Mete v. New York State O.M.R.D.D.

Decision Date06 November 1997
Docket NumberNo. 92-CV-169 NPM.,92-CV-169 NPM.
Citation984 F.Supp. 125
PartiesJohn L. METE and Merrill J. Gottlieb, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF MENTAL RETARDATION AND DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES and New York State Department of Civil Service, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of New York

Beckman, and Jill Schwartz, of counsel), New York City, for Plaintiffs.

Dennis C. Vacco, Attorney General of the State of New York, (Robert A. Siegfried, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel), Albany, NY, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION & ORDER

McCURN, Senior District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

In this class action suit, plaintiffs allege that defendants New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities ("OMRDD") and New York State Department of Civil Service ("DCS") (collectively "defendants") discriminated against them on the basis of their age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 ("ADEA" or the "Act"), and the New York Human Rights Law, New York Executive Law §§ 290-298 (the "HRL"). Jurisdiction is premised upon 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 & 1367(a) and venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). Presently before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Subsequent to the filing of this motion, the court, sua sponte, raised the issue of its subject matter jurisdiction to entertain this action. See, e.g., Transatlantic Marine Claims Agency, Inc. v. Ace Shipping Corp., 109 F.3d 105, 107 (2d Cir.1997) (a challenge to subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived and may be raised sua sponte at any time); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). The court raised the issue of its subject matter jurisdiction as a result of the Supreme Court's decision in Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 116 S.Ct. 1114, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996) ("Seminole Tribe"), which called into question whether Congress abrogated the states' Eleventh Amendment immunity pursuant to a legitimate exercise of power when enacting or amending legislation such as the ADEA. See Seminole Tribe, 517 U.S. at 74, 116 S.Ct. at 1133 (Court held suit was barred by the Eleventh Amendment and therefore must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction). The parties submitted supplemental briefs addressing this issue. Having considered the arguments of the parties and the relevant law, the court concludes that it maintains subject matter jurisdiction to consider the merits of plaintiffs' claims pursuant to the ADEA. With respect to plaintiffs' state law claims, however, the court concludes that it does not maintain subject matter jurisdiction. In addition, having reached the merits of defendants' summary judgement motion pursuant to the ADEA, the court denies the motion for the reasons set forth herein.

II. FACTS

In 1989, defendant OMRDD undertook a staff reduction-in-force ("RIF"). See Affidavit of Arthur Y. Webb, attached to docket document number ("Dkt.") 36, ("Webb Aff.") at ¶¶ 6-7. The RIF included, inter alia, the elimination of the Chiefs of Service ("Chiefs"), an entire level of management at OMRDD. See id. at ¶¶ 6, 11. The RIF, according to defendants, was precipitated by New York State's severe budgetary crisis during fiscal year 1989-1990. Id. at ¶¶ 2-4. As a result of the RIF, all 46 Chiefs, each one of whom was over the age of 40, were terminated, demoted, forced to retire, or resigned from their employment. See Joint Affidavit of John L. Mete and Merrill J. Gottlieb, Dkt. 46, ("Mete and Gottlieb Aff.") at ¶ 13; Affidavit of Robert A. Siegfried, Dkt. 52, ("Siegfried Aff.") at exhibit "A." The Chiefs who continued employment with OMRDD were demoted with a corresponding diminution of salary and responsibility. See Mete and Gottlieb Aff. at ¶¶ 13-14.

In addition to eliminating the Chiefs, the RIF affected other employees as well. See Webb Aff. at ¶ 10; Mete and Gottlieb Aff. at ¶ 15. However, the Chiefs were the only management level employees at OMRDD who were targeted for total elimination. See Mete and Gottlieb Aff. at ¶ 15. There were a total of 163 employees affected by the RIF and 122, or 74.8%, were over the age of 40. See Affidavit of David F. Greenberg, PhD., Dkt. 46, ("Greenberg Aff.") at ¶ 3. OMRDD's over age 40 employee population at the time of the RIF, however, was 46.5%. See Mete and Gottlieb Aff. at ¶ 15; Greenberg Aft. at ¶¶ 5-6.

Defendants assert that the decision to eliminate the Chiefs arises from as far back as a 1981 task force study. Plaintiffs counter that defendants are attempting to ride the coattails of prior documentation by rewriting its significance to the RIF and further, dispute defendants' interpretation of the study. See Mete and Gottlieb Aff. at ¶ 24. The task force, which was comprised of members from OMRDD, DCS and the Division of Budget, concluded that the Chiefs appeared to have inappropriate and inadequate responsibilities, functions and workloads for their level of compensation. See Affidavit of William McChesney, Dkt. 36, ("McChesney Aff.") at ¶¶ 2-7, 15. The task force recommended that the Chiefs' positions and compensation be altered to better reflect their responsibilities. See Id. at ¶¶ 23-24.

In 1985, after years of deliberations, DCS approved the recommendations of the task force and created the new title of "Developmental Service Manager" to replace the title of Chief. See Affidavit of Barbara A. Hawes, attached to Dkt. 36, ("Hawes Aff.") at ¶ 3. The Developmental Service Manager performed the identical functions of the Chiefs. See Mete and Gottlieb Aff. at ¶ 10 fn. 1. The Chiefs' positions were then earmarked by the Division of Budget and DCS. See id. The effect of the earmark was that no vacated Chief position could be filled without first being reclassified. See id.

In 1989, the State of New York experienced a severe financial crisis. See Webb Aff. at ¶ 2. This crisis, according to defendants, necessitated that the RIF be implemented. See id.; Hawes Aff. at ¶ 6. According to Commissioner Webb, three general objectives were followed when selecting the positions that would be affected by the RIF: (1) enhance the overall efficiency of OMRDD; (2) reduce the number of unnecessary positions and functions; and (3) match up available resources with consumer needs. See Webb Aff. at ¶ 5.

After consulting with senior staff members and directors of the various developmental disabilities offices ("Directors"), and in consideration of the organizational restructuring of OMRDD, Commissioner Webb determined that the Chiefs should be eliminated as part of the RIF. See id. at ¶¶ 6, 10-11. The decision to eliminate the Chiefs was, according to defendants, made pursuant to an agency-wide assessment which concluded that the Chiefs' functions were outmoded and incompatible with OMRDD's future plans. See id.

The individuals who participated in the RIF and its implementation were: Arthur Y. Webb, OMRDD's Commissioner at the time of the RIF; Elin M. Howe, then Executive Deputy Commissioner; Barbara Hawes, Deputy Commissioner for Program Operations; and Thomas A. Maul, Deputy Commissioner for Administration and Revenue Management. See Webb Aff. at ¶ 6; Hawes Aff. at ¶ 6; Defendants' Reply Memorandum, Dkt. 51, ("Def. Reply Mem.") at 6. The development and implementation of the RIF also involved the Director where each Chief was employed. See Webb Aff. at ¶ 6.

Prior to the RIF, no study was conducted to determine the impact on over age 40 employees. See Webb Aff. at ¶¶ 12-13; Mete and Gottlieb Aff. at ¶ 16(b) and (c). In addition, there were no guidelines advanced to ensure that age was not a determining factor in selecting which employees would be affected by the RIF. See id. After the RIF, the functions and duties of the Chiefs were either redistributed at the discretion of each Director among the existing OMRDD employees or, if outmoded, their functions and duties were eliminated. See Hawes Aff. at ¶¶ 5-6; Mete and Gottlieb Aff. at ¶ 17.

III. DISCUSSION

Before reaching the merits of defendants' motion, the court must address its subject matter jurisdiction. The court's jurisdiction ultimately turns on whether defendants enjoy immunity pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. See, e.g., Seminole Tribe, 517 U.S. at 74, 116 S.Ct. at 1133.

A. Jurisdiction and the Eleventh Amendment
1. Federal Law Claims

The Eleventh Amendment provides:

The Judicial Power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

U.S. Const. amend. XI. While the literal text of the Amendment only seems to divest federal courts of jurisdiction in diversity cases, the Supreme Court has interpreted this Amendment to also preclude federal courts from hearing cases against a state by its own citizens. See Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 13, 10 S.Ct. 504, 506, 33 L.Ed. 842 (1890); see also Blatchford v. Native Village of Noatak, 501 U.S. 775, 779, 111 S.Ct. 2578, 2581, 115 L.Ed.2d 686 (1991). The Amendment applies with equal force to agencies and subdivisions of the states inasmuch as the state is the real party in interest. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 101, 104 S.Ct. 900, 908, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984).1 Thus, as a general rule, the Eleventh Amendment provides that a state is immune from suit in federal court.2

This general rule does not mean, however, that a state may never be sued in federal court. A state may consent to jurisdiction or waive its immunity by "express language" or by "overwhelming implication." See Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 673, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 1361, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974). Additionally, Co...

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