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PAQUIN v. FANNIE MAE

July 31, 1996

PAUL P. PAQUIN, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL NATIONAL MORTGAGE ASSOCIATION, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HARRIS

 Before the Court are defendant's motion for summary judgment, plaintiff's opposition, defendant's reply and plaintiff's surreply. Upon careful consideration of the record, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted on all claims. Although "findings of fact and conclusions of law are unnecessary on decisions of motions under Rules 12 or 56," Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a), the Court nonetheless sets forth its reasoning.

 BACKGROUND FACTS

 Plaintiff, a 52-year-old male, began his employment as a management consultant with defendant, Federal National Mortgage Association ("Fannie Mae"), in January 1972. Defendant Fannie Mae is a federally chartered corporation, created to provide affordable mortgage financing for home-buyers and renters, and is the country's largest supplier of home mortgage funds. The Investor Relations department assists senior management and the Office of the Chairman in formulating and delivering the company's message to current and potential investors. The department works with other parts of the company to devise a comprehensive strategy addressing the needs and concerns of outside investors and analysts, and to communicate that message to the investment community. Plaintiff assisted in the development of Fannie Mae's Investor Relations department in 1976, serving as manager, vice president and then Senior Vice President for Investor Relations until his dismissal in 1994.

 Although both sides agree that in the past plaintiff contributed significantly to the success of Fannie Mae's Investor Relations program, there are several areas in which his superiors repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with plaintiff's performance in his capacity as senior vice president. While plaintiff's superiors consistently recognized plaintiff's achievements and skill with outside investors and analysts, they just as consistently complained of his inability to effectively communicate and interact within the company, noting his shortcomings with respect to the internal aspect of his job.

 Plaintiff reported directly to J. Timothy Howard, Fannie Mae's Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Howard prepared plaintiff's annual performance evaluations and met with him biweekly to discuss the evaluations and plaintiff's subsequent progress. In 1991, while acknowledging plaintiff's external accomplishments, Howard enumerated a number of instances in which internal management performance was unsatisfactory, citing inadequate review of junior staff work, lack of communication on important issues, untimely completion of major tasks, and insufficient participation in the preparation of presentations, and noting that "Paul needs to ensure that department administration is performed to a much higher standard next year." Pl.'s Opp., Ex. 5. In his 1992 evaluation of plaintiff, Howard underscored plaintiff's need to improve internal departmental operations, pointing out repeated major errors, lack of creativity in investor presentations, and inadequate insight into investor preferences and valuation processes. He documented specific mishaps as well as plaintiff's general inability to view specific projects as part of a comprehensive strategy reflecting the company's long-term plans. When the necessary improvements were not observed during the following year, Howard's 1993 evaluation again referenced plaintiff's internal management problems and areas of concern, noting plaintiff's failure to produce work that was "well thought out, solidly researched, thoroughly analyzed, and internally consistent with other current and past work or statements." Pl.'s Opp., Ex. 13. At his deposition, plaintiff denied that the evaluations disapproved of his work, challenging the validity of the evaluations and characterizing the comments as "pure constructive criticism on how I would improve my response to the internal demands, not that I was doing an unsatisfactory job." Paquin Dep. at 163.

 Plaintiff's consistently negative evaluations led the company's leadership to question his judgment and ultimately to consider terminating his employment with Fannie Mae. At a compensation committee meeting in November 1992, the committee members discussed Howard's assessment of plaintiff's performance, and at the 1993 meeting they suggested he be terminated due to his substandard performance. Although plaintiff was not terminated at that time, it was evident that his evaluations reflected a general dissatisfaction among upper management with his work. Senior management perceived him as "somebody who had no strategic sense about the positioning of the company, somebody who was completely unable to express himself in writing, someone whose advice and judgment was uneven in quality, and somebody who generally was not an outstanding performer." Johnson Dep. at 13. Senior management was especially disappointed with specific projects for which plaintiff was responsible, such as Fannie Mae's 1993 Investor/Analyst Biennial Conference. Company officials noted plaintiff's disorganization and lateness in preparation, the inadequacy of audio-visual supplements, and his weakness in serving as the "emcee of the conference." Raines Dep. at 76. Plaintiff's employers also complained of misjudgment on issues of policy, failure in speech writing, and indiscretion in referring pejoratively to his direct superiors.

 Serious consideration of plaintiff's continued employment with Fannie Mae began in late 1993. The Chairman's office devised options whereby plaintiff could amicably leave Fannie Mae the following year, and the decision to terminate him was reached by the end of the year. The Vice Chairman, Frank Raines, and the Senior Vice President for Administration, Doug Bibby, informed plaintiff of the decision on February 14, 1994; on that day, plaintiff wrote in his calendar, "Frank Raines and Doug Bibby inform me that I'm through with Fannie Mae!!!" Paquin Dep., Ex. 5. At the February 14 meeting, plaintiff was offered a separation package, which was later amended to include an additional $ 5,000 for legal fees and an extended deadline. *fn1" On March 1, plaintiff informed Fannie Mae that he believed his termination was unlawfully based on his age, and demanded a larger separation package in exchange for a release from legal liability under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (1988 & Supp. 1995). Defendants declined to make any further accommodations, and when the amended package was not accepted by March 16, it was withdrawn and plaintiff's employment was officially terminated.

 ANALYSIS

 Summary judgment is to be granted only if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, all evidence and inferences must be construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986). If a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party based on the record, summary judgment may not be granted. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). Differences of opinion on details not directly relevant to the legal issue at hand are not sufficient to preclude summary judgment -- the non-moving party must present issues of genuine material fact in the context of the present case. Harding v. Gray, 9 F.3d 150, 154 (D.C. Cir. 1993).

 A. The Unlawful Termination Claim

 Plaintiff has brought suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. Code Ann. § 1-2525 (1992). In the absence of direct evidence of age discrimination, courts have generally applied the test for Title VII racial and gender discrimination, derived from the McDonnell-Douglas case, which established a three-part, burden-shifting standard by which to determine discrimination. McDonnell-Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973). Initially, a plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of age discrimination. The burden then shifts to the defendant employer to demonstrate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for plaintiff's termination. In order to prevail, plaintiff must then prove that defendant's stated reason is actually a pretext for discrimination. McDonnell-Douglas, 93 S. Ct. at 1824-26 (1973); see also Hayman v. National Academy of Sciences, 306 U.S. App. D.C. 227, 23 F.3d 535, 538 (D.C. Cir. 1994); Csicseri v. Bowsher, 862 F. Supp. 547, 568 (D.D.C. 1994), aff'd without opinion, 314 U.S. App. D.C. 278, 67 F.3d 972 (D.C. Cir. 1995). *fn2" The McDonnell-Douglas test has become the accepted means by which age discrimination is determined, and questions of material fact are relevant only as they relate to the three stages of the test.

 1. The Prima Facie Case

 In order to demonstrate a prima facie case of age discrimination, plaintiff must show that he (i) belongs to the protected age group; (ii) was qualified for the position; (iii) was terminated; and (iv) was replaced by a younger person. *fn3" Coburn v. Pan American World Airways, Inc., 229 U.S. App. D.C. 61, 711 F.2d 339, 342 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (citing Cuddy v. Carmen, 224 U.S. App. D.C. 287, 694 F.2d 853, 857 (D.C. Cir. 1982)); Hayman, 23 F.3d at 537; O'Donnell v. Associated General Contractors of America, 645 A.2d 1084, 1087 (D.C. 1994) (applying the standard with respect to District of Columbia law).

 Plaintiff in this case was 50 years old at the time of his termination, and was replaced by a 40-year-old woman. The only potential challenge to plaintiff's prima facie case goes to whether he was in fact qualified for his high level position at Fannie Mae. Conflicting evaluations of his work could conceivably create a question of material fact regarding his qualifications as senior vice president of Investor Relations. Plaintiff's burden at this stage of the analysis, however, is minimal. Jackson v. Lyons Falls Pulp and Paper, Inc., 865 F. Supp. 87, 95 (N.D.N.Y. 1994). Plaintiff worked at Fannie Mae for 22 years, holding successive management positions and progressing consistently upward within the company. Based on his professional background it is presumed that, although ...


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