The opinion of the court was delivered by: HERBERT HUTTON, District Judge
Presently before the Court are Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment (Docket No. 42), Plaintiff's response (Docket No. 53),
Defendant's reply (Docket No. 58), and Plaintiff's sur-response thereto
(Docket No. 64).
This suit arises out of Plaintiff John Vandegrift's ("Vandegrift")
termination from Defendant Atlantic Envelope Company ("AECO"), a company
in the envelope industry.
John Vandegrift began his career in the envelope industry at Alien
Envelope Company ("Alien Envelope") in 1984 as a machine adjuster. By the
early 1990s, he had been promoted to facility maintenance manager. In
1998, AECO acquired Alien Envelope. As an AECO employee, Vandegrift
retained the position of facility maintenance manager at the Pennsylvania
A maintenance manager has two primary responsibilities: (1) "to provide
the expertise and leadership when there are breakdowns and repairs needed;" and (2) to oversee a preventive maintenance
program that keeps all the machines in top operating condition.
See Wayne White Dep. at 13 (Docket No. 53, Ex. 3). As
maintenance manager, Vandegrift also participated in special projects,
such as the designing, building and relocating of the plant facility and
the purchase and installation of new printing press equipment.
Vandegrift was well respected for his technical knowledge and thrived
in the technical aspects of his job, especially in special projects.
Vandegrift's alleged weaknesses as a manager center solely around his
interpersonal and communication skills. He was perceived as unable to
communicate effectively with his maintenance team members and other
On July 12, 2000, Vandegrift met with Russell Stewart ("Stewart"), his
immediate supervisor and the manufacturing manager, and Wayne White
("White"), the director of engineering with whom Vandegrift had worked
extensively in the relocation of the plant facility. Stewart and White
counseled Vandegrift on ways to improve his performance as maintenance
manager. Specifically, Vandegrift was given a chart outlining his
"current behavior" along with corresponding "desired behavior."
See John Vandegrift Dep. Exs. 6, 7 (Docket No. 44). The
"desired behavior" list included (1) devoting more time on the day-to-day
maintenance of the equipment as opposed to special projects; (2) having
more face-to-face and daily communication with his maintenance team and
his supervisors; (3) spending more time on the floor; and (4)
expressing his frustrations in a more appropriate manner.
In the fall of 2000, Stewart received three e-mails that allegedly
demonstrate Vandegrift's poor communication skills and failings as a
manager. See, e.g., Vandegrift Dep. Ex. 9 (Sept. 29, 2000
e-mail re: not helpful in solving an equipment problem); Ex. 11 (Oct. 4,
2000 e-mail re: poor oversight of the repair of the conveyor machine);
Ex. 12 (Oct. 9, 2000 e-mail re: inappropriate delegation of duties).
Consequently, Stewart again reviewed the counseling chart with Vandegrift
in January of 2001.
Vandegrift's year 2000 annual performance review rated him as
marginally meeting job requirements. See Vandegrift Dep. Ex.
13. The review acknowledged Vandegrift's technical expertise, his strong
communication skills with his manager, his solid written communication
skills, and his willingness to do anything asked of him. However, the
review also stressed the same issues discussed at the July 2000
counseling session. See id. In a written response, Vandegrift
reiterated his commitment to improve the way he communicated with others
and to spend more time on the floor. See Vandegrift Dep. Ex. 14
(dated Feb. 18, 2001). Further, Vandegrift explained that many of the
maintenance issues were the result of too much work with too few
To improve his communication skills, Vandegrift attended a seminar
entitled "How to Handle People with Tact and Skill." See Vandegrift Dep. Ex. 15. Shortly after, Vandegrift received praise
for his efforts to reduce hazardous waste at the plant. His creative
thinking in a machine purchase also saved AECO a substantial amount of
Vandegrift's successes, however, were accompanied by setbacks in his
managerial capacity. During the summer of 2001, Vandegrift had difficulty
leading a team that was supposed to clean filters. In October 2001,
Stewart addressed Vandegrift's concerns about a personnel shortage by
asking Vandegrift to outline the responsibilities of potential new hires.
Because this was a task new to him, Vandegrift sought help from James
Brown, vice president and general manager of AECO, to help draft the
report. The meeting never occurred, through no one's fault. As a result,
Vandegrift failed to write an adequate report and no staff was added.
Two events occurred in December of 2001. First, while Stewart knew
about Vandegrift's vacation plans, Vandegrift allegedly failed to inform
his team members that he was going to be out on vacation for a week.
Second, on December 21, 2001, Vandegrift e-mailed Stewart and Brown
expressing his frustration at recent events and, in particular, at the
lack of communication between himself and his team. He recognized that he
needed to delegate more tasks and asked for suggestions and training
courses that would improve his performance as a manager. Stewart and
Brown both interpreted the e-mail as Vandegrift's acknowledgment that he
was failing in his managerial duties and asking to be relieved of those
responsibilities. Vandegrift and Stewart spoke later that day and Stewart
shared his thoughts about Vandegrift working as a consultant on special
projects rather than as maintenance manager. Vandegrift understood the
conversation to mean that he was being replaced. The two met again on
December 26, at which point Stewart allegedly stated that there would be
plenty of consulting work.
On January 24, 2002, Vandegrift received a counseling memorandum from
Stewart that alleged Vandegrift failed to help another employee on a
project and used profane language in speaking to the employee. He was
also warned that if such future complaints were found true, he would be
terminated on the spot. See Vandegrift Dep. Ex. 23. In a
written response, Vandegrift denied using foul language when speaking to
an employee. He also explained that he had suggested one way of tackling
a project to ...