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BICKINGS v. BETHLEHEM LUKENS PLATE

January 31, 2000

LARRY BICKINGS, PLAINTIFF,
V.
BETHLEHEM LUKENS PLATE, A DIVISION OF BETHLEHEM STEEL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anita B. Brody, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Before me is defendant's motion for partial summary judgment (Docket Entry # 9). The parties entered into a stipulation on June 8, 1999 (Docket Entry # 8) that provided for (1) the instant initial motion for partial summary judgment, and (2) a stay of discovery until the resolution of this motion.*fn1 Although the briefs reflect that there is no dispute as to the material facts, I will state the facts most favorable to the plaintiff as the non-moving party. I will grant defendant's motion for partial summary judgment.

Facts

On June 25, 1979, plaintiff Larry Bickings was hired as a Maintenance Mechanic by defendant Bethlehem Lukens Plate ("Lukens"). Bickings was employed by Lukens until March 7, 1985, when he voluntarily quit his employment. On September 28, 1987, Bickings was rehired by Lukens as a Machinist.

On April 28, 1996, Bickings suffered a heart attack and took a leave of absence from his job at Lukens until June 3, 1996. During Bickings's leave of absence, Lukens implemented a planned reduction in its workforce and eliminated certain jobs. Bickings's job was one of those eliminated under the planned employment reduction. Bickings was notified of the layoff on June 3, 1996. The effective date of his termination was June 17, 1996. At the time of his termination, Bickings had a salaried position as a Lead Order Planner in the Maintenance Planning Department at Lukens's facility in Coatesville, Pennsylvania.

When Bickings was notified of the termination on June 3, 1996, Lukens offered him a severance package that included a severance payment. One requirement of receiving the severance package was that Bickings sign a General Release Agreement ("Release"). The Release provided in pertinent part:

I, Larry R. Bickings, . . . for and in consideration of the severance benefits described in the foregoing Lukens 1996 Severance Pay Offer for Selected Employees ("the Severance Pay Offer") and other good and valuable consideration, do hereby state that:
1. I agree to and accept the terms of the Severance Pay Offer.
2. I hereby elect one of the following four irrevocable payment options below . . .
a. Payment in a lump sum on the next regularly scheduled payday after the effective date of this General Release Agreement;. . . .
3. I waive, release and forever discharge Lukens Inc., . . . of and from any and all claims, causes of action, suits, damages, wages, debts, obligations, attorneys' fees, costs and all other liabilities of any kind or description whatsoever, either at law or in equity, whether known or unknown, whether suspected or unsuspected, including without limitation, any and all claims for breach of contract, discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age, color, sexual harassment, handicap and/or disability, national origin, retaliation, or otherwise (including any claim under the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the National Labor relations Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act), or any other claim based on my employment or the termination thereof that I ever had, now have or may have or claim to have in the future against [Lukens] for or by reason or any cause, matter or event whatsoever, from the beginning of time to the date of this General Release Agreement and I covenant not to file a lawsuit to assert any such claims . . .

Def.Br. Ex. 6, Release, ¶ 1-3. The Release provides one exception: "provided, however, that this release shall not apply to benefits payable under the terms of any employee benefit plan within the meaning of ERISA maintained by the Company, except that it shall apply to any severance benefits." Id.

Lukens gave Bickings 45 days to review the severance package and the Release. In addition, Lukens permitted its newly-terminated employees, including Bickings, to apply for new positions within Lukens for six months after termination. Only current Lukens employees and the newly-terminated employees were allowed to apply for these positions.

On June 4, 1996, Bickings applied for the position of Machine Shop Planner. In applying for this position, Bickings used the internal application form used by Lukens employees. See Def.Br., Ex. 4. At the interview for this position, agents of Lukens asked Bickings about his health and disability and whether he would suffer any future medical impairments as a result of his disability. See Compl., ¶ 15. After the interview, Bickings was told that he interviewed "well" for the position. See Pl.Br., Ex. A, Bickings Aff. ¶ 4.

On July 11, 1996, Bickings was notified by Lukens in writing that he was not selected for the Machine Shop Planner position. The letter stated that interviewers had rated him "acceptable" or "more than acceptable" in some competencies. See Pl.Br., Ex. B. When Bickings inquired about who had been selected for the position, a Lukens representative told him that it was "someone more qualified than you." See Tr. of Telephone Conference, January 28, 2000. On July 22, 1996, Bickings accepted the severance package offered by Lukens and selected to receive payment in a lump sum. As required by the severance agreement, Bickings also executed the Release on ...


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