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Montini v. Xavier High School Corporation of Middletown

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 21, 2017



          Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant, United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Joseph Montini brings the instant case pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq., and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”), Conn. Gen. Stat. § 41-60, et seq., alleging that his teaching contract was not renewed due to discrimination on the basis of age. Now before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on both claims. For the reasons that follow, summary judgment is GRANTED.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff was born on March 9, 1954, making him 61 years-old when he learned his teaching contract would not be renewed. [Dkt. Nos. 27-3, 32-8 (“Pl. Dep.”) at 7]. He has a Bachelor's of Science degree in Criminal Justice, and a Master's Degree in Education. Id. Defendant hired Plaintiff as a teacher in September 1999. Id. at 9. When he was first hired, Plaintiff taught a full course load, or five sections, in the Religion department. Id. at 18. Prior to the 2011-2012 school year, Plaintiff expressed an interest in teaching subjects outside of the Religion department, and he began teaching a law enforcement elective that he developed, as well as one health class. Id. at 18-19. This allowed Plaintiff to reduce the number of religion sections he was teaching to three during the 2011-2012 school year. Id. The health class fell within the Physical Education department, and the law enforcement class fell within the Social Studies department. Id. at 24. By the following school year, Plaintiff had further reduced the religion classes he taught to two, and by the 2013-2014 school year, he was teaching civics, law enforcement, forensics, and health education, and he no longer taught any religion classes. Id. During the 2014-2015 school year, the Plaintiff taught courses in health, marketing, law, and forensics. [Dkt. No. 32-4 at 10; Pl. Dep. at 31, 34]. In addition to his standard teaching responsibilities, Plaintiff developed an on-line health class that was offered during the summer, he invited a DEA agent and a forensic psychologist to speak with his forensics class, he organized a field trip, he monitored the driver's education class four or five times and proctored in the weight room “a number of times, ” and he served on several committees that required periodic attendance. [Pl. Dep. at 55-62].

         On June 10, 2014, Plaintiff signed an employment agreement with Defendant. Id. at 9; Dkt. No. 27-4 (“Exh. B”)]. Included as an appendix to this agreement was a “Teacher's Annual Contract, ” which covered the 2014-2015 school year, and which Plaintiff signed on June 5, 2014. [Pl. Dep. at 9; Dkt. No. 27-5 (“Exh. C”)]. Article III of the employment agreement provided that either party to the Teacher's Annual Contract could notify the other party by April 5th of an intention not to renew the Teacher's Annual Contract for the following year. [Pl. Dep. at 11; Exh. B at 1]. On March 13, 2015, the Headmaster of Xavier High School, Brother Brian Davis, notified Plaintiff that his contract to teach at the school would not be renewed for the 2015-2016 school year. [Pl. Dep. at 11]. Plaintiff's employment officially ended on June 30, 2015. [Compl. ¶ 20]. The parties agree that the Plaintiff's teaching abilities met expectations, and that his termination was unrelated to his teaching performance. [Dkt. Nos. 27-10, 32-7 (“Davis Dep.”) at 42].

         A couple of months prior to receiving notice that his contract would not be renewed, Principal Brendan Donahue told Plaintiff that he had met one of Plaintiff's acquaintances, who said that she and Plaintiff were “old friends.” [Pl. Dep. at 39]. Upon retelling, Donahue said something to the effect of “oh, yeah, he's real old” in a joking manner. Id. Plaintiff also testified that on his birthday (March 9), Davis, aged 68, said, “Today's your birthday, ” followed by an “off the cuff comment” the substance of which Plaintiff did not remember. Id. at 41.

         Enrollment at Xavier High School declined from 870 in the 2012-2013 school year to 788 in the 2015-2016 school year. [Dkt. No. 27-6 (“Exh. D”) at 6]. The school avoided layoffs following the 2013-2014 school year because a math teacher, a religion teacher, and a social studies teacher resigned voluntarily, and were not replaced. [Pl. Dep. at 35]. However, following the 2014-2015 school year, Defendant determined that this decline necessitated a reduction in force, and the contracts of Plaintiff and three other employees were not renewed. [Exh. D at 9]. Two of the other laid-off employees were teachers aged 39 and 43, and the third was a 40 year-old guidance counselor. Id. During the 2014-2015 school year, 66 percent of all employees were above 40 years of age. [Dkt. No. 27-7 (“Exh. E”)].

         The Teacher's Annual Contract contains a section titled “CONTRACT RENEWAL AND REDUCTION IN FORCE, ” which states:

When a reduction in force arises, it is the responsibility of the administration, in consultation with the director/department chairperson, and in accordance with established evaluation procedures, to determine which member of the faculty is to be terminated. A reduction in force means a termination based on the fact that the teacher's job no longer exists due to financial exigencies, decreased enrollment, curriculum changes, or a job elimination due to technology. The administration, in making the decision, shall consider a record of teaching excellence as the primary factor. The following factors shall also be considered: versatility (multi-disciplined ability); a history of serving and ability to serve the broadest needs of the school; seniority; maintenance and enhancement of professional education; and participation in extracurricular activities.

[Dkt. No. 32-6 (“Exh. 6”) Art. XI § 1.B.]. Defendant argues that it complied with this provision, and in response to a discovery request seeking “all documents reflecting on how the decision to lay the plaintiff off from his employment was reached by [Defendant], ” produced two course information documents, dated January 6, 2015 and March 5, 2015, respectively. [See Dkt. No. 32-4 (“Exh. 4”)]. These documents list the projected enrollment at Xavier High School, the numbers of sections of each course taught in 2014-2015, and projected number of sections needed for the 2015-2016 school year. Id. The documents also list the faculty in each department, the number of courses each faculty member taught in 2014-2015, and the projected number of sections each faculty member would be available to teach in 2015-2016. Id.

         In the January 6, 2015 document, Plaintiff's name is listed on the Social Studies department page, the Business/Computers page, and the Physical Education page, which is consistent with Plaintiff's testimony that he taught law, forensics, marketing, and health. Id. at 10-12. There is a section titled “IF CUTS BECOME NECESSARY” at the bottom of most pages. Id. On the Social Studies page, Law and Forensics are listed as half year courses (.5 sections) available only to seniors. Id. at 10. Also available to seniors are seven additional Social Studies department electives, including “Soc., ” Psychology, Leadership, “Modern US, ” Military History, Geography, and Native American Studies. Id. Plaintiff's availability is listed as .5 sections less for the 2015-2016 school year than for the 2014-2015 school year, and the “cuts” section states, “Will all electives run? (i.e. Economics, one section of Leadership, etc.” and “Is there flexibility of a teacher teaching outside of his discipline (I.e. picking up Verbal Skills)?Id. On the Business/Computers page, Plaintiff is listed as having taught .5 sections in 2014-2015, but having no availability to teach within the department in 2015-2016. Id. at 11. The “cuts” section is blank. Id. On the Physical Education page, Plaintiff is listed as having taught three sections in 2014-2015 and having availability to teach two sections in 2015-2016. Id. at 12. The page also states, “What will be the teaching responsibilities of Joe Montini and Tony Jaskot?Id.

         In the March 5, 2015 document, Plaintiff is no longer listed as having availability in any subject. Under Social Studies, the course “Forensics” was crossed out by hand, and the projected total number of Social Studies sections needed for the 2015-2016 school year was lowered from 37 to 35. [Dkt. No. 27-8 (“Exh. F”) at 7; Dkt. No. 27-9 (“Exh. G.”) at 4]. Typed at the bottom of the page is, “Will we run forensics?” [Exh. G. at 4]. This question is also crossed out. Id. The Physical Education page likewise has reduced the number of teaching sections needed from 12 to 10.5 for the 2015-2016 school year. Id. at 5.

         In March 2015, Donahue and assistant principals David Sizemore, Andrew Gargano, and Nicholas Cerreta met with Davis to discuss staffing needs for the 2015-2016 school year. [Davis Dep. at 11-12]. Davis testified that at this meeting, the principal and assistant principals presented Davis with a written plan that presented “the number of teaching sections in each department they would need, the courses that would be offered for the coming year, and therefore, would show [Davis] which areas [they] had more teachers that [they were] going to need for the coming year.” Id. at 13. Davis then answered affirmatively when ...

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