stating that Gaspar had signed the release "under protest and solely because of [Bristol-Myers'] refusal to pay him his money;" that the release was invalid because it violated the ADEA and OWBPA; and that Gaspar intended to file a claim against Bristol-Myers. (Id. Ex. I at G0014-15.)
The plan administrator found that although Gaspar eventually submitted a general release under the severance plan, the accompanying letter negated the effectiveness of the release and the election of supplemental severance benefits because it indicated the execution to be under protest and not voluntary. (Id. Ex. K at G0114.)
Defendants have presented evidence that the plan administrator denied Gaspar supplemental severance benefits because Gaspar failed to execute a valid general release. The court notes that a release is valid only if it is voluntary, Pierce v. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 65 F.3d 562, 570-72 (7th Cir. 1995), and the plan administrator reasonably found that Gaspar's release, submitted "under protest and solely because of [Bristol-Myers'] refusal to pay him his money," was not valid. Therefore, defendants have articulated a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason for the denial of supplemental severance benefits. Gaspar, in contrast, has not demonstrated that defendants' articulated reason for denying him supplemental severance benefits is a pretext for discrimination. See Dey, 28 F.3d at 1457. In fact, Gaspar has presented no evidence, either circumstantial or direct, indicating that defendants' explanation for their action in denying supplemental severance benefits is false. See Holland, 883 F.2d at 1313 (plaintiff demonstrates pretext by using circumstantial evidence to show that employer's articulated explanation is false).
Accordingly, the court finds that no question of fact exists regarding whether there was a causal connection between Gaspar's filing his ADEA claim and defendants' denial of supplemental severance benefits to Gaspar; there was no such connection.
Similarly, Gaspar has failed to show that defendants' delay in processing Gaspar's medical benefits election form under the retirement plan was in retaliation for Gaspar's ADEA claim. Aside from his and his attorney's allegations, Gaspar has presented no evidence that retaliation was defendants' motive in not immediately processing his retiree medical benefits election form. (See, e.g., Pls.' Resp. to Defs.' Rule 12(M) Statement PP 29-31; Pls.' Statement of Uncontested Facts Pursuant to Rule 12(N) PP 6-7, 10; App. to Pls.' Local Rule 12(M) Statement at 420-30).
Defendants, on the other hand, have presented substantial evidence that any delay in the processing of Gaspar's retiree medical benefits election form was largely due to Gaspar's counsel's erroneous insistence that Gaspar was entitled to retire as of December 1, 1993, rather than January 1, 1994, as defendants had maintained.
From February 1994, when Gaspar decided to elect early retirement, through April 1994, Gaspar's counsel insisted that Gaspar was entitled to retire as of December 1, 1993, because he ceased working in November 1993. (See Pls.' Statement of Facts Pursuant to Rule 12(N) PP 6, 7, 10.) However, counsel for Bristol-Myers twice told Gaspar's counsel that Gaspar only could retire as of January 1, 1994, because his employment was not terminated until December 31, 1993. (See Defs.' Resp. to Pls.' Statement of Facts Pursuant to Rule 12(N) Ex. at BMS885; G0122.) See also Rev. Rul. 56-693, 1956-2 C.B. 282, as modified by Rev. Rul. 60-323, 1960-2 C.B. 148; 26 C.F.R. § 1.401-1(b)(1)(I) (no retirement payments may be made to an employee under the age of 65 prior to his severance from employment).
In early May 1994, when Gaspar finally chose to take early retirement as of January 1, 1994, Bristol-Myers immediately began processing his early retirement election and sought more information from Gaspar and his wife to complete the election. (See Defs.' Resp. to Pls.' Statement of Facts Pursuant to Rule 12(N) Ex. at G0115; BMS893.) At that time, Bristol-Myers also began processing Gaspar's medical claims, since Gaspar finally had made an effective early retirement election. (See id. Ex. at G0115.) It appears that Gaspar and his wife eventually received all of the pension and medical benefits to which they were entitled in accordance with Gaspar's January 1, 1994, early retirement date, including benefits for the period during which Gaspar was contesting the date on which he was eligible to retire. (See Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts Pursuant to General Rule 12(M) PP 32, 33; Ex. 8 at G0180-83.)
Defendants have articulated and supported with evidence a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason for the delay in the processing of Gaspar's retirement election and retiree medical benefits election form. To survive defendants' motion for summary judgment, then, Gaspar had the burden to produce evidence from which a rational trier of fact could infer that defendants' proffered reason for their actions was pretextual. See Courtney v. Biosound, Inc., 42 F.3d 414, 418 (7th Cir. 1994). As with the supplemental severance benefits claim, Gaspar has presented no evidence, either circumstantial or direct, indicating that defendants' explanation for their action in not immediately processing Gaspar's retirement request or medical benefits election form is false. Therefore, Gaspar has not demonstrated that defendants' explanation is a pretext for retaliation. See id.; Dey, 28 F.3d at 1457; Holland, 883 F.2d at 1313.
Accordingly, the court finds that no question of fact exists regarding whether there was a causal connection between Gaspar's filing his ADEA claim and any delay in defendants' processing of Gaspar's early retirement request or retiree medical benefits election form; there was no such connection.
Consequently, Gaspar has not presented sufficient evidence to withstand defendants' motion for summary judgment on Count IV, and the court grants defendants' motion.
For the foregoing reasons, the court grants defendants' motion for summary judgment and denies plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment. The court enters judgment in favor of defendants on Counts I, II, III, and IV.
Date: FEB 07 1997
JAMES H. ALESIA
United States District Judge