Age discrimination alleged in MSA civil suit

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BRATTLEBORO — The former alpine director at Mount Snow Academy is suing, alleging he was terminated because of his age.

David Gregory, now 60 and living in Intervale, N.H., accepted the position on Sept. 1, 2016, and was employed by the Mount Snow Ski Educational Foundation in West Dover until April 2018.

"Gregory's termination was sudden, bizarre, and shocking ..." wrote his attorney, Claudine C. Safar, of David Gregory, Monaghan Safar Ducham.

The circumstances of the termination of Gregory's three-year contract with MSA, "give rise to an inference of age discrimination," wrote Safar. "These circumstances include [Head of School Todd] Ormiston's use of language denigrating another employee on the basis of his age, Ormiston's micromanagement of Mr. Gregory, and Ormiston's attempt to develop a work culture that strongly favors young coaches — including but not limited to advertising positions at MSA exclusively to recent graduates."

The civil suit was originally filed in Windham Superior Court, Civil Division, but was recently moved to U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont.

The Mount Snow Academy is a snow sports academy offering schooling and boarding for high school students. Athletes attend MSA for the "winter-term," from early November through early April, and train in the snow sport of their choice — alpine ski racing, freeskiing, or snowboarding. Its graduates include Olympic medalists Kelly Clark and Devin Logan.

Gregory, a certified alpine ski race coach with 39 years in the business, is the president and owner of Peak Performance, in Intervale, which operates alpine ski racing training camps.

"Mr. Gregory would not have agreed to less than a 3-year term, because he was giving up an already established head coach position with the Mount Washington Valley Ski Team that he had held for 30 years," wrote Safar, who also noted "Ormiston and MSA ... promised Gregory student attendance at his Peak Performance summer camps, thereby boosting his overall income."

However, wrote Safar, it wasn't long before "Ormiston soon began undercutting Gregory and another staff member brought on by Gregory, namely Shawn Smith, a 64-year-old seasoned, alpine ski coach."

Ormiston got into a shouting match with Smith and called Smith a "bitter, angry old man," telling Gregory that he better "have his [Ormiston's] back" or Gregory would find himself in hot water as well, wrote Safar. Safar also accused Ormiston of micromanaging Gregory and asking him "to perform inappropriate tasks that were far outside of his job description and training, for example asking Greogry to assist with refurbishing the former Matterhorn Inn after MSA took it over for use as the school."

To the heart of the allegation that Gregory was fired because of his age, wrote Safar, "Mr. Ormiston displayed a strong preference for younger coaches and made his age animus known. All the coaches in the snowboard and free-skiing programs are younger than Gregory and Smith. ... MSA's own web site and official recruiting page exclusively advertises to younger coaches, excluding older workers from consideration by explicitly stating that the Academy 'seeks energetic college graduates' and 'is an exciting opportunity for recent graduates.'"

Ten days after he was fired, MSA provided a letter to Gregory claiming five bases for his termination. "The reasons specified in the MSA letter are not supported by the evidence," wrote Safar. "It was not reasonable to discharge Gregory. Gregory committed no misconduct but rather consistently met and exceeded all metrics regarding his job performance. Gregory's excellent job performance is reflected in the achievements of the Academy's athletes and in his continuing popularity with the Academy's athletes, coaches, parents, and community partners."

Safar also wrote that Ormiston interfered with Peak Performance "by deliberately steering athletes and coaches away from Gregory's personal ski camp ..."

"By bringing him on board only to terminate him illegally and without cause, and then to steer his athletes and coaches away from Peak Performance, Ormiston has blatantly shown that he is acting 'with the purpose to harm' Gregory and 'by means that are dishonest, unfair, or improper,'" wrote Safar.

Gregory is requesting the court award him with lost wages, punitive damages and attorney's fees and court costs.

In a motion to dismiss Gregory's suit, Mary N. Peterson, of Rath, Young, and Pignatelli, Mount Snow Academy's attorneys, contend the suit is "a jumble of case citations and conclusory statements" that don't support Gregory's claims.

"First, he claims he had a three-year oral implied contract, a claim which must fail ... as a result of his own evidence of a one-year signed agreement," wrote Peterson.

"Gregory spends much effort and even more ink describing Mr. Ormiston's poor management, and how it negatively affected Gregory's performance," wrote Peterson. But, she wrote, "bad management" is not a violation under federal regulations.

Gregory's assertions that he was discriminated against because of his age fail because for such a claim to be valid under federal regulations, an employer must have 20 or more employees every working day for more than 20 weeks. "[N]or does he assert that he has filed the requisite complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission."

In addition, noted Peterson, just writing the reasons for his termination "are not supported by the evidence ... without accompanying factual allegations, does not past muster on a motion to dismiss, and, moreover, is contradicted by the wealth of detail demonstrating that Gregory failed to perform under Mr. Ormiston's management."

The complaint lacks any facts supporting many of Gregory's assertions, wrote Peterson.

"There is no evidence of any pattern of disparate treatment based on this unspecified age gap, merely an allegation that Mr. Ormiston argued with Mr. Smith, once calling him an angry old man, while he 'supported' one younger coach."

And the claim that Ormiston interfered with Gregory's business in Intervale "does not specifically identify any coaches or students ... In any event, he points to no facts to support his conclusory allegation that Mr. Ormiston, an educator, "steered" anyone away from Mr. Gregory's camps, with improper purpose or otherwise."

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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