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Chandler v. Del Monte Corp.

January 22, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Muir, U.S. District Judge

(Judge Muir)

(Complaint filed 12/05/05)



Plaintiff Christopher R. Chandler filed this action on December 5, 2005, "to redress the deprivation of the Plaintiff's civil rights pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, ..., and [the] Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, ...." (Complaint, p. 1, ¶1) Count I of the complaint sets forth a cause of action for age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. Section 62l, et seq., and Count II contains a claim of age discrimination in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa.C.S.A. Section 95l, et seq.

On December 1, 2006, Del Monte filed a motion for summary judgment with respect to both counts of the complaint, a statement of material facts, a supporting brief, and exhibits. On December 18, 2006, Chandler filed an opposition brief, reply to the statement of material facts, and exhibits. A reply brief was filed by Del Monte on December 28, 2006.

Del Monte's summary judgment motion was not ripe for disposition as of that date because pending at the time was a motion by Chandler to compel discovery from Del Monte. One form of relief sought by Chandler in that motion was a stay of these proceedings, including our disposition of the summary judgment motion, pending a ruling on the motion to compel. In our order #1 of this date we denied Chandler's motion to compel. Del Monte's summary judgment motion is now ripe for disposition.

Summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue of material fact which is unresolved and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Summary judgment is an extreme remedy and should not be granted when there is a disagreement about the facts or the proper inferences which a fact finder could draw from them. Peterson v. Lehigh Valley Dist. Council, 676 F.2d 8l, 84 (3d Cir. l982). "When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported as provided in ...[Rule 56], an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading...." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The adverse party must show by affidavits, pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Because summary judgment is a severe remedy, the Court should resolve any doubt about the existence of genuine issues of fact against the moving party. Ness v. Marshall, 660 F.2d 5l7, 5l9 (3d Cir. l98l).

The United States Supreme Court has stated that in motions for summary judgment a material fact is one which might affect the outcome of the suit under relevant substantive law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (l986). The Supreme Court also stated in Anderson that a dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Id. at 248. "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Electric Industrial Company, Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corporation, l06 S.Ct. l348, l356 l986).

Initially, the moving party has a burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 3l7, 323 (l986). This may be met by the moving party pointing out to the court that there is an absence of evidence to support an essential element as to which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 325. The non-moving party then must make a sufficient showing as to the essential elements of his or her case that a reasonable jury could find in his or her favor. Id. at 322-23.

The burden of proof required to defeat a summary judgment motion is guided by the burden of proof which a reasonable jury would be instructed to consider. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 242. The Court in Anderson stated:

The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the Plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff. The judge's inquiry, therefore, unavoidably asks whether reasonable jurors could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff is entitled to a verdict--'whether there is [evidence] upon which a jury can properly proceed to find a verdict for the party producing it, upon whom the onus of proof is imposed.'

Id. at 252. As summarized by the Advisory Committee On Civil Rules, "[t]he very mission of the summary judgment procedure is to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 advisory committee note to 1963 Amendment.

With those principles in mind, we turn to the undisputed material facts as supported by the evidence of record.*fn1

Chandler worked for Del Monte and its predecessor companies for approximately 20 years until on or about December 5, 2003. In 1995 his employment had been terminated for reasons not relevant to this case. Shortly thereafter he was offered a position with the company in Puerto Rico, which he accepted. In June of 2000 Chandler was transferred back to Pennsylvania.

In 2000 the company and the employees' union initiated a safety program labeled "behavior observation initiative." Chandler described the program as follows:

[Y]ou make observations. You use observations from the floor on the way you are operating right now and you graph it. You take, you break it down so that you can measure safety performance in certain areas and then you graph it, and then you try and get each group on board as a team to improve. You use peers to improve your safety in the plant. (Chandler Deposition Transcript, pp. 19-20) The data collected pursuant to the program addressed practices such as whether employees lifted objects properly, wore gloves and protective eye wear.

Chandler and others were sent to California to be trained in the program. Chandler was responsible for explaining the ...

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