United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
NATHANIEL M. GORTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case arises out of a dispute related to the resignation of
Kevin Robinson (“Robinson” or “the
Chief”) as the Chief of the Fire Department in
Marshfield, Massachusetts. Robinson alleges that he was
constructively discharged as Fire Chief in retaliation for
lodging internal complaints for age and gender discrimination
against other officials in the Town of Marshfield.
defendants respond that Robinson resigned because he was
facing credible disciplinary action for violating state
ethics rules. Following his resignation, Robinson filed a
complaint in federal court alleging age discrimination,
retaliation, failure to investigate claims of discrimination,
breach of contract, intentional interference with contractual
relations and defamation.
Robinson served as the Marshfield Fire Chief for 12 years
until he retired in March, 2015, when he was 60 years old.
Although his employment contract with the Town of Marshfield
(“the Town”) expired in 2013, he continued as
Chief of the Fire Department pending the renegotiation of his
contract (as was common practice) until he retired in 2015.
The Town then hired Deputy Chief William Hocking, who is 54
years old, as the new Fire Chief following plaintiff's
Involvement with Family Members
Town alleges that the Chief improperly interfered with the
disputed employment of his family members by the Town, which
ultimately led to his resignation. In October, 2013, the
Chief's niece, Shauna Robinson Patten (“Ms.
Patten”), was selected for a full-time firefighter
trainee position with the Marshfield Fire Department. Before
Ms. Patten began her employment, the Board of Selectmen
(“the Board”) met with the Chief and he submitted
a conflict of interest disclosure form which stated that he
would 1) recuse himself from any involvement in the interview
or promotion process for which his brother, son or niece (all
then employees of his department) became candidates, 2) not
make any discretionary assignments resulting in extra pay for
his family members and 3) notify the Town of any potential
disciplinary situation involving a family member.
the first year of Ms. Patten's training, two of her
supervisors expressed concerns about her ability to make
decisions. Upon hearing about those concerns, the Chief asked
that Ms. Patten be transferred to his group and, at one
point, despite concerns from supervisors, he placed Ms.
Patten on “shift strength” (meaning that she was
able to take regular shifts). While defendants contend that
Ms. Patten received special treatment during her training,
Robinson submits that his niece was subject to gender
discrimination by the defendants.
respect to the Chief's brother, Shaun Robinson, a captain
in the Marshfield Fire Department, defendants argue that the
Chief conducted a disciplinary hearing without the presence
of the Town Administrator or Town Counsel and later
improperly reduced the disciplinary punishment meted out to
his brother. The Chief responds that the Town Administrator,
Rocco Longo (“Longo”) gave him permission to
reduce the punishment. Contemporaneously, the Town declined
to renegotiate the Chief's contract, which had expired in
2013, and allegedly encouraged him to retire at least three
times. The Town also reported the Chief's supervision of
family employees to the State Ethics Commission (“the
Placement on Administrative Leave
January, 2015, Chief Robinson filed a complaint with the
Board alleging that he was a victim of age discrimination and
harassment. The Board retained Attorney Regina Ryan who
concluded in February that those complaints were meritless.
That same month, Attorney Mark Smith, whose firm had been
retained by the Town in November, 2014, to investigate
allegations of conflict of interest, issued a report
(“the Smith Report”) which concluded that the
Chief and his brother violated one or more sections of the
Massachusetts conflict of interest laws. He recommended that
the matter be referred to the Commission for further
a February, 2015, meeting, the Board placed the Chief on paid
administrative leave for 60 days. The next day, he was
notified of his right to a public hearing to demonstrate why
he should not be removed for cause. Nine days later, the
Chief tendered his resignation as a result of which the
Commission informed the Town that its investigation into the
Chief's alleged misconduct would be terminated.
defendants aver that they had good cause to terminate the
Chief based upon his conflict of interest violations, he
rejoins that from 2013 to 2015, the defendants retaliated
against him because of his gender and age discrimination
complaints. He further submits that, as part of the
retaliation, the defendants, among other things, interfered
with his job performance, refused to renegotiate his
employment contract, pressured him to retire, threatened to
damage his reputation if he refused to retire, initiated an
internal investigation against him, voted to terminate him
and placed him on paid administrative leave. The Chief filed
his complaint in December, 2016, against the Town, the Town
Administrator, Longo and the Chair of the Board, John Hall
(collectively, “the defendants”). Pending before
the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment.
role of summary judgment is to assess the proof in order to
see whether there is a genuine need for trial. Mesnick v.
Gen. Elec. Co., 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1st Cir. 1991). The
burden is on the moving party to show, through the pleadings,
discovery and affidavits, that there is “no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law”. Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). A fact is material if it “might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law”.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists where the
evidence with respect to the material fact in dispute
“is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict
for the nonmoving party”. Id.
moving party has satisfied its burden, the burden shifts to
the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts showing that
there is a genuine, triable issue. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The Court must view
the entire record in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party and indulge all reasonable inferences in that
party's favor. O'Connor v. Steeves, 994 F.2d
905, 907 (1st Cir. 1993). Summary judgment is appropriate if,
after viewing the record in the nonmoving party's favor,
the Court determines that no genuine issue of material fact
exists and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23.
Motion for Summary Judgment
Age Discrimination (Count I)
plaintiff alleges age discrimination against the defendants
under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C.
§ 623(a) (“the ADEA”) and M.G.L. c. 151B.
Federal Claims under the ADEA
there is no direct evidence of wrongful discharge under the
ADEA, courts apply the McDonnell burden-shifting
framework set forth by the Supreme Court. Del
Valle-Santana v. Servicios Legales De Puerto Rico, Inc.,
804 F.3d 127, 129 (1st Cir. 2015). Under that framework, the
plaintiff must prove a prima facie case for age
discrimination by showing that 1) he was at least 40 years
old, 2) his work was sufficient to meet the employer's
legitimate expectations, 3) the employer took adverse action
against the plaintiff and 4) either younger persons were
retained for the same position upon the plaintiff's
termination or the employer did not treat age neutrally in
taking the adverse action. Id. Once the plaintiff
establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the
employer to articulate a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory
reason” for dismissing the employee. Id. If
the employer does so, the plaintiff is required to show that
the employer's proffered reason is a pretext and that age
was the “but-for” cause of the adverse action.
assert that because the Chief voluntarily resigned, he was
not subject to an adverse employment action under the ADEA.
They contend that the fact that he was facing potential
disciplinary charges does not establish duress or coercion
and that a plain reading of his resignation letter, which
discloses his desire to spend more time with this family, is
further evidence of no coercion. As to the individual
defendants, Messrs. Longo and Hall, defendants aver that
individual liability is not available under the ADEA and thus
those claims fail as a matter of law. The Chief does not
contest that assertion.
Chief assumes that he has met his burden of stating a prima
facie case and asserts that defendants failed to articulate a
legitimate reason for the Town's employment decision. He
submits that defendants' “legitimate reason”
for his “termination” is full of inconsistencies,
that defendants have previously admitted that the Chief had