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Jardin v. CoxCom, LLC

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

July 30, 2018

MICHAEL JARDIN, Plaintiff,
v.
COXCOM, LLC d/b/a COX COMMUNICATIONS NEW ENGLAND, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN J. MCCONNELL, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Michael Jardin sued his former employer Defendant CoxCom, LLC d/b/a Cox Communications New England ("Cox") for age-based employment discrimination. Before the Court is Cox's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 11. Because the Court finds that the material facts are not in dispute, summary judgment is appropriate. Those undisputed facts, interpreted through the law of age discrimination, are in Cox's favor; as such, the Court GRANTS Cox's motion.

         I. FACTS

         Mr. Jardin drove a Cox-branded vehicle as a facilities technician, performing maintenance work inside and outside the company from 1996 until 2015. During the course of his employment, Mr. Jardin maintained satisfactory standing and Cox never reprimanded him for any misconduct. On July 9, 2015, Cox terminated him for egregious misconduct as set forth in Cox's Corrective Action Policy, specifically for clumping trash in the parking lot of one of Cox's customers. Mr, Jardin was 53 years old when he was terminated; Cox employed at least 195 other individuals who were Mr. Jardin's age or older.

         Mr. Jardin argues that he began to have issues at work when Todd Andrukiewiez became interim facilities supervisor and Odell Anderson assumed the role of facilities manager in February 2015. Immediately after Mr. Andrukiewiez started as interim supervisor and five months prior to Mr. Jardin's termination, in two different department meetings, Mr. Andrukiewiez referred to Mr. Jardin as a "weird old man." When Mr. Jardin responded, "Why do you keep doing this?" Mr. Andrukiewiez apologized. Mr. Jardin also asserts that Mr. Andrukiewiez gave him fewer projects and assignments and required him to do corporate tracer training, but sent two younger individuals before or instead of Mr. Jardin.[1] His pay and benefits remained the same and he worked the same amount of overtime hours.

         In June 2015, Cox received a complaint from one of its customers, Pawtucket Public Access, that someone had dropped trash out of a Cox' branded vehicle onto its premises. Cox then began an investigation. After viewing two surveillance videos, Cox made a preliminary determination that Mr. Jardin was likely responsible for dumping the trash at Pawtucket Public Access. On July 9, 2015, Mr. Andrukiewiez, Mr. Anderson, and a Cox Human Resources Manager, William Roccio interviewed Mr. Jarclin. During the interview, as well as in his deposition, Mr. Jardin admitted to dropping the trash on the customer's premises and failing to pick it up, but asserted that he did not intentionally litter. Based on this admission, Cox terminated Mr. Jardin for "egregious misconduct" under its Corrective Action Policy.

         Following his termination, Mr. Jardin filed suit against Cox alleging employment discrimination based on age under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (1967) ("ADEA"), the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act, R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-112-1 et seq. (1990) ("RICRA"), and the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act, R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-5-1 et seq. (2013) ("RIFEPA"). In response, Cox has moved for summary judgment.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court can grant summary judgment only when it finds that no genuine dispute as to the material facts of the case exists and that the undisputed issues give rise to an entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. See Wilson v. Moulison N. Corp., 639 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2011). The Court must and will view evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         The three statutes cited in Mr. Jardin's complaint provide essentially the same protection against discrimination at work based on age. See Neri v. Ross Simons, Inc., 897 A.2d 42, 48 (R.I. 2006) (the law underlying the state's statutory claims is based largely on federal caselaw interpreted and applying federal law under the ADEA so the applicable caselaw for all three counts is the same). The ADEA makes it unlawful for employers to "discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's age." 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1) (1967). Similarly, the RICKA and RIFEPA prohibit employers from discriminating against individuals with respect to terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of "race, color, religion, sex . . . age, or country of ancestral origin." R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-112-1 (1990); R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-5-7 (2012).

         The United States Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green set forth a burden-shifting method to aid in the analysis. 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Analyzing an employment discrimination case can be challenging due to its subtleties; employment discrimination rarely comes with "smoking gun" evidence or eyewitness testimony. Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, a plaintiff must establish a prima facie case. The First Circuit has held that proving a prima facie case in a discrimination action is "not onerous," Smith v. Stratus Comput, Inc., 40 F.3d 11, 15 n.4 (1st Cir. 1994). "If the plaintiff successfully bears this relatively light burden, we presume that the employer engaged in impermissible [ ] discrimination." Id. at 15 (citing Texas Dept. of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254 (1981)). The burden then shifts to the employer, who must then state a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its decision; if the employer is successful, the inference of discrimination then disappears. The plaintiff is then required to show that the employer's stated reason is a pretext for discrimination. See Kosereis v. Rhode Island, 331 F.3d 207, 212 (1st Cir. 2003). "The 'ultimate touchstone' of the McDonnell Douglas analysis is whether the employer's actions were improperly motivated by discrimination. Evidence that the employer's stated reasons for its actions are pretextual can be sufficient to show improper motive, and hence, allow the plaintiff to survive summary judgment." Kosereis, 331 F.3d at 213-14 (internal citations omitted).

         1. Prima Facie Case ...


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