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McLaughlin v. Newark Paperboard Products

September 5, 2006

TAMERA J. MCLAUGHLIN, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF MICHAEL E. MCLAUGHLIN, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEWARK PAPERBOARD PRODUCTS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terrence F. McVerry United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

Before the Court for disposition is the MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, with brief in support filed by Defendant Newark Paperboard Products (Document Nos. 29 and 30, respectively), the BRIEF IN OPPOSITION TO SUMMARY JUDGMENT filed by Plaintiff, Tamera J. McLaughlin, Administratrix of the Estate of Michael E. McLaughlin, Deceased (Document No. 42), the REPLY TO PLAINTIFF'S BRIEF IN OPPOSITION TO SUMMARY JUDGMENT filed by Defendant (Document No. 47), and the REPLY IN OPPOSITION TO SUMMARY JUDGMENT filed by Plaintiff (Document No. 53).

The issues have been fully briefed and the matter is ripe for disposition. After a thorough review of the motion, the brief in support, brief in opposition, reply brief in support, reply brief in opposition, the record, and applicable case law, the Motion will be denied.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On October 28, 2004, Michael E. McLaughlin ("McLaughlin") initiated this action against his former civilian employer, Newark Paperboard Products ("Defendant" or "Newark"), in which he alleged that Newark had discriminated against him because of his military status, in violation of the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 ("USERRA"), 38 U.S.C. §§ 4301-4333, when it terminated his employment on August 27, 2001, the first day he returned to work following two weeks of National Guard duty.

McLaughlin, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, was on active duty in Iraq from June 2005 until he was killed in action on January 5, 2006. By Order of Court dated March 3, 2006, Tamera J. McLaughlin, Administratrix of the Estate of Michael E. McLaughlin, Deceased, ("Plaintiff"), was substituted as the proper party plaintiff for all further proceedings in this matter.

Defendant has filed the instant motion for summary judgment in which it contends that summary judgment is appropriate because (i) Plaintiff has not established a prima facie case by showing that McLaughlin's military status or service was a motivating factor in Defendant's decision to terminate him; and (ii) in the alternative, Defendant has established that it would have terminated McLaughlin, regardless of his military service, to save the Greenville Plant's relationship with a major customer, American Brass.

Not surprisingly, Plaintiff vigorously argues that summary judgment should not be entered in this matter.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

As the law requires, all disputed facts and inferences are resolved most favorable to the Plaintiff. Furthermore, the Court merely provides an abridged summary of facts for the purposes of this Opinion.

In September 1998, McLaughlin was hired as the Greenville, PA, Plant Manager for Defendant. As plant manager, McLaughlin had overall responsibility for the operations of the Greenville Plant, including customer relations, employee relations and administering and enforcing corporate policies and rules.

Plaintiff contends that on multiple occasions McLaughlin's direct supervisor, Steve Landrum ("Landrum"), made derogatory comments about McLaughlin's military service. For example, in the winter of 2000, McLaughlin was deployed to Germany with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard for several weeks. McLaughlin's deployment dates conflicted with an important budget meeting which was scheduled to take place in March 2000. Following McLaughlin's return from deployment in Germany, Landrum told McLaughlin that "at no point would [McLaughlin's] military service interfere with another budget meeting." (Ex. A 22: 18-21, 23:8-17.) The summary judgment record reflects that on at least two more occasions, Landrum stated that McLaughlin's military service could not interfere with future budget meetings. (Ex. A 22:22-25.)

Additionally, the summary judgment record reflects that during a managers' meeting which McLaughlin attended, Philip Jones, Senior Vice President - Converting for the Newark Group, ("Jones"), also stated that McLaughlin's National Guard Duty could not interfere with another budget meeting. (Ex. A 23:1 - 7.)

On July 10, 2001, Ruth Ann Bentley ("Bentley") of American Brass informed McLaughlin that American Brass had a separation problem with a core that the Greenville Plant had produced. (Ex. A 169: 18-21.)*fn1 Shortly after receiving the July 10 call from Bentley, McLaughlin and Quality Control Coordinator Molly Ferguson ("Ferguson") traveled to the American Brass facility in Buffalo, New York. During the meeting between McLaughlin, Ferguson, and Bentley, Bob Robinson ("Robinson") of American Brass joined the meeting for "a very brief time." (Ex I 83: 16-19.) Robinson requested a response to the problem "by noon on Friday." After Robinson's departure, McLaughlin, Ferguson, and Bentley ...


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