Cronin v. Aetna Life Ins. Co.

Decision Date25 January 1995
Docket NumberNo. 587,D,587
Citation46 F.3d 196
Parties66 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1727 James M. CRONIN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. AETNA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee. ocket 94-7419.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit

Lawrence H. Dickson, New Britain, CT (James M. Cronin, filed a brief pro se), argued orally for plaintiff-appellant.

Albert Zakarian, Hartford, CT (Shane T. Munoz, Day, Berry & Howard, on the brief), for defendant-appellee.

Before: FEINBERG, KEARSE, and PRATT, Circuit Judges.

KEARSE, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff James M. Cronin appeals from a final judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, Alan H. Nevas, Judge, dismissing his complaint against his former employer, defendant Aetna Life Insurance Company ("Aetna"), alleging termination of his employment in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 621 et seq. (1988) ("ADEA"), and various state-law claims. The district court granted summary judgment dismissing the ADEA claim on the grounds that (1) Cronin had failed to establish a prima facie case because he produced no evidence that his discharge occurred in circumstances giving rise to an inference of age discrimination, and (2) in any event, he failed to raise any triable issue as to whether the legitimate nondiscriminatory reason articulated by Aetna for his discharge, i.e., that it was part of a reorganization of its operations and reduction in its workforce, was merely a pretext for discrimination. The court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Cronin's state-law claims. On appeal, Cronin contends that summary judgment dismissing the ADEA claim was inappropriate because there were genuine issues of material fact to be tried. We agree, and we therefore vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

The basic sequence of events does not appear to be in dispute. Until early 1990, Cronin had been employed by Aetna for some 33 years in various managerial positions. He was consistently given good performance ratings and was awarded a merit bonus each time he was eligible. In 1989, Cronin, then age 56, worked in Aetna's Personal Financial Security Division ("PFSD"), where he was Administrator of Strategic Automation Planning for the Northeast Region.

In December 1989, Aetna announced a reorganization of PFSD that was to eliminate 71 jobs, including Cronin's. Aetna represented that it would attempt to find new positions for employees displaced by the reorganization. These attempts used a two-step procedure. After reviewing prior performance evaluations and "Competency Assessment Forms" summarizing the skills of the employees whose PFSD jobs were eliminated, the Aetna Human Resources Department ("HRD") selected, or "surfaced," a pool of several candidates for each available position. Each pool of candidates was considered by the Aetna manager responsible for supervising the position to be filled, and the individual managers, conducting interviews as they deemed necessary, then made the final hiring decisions. Aetna "surfaced" Cronin's name for several positions, but he was not offered any of them, and his employment with Aetna was terminated in 1990.

After unsuccessfully pursuing administrative remedies before the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ("CCHRO"), Cronin commenced the present action in 1991. The complaint alleged that Cronin had never received a job-performance evaluation of less than "meeting" or "exceeding" requirements and that there were many positions for which he was at least as well qualified as the employees Aetna surfaced for or placed in those positions. Cronin asserted that Aetna had discharged him because of his age and seniority, in violation of the ADEA. Following a period of discovery, Aetna moved for summary judgment on the grounds that there were no facts showing or giving rise to an inference of discrimination against Cronin on the basis of his age, that its reorganization was a legitimate business reason for the termination of Cronin's employment, and that there was no evidence that the reorganization was a pretext for age discrimination.

In response to Aetna's motion, Cronin submitted his own affidavit and numerous Aetna documents. Cronin stated that his responsibilities with Aetna during his 33 years of employment included expense management, financial analysis and planning, setting and enforcing budgets, improvement of hiring and training techniques, and coordinating automation systems. In October 1989, just two months before announcing the reorganization, Aetna had circulated a memorandum to the management team for the northeast region praising Cronin's "varied talents" and his contribution in "meeting multiple regional needs." (Interoffice Memorandum from Senior Administrator to Northeast Region Management Team dated October 16, 1989.) At the time of the reorganization, Cronin's current job-performance evaluation was that he was "exceeding requirements" (Aetna Competency Assessment Form for Cronin dated November 16, 1989); his supervisor stated, " 'Jim's background, skills, and knowledge would be applicable to the position of Branch Administration Manager or any administrative position requiring communication, budgeting and monitoring skills.' " (Affidavit of James M. Cronin dated July 30, 1993 ("Cronin Aff."), pp 5, 13 (quoting March 1, 1989 Aetna Development Review).)

After the reorganization was announced, Cronin took steps to ensure that he would be considered for any position for which he was qualified, speaking to his immediate superior, as well as to PFSD's president and the head of HRD, and informing them that he was willing to relocate or even to accept a lower position in order to remain with Aetna. Notwithstanding Cronin's efforts and his employment history, Cronin "was not interviewed or even contacted by anyone concerning a possible position." (Cronin Aff. p 10.) Despite his efforts and his supervisor's evaluation that he had the knowledge, background, and skills to be a branch administration manager or to hold " 'any administrative position requiring communication, budgeting and monitoring skills,' " Aetna surfaced Cronin's name principally for positions requiring underwriting and computer programming expertise. Cronin later discovered that his name had not even been surfaced by Aetna for many positions for which he believed he was plainly qualified. Cronin's affidavit listed eight such positions that he considered illustrative, including the Administrator of Planning or Budget Consultant positions for the Field Planning and Administration Section of either the Northeast Region or the Western Region, as well as various positions as administrator for agent services, annuity and pension administration, or "reporting/control." (Cronin Aff. p 14.)

With respect to the eight positions he listed in his affidavit, Cronin submitted a number of Aetna's employee evaluation documents, which had been submitted by Aetna during the CCHRO proceedings and were later furnished by CCHRO to Cronin, with respect to employees whose names Aetna had surfaced for consideration, including the employees placed in those positions. In the letter accompanying its submission of those documents to CCHRO, Aetna stated that it had relied on the "competency assessment sheets and performance appraisals" in selecting candidates for surfacing; it mentioned no other basis for its decisions. (Aetna letter to CCHRO dated January 10, 1991.) Cronin pointed out that these documents showed that whereas he had been rated as "exceeding" requirements, 60% of the individuals Aetna had recommended for consideration had been rated only as "meeting" requirements (Cronin Aff. p 19), and that the average age of this group of employees was 23 years younger than Cronin, i.e., age 33. As to the eight employees hired for those positions, the Aetna documents submitted by Cronin indicated that they were 11-33 years younger than Cronin and had worked for Aetna 12-30 years less than Cronin. A partial list showed:

Employee Years Younger Years Fewer

Placed Than Cronin With Aetna

Marcia Kuck 15 16

Marylee Riccio 24 22

Chantel DeMontigny 33 27

Bonnie Lodovico 23 20

Robert Prokopowicz 11 12

Valeria Harris 30 30

Lisa Donato 26 23

Cronin argued that Aetna offered little explanation for why younger employees were favored except the talismanic phrases "reduction in force" and "business judgment." He contended that specific rationales Aetna had proffered to CCHRO were belied by the documentary evidence. For example, Cronin noted that Aetna claimed to have selected Kuck for her new position because of her background in "Marketing Services" (see Aetna January 10, 1991 letter to CCHRO), but that "Marketing Services" was not one of the areas that Aetna had listed as material to that position. Cronin also noted that DeMontigny had been placed in a Budget Consultant position that required her to "actually develop[ ]" branch and home-office budgets in accordance with business plans, a task that Cronin had been doing for his entire career; DeMontigny was given this position despite having only 11 months' experience in the company other than as a secretary, despite postsecretarial experience that consisted only of preparing reports that compared actual expenses against budgets that had been estimated and established by someone else, and despite having received a corporate evaluation that she had "not a lot of financial background." (Cronin Aff. p 23 (emphases and internal quotes omitted).)

At oral argument of Aetna's summary judgment motion, the district court asked Aetna to provide the court with statistics as to how Aetna's older employees had fared as a group in the reorganization. Thereafter, Aetna produced an unsworn memorandum ("Aetna Supplemental Memorandum") disputing the statistics relied on by Cronin and stating that "older individuals...

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