that in general the Pennsylvania courts do not recognize a cause of action for wrongful discharge and that in the absence of a statutory or contractual provision, an employer's right to hire and fire is virtually absolute. Defendant acknowledges that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated in Geary v. United States Steel Corp., 456 Pa. 171, 319 A.2d 174 (1974) that when the discharge of an employee-at-will threatens public policy, the employee may have a cause of action against the employer for wrongful discharge. Defendant argues, however, that Geary also held that where the complaint discloses a plausible and legitimate reason for terminating an at-will employee which does not violate a clear mandate of public policy, an employee-at will has no cause of action for wrongful discharge. Applying the two-part Geary analysis, defendant contends that plaintiff's refusal to work in her assigned position as a plate classifier was a legitimate, plausible reason for her termination for which there is no statutory or public policy prohibition.
Plaintiff stated in her opposing brief that she had filed an affidavit averring that she would produce evidence establishing that defendant had other jobs available that it could have assigned to her but which it refused to do. Plaintiff also states in her brief that her affidavit indicates she will produce evidence establishing that defendant had a policy of placing injured employees who were incapable of performing their regular jobs on inactive status so they could continue their eligibility for certain benefits. Plaintiff contends that defendant knew of the problems surrounding her performance of the plate classifier job based on two medical reports yet defendant still directed plaintiff to report for the classifier job. Plaintiff argues that defendant acted with improper motives in assigning plaintiff to a job it knew would be detrimental to her health and then terminating her as an example to others.
Plaintiff also contends that the Pennsylvania courts would recognize a cause of action for retaliatory discharge for filing a workmen's compensation claim.
A. Summary Judgment Standards
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment shall be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."
The moving party, in this case defendant, has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. Fairbanks, Morse & Co. v. Consolidated Fisheries Co., 190 F.2d 817, 824 (3d Cir. 1951). Further, in considering defendant's motion, "the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts . . . must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176, 82 S. Ct. 993, (1962).
The court will first address defendant's contention that Pennsylvania courts have refused to recognize a cause of action for wrongful discharge in retaliation for filing a workmen's compensation claim.
B. Pennsylvania Law on Wrongful Discharges
At least since 1891, the established common law of Pennsylvania held that, in the absence of a specific statutory or contractual restriction, an at-will employment contract could be terminated by either the employer or the employee at any time, for good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all. Henry v. Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Co., 139 Pa. 289, 21 A. 157 (1891). The state courts began to reevaluate this position in 1974 when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Geary v. United States Steel Corporation, 456 Pa. 171, 319 A.2d 174 (1974). In Geary, an employee of U.S. Steel was allegedly dismissed in retaliation for advising his superiors about the inadequate testing of and serious danger created by one of the company's new products, which U.S. Steel subsequently withdrew from the market. The employee alleged his discharge under these circumstances was wrongful, malicious and abusive. Although the court sustained the lower court's dismissal of plaintiff's suit, the court acknowledged in dicta the possible existence of a nonstatutory cause of action for wrongful discharge:
It may be granted that there are areas of an employee's life in which his employer has no legitimate interest. An intrustion into one of these areas by virtue of the employer's power of discharge might plausibly give rise to a cause of action, particularly where some recognized facet of public policy is threatened. The notion that substantive due process elevates an employer's privilege of hiring and discharging his employees to an absolute constitutional right has long since been discredited. But this case does not require us to define in comprehensive fashion the perimeters of this privilege, and we decline to do so. We hold only that where the complaint itself discloses a plausible and legitimate reason for terminating an at-will employment relationship and no clear mandate of public policy is violated thereby, an employee at will has no right of action against his employer for wrongful discharge.
456 Pa. at 184, 319 A.2d at 180 (footnote omitted) (emphasis added).
In light of Geary, it is now well settled in Pennsylvania that, "when the discharge of an employee-at-will threatens public policy, the employee may have a cause of action against the employer for wrongful discharge." Yaindl v. Ingersoll-Rand Co., 281 Pa.Super. 560, 422 A.2d 611, 617, 115 L.R.R.M. 4738 (1980). Accord, Reuther v. Fowler and Williams, Inc., 255 Pa. Super. 28, 386 A.2d 119 (1978), Hunter v. Port Authority of Allegheny County, 277 Pa. Super. 4, 419 A. 2d 631, 633 (1980).
This court, sitting in diversity, is constrained by the requirement that in diversity cases "a federal court must be sensitive to the doctrinal trends of the state whose law it applies, and the policies which inform the prior adjudications by the state courts." Becker v. Interstate Properties, 569 F.2d 1203, 1206 (3d Cir. 1977) (footnote omitted), cert. denied, 436 U.S. 906, 56 L. Ed. 2d 404, 98 S. Ct. 2237 (1978). In predicting whether the Pennsylvania courts would interpret Geary and its progeny so as to find a cause of action in the circumstances at bar, this court is aided by a thoughtful opinion filed by Judge Wettick of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in Butler v. Negley House, Inc., 20 D&C 3d 543 (1981). In that case plaintiff sought damages from defendant for refusing to allow plaintiff to resume her employment for approximately one year following a period of disability arising from an occupational injury. Plaintiff alleged in a trespass count that defendant refused to rehire her in retaliation for filing a workmen's compensation claim. In denying defendant's demurrer to the trespass count, Judge Wettick addressed the same arguments asserted by defendant in the present case: the Workmen's Compensation Act contains no provisions protecting an employee from retaliatory action; the common law of Pennsylvania recognizes no cause of action for such a claim. Judge Wettick first examined the Workmen's Compensation Act and found that it is:
humanitarian legislation which should be broadly construed to protect the employee. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board v. Overmyer Mold Company, 473 Pa. 369, 374 A.2d 689 (1977); Plasteel Products Corp. v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 32 Pa. Cmwlth. 405, 379 A.2d 908 (1977). The purpose of this Act is to provide financial protection to employees injured in the course of their employment by requiring the employer to compensate an injured employee regardless of fault. In enacting this legislation, the Legislature recognized that the employer possessed superior bargaining power and thus included numerous provisions designed to prevent the employer from exercising this bargaining power to deprive employees of the benefits which this legislation was intended to provide.