JUNE 26, 1996
Plaintiff Steven Overturf has sued his former employer, Defendant Penn Ventilator Corp., for its alleged discrimination against him based on his handicap. Plaintiff contends that when Defendant terminated his employment in 1994, it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213 (1995) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 951-63 (1991 & Supp. 1994). Defendant now seeks a summary judgment in its favor on both of these claims.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
In considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must consider whether the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, show there is no genuine issue of material fact, and whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The court must determine whether the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986).
In making this determination, all of the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. Id. at 256. Once the moving party has met the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the non-moving party must establish the existence of each element of its case. J.F. Feeser, Inc. v. Serv-A-Portion, Inc., 909 F.2d 1524, 1531 (3d Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 499 U.S. 921, 113 L. Ed. 2d 246, 111 S. Ct. 1313 (1991) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986)).
Briefly stated, the factual background of this case is as follows. In 1992, Plaintiff was hired to manage one of Defendant's ten plants. Soon after, he was promoted to General Manager and given a salary raise. In contrast to Plaintiff's good fortune, Defendant experienced serious financial troubles and lost $ 5 million in 1992 and 1993. According to Defendant, Plaintiff was not an asset in curing its problems, and indeed, due to his high salary, was a detriment. For that reason, Defendant determined to fire Plaintiff. However, mere hours before Defendant planned to tell Plaintiff he was terminated, Plaintiff told Defendant's Vice President of Operations, Ted Sharpe, that he had a tumor behind his eye. Because Defendant had already decided to terminate Plaintiff, Defendant asserts that his subsequent termination had nothing to do with his impairment.
Plaintiff's version of the events is different, however. He maintains that up to the point that Defendant learned of his impairment, he had been praised and rewarded by Defendant, assured of his continued employment and told that he would be the General Manager of his plant even after it was consolidated with a second plant later that year.
Defendant seeks summary judgment and argues that first, Plaintiff has failed to show that he is an individual with a disability as that is defined by the ADA, and second, that there is no material question of fact that Defendant had already decided to terminate Plaintiff when it learned of his tumor.
1. Whether Plaintiff has a Disability
The ADA only prohibits discrimination against qualified people with disabilities. A disability is:
1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;