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WHELAN v. TELEDYNE METALWORKING PRODUCTS

September 14, 2005.

EDWARD J. WHELAN, Plaintiff,
v.
TELEDYNE METALWORKING PRODUCTS and ALLEGHENY TECHNOLOGIES, INC., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANDISH, WILLIAM, Senior District Judge.

MEMORANDUM ORDER

On October 29, 2004, Defendants Teledyne Metalworking Products and Allegheny Technologies, Inc. (collectively, "Defendants") filed a Motion for Reconsideration (Docket No. 107,"Mot. Recon.") of the decision of this Court on March 12, 2004, in which we denied cross-motions for summary judgment by Defendants and by Plaintiff Edward J. Whelan. Although the motion for reconsideration was opposed by Mr. Whelan, the Court granted Defendants' motion on December 16, 2004, and further ordered that the original motions for summary judgment filed by both parties would be reconsidered. Based on the arguments of the parties in support of and in opposition to the original motions for summary judgment, as well as the arguments pertaining to the motion for reconsideration, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied and Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. INTRODUCTION

  A. Factual Background*fn1

  In 1965, Edward J. Whelan began working for a predecessor of Defendant Teledyne Metalworking Products ("TMP"), based near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1990, Plaintiff was diagnosed with Stargardt's disease, a progressively degenerative eye condition which leads to the loss of central vision. Despite this restriction, he continued to work as an outside salesman for several years. Like other TMP outside sales personnel, Plaintiff worked from his home. By 1993, he had advanced to the position of sales engineer and was living in Woodstock, Connecticut. However, at approximately the same time, his eye condition advanced to the point where he asked to be transferred back to the Pittsburgh area so he could have additional support from his family. Although the transfer involved a change in division and a reduction in salary, TMP and Plaintiff were able to arrive at a mutually agreeable arrangement. When he moved to Pittsburgh, he continued to work out of his home as an outside salesman for the TMP Carbide Products ("CP") Division.

  Mr. Whelan's vision continued to deteriorate and by 1996 he was no longer able to perform his assigned work. He and the company arrived at an arrangement whereby he would work, again out of his home, as a marketing coordinator for the CP Division. Mr. Whelan received a salary increase with this job change and TMP reimbursed him for a computer and special adaptive vision software.

  Beginning in 1998, TMP decided to close its CP facilities in Brantford, Ontario, Hartford, Connecticut, and Huntsville, Alabama, as part of a corporate consolidation. The manufacturing and administrative efforts at those locations were consolidated in Grant, Alabama, where the CP Division had previously been headquartered. In early 1999, TMP decided that Mr. Whelan's position as marketing coordinator would also be transferred to Grant.

  On March 25, 1999, Greg Humphries, Vice President and General Manager of Teledyne Firth Sterling,*fn2 wrote to Mr. Whelan via electronic mail. In relevant part, the letter stated:
. . . I wanted to recap our conversation of March 25, 1999. . . . Your position will also need to be located at Grant, Alabama, in order for us to gain the needed administrative efficiencies. Additionally, this move will allow for more interactions with product management, sales, and the manufacturing teams so we can create a better marketing strategy. Ed, I would like to offer you this opportunity to relocate to Grant. Having recently relocated myself, I know this is never an easy decision. . . .
I have asked Human Resources to send you a copy of the Relocation Policy to help you in your transition to Grant.
I am sure you can appreciate the need for planning, so please let me know by April 30, 1999 of your decision.
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Docket No. 37, "Defs.' Mot. Sum. Judg.," Exh. 3.)

  On April 27, 1999, Mr. Whelan's attorney, Natalie Ruschell, wrote to Mr. Humphries, stating that for medical and family reasons, Mr. Whelan was unwilling to relocate to Alabama. She asked that he be allowed to continue to perform the job of marketing coordinator by working from his home in Pittsburgh as he had for at least four years. (Defs.' Mot. Sum. Judg., Exh. 4.) The same letter asked Mr. Humphries or his legal counsel to "engage in communication that is both meaningful and productive to allow Mr. Whelan the opportunity to continue his employment with your company while simultaneously accommodating Mr. Whelan and his circumstances." (Id.)

  This began a lengthy exchange of letters between Ms. Ruschell and Stephen Spolar, an in-house attorney for Allegheny Technologies, Inc.*fn3 ("ATI.") On March 31, 2000, Lauren McAndrews, an ATI in-house attorney who had replaced Mr. Spolar, wrote to Ms. Ruschell:
Mr. Whelan was informed a year ago that his position would be located in Grant, Alabama, with the other administrative functions of Firth Sterling, and he was given the opportunity to relocate to Grant. We would like a response by April 14, 2000, from Mr. Whelan as to his willingness to relocate to Grant, and if so, whether he will be able to perform the duties of Marketing Coordinator with or without accommodation. If I do not hear from you or Mr. Whelan prior to close of business on April 14, Mr. Whelan's employment will be terminated.
(Defs.' Mot. Sum. Judg., Exh. 12.)
  Ms. Ruschell responded on April 14, 2000, with another letter reiterating her client's position on the relocation and accommodation issues, to which Ms. McAndrews replied on May 4, 2000:
We have attempted to work with you and Mr. Whelan to identify an appropriate accommodation. The accommodation you and he have suggested (creation of a new position for him in Pittsburgh) is not required by law. It is our interpretation of your [April 14, 2000] letter that Mr. Whelan is not willing to relocate to Grant, AL, and that he has voluntarily terminated his employment with Metalworking Products effective April 14, 2000.
(Defs.' Mot. Sum. Judg., Exh. 14.)

  B. Procedural Background

  On December 14, 2000, Mr. Whelan filed a charge of disability discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), asking that it be cross-filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. (Defs.' Mot. Sum. Judg., Exh. 16.) Mr. Whelan claimed that TMP had discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. ("ADA") and of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. C.S. § 955. Mr. Whelan subsequently filed suit in this Court on July 16, 2001.

  Mr. Whelan's Complaint stated three causes of action in violation of the ADA: failure to provide a reasonable accommodation; wrongful termination; and failure to participate in good faith in the ADA "interactive process." He also claimed he was entitled to punitive damages for each of the three proceeding claims because of Defendants' alleged malice in these violations, and that the same actions violated the PHRA.

  On September 17, 2001, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 2), based on four arguments. First, Defendants argued that Mr. Whelan's charge of discrimination was not filed with the EEOC before the 300-day statute of limitations had run. Second, the three claims for punitive damages (Counts II, IV, and VI of the Complaint) were not independent causes of action and therefore should be dismissed. In addition, Count V, claiming Defendants had failed to participate in the interactive process, was redundant with the failure-to-accommodate claim and should be dismissed as a separate cause of action. Finally, they argued that ATI was not Plaintiff's "employer" as that term is understood under the ADA and PHRA, and therefore it should be dismissed as a Defendant.

  We denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, without prejudice to their right to renew the same arguments in a motion for summary judgment. (Order of Court, April 19, 2002, Docket No. 10.) Following more than a year of discovery, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 34) on October 10, 2003, as did Defendants (Docket No. 37.) The Court held oral argument on March 12, 2004, and, as noted above, denied both motions, stating briefly that because material issues of fact existed which should be tried to a jury, neither party was entitled to judgment in its favor as a matter of law. (Order of Court, March 12, 2004, Docket No. 49.)

  Eight months later, Defendants filed a Motion for Reconsideration. In that motion, Defendants claimed that contrary to the original decision entered with regard to their motion for summary judgment, there was no material dispute on the following points:
(1) ATI was not Whelan's employer and should be dismissed from the case;
(2) TMP engaged in good faith in the interactive process, thus Count V should be dismissed; and
(3) to the extent Plaintiff attempted to pursue a disparate treatment claim, that claim was disavowed by Mr. Whelan's counsel in oral argument on March 12, 2004, and should be dismissed.
(Defs.' Mot. Recon., ¶¶ 2-5.) The Court decided that in fairness to both parties and in order to streamline the issues to be presented at trial, we should explain in detail the rationale for our conclusion in March 2004 that there were issues which could not be resolved without inappropriate fact-finding by the Court. We also recognized that we had not ruled on three issues which could be decided as a matter of law, specifically, whether ATI was Mr. Whelan's employer for purposes of this litigation, whether Plaintiff's charge of discrimination was timely filed with the EEOC and PHRC, and whether Mr. Whelan had stated and maintained a claim of disparate treatment.

  C. Jurisdiction and Venue

  Jurisdiction is based on Mr. Whelan's ADA claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and the PHRA claims pursuant to the supplemental jurisdiction provided by 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Venue is appropriate in this Court inasmuch as the events giving rise to the claims occurred within this judicial district. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b).

  II. STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

  A court may grant summary judgment if the party so moving can show, based on "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file together with the affidavits, if any, . . . that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)); Rossetti v. Busch Entertainment Corp., 87 F. Supp.2d 415 (E.D. Pa. 2000). If a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant, the dispute is genuine and if, under substantive law, the dispute would affect the outcome of the suit, it is material. A factual dispute between the parties that is both genuine and material will defeat a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

  In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must view all the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, accept the non-movant's version of the facts as true, and resolve any conflicts in its favor. Rossetti, id., citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986), and Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of North America, Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992). In short, the movant must show that if the pleadings, depositions and other evidentiary material submitted to date were admissible at trial, the opposing party could not carry its burden of proof based on that evidence and a reasonable jury would thus decide all genuine material disputes in favor of the movant. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 318 (1986).

  Once the moving party has demonstrated that there are no genuine issues of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to "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." Celotex, id. at 322-23; Rossetti, id.; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The sum of the affirmative evidence to be presented by the non-moving party must be such that a reasonable jury could find in its favor, and it cannot simply reiterate unsupported ...


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