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BOYKINS v. LUCENT TECHNOLOGIES

January 10, 2000

THEODIS BOYKINS, PLAINTIFF,
V.
LUCENT TECHNOLOGIES, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, District Judge.

    MEMORANDUM

Pro se plaintiff, Theodis Boykins, brought this employment discrimination action against the defendant, Lucent Technologies, Inc., pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. Stat.Ann. §§ 951 et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Specifically, plaintiff claims that defendant discriminated against him on the basis of his race by suspending him for two days without pay in connection with his involvement in an altercation with a fellow employee. See Compl. ¶ 10. In addition, plaintiff maintains that defendant retaliated against him for filing a charge with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"), which was cross-filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Id. ¶ 10.

Presently before the court are the cross-motions for summary judgment filed by both parties.*fn1 The court will grant defendant's motion because plaintiff has failed to produce sufficient evidence to rebut defendant's proffered reason for his suspension and because plaintiff has not established a prima facie case of retaliation. In turn, the court will deny plaintiff's motion because plaintiff has not shown that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

I. FACTS

The following material facts are not in dispute or have been construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and all reasonable inferences have drawn in the non-moving party's favor. Plaintiff currently works for defendant as an operator in its Linear I department and has been employed by defendant, or its predecessor, at its Reading facility since 1979. At all relevant times, there was in place a collective bargaining agreement between defendant and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1898 (the "Union"). Plaintiff is a member of this bargaining unit. Therefore, plaintiff's terms and conditions of employment are governed by the collective bargaining agreement.

In 1997, defendant instituted a cross-training program to increase the production efficiency of its workers. Plaintiff apparently became concerned about the program and its effect on the availability of overtime work. On several occasions, plaintiff questioned another employee, Lee Fry, about Mr. Fry's performance of a particular job function. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff's supervisor, Marty Mislevy, spoke to plaintiff about Mr. Fry's work assignments.

On February 6, 1997, plaintiff and Mr. Fry became involved in a heated conversation regarding a job that Mr. Fry was performing. During the altercation, plaintiff pushed Mr. Fry.*fn2 At no time, however, did Mr. Fry actually hit or touch plaintiff. Thereafter, defendant conducted an internal investigation of the incident. After a hearing held on March 14, 1997,*fn3 defendant concluded that plaintiff had violated a workplace conduct rule*fn4 by pushing Mr. Fry during their argument. Defendant subsequently disciplined plaintiff by suspending him for two days without pay, which took place on March 19 and 20, 1997.*fn5 Mr. Fry was not disciplined for his part in the altercation.

Plaintiff grieved his suspension through the grievance procedure provided for in the collective bargaining agreement. After defendant denied plaintiff's grievance, the matter proceeded to arbitration. At the arbitration, plaintiff was represented by a union official. Following the hearing, a neutral arbitrator concluded that plaintiff had pushed Mr. Fry in violation of defendant's workplace conduct rules and that, accordingly, defendant had "just cause" to suspend plaintiff for two days without pay. See Def.'s Mot. for Summ.J., Ex. I (Summary of Award of Arbitrator) at 1. The arbitrator also stated that "Mr. Fry's [sic] not also having been disciplined does not support a finding of disparate treatment, inasmuch as he was not responsible for initiating any physical contact." Id. at 2.*fn6

On January 19, 1998, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination against defendant with the PHRC based on the two-day suspension. His charge was shortly thereafter cross-filed with the EEOC.*fn7 On February 18, 1999, plaintiff filed an amended complaint with the PHRC alleging that he was a victim of retaliation due to his previously-filed charge.

Based on his complaint in the instant action, his deposition taken in this case, and the discrimination and retaliation charges he filed, plaintiff's theory of the case appears to be that defendant suspended him after the altercation with Mr. Fry solely because of his race (African-American) and that after he filed his charge of discrimination with the PHRC, defendant retaliated against him for doing so.

Defendant responds by stating that plaintiff's action in pushing Mr. Fry constituted workplace violence and thus a two-day suspension was warranted. Turning to plaintiff's claims of retaliation, defendant contends that plaintiff has not established a prima facie case of retaliation because he did not suffer any adverse employment action, and even if he had, plaintiff has not demonstrated a causal connection between such actions and plaintiff's filing of a charge.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party can "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). The court must accept the non-movant's version of the facts as true and resolve conflicts in the non-movant's favor. See Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Amer., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992).

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of genuine issues of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once the movant has done so, however, the non-moving party cannot simply rest on its pleadings. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). Rather, the non-movant must then "make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of every element essential to his case, based on the affidavits or by depositions and admissions on file." Harter v. GAF Corp., 967 F.2d 846, 852 (3d Cir. 1992); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Speculation, conclusory allegations, and mere denials are insufficient to raise genuine issues of material fact. See Sterling Nat'l Mort. Co. v. Mortgage Corner, Inc., 97 F.3d 39, 45 (3d Cir. 1996) (finding that plaintiff was obligated to come forward with evidence sufficient to raise triable issue and that "mere speculation about the possibility of the existence of such facts" does not entitle non-moving party to go to trial); Trap Rock Industries, Inc. v. Local 825 Int'l Union of Operating Engineers, AFL-CIO, 982 F.2d 884, 890 (3d Cir. 1992) (stating that "non-moving party may not rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or . . . vague statements"). Indeed, to defeat "a properly supported summary judgment motion, the party opposing it must present sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find in its favor." Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d Cir. 1995).

Moreover, merely because a non-moving party is proceeding pro se does not relieve him of the obligation under Rule 56(e) to produce evidence that raises a genuine issue of material fact. See Kershaw v. Aspin, No. CIV.A. 94-216, 1994 WL 683384, at *2 (E.D.Pa. Dec. 5, 1994) ("While a pro se litigant must be afforded a more liberal interpretation of [his] complaint than a represented plaintiff, this judicial grace does not relieve the pro se plaintiff of the burden of coming forth with some evidence to rebut defense affidavits that refute [his] claims."); Wade v. Wooten, No. CIV.A. 90-2373, 1993 WL 298715, at *5-6 (E.D.Pa. July 30, 1993) (recognizing that, although all reasonable latitude must be afforded pro se litigant, just like any other party, pro se party is subject to obligations of Rule 56(e)).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Plaintiff's Race Discrimination Claim Based on His Two-Day Suspension.

Defendant first argues that plaintiff's § 1981 claim is time-barred.*fn8 The court agrees with defendant to the extent that plaintiff is claiming defendant discriminated against him because of his race by suspending him.*fn9

The statute of limitations for claims brought pursuant to § 1981 in Pennsylvania is two years. See Goodman v. Lukens Steel Co., 482 U.S. 656, 662, 107 S.Ct. 2617, 96 L.Ed.2d 572 (1987) (finding that "[t]he Court of Appeals was correct in selecting the Pennsylvania 2-year limitations period governing personal injury actions" as the applicable limitations period for claims brought under ยง 1981). The limitations period for employment discrimination cases begins when the plaintiff knows or reasonably ...


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