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SOLT v. ALPO PETFOODS

October 22, 1993

FAYE L. SOLT, Plaintiff
v.
ALPO PETFOODS, INC., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DANIEL H. HUYETT, 3RD

 HUYETT, J.

 I. BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff Faye Solt was an employee of Alpo Petfoods, Inc. ("Alpo") for fourteen years until she was discharged on May 31, 1992. Plaintiff was 45 years old. On the date of termination, Plaintiff was a Senior Accounts Payable Clerk in the Corporate Finance Department. Her duties consisted of reviewing invoices for a plant located in Crete, Nebraska. Plaintiff believes that her termination was motivated solely by age discrimination.

 Defendant claims that Plaintiff's termination was a business decision made upon recommendation of outside consultants who proposed firm-wide decentralization. An outside consulting firm hired by Alpo to streamline operations had suggested that Alpo eliminate Plaintiff's position, among others, because the tasks performed by Plaintiff were also performed by employees located in a branch office. The Controller of the Corporate Finance Department made the decision to terminate Plaintiff and several others within Plaintiff's work unit. Plaintiff's tasks were reassigned to plant personnel in Nebraska.

 Currently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendant asserts that (1) Plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of age discrimination; (2) if Plaintiff does establish a prima facie case of age discrimination, Defendant has articulated a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the termination and (3) Plaintiff cannot show that the reasons articulated by Defendant are pretextual.

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. Standard For Summary Judgment.

 Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The Court does not resolve questions of disputed fact, but rather simply decides whether there is a genuine issue of fact which must be resolved at trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986); Ettinger v. Johnson, 556 F.2d 692 (3d Cir. 1977). The facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and reasonable doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact are to be resolved against the moving party. Continental Ins. Co. v. Bodie, 682 F.2d 436, 438 (3d Cir. 1982).

 Although allegations of discrimination which involve an analysis of motive or intent are fact intensive, summary judgment is appropriate where plaintiff has not provided enough evidence to support a reasonable inference of discrimination. Billet v. CIGNA Corp., 940 F.2d 812, 816 (3d Cir. 1991); Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp. 705 F. Supp. 1048, 1051 (D.N.J 1989), aff'd in part, 901 F.2d 335 (3d Cir. 1990).

 B. Age Discrimination in Employment Act

 The Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") proscribes employers from failing to hire, discharging or otherwise discriminating against any individual because of such person's age. 29 U.S.C. § 623(a). The protected class of individuals under ADEA are those who are at least 40 years of age. 29 U.S.C. § 631(a). To prevail in a disparate treatment action where plaintiff alleges that defendant's proffered reasons for termination are pretextual, plaintiff ultimately must prove by a preponderance of evidence that age was the determinative factor in the employer's decision. Griffiths v. CIGNA Corp., 988 F.2d 457, 471-72 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 114 S. Ct. 186, 126 L. Ed. 2d 145, 1993 WL 292449 (U.S. 1993). *fn1"

 Under the familiar burden shifting rules established for discrimination cases, the plaintiff must first demonstrate the existence of a prima facie case by showing: (1) plaintiff is a member of the protected class; (2) plaintiff was discharged from a job; (3) plaintiff was qualified for the job from which she was teminated; (4) plaintiff was replaced by a younger employee. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973). However in a reduction-in-force ("RIF") case plaintiff satisfies the fourth prong by showing that he or she was treated less favorably than other similarly situated employees not in the protected class. Massarsky v. General Motors Corp., 706 F.2d 111, 118 (3d Cir.), cert. denied 464 U.S. 937, 78 L. Ed. 2d 314, 104 S. Ct. 348 (1983); White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 60 (3d Cir. 1988). Once established, plaintiff's prima facie case raises an inference of intentional discrimination by the Defendant and the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the termination. Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254, 67 L. Ed. 2d 207, 101 S. Ct. 1089 (1981); McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973). At that point, in order to avoid summary judgment, plaintiff must establish by competent evidence that the employer's proffered explanation is unworthy of credence. Chipollini v. Spencer Gifts, Inc., 814 F.2d 893, 898 (3d Cir.), ...


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