Libront v. Columbus McKinnon Corp.

Decision Date12 March 1993
Docket NumberNo. 83-CV-858S.,83-CV-858S.
Citation832 F. Supp. 597
PartiesJan LIBRONT, et al., Plaintiffs, v. COLUMBUS McKINNON CORP., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of New York

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Willard M. Pottle, Jr., Buffalo, NY, for plaintiffs.

Robert A. Doren, Flaherty, Cohen, Grande, Randazzo & Doren, Buffalo, NY (Steven R. Wall and Eric A. Tilles, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, of counsel), Philadelphia, PA, for defendant.

                                       TABLE OF CONTENTS
                INTRODUCTION ......................................................... 603
                FACTS ................................................................ 605
                DISCUSSION ........................................................... 607
                     DEFENDANT'S OBJECTIONS TO DR. REIBER'S TESTIMONY ................ 607
                     DEFENDANT'S MOTIONS FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW               609
                         Judgment as a Matter of Law on Disparate Impact Claim ....... 609
                         Judgment as a Matter of Law on Pattern or Practice Claim .... 618
                     PLAINTIFFS' INDIVIDUAL CLAIMS ................................... 623
                         Willfulness ................................................. 623
                         Plaintiffs' Individual Claims ............................... 626
                         Plaintiff Jean Barnes ....................................... 627
                         Plaintiff Dale Habicht ...................................... 628
                         Plaintiff Edmund Koval ...................................... 629
                         Plaintiff Kenneth Kreutzer .................................. 629
                         Plaintiff Stuart Larkey ..................................... 630
                         Plaintiff Jan Libront ....................................... 630
                         Plaintiff Vivian Nowark ..................................... 633
                         Plaintiff Lois Quesnell ..................................... 633
                         Plaintiff Chester Suits ..................................... 635
                         Plaintiff Cecil Taylor, Jr. ................................. 635
                CONCLUSION ........................................................... 636
                ORDER ................................................................ 636
                

DECISION AND ORDER1

SKRETNY, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Presently before this Court are the following motions of defendant Columbus McKinnon Corporation: (1) defendant's motion to preclude the testimony of plaintiffs' expert witness, Dr. Ronald Reiber; and (2) defendant's motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a) for judgment as a matter of law in its favor on the issues of (a) the voluntariness, coerciveness or subterfugal nature of the early retirement and enhanced early severance packages, (b) plaintiffs' disparate impact claim, (c) the individual claims of plaintiffs Riggie, Andrews, Kennedy, Salefske, and Wik, (d) plaintiffs' pattern or practice claim, and (e) the individual claims of the remaining twenty-three plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs have filed a complaint seeking damages, alleging that they were terminated from defendant corporation on the basis of their age, in willful violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634. This Court has federal question jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The present motions were made during trial, at the close of plaintiff's direct case.

Plaintiffs allege that defendant unlawfully terminated their employment during the period of July 1, 1982 to August 3, 1983. Plaintiffs allege that they were terminated by various means: (1) an early retirement plan offered in July 1982; (2) an early retirement plan offered in April 1983; (3) an enhanced severance package offered in January 1983;2 (4) an involuntary reduction in force in July 1982; and (5) an involuntary reduction in force in January 1983. Plaintiffs, who were all age 40 or older at the time of their terminations, contend that they were singled out for termination on the basis of their age, and that defendant willfully violated the ADEA. Although plaintiffs recognize that during the relevant period the ADEA specifically exempted employee benefit plans (e.g., early retirement and enhanced severance packages) from its coverage, they claim that those who opted for such packages did so involuntarily and were coerced by threats of layoff.

Plaintiffs rely on three theories of liability. First, they allege that defendant's activities, when considered together, had a disparate impact on workers over the age of 40. In other words, they claim that a disproportionately large number of older workers were terminated, compared to younger workers. Second, plaintiffs contend that defendant engaged in a pattern or practice of intentional age discrimination. They argue that this entitles each individual plaintiff to a presumption that his or her termination was precipitated by unlawful motives. Finally, each plaintiff asserts an individualized claim of age discrimination. Each plaintiff claims that he or she has raised an inference that his or her termination was motivated by age, requiring defendant to articulate a lawful and legitimate reason for the termination.

On the other hand, defendant maintains that plaintiffs' ages were not improperly considered in connection with its employment decisions. It contends that these decisions were motivated solely by severe economic conditions, and the need to reduce operating costs. Defendant argues that, in fact, a disproportionately low number of older workers were terminated through layoffs, and that plaintiffs were in no way coerced into accepting early retirement or enhanced severance packages. Defendant insists that although certain plaintiffs may have been advised that they could ultimately be laid off if they refused such a package, these plaintiffs were put in no worse a situation than younger workers. Furthermore, defendant argues that it never used the possibility of layoff as an ultimatum to coerce a plaintiff into accepting any of these packages.

Trial commenced on January 4, 1993, and each plaintiff testified, with the exceptions of plaintiffs Carere and Kreutzer, who passed away prior to trial. Furthermore, a number of defendant's corporate executives were called and testified as plaintiffs' witnesses. Near the end of plaintiffs' case, plaintiffs' counsel indicated that plaintiffs' final witness would be Dr. Ronald Reiber. Dr. Reiber's testimony would be based on statistics he prepared indicating that, when the layoffs, early retirements, and enhanced early severances were considered together, a disproportionately large number of older workers were terminated by defendant. Plaintiffs intended to use this testimony to prove their disparate impact claim of age discrimination. At that point, defendant made the present motion to preclude the testimony of Dr. Reiber, arguing that his statistics were not relevant because they included the early retirement and enhanced early severance packages, which were sanctioned by the ADEA during the relevant period. Similarly, defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law on the issue of whether plaintiffs Riggie, Andrews, Kennedy, Salefske, and Wik were coerced into accepting early retirement or enhanced early severance, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). On the same basis, defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law on plaintiffs' pattern or practice claim, and on the individual claims of those five plaintiffs. Extensive oral argument on these motions was heard on February 19, 1993, which included an offer of proof regarding the admissibility of Dr. Reiber's testimony.

Plaintiffs formally rested on February 24, 1993. Defendant immediately moved for judgment as a matter of law on plaintiffs' disparate impact claim, as well as the individual claims of the twenty-three remaining plaintiffs. Extensive oral argument on these motions was heard on February 26 and March 1, 1983.

After reviewing all the evidence presented at trial, this Court holds that the testimony of Dr. Reiber is not relevant under Fed. R.Evid. 402 because plaintiffs have failed to raise an inference that the early retirement or enhanced early severance packages were subterfuges to evade the purposes of the ADEA, that the plaintiffs were constructively discharged, or that the packages were involuntary or coercive. Therefore, defendant's motion to preclude Dr. Reiber's testimony will be granted. For the same reason, defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law on plaintiffs' disparate impact claim will be granted. Defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law on the claims of Riggie, Andrews, Kennedy, Salefske, and Wik will be granted. Finally, defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law on plaintiffs' pattern or practice claim, and on the individual claims of each of the remaining twenty-three plaintiffs will be granted.

FACTS3

Defendant Columbus McKinnon Corp. is a New York corporation with its headquarters in Amherst, New York. During the period relevant to this lawsuit, defendant was engaged in the manufacture of hoists, chains, and forgings. Its facilities included plants located in Tonawanda, New York; Abingdon, Virginia; Damascus, Virginia; and Manatee, Florida. During the relevant period, plaintiffs were employed at corporate headquarters or at one of these facilities.

During the early 1980's defendant experienced a significant economic decline. Its financial reports indicate that its net domestic income declined over 70% during the fiscal years ending in March 1980 and March 1982 (exh. 741a). Defendant's net sales decreased by $33.3 million over the next fiscal year (exh. 741b), and defendant suffered a record loss of $4.7 million (exh. 741a). In response to these conditions, defendant adopted a number of cost saving measures, including a reduction in capital expenditures, salary reductions for all executive personnel, the closure of sales offices, and hiring freezes.

Defendant also undertook the...

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