A federal judge in the District of Connecticut has a granted a town’s motion for summary judgment, effectively dismissing a claim of age discrimination brought by a golf professional whose contract was not renewed.
Central to the ruling was the fact that the golf pro, who replaced the plaintiff, was younger and received twice the base salary of the plaintiff.
The impetus for the litigation may have been a decision by the Town of Trumbull’s golf commission to put the job of the plaintiff, Walter A. Bogues, out to bid. Bogues, who was 55, had been a golf pro at the municipal golf course for 26 years. Commission members testified that they had expressed dissatisfaction to Bogues about his performance.
Nevertheless, one member wrote a letter to Bogues on behalf of the commission in which he “strongly encourage(d)” him “to bid on this position.” The letter further noted that the Commission wanted “to give you [Bogues] adequate notice that we are not planning to automatically renew your contract … this will allow you additional time to put your bid together and address any questions the Commission may have with present operations.”
Bogues, who did not believe the sentiment expressed in the letter, sold his home in Connecticut and relocated to Arizona, where he accepted a new position as a golf pro.
Thus, the commission hired another pro, who was 39, and paid him $60,000 a year.
Bogues sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621, et. seq.
Turning to the motion for summary judgment, the court noted that in evaluating an ADEA claim, a court must confirm that a plaintiff is an employee and, second, whether he or she has suffered an adverse employment action because of his age.
The commission cited numerous factors underpinning the conclusion that Bogues was an employee. Bogues then had to make out a prima facie case of discrimination (McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-03, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973)), which he has accomplished, according to the court.
The court added that “the burden then shifts to the defendant employer to proffer a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its actions. Id.”
Mirroring the facts in the instant case, “an employer’s dissatisfaction with the quality of an employee’s work is a legitimate non-discriminatory reason. Slattery v. Swiss Reinsurance Am. Corp., 248 F.3d 87, 92 (2d Cir. 2001).”
Thus, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff “to prove that the proffered nondiscriminatory reason was pretextual, and that the defendant discriminated against him because of age. Id.”
The court honed in on the aforementioned salary issue.
“One possible factor in determining pretext is the employee’s salary as it relates to an employee’s age. Bay v. Times Mirror Magazines, Inc., 936 F.2d 112, 117 (2d Cir. 1991). However, no inference of discrimination may be drawn if younger workers are paid more than their older colleagues based on market forces or job performance. Rosen v. Feldman, 101 F.3d 108 (2d Cir. 1996) (unpublished). Here, plaintiff has shown that Samson, his younger replacement, was paid $ 60,000, or more than twice the salary Bogues received. However, Bogues has not shown that anything other than job performance or market forces were responsible for the pay differential. The record is entirely devoid of any evidence concerning the Commission’s decision setting the amount of Samson’s salary. The only evidence, as discussed further below, is that the Commissioners apparently were dissatisfied with certain aspects of Bogues’ job performance.
“If a younger replacement had been paid less than Bogues, rather than more, it is conceivable that an inference of discrimination could be drawn on the theory that an employer’s desire to cut costs was tied to the fact that older employees generally make more money. Cf. Bay, 936 F.2d at 117. This case presents the opposite factual scenario, however, and the record contains no evidence from which a jury could infer that discrimination was the motive for the salary difference between Bogues and Samson.
“In the end, Bogues cannot establish that his termination was a pretext for age discrimination because the record does not show that any member of the Golf Commission ever alluded to, commented on, or was motivated to act on the basis of age.”
Walter A. Bogues v. Town of Trumbull; D.Conn.; Civil No. 3:03cv2205 (JBA); 8/18/05.
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Neal Patrick Rogan of Depanfilis & Vallerie in Norwalk, CT. (for defendant) Arthur C. Laske, III, City of Bridgeport, Office of the City Attorney, Bridgeport, CT.