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Hardinger v. Equitable Resources

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA


March 8, 2006

HELEN HARDINGER, EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF RONALD C. HARDINGER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EQUITABLE RESOURCES, INC., AND EQUITRANS, L.P., DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McVerry

Magistrate Judge Caiazza

MEMORANDUM ORDER

On March 12, 2004, this case was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Francis X. Caiazza for pretrial proceedings in accordance with the Magistrates Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(l)(A) and (B), and Rules 72.1.3 and 72.1.4 of the Local Rules for Magistrates.

On January 31, 2006, the magistrate judge issued a Report (Document No. 32) recommending that the District Court deny the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 21). Service of the Report and Recommendation was made on the parties, and the Defendants filed objections on February 16, 2006. See Document No. 33.

In their objections, the Defendants argue that there is inconsistency between the magistrate judge's conclusion that the Plaintiff's claims fail under the McDonnell Douglas standards but survive under Price Waterhouse. See Objections at 1-3 (citing case law suggesting Price Waterhouse analysis is more demanding than McDonnell Douglas). The magistrate judge's comments regarding McDonnell Douglas, however, were both qualified and dicta. See Report at 8-9 (noting Plaintiff "would have a difficult time getting this case to a jury" based on pretext evidence alone); see also id. at 8-11 (recommending denial of summary judgment under Price Waterhouse, not grant of summary judgment regarding pretext theory).

The District Court finds more telling the magistrate judge's comments regarding the second prong of the Price Waterhouse inquiry, which dictates that once sufficient "direct" evidence is presented, "the employer [attempts to] prove . . . it would have fired the plaintiff even if it had not considered . . . age." See Report at 11 (citations omitted). The magistrate judge opined, and the District Court agrees, that "[w]hile the discussions . . . regarding the lack of credible pretext evidence would apply with equal force" under Price Waterhouse, "the court cannot quite say that no reasonable juror could find in the Plaintiff's favor." See id. (emphasis added); see also id. ("on summary judgment, [the] reviewing court may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence") (citation omitted).

Thus, after a de novo review of the pleadings and filings in this case, together with the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, Defendants' Objections and Plaintiff's Response thereto, the following Order is entered:

AND NOW, on this 8th day of March, 2006, it is hereby ORDERED that the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 21) is DENIED. The Report and Recommendation dated January 31, 2006 is adopted as the opinion of the District Court, as supplemented above.

Terrence F. McVerry United States District Judge

20060308

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