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Higgins v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.)

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 19, 2019



          DONALD L. CABELL, U.S.M.J.

         Plaintiff Steven Higgins applied for several positions at defendant John Hancock Life Insurance Company (John Hancock) but failed to receive an interview for any of them.[1] He contends it was because of his age and asserts claims for discrimination under M.G.L. c. 151B, § 4(1B) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 623. The defendant moves for summary judgment; the plaintiff opposes the motion. (D. 43, 50). For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be granted.


         A. The Plaintiff’s Work Experience

         In 2015, Higgins was 63 years old, with 43 years’ experience in finance, accounting, and audit work. (Pltf. SOF p. 3). He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting cum laude, and an M.B.A. in finance from Suffolk University. He is also a certified internal auditor (CIA) and certified fraud examiner (CFE). (Id. Exh. 1, p. 23).

         From 1981-1991, he served in several capacities with the Millipore Corporation, a life sciences company. His roles included senior corporate auditor and manager of worldwide financial reporting. (Id. Exh. 1, p. 26).

         Thereafter, he worked for approximately 12 years for the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, serving as a senior internal audit manager for over seven years; a manager of special projects for approximately two-and-a-half years; and a manager of account reconciliations for another two-and-a-half years. In these positions, he planned, organized, and conducted various audits; reconciled accounts; resolved overbilling and billing error issues; and developed and implemented procedures for approximately 100 employees. (Id. Exh. 1, pp. 25-26).

         From 2004-2009, the plaintiff served primarily in contract positions as Chief Financial Officer of Quincy College (September 2004-June 2007) and Financial Consultant with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston (December 2008-April 2009). From December 2007 to October 2008, he also served as Assistant Vice President-Internal Audit for CitiStreet, an employed position. (Id. Exh. 1, pp. 24-25).

         While with Quincy College, he addressed unethical budgeting practices, improved reconciliation and reporting standards, and designed and implemented an improved annual budgeting process. (Id. Exh. 1, p. 25). At CitiStreet, he conducted operational, financial, compliance, and money laundering audits and ensured staff compliance with corporate policies and procedures. (Id. Exh. 1, p. 24).

         With the Federal Reserve, he oversaw a five-month project to review a multi-billion-dollar government program with accounting inconsistencies. According to his supervisor at the Federal Reserve, he “exemplified great leadership, communication and organization skills” and exhibited great determination to complete the project on time. (Id. Exh. 1, p. 27).

         From 2009-2014, the plaintiff worked as an advisor/broker through a business he incorporated. (D. 45-2; Deposition of Steven A. Higgins (Higgins Depo.), p. 37 l. 20 – p. 38 l. 24). However, although the plaintiff had over 5, 000 inquiries for financing, he did not close a single financing deal. (Id. p. 42 l. 4 – p. 43 l. 20).

         B. John Hancock’s Hiring Approach

         John Hancock posts job opportunities both internally and externally but it looks favorably upon internal employees for advancement. (D. 45; Defendant’s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Support of Its Motion for Summary Judgment (Def. SOF) ¶¶ 3, 5). It also focuses on recent experience and technical skills such as computer and software programming proficiency. (Id. ¶ 8). It evaluates the suitability of job candidates by assessing their current relevant work experience and comparing it to the job qualifications. (Id. ¶ 7).

         C. The Three Positions at Issue

         From 2007 to 2015 the plaintiff applied for 49 different positions at John Hancock but did not receive an interview for any of them. Three of them are at issue here.

         1. Global Compliance Auditor

         The Global Auditor is responsible for completing audits focused on risks and delivering “high quality, professional, cost-effective, [and] value-added” services. (Id. Exh. 6). Specifically, this job called for the following knowledge, skills, competencies, and education:

(a) Willingness to obtain in-depth and current knowledge of financial institutions, particularly life insurance, and compliance functions;
(b) Demonstrated understanding of business processes and associated risks, with ability to analyze situations, reach appropriate conclusions, and make value-added and practical recommendations;
(c) Demonstrated knowledge of auditing, project management, and risk management practices, along with knowledge of regulations and specifically, anti-money laundering;
(d) Ability to effectively communicate ideas and recommendations orally and in writing, and to listen and consider ideas of others;
(e) Strong customer focus and commitment to quality;
(f) Ability to develop and carry out audit programs to deliver quality results on ...

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