir. 1994) (stating that a "plaintiff cannot simply show that the employer's decision was wrong or mistaken, since the factual dispute at issue is whether discriminatory animus motivated the employer, not whether the employer is wise, shrewd, prudent, or competent").*fn8 Consequently, plaintiff's claim for age discrimination in violation of the NJLAD fails, and summary judgment must be entered in defendants' favor.

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, defendants are entitled to summary judgment in their favor on all of plaintiff's claims against them. An appropriate Order will be entered.

NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J. At Camden, New Jersey


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