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Bleistine v. Diocese of Trenton

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 14, 2012

Stephen J. BLEISTINE, Plaintiff,
v.
DIOCESE OF TRENTON, et al, Defendants.

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James M. Carter, Esq., Law Offices of Hoffman Dimuzio, Turnersville, NJ, for Plaintiff Stephen Bleistine.

Michael J. Canavan, Esq., Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC, Princeton, NJ, and Scott L. Puro, Esq., Backes & Hill, LLP, Lawrenceville, NJ, for Defendants Diocese of Trenton and Holy Cross High School.

OPINION

SIMANDLE, Chief Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Stephen Bleistine brought this action against Defendants Holy Cross High School and Diocese of Trenton alleging that they terminated him unlawfully because of his age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (" ADEA" ) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (" NJLAD" ). This action comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. [Docket Item 14.] Defendants' motion will be granted because Plaintiff has failed to show that there is a genuine, material, factual dispute regarding the cause for his termination.

II. BACKGROUND

This section provides an overview of the facts, the Motion for Summary Judgment, and the subsequent briefing.

A. Factual Background

In June of 2007, Plaintiff Stephen Bleistine retired from the public school system at age 62.[1] (Def. Statement of Undisputed Facts (" Def. SOF" ) ¶ 6.) In the summer of 2007, he saw a newspaper ad for positions at Defendant Holy Cross High School. (Def. SOF ¶ 8.) The two advertised positions were Associate Principal for Curriculum and Development and Associate Principal for Academic Intervention. (Def. SOF ¶ 8.) Plaintiff only applied for the Associate Principal for Academic Intervention position. (Def. SOF ¶ 9.)

Holy Cross' Principal, Dennis Guida, oversees the day-to-day operations at Holy

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Cross and makes personnel decisions, including hiring and firing decisions. (Pl. Opp'n Ex. F, Guida Dep. 16:2-8.) Guida hired Plaintiff for the Academic Intervention position under a contract for the 2007-2008 school year. (Def. SOF ¶ 9.) Plaintiff's greatest asset in the hiring process was his ability to work with the Student Administrative Systems Information (" SASI" ) program, which includes software for scheduling, grade reporting, and student transcripts, because Holy Cross was switching its scheduling format. (Def. SOF ¶ 13, 17; Bleistine Dep. 27:22-25.)

During the scheduling process, guidance counselors met with students to develop schedules. (Def. SOF ¶ 19.) The counselors input this information, along with teachers' availability, into the SASI program. (Def. SOF ¶ 19.) Then Plaintiff created a master schedule. (Def. SOF ¶ 19.)

Plaintiff was also responsible for supervising the Dean of Students and handling student discipline. (Def. SOF ¶ 20.) Principal Guida and Plaintiff had philosophical differences regarding student discipline; Plaintiff preferred to strictly enforce the student code and often recommended expulsion, whereas Guida preferred to work with students to teach them proper behavior. (Def. SOF ¶¶ 22-24.) Plaintiff claimed that Guida called him an " old antiquated thinker" in the context of a dispute regarding strict enforcement of the dress code. (Def. SOF ¶ 26.) He claimed that this conversation occurred on April 20, 2009, approximately 70 days before his termination. (Pl. SOF ¶ 3.) Guida disputed Plaintiff's account and claimed that he used the term " antiquated public school thinking" to describe a job applicant whom Plaintiff recommended. (Def. SOF ¶ 27.)

The " lion's share" of Holy Cross' funding comes from tuition and student fees. (Def. SOF ¶ 32.) In 2009, enrollment dropped from 759 students for the 2008-2009 school year to 685. (Def. SOF ¶ 35.) In March of 2009, the projected enrollment was 745 students, and Principal Guida notified six teachers that their contracts would not be renewed. (Def. SOF ¶ 37.) In May of 2009, the projected enrollment dropped to 685, and Principal Guida informed three more staff members, including Plaintiff, that their contracts would not be renewed. The following chart summarizes the terminations that occurred in 2009:

NAME POSITION AGE DATE OF TERMINATION

Dennis Daly Teacher 26 April 30, 2009

Richard McCormick Teacher 36 April 30, 2009

Jennifer McNally Teacher 32 April 30, 2009

Mellisa Minuto Teacher 25 April 30, 2009

Patricia Sacks Teacher 57 April 30, 2009

Marie Boljen Teacher 53 April 30, 2009

Stephen Bleistine (Plaintiff) Associate Principal 64 June 30, 2009

Ron Green Director of Technology 50 June 30, 2009

Kevin McKenzie Administrative Assistant 27 June 30, 2009

(Def. SOF ¶¶ 37, 39.)

Plaintiff was one of three Associate Principals at Holy Cross when he was terminated. The other two Associate Principals were Michael Fynan (age 56 at the time of the reduction in force) and Marie Germano (age 33). (Def. SOF ¶ 42.) They each had specific responsibilities: Plaintiff handled scheduling; Fynan handled finances; and Germano handled curriculum

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and instructional development. (Def. SOF ¶ 40.) Germano was hired in the summer of 2007, after Plaintiff was hired. (Def. SOF ¶ 11.)

Principal Guida explained that he decided not to renew Plaintiff's contract because he wanted to move the scheduling process to the guidance department and, once he had done so, there was no longer a need for the associate principal for scheduling. (Def. SOF ¶ 40.) When Guida told Plaintiff that Plaintiff's contract would not be renewed, he said the budget was insufficient to accommodate Plaintiff's position. (Def. SOF ¶ 41.) Fynan retained his position as Associate Principal for Business Administration, and Germano retained her position as Associate Principal for Curriculum and Development. (Def. SOF ¶ 42.) Guida ...


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