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Griesbaum v. Aventis Pharmaceuticals

September 25, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Vanaskie


Plaintiff Gerard Griesbaum, invoking diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332,*fn1 has brought this action against his former employer for wrongful discharge under Pennsylvania law. Specifically, Mr. Griesbaum claims that he was improperly terminated in retaliation for attaining workers' compensation benefits a year earlier. Following completion of discovery, Defendant Aventis Pharmaceuticals ("Aventis"), moved for summary judgment. Because Mr. Griesbaum has failed to offer sufficient evidence supporting either a reasonable inference of a causal connection between his workers' compensation claim and his termination or a reasonable inference that the reasons articulated for his discharge were a pretext for a retaliatory animus, Aventis's motion will be granted.


Mr. Griesbaum worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative for Aventis in its Reading, Pennsylvania territory. (Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ("S.M.F.") (Dkt. Entry 26-5) ¶ 1.)*fn2 On August 14, 2001, Mr. Griesbaum suffered serious injuries in a car accident while working for Aventis. (Id. ¶ 5.) Following the accident, Mr. Griesbaum has been unable to perform the essential functions of his position. (Id. ¶ 7.)

A worker's compensation claim was filed on Mr. Griesbaum's behalf soon after the accident. (Id. ¶ 6.) Mr. Griesbaum also received short-term disability benefits for six (6) months. (Id. ¶ 8.) Thereafter, Mr. Griesbaum received long-term disability benefits until February 2005, when Aventis's long-term disability benefits insurer determined that Mr. Griesbaum was no longer eligible for benefits.*fn3 (Id.)

Aventis maintains a Medical Leave and Absence Policy that mandates that employees "will be terminated . . . after 365 continuous calendar days of medical leave." (Id. ¶ 4.) This policy was documented in a policy manual received by Mr. Griesbaum before his accident and was available on Aventis's Intranet. (Id. ¶ 2.)

In a letter dated January 16, 2002, Aventis notified Mr. Griesbaum that his employment would be terminated if Mr. Griesbaum had "not returned to work, or been released to return to work, by the end of 12 consecutive months of medical leave." (Def.'s S.M.F. Ex. 4 (Dkt. Entry 26-9).) Mr. Griesbaum claims he did not receive the letter,*fn4 and challenges whether the letter was ever sent. (Pl.'s Counter Statement of Material Facts ("C.S.M.F.") (Dkt. Entry 30).)

Mr Griesbaum acknowledges that in February 2002, his manager, Rose Rich, informed him that Aventis was going to fill his position because the company needed a representative in his territory. (Def.'s S.M.F. (Dkt. Entry 26-5) ¶ 11.) Mr. Griesbaum does not challenge that Aventis filled his position because it needed to have a sales representative in the territory. (Id.)

Sometime after August 14, 2002, Barbara Chalmers, an Aventis Human Resources Services Coordinator, conducted a regular audit of the employees on medical leave.*fn5

(Chalmers's Aff., Def.'s S.M.F. Ex. 7 (Dkt. Entry 26-12) ¶¶ 1-4.) In accordance with Aventis's Medical Leave and Absence Policy, Ms. Chalmers marked all employees as terminated who had been on medical leave for longer than 365 days, including Mr. Griesbaum. (Id.) Ms. Chalmers' affidavit states that she was not familiar with Mr. Griesbaum or his worker's compensation status when she marked him terminated. (Id.) It does not appear that Mr. Griesbaum was subsequently notified of his termination. (See Pl.'s C.S.M.F. (Dkt. Entry 30) ¶ 12.) Indeed, he only became aware of his termination in October 2002, when his 401(k) plan administrator and life insurance provider notified him of his post-termination options. (Mr. Griesbaum's Dep., Pl.'s C.S.M.F. Ex. A (Dkt. Entry 31-1) at 51, 56.)

On August 5, 2004, Mr. Griesbaum brought this action against Aventis. (Dkt. Entry 1.) He amended the complaint on November 3, 2004. (Dkt. Entry 13.) Mr. Griesbaum claims Aventis wrongfully discharged him in violation of public policy because it terminated his employment in retaliation for him pursuing worker's compensation benefits. (Id. ¶¶ 24-34.) Aventis has moved for summary judgment on Mr. Griesbaum's claim. (Dkt. Entry 26.) The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for resolution.


A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment should be granted when "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 . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "Facts that could alter the outcome are material facts." Charlton v. Paramus Bd. of Educ., 25 F.3d 194, 197 (3d Cir. 1994). "[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the ...

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