United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PATTI B. SARIS CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
an age discrimination suit brought by Plaintiff Bill Fife
against Defendants MetLife Group, Inc. and MetLife, Inc.
(collectively, “MetLife”). Fife alleges MetLife
terminated his employment because of his age during a
reduction in force in 2016 after fourteen years of strong
performance. Fife brings claims of age discrimination under
the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act
(“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and the
Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act
(“FEPA”), Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B. After a
hearing and review of the record, this Court denied
MetLife's first motion for summary judgment on June 4,
2019 (Docket No. 89). The Court found that there are genuine
disputes of material fact as to whether MetLife considered
Fife's proximity to retirement when terminating him at
the age of sixty-four. The Court assumes familiarity with
that opinion and will not revisit the issues addressed in it.
discovery, Fife learned that MetLife had considered Fife for
a newly created position rather than terminating him, but
ultimately didn't offer it to him. At Defendants'
request, the Court permitted targeted discovery regarding
this position (Docket No. 90). Following this discovery,
MetLife has filed a renewed motion for summary judgment and
the parties have submitted an avalanche of filings on this
second bite of the apple. After a hearing, the Court
DENIES Defendants' renewed motion for
summary judgment (Docket No. 96).
all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the
non-moving party, the record contains the following facts.
Fife Hired by MetLife
Fife was hired by Travelers, an insurance company, in 2004.
Fife became a MetLife employee in 2005, when MetLife acquired
Travelers. In 2014, Fife was named Vice President of
Strategic Relationship Management (“SRM”) &
Divisional Sales Manager (“DSM”) for HSBC (a
bank). As part of his SRM role, Fife supervised Eric
Tompkins, who in turn supervised eight SRM employees. From
February 2014 to February 2016, Fife reported to Kieran
Mullins, who was then the Senior Vice President of Life and
Disability Sales Third Party. In February 2016, Mullins was
promoted, and Myles Lambert became Fife's direct
Defendants have acknowledged that Fife was “always a
strong performer.” Docket No. 119 at 24. For example,
in Fife's 2014 performance assessment, Mullins described
Fife as having an “outstanding year in 2014, ”
Docket No. 119 at 33, in which Fife “exceeded sales
goals, ” Id. at 29, and created new work
practices which Mullins said would “be the cornerstone
of our strategy for years going forward, ” Id.
Fife's Retirement-Related Discussions Prior to
to December 2015, Fife told Mullins that he had planned to
retire around age sixty-five. However, in December 2015 or
January 2016 he told Mullins that, because he was enjoying
work and achieving good results, he had “no interest in
retiring at 65” and wanted “to keep going.”
Docket No. 99-8 at 7 (Fife II Tr. 43:19-44:16).
Lambert and Tompkins believed Fife had retirement plans as of
the spring of 2016. Lambert “was told” in the
spring of 2016 about Fife “relinquishing some of his
responsibilities to [Tompkins], in preparation of eventually
transitioning into retirement.” Docket No. 114 at 52
(Lambert Tr. 42:14-43:4). Tompkins claims Fife commented
“on several occasions about his retirement plans,
” as late as December of 2015, Docket No. 114 at 15
(Tompkins Tr. 46:1-8, 46:19-24, 48:5-12), but Fife denies
ever discussing the issue with Tompkins, Docket No. 111 at
¶ 4. Tompkins further stated that in 2016 “there
was a known quantity that Mr. Fife intended to retire at some
point in time.” Docket No. 114 at 15 (Tompkins III Tr.
MetLife Spins Off U.S. Retail Life Insurance Business into
Brighthouse Financial, Inc.
2016, MetLife spun off a portion of its U.S. retail business
into a new company, Brighthouse Financial, Inc. Unlike
MetLife's model of selling numerous insurance products
through an insurance agent sales force, Brighthouse would
initially focus on offering a smaller portfolio of insurance
products through sales by third parties.
conducted a reduction in force (“RIF”) and
reorganization of leadership prior to the spin off of
Brighthouse. In early 2016, Mullins was promoted, and Myles
Lambert became Fife's direct supervisor. A few months
later, on June 6, 2016, Lambert appointed Melissa Cox as
National Sales Director for Third Party Distribution, making
her Fife's direct supervisor.
Reduction in Force
convened an offsite meeting around March 2016, which
Tompkins, Cox, and Lauren Davis (a DSM) attended. According
to Tompkins, the purpose of the meeting was to “start
thinking what the new organization might look like, ”
specifically for the third-party life insurance team. Docket
No. 114 at 12 (Tompkins III Tr. 38:20-39:8). Tompkins signed
a nondisclosure agreement regarding his work with Cox and
Davis. MetLife employees Barry Higgins and Gretchen Bell were
later added to the group. By July 13, 2016, there was a
“core group which was the team of people that were
looking at how we were going to structure distribution and
strategically what we were going to do moving forward.”
Id. at 6 (Tompkins III Tr. 15:20-23).
preparation for the transition to Brighthouse, Cox was tasked
with decreasing the DSM headcount down to three. Cox did not
review any of the DSM's prior performance reviews or
sales metrics to assist her in deciding whom to retain. She
also did not consult with Mullins, Fife's prior
supervisor. at 11, 45 (Cox I Tr. at 33:8-20, 172:6-21). Cox
explained that she wanted to “do [her] own due
diligence and create [her] own perspective.” Docket No.
116 at 45 (Cox I Tr. at 172:10-12).
discuss her direct reports with Tompkins. Cox solicited
Tompkins' thoughts on Fife during an in-person
conversation during the summer of 2016. (Cox Tr. I
157:3-158:10). According to Cox, during that conversation
Tompkins said he “felt micromanaged, uncomfortable,
felt like he had no means to progress in his career”
because of Fife. Docket No. 116 at 42 (Cox Tr. I 157:5-7).
Termination Timeline A. June 2016
9, Cox conducted a thirty-minute phone call with Fife. Cox
felt that Fife was “making himself the center of
attention, ” during the call, as she says is reflected
in the words “prove, prove prove - look at me!”
in her notes. Docket No. 70 at 24 (Cox II Tr. 11:19-12:13).
20, Tompkins emailed Lambert with a proposal for
Brighthouse's SRM team. Tompkins' email identified
several individuals who “st[ood] out as good
fits” for the SRM team. Docket No. 98-1 at 2. Fife was
listed first, with the notation “Firm Recruitment
(maybe short term time horizon based on stated retirement
ambitions-if so, would look to have him working closely with
identified successor).” Id. That same day, Cox
and Lambert conducted a phone call. Cox's notes from the
call list “Fife-consultant 10k mo” under the
header “DSM.” Docket No. 45-12 at 10.
next day, on June 21, Cox conducted a meeting with the DSMs.
In a later deposition, Cox found Fife to be
“aggressive, ” “forceful, ” and
“bullying” during this meeting. Docket No. 116 at
17 (Cox I Tr. 57:11-21, 59:24). She claimed that Fife
interrupted his colleagues and tried to make himself the
center of attention. After the meeting, Cox texted Tompkins,
“I do want to tell you about Rovner and fife given your
prelim plan . . . I don't think my comments on fife will
be any surprise. You will just have to rule with an iron
fist.” Docket No. 62-4 at 28-29. Tompkins responded
“Fife could help me get someone else ready.”
Id. at 29.
following day, on June 22, Fife and Tompkins had a phone
call. Tompkins asked Fife if it would be his preference to
continue his work with HSBC (which fell under Fife's
responsibilities as a DSM). Tompkins also told Fife that a
potential role on Tompkins' team could include
“focus on training and developing [an] eventual
successor.” Docket No. 62-4 at 17. The next week, on
June 28, Cox texted Tompkins, “I'm on a call with
hr right now discussing my leadership team. Where are you
with bill and Ron?” Docket No. 62-4 at 20. Tompkins
responded “Feeling better about Bill than Ron. Meeting
with Myles Friday.” Id.
decided exclude Plaintiff from the DSM team in either June or
July 2016. The precise date is disputed. During her first
deposition, Cox stated that she had made the decision to
terminate Fife in July 2016. Cox explicitly denied that she
had made the decision in June 2016. However, in her second
deposition Cox indicated that she had made the decision by
June 20, 2016.
6, a human resources employee at MetLife created a
handwritten note labeled “Eric Tomkins 7/6/16”
with the following phrases written underneath and in the
margin: “Bill Fife-w/in retirement timeline? (12-18
mos.); “would need to select successor”;
“Reports into Melissa now”; “Retirement
benefits? Leave under Met or Newco?” Docket No. 45-21.
The next day, Cox texted Tompkins and asked “What did
you decide on Rovner and Fife?” Docket No. 62-4 at 32.
12, Tompkins emailed Libby Jackson, a HR employee at MetLife.
Tompkins asked if Jackson had any additional information
following their discussion on Fife, to which Jackson
responded, “the question remains how we'll handle
his transition ...