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DeSantis v. New Jersey Transit

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 2, 2017

ANTHONY DeSANTIS, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW JERSEY TRANSIT, ALAN WOHL, FRED D'ASCOLI, Defendants.

          OPINION

          McNULTY. U.S.D.J.

         The plaintiff, Anthony DeSantis, has sued his former employer, New Jersey Transit, as well as two of its employees, Alan Wohl and Fred D'Ascoli, alleging discrimination on the basis of age, disability, and race. DeSantis alleges that N.J. Transit violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 623(a); the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12112; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000; and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-12. He also argues that Alan Wohl and Fred D'Ascoli are liable under the NJLAD for "aiding and abetting" N.J. Transit's discrimination. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts

         Anthony DeSantis started working for N.J. Transit on December 13, 1982, as a Senior Accountant in the Fixed Assets Department. (DeSantis Stmt. ¶ 1-2).[1] DeSantis has suffered with epilepsy for several years, has paralysis of his left arm, and walks with a limp. (DeSantis Stmt. ¶ 19). His supervisor, Alan Wohl, was aware that DeSantis had paralysis of the left arm and a limp. (Wohl Dep. Tr. 46:18-47:9). Wohl claims that he was unaware DeSantis suffered from epilepsy. (Id.).

         DeSantis claims that the Manager of Fixed Assets position became available in 1993, but he was told he could not apply for the position. (DeSantis Stmt. ¶ 3). Rupak Biswas was hired as the Manager of Fixed Assets. (DeSantis Stmt. ¶ 5). DeSantis claims that Biswas was not experienced and that he often had to do Biswas's work. (DeSantis Stmt. ¶ 6). DeSantis was later promoted to the position of Principal Accountant in Fixed Assets in 1994. (DeSantis Stmt. ¶ 4). DeSantis reports that Alan Wohl told him at one meeting in 2011, "just remember that shit rolls down the hill and you are going to always be at the bottom." (Compl. ¶ 106).

         When Biswas notified N.J. Transit that he was going to retire, four employees met the specific requirements for the position and were invited to interview in 2013. (DeSantis Stmt. ¶ 8-9); (NJT Stmt. ¶ 14). Those employees were DeSantis, Fariba Cattan, Mr. Trinca, and Mr. Omoyi. (NJT Stmt. ¶ 15). They were 60, 54, 48, and 50 years old, respectively. (NJT Stmt. ¶ 15). The interview committee comprised Alan Wohl, Director of Fixed Assets, John Weber, Manager of Third Party Billing, and Jeffrey Klugman, Director of Corporate Recruiting. (NJT Stmt. ¶ 16). DeSantis alleges that Cattan's husband also worked for N.J. Transit and was close friends with Alan Wohl. (DeSantis Stmt. ¶ 27). He also claims that Cattan was given the interview questions in advance. (DeSantis Stmt. ¶ 27).

         The interview panel chose Fariba Cattan, stating that she was the most qualified for the job and provided the best answers to the interview questions. (DeSantis Stmt. ¶ 16); (Interview Rankings). Cattan had worked as a Principal Accountant in the Cost Accounting & Analysis department since January 2007, had a bachelor's and master's degree in accounting, and held an MBA. (Cattan App.). DeSantis did not complete graduate education. (DeSantis Dep. Tr. 8:14-9:12). Cattan had not previously worked in the Fixed Assets department. (DeSantis Stmt. ¶ 10-12); (Cattan App.).

         Cattan began working as the Manager of Fixed Assets on February 28, 2013. (Desantis Stmt. ¶ 17). DeSantis was very upset that he was not promoted to this position. (DeSantis Stmt. ¶ 22). DeSantis alleges that he was expected to train her and continue performing the responsibilities of the Manager of Fixed Assets. (DeSantis Stmt. ¶ 18). During one meeting on May 29, 2013, DeSantis questioned Cattan's qualifications for the job. (DeSantis Stmt. ¶ 23); (Cattan Email). Wohl and Cattan met with DeSantis to discuss DeSantis's comments. (DeSantis Stmt. ¶ 23). Cattan also sent DeSantis an email stating that she has "experienced a lack of respect and cooperation from [DeSantis] on several occasions" and that DeSantis was "antagonistic, loud, and uncooperative" during the May 29, 2013 meeting. (Cattan Email).

         DeSantis began experiencing more stress at work, which related to being reprimanded. Beginning on July 17, 2013, DeSantis took medical leave because the job-related stress was aggravating his epilepsy. (Palmese Eval.).

         B. Procedural History

         On April 8, 2013, DeSantis sent a letter to the EEOC stating that he wanted to file employment discrimination charges on the basis of age and disability. (EEOC Letter). On July 13, 2013, he filed charges with the EEOC on those same grounds. (EEOC Compl.). The EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter on March 6, 2014.

         On June 3, 2014, DeSantis brought suit in this Court against N.J. Transit and two N.J. Transit employees: Alan Wohl, the Director of Fixed Assets, and Fred D'Ascoli, N.J. Transit's Deputy Chief Financial Officer. (Compl.). The complaint asserted five counts: The First Count alleged that defendants violated the ADEA. The Second Count alleged that defendants violated the ADA. The Third Count alleged harassment and a hostile work environment under the NJLAD. The Fourth Count alleged racial discrimination (stemming from DeSantis's marriage to an African-American woman) in violation of Title VII and the NJLAD. Finally, the Fifth Count alleged First Amendment violations stemming from Cattan's disciplining DeSantis for alleged insubordination.

         The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on June 22, 2014. On April 29, 2015, I dismissed the Third and Fifth Counts, as well as the claims against the individual defendants, Alan Wohl and Fred D'Ascoli. DeSantis v. New Jersey Transit, 103 F.Supp.3d 583 (D.N.J. 2015). DeSantis filed an amended complaint on May 20, 2015. The amended complaint asserts the following claims:

Count I: Age discrimination in violation of the ADEA and NJLAD
Count II: Disability discrimination in violation of the ADA and NJLAD
Count III: Harassment and a hostile work environment under NJLAD
Count IV: Associational race discrimination under Title VII and NJLAD
Count V: Race discrimination in violation of Title VII and NJLAD
Count VI: Aiding and abetting in violation of the NJLAD

(AC). The claims of the amended complaint are asserted against all three defendants: N.J. Transit, Alan Wohl, and Fred D'Ascoli. (AC). DeSantis acknowledges, however, that Alan Wohl and Fred D'Ascoli do not have liability as individuals under Title VII, the ADA, or the ADEA; they can have liability only under NJLAD for "aiding and abetting." (PI. Br. 14). See also DeSantis, 103 F.Supp.3d at 589-90 (discussing individual liability under Title VII, the ADA, the ADEA, and the NJLAD).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment should be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Kreschollek v. S. Stevedoring Co., 223 F.3d 202, 204 (3d Cir. 2000). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Boyle v. County of Allegheny Pennsylvania, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact remains. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). "[W]ith respect to an issue on which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof ... the burden on the moving party may be discharged by 'showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325.

         Once the moving party has met that threshold burden, the non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986). The opposing party must present actual evidence that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) (setting forth types of evidence on which nonmoving party must rely to support its assertion that genuine issues of material fact exist). "[U]nsupported allegations ... and pleadings are insufficient to repel summary judgment." Schoch v. First Fid. Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990); see also Gleason v. Norwest Mortg., Inc., 243 F.3d 130, 138 (3d Cir. 2001) ("A nonmoving party has created a genuine issue of material fact if it has provided sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find in its favor at trial."). If the nonmoving party has failed "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, ... there can be 'no genuine issue of material fact, ' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Katz v. Aetna Cos. 6s Sur. Co., 972 F.2d 53, 55 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23).

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court's role is not to evaluate the evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Credibility determinations are the province of the fact finder. Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992).

         The summary judgment standard, however, does not operate in a vacuum. "[I]n ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the judge must view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254 (1986). That "evidentiary burden" is discussed in the following section.

         III. DISCUSSION

         I find that DeSantis has not presented evidence sufficient to support a jury finding in his favor. The defendants' motion for summary judgment will therefore be granted.

         A. McDonnell Douglas Burden-Shifting Framework

         DeSantis argues that New Jersey Transit discriminatorily failed to promote him based on age, disability, and race. N.J. Transit's actions, he alleges, violated the ADA, ADEA, NJLAD, and Title VII. Because he lacks substantial direct evidence of discriminatory intent (such as statements of bias), he seeks to prove N.J. Transit's discriminatory intent through circumstantial evidence.

         When an employee seeks to prove an employer's discriminatory intent in an adverse employment action through circumstantial evidence, courts evaluate motions for summary judgment under the specialized burden-shifting framework set out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).[2]The McDonnell Douglas test was formulated "to compensate for the fact that direct evidence of intentional discrimination is hard to come by." Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 271 (1989) (O'Connor, J., concurring). This framework is used in Title VII cases, id. (majority opinion), ADA cases, Raytheon Co. v. Hernandez, 540 U.S. 44 (2003), ADEA cases, Smith v. City of Allentown, 589 F.3d 684, 691 (3d Cir. 2009), [3] and NJLAD cases, Bergen Commercial Bank v. Sisler, 723 A.2d 944, 954 (N.J. 1999).[4]

         The McDonnell Douglas analysis is divided into three phases, shuttling the burden between ...


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