Stratton v. Department for the Aging for City of New York

Decision Date16 October 1997
Docket NumberNo. 1616,D,1616
Citation132 F.3d 869
Parties77 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 503, 72 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 45,145 Joyce STRATTON, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. The DEPARTMENT FOR THE AGING FOR THE CITY OF NEW YORK, The City of New York, and Prema Mathai-Davis, Defendants-Appellants. ocket 96-9064.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit

Jeffrey C. Slade, New York City (Andrew D. Herz, Leventhal & Slade, Mark J. Stratton, on the brief), for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Jane L. Gordon, Assistant Corporation Counsel, New York City (Paul A. Crotty, Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, Barry P. Schwartz, Assistant Corporation Counsel, on the brief), for Defendants-Appellants.

Before: WALKER, McLAUGHLIN, Circuit Judges, and CHIN, District Judge. *

CHIN, District Judge.

In this case, a 61-year old employee of the Department for the Aging for the City of New York ("DFTA") was discharged after some 21 years of service. She brought this action against DFTA and its Commissioner, alleging age discrimination and retaliation. After a five-day trial, a jury concluded that defendants had unlawfully and wilfully discriminated and retaliated against her. Judgment was entered in her favor in the amount of $1,559,359.01. Defendants appealed. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

A. The Facts
1. The Parties

Defendant-appellant DFTA was created in 1968 and was initially known as the "Mayor's Office for the Aging." It is the city agency responsible for promoting and coordinating services for the elderly. It provides a broad range of services, primarily through contracts with non-profit organizations. It also engages in advocacy and policy analysis.

Defendant-appellant Prema Mathai-Davis ("Mathai-Davis") was appointed Commissioner of DFTA in January 1990, when she was 39 years old. She replaced Janet Sainer, the former Commissioner, who was then 71 years old.

Plaintiff-appellee Joyce Stratton ("Stratton") was employed at DFTA from January 5, 1970 through February 21, 1991, when she was discharged. At the time, she was 61 years old.

2. Stratton's Employment with DFTA

For most of her 21 years at DFTA, 1 Stratton was the director of the Central Information and Referral Bureau ("Central I & R"), which was responsible for providing a wide array of information about and services for the elderly. For example, Central I & R distributed different technical directories and pamphlets to 2,600 agencies, which explained government programs and benefits available to the elderly. One witness at trial described Central I & R as "the front line to the very poorest and most frail in the city."

Throughout her employment with DFTA, Stratton received very favorable performance evaluations. From 1981 until the appointment of Mathai-Davis as Commissioner, Stratton consistently received performance ratings of "outstanding" or "very good," the two highest possible ratings. Her supervisor for the period from 1982 through late 1989, Marcia Stein, testified that a "very good" rating was "above the median." She also testified that Stratton had an "expertise" in the area of benefits and entitlements that "very few of us had" as well as a "passion for the poor elderly that ... fueled her in advocating for them." In August 1990, Stratton received an award from the Regional Commissioner of the Social Security Administration for her work on a Supplemental Security Income outreach program.

When Mathai-Davis took over as commissioner, Stein, who was then 51 years old, was replaced by 39-year old Lorraine Cortez-Vasquez. A number of other changes in DFTA followed as it was reorganized. Certain of these changes were reflected in DFTA's organizational charts. The average age of the individuals listed on the organizational chart as of January 31, 1990, when Mathai-Davis took over as Commissioner for Sainer, was 50.3, while the average age for the individuals on the April 30, 1991 chart was 45.9.

As part of the changes, DFTA also shifted certain of Central I & R's functions to the field offices. After considering different options, DFTA decided to retain Stratton as Director of the reorganized Central I & R. Implementation of the "decentralization" of Central I & R was commenced, but before the process was completed, the City's "fiscal crisis" and resultant "budget cuts intervened."

After Mathai-Davis took over as Commissioner, the manner in which Stratton was treated by her supervisors changed. She was told not to send out certain publications

that she had distributed for many years. She was told not to participate on task forces and committees that she had previously served on. She was not consulted about the organizational changes that were being made in DFTA, including changes to her bureau. She was not invited to the new Commissioner's retreat for senior staff in the spring of 1990, held "to restate the mission and set objectives for the coming years," even though she had been invited to the prior retreat when Sainer was appointed Commissioner, and even though she was considered senior staff and was the head of a unit. Cortez-Vasquez held closed door meetings with Stratton's staff without her knowledge. Stratton's secretary, administrative assistant, and technical writer were taken away. Parts of her bureau were taken away. Caseworkers whom she had been supervising were reassigned to offices in other boroughs as well as to a newly-created "Manhattan field office," located within Central I & R's offices. And in her first performance evaluation after Mathai-Davis and Cortez-Vasquez took over, Stratton's overall rating was lowered to "good"--the first time that she had ever received an overall rating of less than "very good."

3. Stratton's Dismissal

Because of the "budget crisis," DFTA laid off 36 employees in February of 1991. Stratton was one of them. Management did not, however, consult Stratton about any of the changes, even though she was the Director of Central I & R and had been at DFTA some 21 years. DFTA decided to eliminate Stratton's position purportedly because it would be difficult, with the planned reductions in staff, to justify having a manager at her level. As Ted Taberski, DFTA's Director of Administration and Budget, testified at trial, "the [D]epartment didn't see a role that [Stratton] would be suited for of those that were available."

When Stratton learned that she was going to be discharged, she sought the assistance of Mary Mayer, DFTA's director of research. She asked Mayer to speak to the Commissioner on her behalf and asked Mayer to specifically mention her age because she was concerned about the impact dismissal would have on her pension. In a later conversation, Mayer told Stratton that she had spoken to the Commissioner and had specifically mentioned Stratton's age. According to Mayer, the Commissioner responded: " 'What about young mothers who are being fired?' "

Before her employment was actually terminated, Stratton retained counsel who met with DFTA in an effort to prevent her dismissal. Stratton's counsel raised the issue of age discrimination as well as Stratton's concerns about the impact termination would have on her pension. Stratton's counsel discussed with representatives of DFTA the possibility of finding Stratton another job. 2 Stratton herself spoke directly to a number of people, and "begged [them] to intervene" in an effort to keep her job or to find another one.

Although DFTA contended that there was no longer a need for Stratton as a manager because of the purported staff reductions, in fact there continued to be a need for supervision in Central I & R. As city-funded workers in Central I & R were laid off, they were replaced by federally-funded "Title V" workers who needed supervision. Just a few days after Stratton was laid off, her duties were taken over on a part-time basis by Kitty Williston, who was almost 13 years her junior. Williston was given the title of Acting At some point in 1991, DFTA started looking for a full-time supervisor of Central I & R. In early 1992, DFTA filled the position with Jean McEwan, who was some 26 years younger than Stratton. McEwan had been employed by DFTA as a Community Coordinator for some three years when she was laid off in 1991, and had had no prior experience in Central I & R. Stratton was never contacted or interviewed for the job.

Director of Central I & R; she sat at Stratton's old desk; and she supervised 17 people (including 11 federally-funded Title V workers). Central I & R continued to be "busy" and its staffing subsequently was increased by an additional three persons.

Eventually, DFTA "recalled quite a number of [employees]" who had been laid off; all of the community associates and community coordinators who had been laid off were recalled. These were "noncompetitive" employees who were given the opportunity to be rehired and two were actually rehired. Stratton participated in a program for laid-off employees at the City's Redeployment Center. According to testimony from Sarah Rosenfeld, DFTA's Director of Personnel and Labor Relations, the Redeployment Center would send out referrals for former staff they felt might be qualified for vacant positions. Rosenfeld acknowledged that referrals "were supposed to receive consideration before anybody else" and that Stratton had been referred for some vacancies. Stratton was not, however, "called back" for an interview for any position within DFTA. She received only one call from the Redeployment Center for an interview, which was for a position with another agency working with 14-21 year-olds who had committed violent crimes. She interviewed for the position but did not get the job. She was never offered an alternative position within DFTA.

In May 1991, Stratton filed a charge of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She commenced this lawsuit on October 2, 1991.

4. Stratton's Application for the...

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