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Petrunich v. Sun Building Systems

September 26, 2006

RONALD PETRUNICH PLAINTIFF
v.
SUN BUILDING SYSTEMS, INC., D/B/A CONTEMPRI HOMES, THOMAS SCHOTT, JIM JONES DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Vanaskie)

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff Ronald Petrunich's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. Entry 14.) Mr. Petrunich's motion is unusual because its disposition is largely reliant upon procedural, rather than substantive, considerations.

On October 10, 2004, Mr. Petrunich filed a six count complaint naming as Defendants Sun Building Systems, Inc., d/b/a Contempri Homes ("Sun"); Thomas Schott; and Jim Jones. (Dkt. Entry 1.) Count one alleges that Sun terminated Mr. Petrunich's employment on account of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1).*fn1 Count two alleges that Sun retaliated against Mr. Petrunich for filing a discrimination complaint in violation of the ADEA, 29 U.S.C. § 623(d). Counts three and four, respectively, raise similar age discrimination and retaliation claims under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 PA. STAT. ANN. § 955(a), (d). Finally, counts five and six allege Messrs. Schott and Jones, respectively, aided and abetted Sun's commission of unlawful discriminatory practices in violation of the PHRA, 43 PA. STAT. ANN. § 955(e). Defendants have not answered Mr. Petrunich's complaint.

The Court has jurisdiction over Mr. Petrunich's ADEA claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 29 U.S.C. § 626(c)(1), and supplemental jurisdiction over the PHRA claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant summary judgment against Sun as to the ADEA and PHRA age discrimination claims, and against Messrs. Schott and Jones on the PHRA claim. In all other respects, summary judgment is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

Mr. Petrunich's motion for summary judgment is predicated largely on Defendants' failure to timely respond to his Request for Admissions. Those admissions, along with Mr. Petrunich's affidavit, reveal the following: Mr. Petrunich was hired by Sun in June 1984 for a quality assurance position. (Pl's Statement of Facts Not in Dispute, Dkt. Entry 15-5, ¶ 2.) Mr. Petrunich was an able employee who performed at a satisfactory level for Sun. (Plaintiff's Admissions Addressed to Defendants, Dkt. Entry 15-2, ¶ 6.) On July 7, 2003, Mr. Schott asked Mr. Petrunich when he planned to retire. (Pl's Statement of Facts Not in Dispute, Dkt. Entry 15-5, ¶ 4.) Four days later on July 11, 2003, Messrs. Schott and Jones discharged Mr. Petrunich, who was 59 years old at the time. (Id. ¶ 5; Plaintiff's Admissions Addressed to Defendants, Dkt. Entry 15-2, ¶ 5.) Mr. Petrunich was subsequently replaced by a younger individual. (Pl's Statement of Facts Not in Dispute, Dkt. Entry 15-5, ¶ 6; Plaintiff's Admissions Addressed to Defendants, Dkt. Entry 15-2, ¶¶ 4-5.) After filing a discrimination complaint, Mr. Petrunich sought unemployment compensation benefits. (Petrunich Affidavit, Dkt. Entry 15-3, ¶¶ 8-9.) Defendants opposed Mr. Petrunich's request for unemployment compensation benefits. (Id. ¶ 9.)

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard for Summary Judgment

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 that 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 the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

All doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party, and the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to nonmoving party. Cont'l Ins. Co. v. Bodie, 682 F.2d 436, 438 (3d Cir. 1982). The moving party has the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, but the nonmoving party must present affirmative evidence from which a jury might return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. Merely conclusory allegations taken from the pleadings are insufficient to withstand a motion for summary judgment. Schoch v. First Fid. Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990). Summary judgment is to be entered "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

Additionally, under the Court's local rules, the party moving for summary judgment shall include a "separate, short and concise statement of the material facts, in numbered paragraphs, as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue to be tried." M.D. PA. R. 56.1. The nonmoving party shall include a separate statement in response thereto "as to which it is contended there exists a genuine issue to be tried." Id. If the nonmoving party fails to submit the required statement, "[a]ll material facts set forth in the [moving party's] statement . . . will be deemed admitted." Id.

B. Defendants' Failure to Respond to Plaintiff's Request for Admissions

As a threshold matter, the consequence of Defendants' failure to timely respond or object to Mr. Petrunich's request for admissions must be assessed. Mr. Petrunich argues the requests are deemed admitted, while Defendants counter that their late responses should be permitted in order to aid the presentation of the merits and because Mr. Petrunich will not be prejudiced as a result.

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may serve a written request upon another party for the admission of the truth of any matters "relat[ing] to statements or opinions of fact or of the application of law to fact." FED. R. CIV. P. 36(a). "The matter is admitted unless, within 30 days after service of the request, or within such shorter time or longer time as the court may allow or as the parties may agree to in writing, . . . the party to whom the request is directed serves upon the party requesting the admission a written answer or objection addressed to the matter . . . ." Id. "Any ...


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