Retaliation Claim, Based on Complaints of Age Discrimination, Survives Summary Judgment

In Downey v. Monro, Inc., 1:20-CV-1505 (TJM/ML), 2022 WL 17093421 (N.D.N.Y. Nov. 21, 2022), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claim of retaliation.

On the issue of pretext, the court explained:

Here, Defendant argues that none of the decisionmakers regarding Plaintiff’s termination were aware of any age-based comments that Ring alleged made when their investigation into his conduct began, and that Plaintiff can offer only conclusory and unsupported accusations of pretext. Plaintiff responds that questions of fact exist over whether Plaintiff was fired for falsifying company records. He argues that questions exist over whether he actually falsified records, whether Tripoli and Stefanelli conducted a proper investigation, and whether they coerced statements from workers who later retracted them. He complains that they failed to take a statement from Don Durkin, who had also reported on Meher’s attendance issues, and from Mike Kinns, a store manager who signed the attendance reports allegedly in contention. Plaintiff also points to the disputes about whether Tripoli and Stefanelli had been apprised of Plaintiff’s email about Ring. Plaintiff also points to the temporal proximity between his firing and his complaint as evidence to support pretext.

The question, then, is whether Plaintiff has put forth sufficient evidence for a reasonable juror to conclude that retaliation was the but-for cause of his termination, and that his alleged misconduct surrounding Meher’s complaint of sexual harassment was mere pretext for Defendant’s real motivation. As explained above, Stefanelli and Tripoli gathered evidence that indicated that, when confronted with a complaint of sexual harassment from one of his employees, Plaintiff did not address the accusation with any discipline, but instead enlisted other employees in an effort to create a poor work history for the accuser that would justify her firing. Plaintiff points to evidence that he claims indicates that Stefanelli and Tripoli pressured one employee into making false statements, which she later recanted. He also contends that the evidence they conducted was not sufficient to gather all of the facts.

As explained, Plaintiff must point to evidence of record that indicates “weaknesses, implausibilities, or contradictions in the employer’s proffered, legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for its actions” sufficient for a reasonable juror to find pretext if Plaintiff hopes to avoid summary judgement. Kawn, 737 F.3d at 846. The Courts finds that Plaintiff has–barely–produced such evidence. As explained above, there is evidence from Simons that her statements to Stefanelli and Tripoli regarding Plaintiff’s alleged directions to create false records about Meher came only because of pressure from those two. If a juror believed this testimony, that juror might also reasonably believe that Stefanelli and Tripoli acted not because their investigation had revealed misconduct, but because of an attempt to manufacture a reason to terminate Plaintiff. As their recommendation for termination came after evidence indicates that Plaintiff made them aware of his complaints against Ring for age discrimination, a reasonable juror could conclude that the reason that the but-for cause of Plaintiff’s termination was his complaints about age discrimination. The Court will therefore deny the motion with respect to this claim.

The court did, however, grant defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s retaliation claims arising from complaints of disability- and sex-based discrimination.

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