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DETZ v. GREINER INDUSTRIES

August 15, 2002

RALPH D. DETZ, PLAINTIFF,
V.
GREINER INDUSTRIES, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Van Antwerpen, District Judge

  OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Ralph D. Detz ("Detz") has brought this action against Defendant Greiner Industries, Inc. ("Greiner"), alleging that Defendant violated his rights under The Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 P.S. § 951 et seq. Presently before this Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed on July 16, 2002, asking this Court to grant summary judgment in its favor on all of Plaintiff's claims against it; Plaintiff's response thereto, filed on August 7, 2002; and Defendant's Reply to Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Summary Judgment Motion, filed on August 9, 2002.

We have jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 1367.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court shall render summary judgment "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). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Id. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505. All inferences must be drawn, and all doubts resolved, in favor of the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962); Gans v. Mundy, 762 F.2d 338, 341 (3d Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1010, 106 S.Ct. 537, 88 L.Ed.2d 467 (1985).

On motion for summary judgment, the moving party bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). To defeat summary judgment, the non-moving party must respond with facts of record that contradict the facts identified by the movant and may not rest on mere denials. Id. at 321 n. 3, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)); see First Nat'l Bank of Pennsylvania v. Lincoln Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 824 F.2d 277, 282 (3d Cir. 1987). The non-moving party must demonstrate the existence of evidence that would support a jury finding in its favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49, 106 S.Ct. at 2505.

In discrimination and retaliation cases, proof at summary judgment follows a well-established "burden-shifting" approach first set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817 (1973). Once a plaintiff has established a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation, the defendant must rebut an inference of wrongdoing with evidence of a legitimate, non-discriminatory, non-retaliatory reason for the action taken. See Weston v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 251 F.3d 420, 432 (3d Cir. 2001); Delli Santi v. CNA Ins. Co., 88 F.3d 192, 199 (3d Cir. 1996). If a defendant successfully meets its burden in a discrimination or retaliation case, then in order to avoid summary judgment, Plaintiff must present evidence of pretext, or cover-up, or show that discrimination played a role in the employer's decision-making and had a determinative effect on the outcome. See Weston, 251 F.3d at 432; Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 764 (3d Cir. 1994).

III. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Greiner, a welding and fabricating company, employed Detz at three separate times throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Detz first worked for Greiner from 1979 or 1980 to 1982 and then from 1989 or 1990 to 1992. (R. Detz Dep. at 37; 42-47.) Detz last worked for Greiner from 1994 to 1997. (Id. at 47; Complaint at ¶ 7.)*fn1 The termination of his final work period is the subject of this lawsuit. At the time of the termination of his final period of employment, Detz was 59 years old. (R. Detz Dep. at 5; Complaint at ¶ 8.)

There are two broad categories of Greiner employees: those who work in Greiner's fabrication facility and those who work on outside projects as part of Greiner's road crews. (R. Detz Dep. at 72-75; L. Dalessandri Dep. at 23-24.) During his periods of employment with Greiner through December of 1994, Detz worked as a millwright as a member of the company's road crews. (R. Detz Dep. at 6, 70-84.) On December 5, 1994, Detz was injured. (Id. at 26.) Greiner's policy with respect to an employee who has suffered a work-related injury is to place him or her "in the tool room as a light duty employee or an alternative work employee" until the employee is able to return to his or her pre-injury position. (J. Gamber Dep. at 29.) The philosophy is to help the employee "to be as productive as [he or she] can [be] and also to rehab them back into the workplace." (Id. at 29-30.) Accordingly, following his injury in December of 1994, Detz was placed in the tool room on light duty status. (R. Detz Dep. at 26-27.) Prior to his injury, working as a millwright, Detz performed a variety of tasks, including welding and installation and leveling of machinery. (Id. at 39-41.) Following his injury, while on light duty, Detz's tasks included tool repair and cleaning, painting, delivering tools in the shop and making photocopies. (Id. at 84-92.)

While working in the tool room, Detz was supervised by David Hartman ("Hartman"), the tool room foreman, whose job it was to maintain and repair the tools and machinery used in the fabrication facility. (D. Hartman Dep. at 5, 10.) Detz contends that while working in the tool room, Hartman never used Detz's first name, but instead referred to Detz as "old man" and also on one occasion implied that Detz's job was in danger. (R. Detz Dep. at 48-53.) Detz alleges that he was frequently told to perform tasks that were outside of his work restrictions and was told that he would be reported if he refused to do the tasks. (Id. at 48-49.) Detz states that he complained several times to Joan Gamber, Greiner's Director of Human Resources and Safety, about Hartman's treatment of him. (Id. at 53-54.) At some point in 1997, as Defendant contends, "[i]n order to alleviate an obvious personality conflict" between Detz and Hartman (Defs. Mot. for Sum. Judg. at 8), Detz was removed from Hartman's supervision and assigned to work in a temporary office trailer. (R. Detz Dep. at 158-65; D. Hartman Dep. at 30; J. Gamber Dep. at 21.) At this point Detz's tasks included making photocopies and deliveries. (R. Detz Dep. at 158-65.)

Following Detz's termination, on April 28, 1998, Detz applied for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration ("SSA"). In his application for benefits, Detz stated under the penalty of perjury that he "became unable to work because of [his] disabling condition on November 26, 1997." (R. Detz App. For Disability Insurance Benefits at 1.) He further stated that he would "notify the Social Security Administration if [his] medical condition improves so that [he] would be able to work, even though [he] has not yet returned to work." (Id.)

In an SSA decision dated December 2, 1998, Detz was awarded disability benefits. The SSA found that Detz has one or more medically interminable impairments that are considered to be "severe" by the Social Security Regulations. (SSA Decision at 2.) The decision noted that "the symptoms associated with the impairments, which limit or restrict the claimant's ability to function, include hand and arm pain, hand and arm numbness, shortness of breath, depression, anxiety, and agitation." (Id.) The SSA concluded that based on the objective medical evidence, "the impairments are reasonably expected to produce the symptoms identified." (Id.) Further, the SSA found that "the claimant's statements with regard to the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of the symptoms are generally credible." (Id.) Based on the evidence before it, the SSA reasoned that "the claimant either has no past relevant work or cannot perform any of the past relevant work given the residual functional capacity determined above." (Id. at 3.) The SSA therefore went on to consider the vocational factors of age, education and work experience "to determine whether the claimant can perform any other work which exists in significant numbers in the national economy." (Id.) The SSA reasoned that given his residual functional capacity and the vocational factors, "there are no jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy which the claimant can perform." (Id. at 4.) The SSA ultimately decided that Detz was "entitled to a period of disability beginning on November 26, 1997" . . . and that "the claimant's disability has continued through at least the date of this decision." (Id. at 5.)

On January 28, 1998, Detz filed a Complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") and with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") in which he alleged that Greiner had discriminated against him because of both his age and his physical limitations. The PHRC found that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of probable cause with respect to either of Plaintiff's claims of discrimination. On August 16, 2001, the EEOC issued a Dismissal and Notice of Rights in which it adopted the findings of the PHRC and notified Detz of his right to sue in federal or state court under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or the ADEA.

Detz commenced this action in federal court in October of 2001. Detz claims that Greiner violated his rights under the ADEA and the PHRA in discriminating against him on the basis of his age; Detz has not pursued any disability discrimination claims here.

IV. DISCUSSION

Elements of Prima Facie Case of Age Discrimination

Under the ADEA, an employer is prohibited from discharging any individual or otherwise discriminating against an individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's age. 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). To make out a prima facie case for age discrimination under the ADEA and the PHRA, Plaintiff must show: (1) he was a member of a protected class, i.e., that he was over forty years of age; (2) he is qualified for the position; (3) he suffered an adverse employment decision; and (4) he was ultimately replaced by a person sufficiently younger to permit an inference of age discrimination or, in a reduction in force situation, the employer retained someone similarly situated to him who was sufficiently younger.*fn3 See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. ...


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