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E.E.O.C. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp.

filed: April 19, 1991.

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION
v.
WESTINGHOUSE ELECTRIC CORPORATION. APPEAL OF UNITED STATES EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey; D.C. Civil Action No. 80-853. Reargued, January 16, 1990; Panel Rehearing Granted, September 20, 1990; Reargued, October 9, 1990.

Argued October 20, 1987, Higginbotham, Chief Judge, Scirica, and Garth, Circuit Judges; Reargued January 16, 1990, Higginbotham, Chief Judge, Scirica, and Garth, Circuit Judges; Panel Rehearing Granted September 20, 1990, Reargued October 9, 1990, Higginbotham, Chief Judge, Becker, and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Garth

Opinion OF THE COURT

GARTH, Circuit Judge

With this opinion, we add still another, and hopefully final, chapter to this lengthy and complicated litigation between the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, ("EEOC"), and the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, ("Westinghouse"). EEOC had initially filed two actions under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, ("ADEA"), against Westinghouse, one in Pennsylvania, No. 86-1226, and the instant one in New Jersey, No. 87-5174.*fn1 The Pennsylvania action had an extended procedural history, which included a remand to this court from the Supreme Court, as well as a panel rehearing. Ultimately, we filed an opinion in January, 1991, in which we directed that the district court in the Pennsylvania action enter judgment for Westinghouse. EEOC v. Westinghouse Electric, 925 F.2d 619 (3d Cir. 1991) (providing detailed procedural history of the litigation of both actions).*fn2

In so holding, we had determined that: 1) following the Supreme Court's ruling in Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio v. Betts, 492 U.S. 158, 109 S. Ct. 2854, 106 L. Ed. 2d 134 (1989), a denial of severance pay, without more, to older workers did not constitute a violation of ADEA; 2) EEOC was not entitled at the present juncture to adduce further proofs that Westinghouse intended its severance plan to impact adversely on older employees' nonfringe benefits, because EEOC had failed to prove any such intent at trial and had conceded that Westinghouse's plans were not a subterfuge to evade ADEA; and 3) the challenged benefit plans did not compel the involuntary retirement of older workers.

In contrast to the Pennsylvania case where the complaint and Revised Joint Pretrial Order charged violations of the ADEA in connection with severance pay and reemployment rights of recall and transfer, here, in the instant New Jersey proceeding, EEOC had charged Westinghouse with violating the Act only by denying severance pay to retirement-eligible employees. The New Jersey complaint made no reference to recall or transfer rights and, as we relate here, at all times EEOC disclaimed any intention to charge, or expand upon, additional employee practices of Westinghouse alleged to have violated ADEA. See (NJ App. 61-63).*fn3 The New Jersey action was disposed of through summary judgment proceedings in the district court rather than by trial. In a series of three opinions, the New Jersey district court determined that the statute of limitations barred EEOC's claims.*fn4

Although this court heard oral argument in the appeal of both the Pennsylvania and the New Jersey cases, we did not file an opinion in the New Jersey case at the time that we filed our Pennsylvania opinion, 925 F.2d 619, because of the difference in the procedural postures of the two cases. The Pennsylvania case did not involve any statute of limitations issue and came to us after a full trial, whereas the New Jersey case, as noted, was the result of summary judgment entered for Westinghouse on the basis of a statute of limitations bar.

After we filed our opinion in the Pennsylvania case, we sought additional briefing from the parties, largely related to the question of whether and/or how our disposition in the Pennsylvania case affected, if at all, the pending disposition of the New Jersey case.*fn5 Accordingly, we sought answers to our questions concerning the binding effect, if any, of the Pennsylvania decision on the New Jersey case; whether any principles of estoppel precluded different dispositions; the effect on the New Jersey case of EEOC's concessions made during the Pennsylvania litigation; whether any other theory should lead to different dispositions of the two cases; and whether the statute of limitations barred the New Jersey action altogether.

We conclude that, in light of Betts, 492 U.S. 158,109 S. Ct. 2854, 106 L. Ed. 2d 134, and our decision in the Pennsylvania case, 925 F.2d 619, EEOC's claim that Westinghouse violated the ADEA by denying severance pay to its retirement-eligible employees at the New Jersey plant cannot be sustained. We will, therefore, affirm the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of Westinghouse, although we do so on a different ground than the statute of limitations.

I.

Westinghouse has presented us with a number of reasons why we should affirm the district court's entry of summary judgment on its behalf on statute of limitations grounds. EEOC v. Westinghouse, 651 F. Supp. 1172 (D. N.J. 1987). Westinghouse argues that, under either a two or three year statute of limitations, the New Jersey action must be barred.*fn6 In addition, in its supplemental brief, Westinghouse has argued that, pursuant to the doctrine of collateral estoppel, and by reason of the concessions made by EEOC, the disposition of the Pennsylvania case in Westinghouse's favor binds us to dispose of the New Jersey case in the same manner. We, of course, can affirm the district court on any ground. PAAC v. Rizzo, 502 F.2d 306, 308 n.1 (3d Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 1108, 95 S. Ct. 780, 42 L. Ed. 2d 804 (1975). We affirm, therefore, having concluded that those provisions of Westinghouse's severance pay plan which EEOC has challenged did not violate the ADEA.

II.

As we have earlier noted, the complaint filed by EEOC in the Pennsylvania proceeding differed significantly from the complaint on which EEOC relied in the New Jersey case. EEOC's Pennsylvania complaint not only charged a denial of severance pay, but it also charged, among other things, that Westinghouse had denied recall to work to laid-off, retirement-eligible employees. The New Jersey complaint charged only that, because severance pay was denied to retirement-eligible employees, Westinghouse ...


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