plaintiff has established a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to the defendant, who must articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the action taken. Shenango contends that it has satisfied this burden and that the burden of production thus shifts back to Williams, who must show that the asserted reason for the action taken was pretext for discrimination. According to Shenango, "Williams cannot meet this burden." (Docket No. 10, p. 24).
I must, therefore, "determine whether the plaintiff has cast sufficient doubt upon the employer's proffered reasons to permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the reasons are incredible...." Sheridan v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours and CO., 100 F.3d 1061, 1072 (3d Cir. 1996). A "plaintiff cannot simply show that the employer's decision was wrong or mistaken, since the factual dispute at issue is whether discriminatory animus motivated the employer, not whether the employer is wise, shrewd, prudent or competent." Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 765 (3d Cir. 1994). "Rather, the non-moving plaintiff must demonstrate such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherences, or contradictions in the employer's proffered legitimate reasons for its action that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find them 'unworthy of credence,' ... and hence infer 'that the employer did not act for the asserted non-discriminatory reasons.'" Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 764 (emphasis in original) (internal citations and brackets omitted).
In discharging this burden, a plaintiff may rely upon evidence supporting the prima facie case. Sheridan, 100 F.3d at 1069. The underlying evidence and inferences properly drawn therefrom may be considered on the issue of whether the defendant's explanation is pretextual. Id. (citations omitted). Additionally, a court may consider the timing of certain events in assessing evidence of pretext. See Josey v. John R. Hollingsworth Corp., 996 F.2d 632, 639 (3d Cir. 1993) (stating that "the timing of an employee's dismissal may raise an inference that an employer's purported reasons for terminating him were pretextual"); and White v. Westinghouse, 862 F.2d 56, 62 (3d Cir. 1988) (same).
I find that the evidence proffered by Williams in support of his prima facie case, together with the timing of the discipline, creates genuine issues of material facts as to whether Shenango's articulated nondiscriminatory reasons for discipline are pretextual. The facts indicate that, on August 25, 1994, Williams received a four-day suspension. This suspension occurred within a few weeks of returning from his FMLA leave. Within a month of the initial suspension, Williams received a five-day suspension, allegedly based upon his departure from work prior to the arrival of his replacement. Approximately two weeks later, on October 4, 1994, Williams and Shenango executed an "Absolute Last Chance Agreement." The Agreement granted Shenango the "unilateral right" to discharge Williams for "any infraction."
A reasonable person may find it curious that, within approximately three months of taking FMLA leave, and after more than twenty years of employment by Shenango, Williams was subject to a Last Chance Agreement. Although, as Shenango contends, Williams may indeed have escaped discipline for several rules infractions prior to his taking FMLA leave, it may be significant that the "avoidance of discipline" ended shortly after his having taken FMLA leave. I therefore find that sufficient facts exist from which a reasonable person may find Shenango's articulated nondiscriminatory reasons for suspending, and ultimately terminating Williams, to be pretextual. Consequently, Shenango's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied in this respect.
ORDER OF COURT
AND NOW, this 31st day of March, 1997, after careful consideration of the submissions of the parties and for the reasons set forth in the Opinion accompanying this Order, it is hereby ORDERED that Shenango's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket # : 9) is DENIED with respect to Counts I and II, and GRANTED with respect to Count III.
BY THE COURT:
Donetta W. Ambrose,
U. S. District Judge