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MCELHINNEY v. QUEST DIAGNOSTICS

May 22, 2001

ELINORE MCELHINNEY
v.
QUEST DIAGNOSTICS, INC.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hutton, J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Presently before this Court are Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief is Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 13), Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 16) and Defendant's Reply Brief in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 18). For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Elinore McElhinney ("Plaintiff") was employed by Quest Diagnostics, Inc. ("Defendant") in June of 1988 as an account representative. See Compl. ¶ 12. On January 6, 1998, Defendant terminated Plaintiff's employment. See id. ¶ 13. Plaintiff alleges that the termination of her employment violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). See id. ¶¶ 22-25, 26-31.*fn1

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate "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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden of showing the basis for its motion. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Ultimately, the moving party bears the burden of showing that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. See id. at 325. Once the movant adequately supports its motion pursuant to Rule 56(c), the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to go beyond the mere pleadings and present evidence through affidavits, depositions, or admissions on file to show that there is a genuine issue for trial. See id. at 324. A genuine issue is one in which the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable rule of law. See id.

When deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. See Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992). Moreover, a court may not consider the credibility or weight of the evidence in deciding a motion for summary judgment, even if the quantity of the moving party's evidence far outweighs that of its opponent. See id. Nonetheless, a party opposing summary judgment must do more than rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. See Trap Rock Indus., Inc. v. Local 825, 982 F.2d 884, 890 (3d Cir. 1992). The court's inquiry at the summary judgment stage is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is need for a trial, that is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-52. If there is sufficient evidence to reasonably expect that a jury could return a verdict in favor of plaintiff, that is enough to thwart imposition of summary judgment. See id. at 248-51.

A. Plaintiff's ADEA Claim

Count I of Plaintiff's Complaint alleges Defendant violated the ADEA. See Pl.['s] Compl., ¶ 23-25. In McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, the United States Supreme Court created a special scheme for structuring the presentation of evidence in discriminatory treatment cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1 et seq. 411 U.S. 792 (1973). The Third Circuit has applied a slightly modified version of this scheme in ADEA cases. See, e.g., Keller v. Orix Credit Alliance, Inc., 130 F.3d 1101, 1108-113 (3d Cir. 1997); Waldron v. SL Industries Inc., 56 F.3d 491, 494-95 (3d Cir. 1995); Sempier v. Johnson & Higgins, 45 F.3d 724, 728 (3d Cir. 1995); Torre v. Casio, Inc., 42 F.3d 825, 829-30 (3d Cir. 1994); Healy v. New York Life Ins. Co., 860 F.2d 1209, 1214 (3d Cir. 1988).

The McDonnell Douglas scheme has three steps. First, the plaintiff must produce evidence that is sufficient to convince a reasonable factfinder to find all of the elements of a prima facie case. See St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 506, (1993). When the plaintiff alleges unlawful discharge based on age, the prima facie case requires proof that (i) the plaintiff was a member of the protected class, i.e., was 40 years of age or older (see 29 U.S.C. § 631(a)), (ii) that the plaintiff was discharged, (iii) that the plaintiff was qualified for the job, and (iv) that the plaintiff was replaced by a sufficiently younger person to create an inference of age discrimination. See Sempier, 45 F.3d at 728.

If the plaintiff offers sufficient proof of these elements, step two is reached. The burden of production, but not the burden of persuasion, shifts to the defendant, who must then offer evidence that is sufficient, if believed, to support a finding that it had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the discharge. Hicks, 509 U.S. at 506-07. If the defendant cannot satisfy this burden, judgment must be entered for the plaintiff. Id. at 509.

On the other hand, if the defendant employer meets this burden, the presumption of discrimination arising from the prima facie case "simply drops out of the picture." Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 511 (1993). "`At the summary judgment stage, it then becomes the plaintiff's burden to show that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the employer's proffered reason for the challenged action is pretextual — i.e. unworthy of belief.'" Marx v. Schnuck Markets, Inc., 76 F.3d 324, 327 (10th Cir. 1996).

The court must determine whether the evidence, interpreted in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, "could persuade a reasonable jury that the employer had discriminated against the plaintiff." Jones v. Unisys Corp., 54 F.3d 624, 632 (10th Cir. 1995). "If no facts relating to the pretextuality of the defendant's action remain in dispute, summary judgment is appropriate." Id. The plaintiff at all times bears the "ultimate burden of persuasion." See St. Mary's Honor Center, 509 U.S. at 511.

The plaintiff may then survive summary judgment law by submitting sufficient evidence from which a factfinder could reasonably either (1) disbelieve the employer's articulated legitimate reasons; or (2) believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the employers action. Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 763 (3d Cir. ...


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