Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Northern California Judge Allows Age Discrimination Suit Against J.P. Morgan Chase to go to Trial

On Friday, Judge William H. Alsup denied summary judgment for J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. in an age discrimination action brought by former banker David Bloom. This allows the case to proceed to trial.

According to court documents, in 1998, Mark Melio recruited Mr. Bloom to work for J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. in the public finance department where he worked until his termination in 2008.  Defendants promoted Mr. Bloom to managing director of the health care group in December 2007. Shortly thereafter, the defendants made him "deputy head" of the health care group where he reported to a former subordinate and had his pay cut by $25,000. Next, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. merged with Bear Sterns and commenced a reduction in force of the health care group that resulted in the termination of every investment banker over fifty other than Mr. Bloom.

Around this time, the U.S. Department of Justice began investigating illegal practices in the municipal derivatives industry. The defendants undertook a parallel investigation which explored calls Mr. Bloom made to and from the municipal derivatives desk. Mr. Bloom met with an attorney representing the defendants about the calls in August 2008. On September 8, 2008 the defendants officers and managers met to discuss Mr. Bloom and another employee's municipal derivatives desk conversations. At his deposition Mr. Melio testified that he intended to fire Mr. Bloom by the time of the meeting. Three days later, Mr. Melio told Mr. Bloom the company had lost faith in him and terminated him. Meanwhile, Mr. Melio had been interviewing Peter Reilly (who was younger and less experienced) to replace Mr. Bloom.

Mr. Melio explains his decision in this manner:
First, I believe [Bloom] witnessed and identified collusion and did not report it. Second, I believe he misused his relationships with financial advisers to what appears to be manipulate [sic] a bid process inappropriately. Three, he had a lack of appreciation for the fiduciary relationship that the financial advisor has with the client. And, four, he took a very active role — appears to have taken a very active role as a banker in trying to circumvent bid processes.
Judge Alsup noted that legally this was a straightforward matter:
Bloom has made out a prima facie case of age discrimination. Defendants concede this much. [Y]et, defendants have articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating Bloom[.] Plaintiff concedes the same.
The entire dispute is whether the reason articulated by the defendants was a pretext for unlawful discrimination.  Here Judge Alsup found that a jury could assess the credibility of witnesses and find for one side or the other:
A jury could reasonably believe that Melio contacted Reilly in the summer of 2008 with an intention of replacing Bloom, and that Maloney contacted Reilly prior to Bloom’s termination in order to be ready to start the interview process for Reilly as soon as Bloom was gone. A jury could disbelieve defendants’ characterization of Bloom’s “promotion” to deputy head of the health-care group and find it to really be an effort to marginalize his position within the group. These issues involve credibility determinations that are for the jury to make.
The Case is Bloom v. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. No. C 09-3418 and the opinion is below the jump.

Bloom v. J.P. Morgan Chase Employment

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