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Alberty v. Columbus Township

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

April 4, 2017

JOANNE ALBERTY, Plaintiff,
v.
COLUMBUS TOWNSHIP, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          John Corbett O'Meara United States District Judge

         Before the court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment, which has been fully briefed. Pursuant to L.R. 7.1, the court did not hear oral argument.

         BACKGROUND FACTS

         Plaintiff, Joanne Alberty, is suing her former employer, Columbus Township. Plaintiff alleges that she was terminated from her position as the Assistant to the Columbus Township Assessor in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”).

         Plaintiff was hired by Columbus Township in 1997 when she was appointed to the position of Deputy Clerk by Columbus Township Clerk Patricia Iseler. Subsequently, Plaintiff became the Assistant to the Township Assessor, working part time at a rate of $13.50 per hour. From 2002 to 2013, the Township Assessor was Susan Hansman, who was under contract with the township.

         Bruce Christy was elected Township Supervisor in 2012. His priority was to balance the township budget, which had shortfalls due to falling property values between 2008 and 2012. See Defs.' Exs. D, E, F. At the March 2013 Board meeting, Christy anticipated a budget shortfall of $31, 000 for 2013, in addition to a $67, 000 shortfall the previous year. In addition to other cost-saving measures, Christy suggested that the Assessing department's expenses should be reviewed. The Board agreed that the Township Assessor's contract should be put out for bid, which had not been done since 2002. Defs'. Ex. G (3/12/13 meeting minutes). (Unspoken at this meeting was that Christy had a disagreement with Assessor Hansman's assessment of his own property value in 2012.) Defs.' Ex. I. Christy suggested that a change in the Assessor could affect Plaintiff: “If the Board decides to replace the assessor they would have to decide what to do with Joanne at that point.” Id.

         At the same time, Plaintiff was seeking a pay raise, having not received one in years. She made an oral request to the Board in February 2013 and a written request in April 2013. Defs.' Ex. H, I. Also at the April 2013 Board meeting, Assessor Hansman took issue with the Board's decision to put her contract out for bid, defending her job performance and her rate. See also Defs' Ex. I. The Board did not address the assessor's concerns at the meeting and also decided to table Plaintiff's request for a raise until the May meeting.

         At the May meeting, Township Clerk Iseler moved to deny Plaintiff's pay increase. Assessor Hansman requested that the Board consider a deal before voting. Hansman suggested taking $.50 per parcel from her pay to contribute towards a $1.00 per hour raise for Plaintiff (working 20 hours per week). The Board tabled a decision until the June meeting. Defs.' Ex. J.

         At the June 13, 2013 meeting, Trustee Duncan moved for a $2.00 per hour pay raise for Plaintiff. The motion failed. There was further discussion about giving Plaintiff some sort of raise. Without resolving that issue, the Board voted 3-2 to terminate Assessor Hansman's employment agreement with the Township “due to budget concerns.” Defs.' Ex. K. This result was met with hostility from Trustee Duncan, who said “I could spit on every one of you guys”; Assessor Hansman, who threatened to sue; and the township building inspector, who resigned in protest.

         Then Iseler moved to terminate Plaintiff's employment, “due to budget concerns.” Id. The motion carried, along the same lines as the vote to terminate Hansman. At the time of her termination, Plaintiff was 74 years old. Christy moved to set the pay of township clerical employees at $12 per hour for new hires, with a limit of 15 hours per week. The motion carried.

         At a special meeting on June 25, 2013, the Board considered proposals for the Assessor position. They had received applications from Hansman ($13.50 per parcel), Lisa Griffin ($16.53 per parcel) and Peggy Chambers ($11.80 per parcel). Although her application did not mention an assistant, Chambers told the Board that she had her own assistant, who would work for the hours and rate previously approved by the Board. See Defs.' Exs. L, M. The Board voted to offer the position to Chambers. Chambers brought her assistant, Carly Kimmen (age 30), to the township as the Assistant Assessor.

         According to Hansman, Chambers told her that Christy had approached her about bidding on the assessor's position. Christy allegedly told Chambers how much Hansman charged so that Chambers could be sure to bid lower. See Pl.'s Ex. 14 (Affidavit of Susan Hansman).

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         The ADEA makes it unlawful for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge . . . or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's age.” 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). “To prevail on a claim under the ADEA, it is not sufficient for the plaintiff to show that age was a motivating factor in the adverse action; rather, the ADEA's ‘because of' language requires that a plaintiff ‘prove by a preponderance of the evidence (which may be direct or circumstantial) that age was the “but-for” cause of the ...


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