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Borrelli v. Metal Traders

July 24, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge


Pending before this court is a motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 37) filed by defendant Metal Traders, Inc. d/b/a Triad Metals International ("Triad" or "defendant"). Plaintiff Craig R. Borrelli ("plaintiff" or "Borrelli") in his complaint asserts several claims against Triad:

1) claims for disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 PA. CONS. STAT. § 955 and 2) claims for age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §621 et seq. ("ADEA"), and the PHRA, 43 PA. CONS. STAT. § 954(b).

Plaintiff asserts that Triad wrongfully terminated him from a position for which he was qualified because the defendant regarded him as disabled. Plaintiff claims the decision to terminate his employment was also based on age discrimination because he was forty-two years old at the time and was replaced by a twenty-eight-year-old with similar employment experience. After reviewing the record, viewing all disputed facts in plaintiff's favor and drawing all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor, the court concludes that because there are genuine issues of material fact in dispute for each claim, defendant's motion for summary judgment will be denied.

Factual Background Viewing Disputed Facts in Plaintiff's Favor Plaintiff 's Early Employment

a. Background and Training

In August 2001, plaintiff began his employment with Triad as the Neville Island Warehouse Manager ("Neville Island Manager"). (Plaintiff's Deposition ("Pl.'s Dep.") at 32:5-6, 33.) Triad is a structural steel wholesaler headquartered in Willow Grove, PA with warehouses and transportation operations in two locations: Neville Island, PA (the "Neville Island warehouse") and Petersburg, VA (the "Petersburg warehouse"). (Declaration of Ron Hammond ("Hammond Dec.") ¶ 3.) As the Neville Island Manager, plaintiff oversaw the operations of the Neville Island warehouse: a large structure which houses steel product. (Joint Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("J.S.") ¶ 6.) Outside the Neville Island warehouse is an adjacent four-acre yard ("Yard") for storage of over-flow and customer-specific steel product. (Hammond Dec. ¶ 4.) Approximately 204,000 tons of steel are processed in and out of the Neville Island warehouse annually, with a sales volume of approximately $90 million. (Hammond Dec. ¶ 9.) In addition to the steel, machinery is housed within the Neville Island warehouse and is used to unload, load, move, cut or otherwise process steel. (Id.) During the period of plaintiff's employment as the Neville Island Manager, Triad had approximately $850,000 invested in machinery, including cranes, saws, forklifts, and hand tools. (Declaration of James Benner ("Benner Dec.") ¶ 5.)

The Neville Island warehouse staff consisted of: (1) the Neville Island Manager; (2) one foreman for each of the three shifts; and (3) Neville Island warehouse employees who perform the shipping, receiving, processing and machinery operating functions. (Hammond Dec. ¶ 16.) The first-shift and second-shift foremen during plaintiff's tenure were Gary Ritson ("Ritson") and Frank Rimer ("Rimer"). (Pl.'s Dep. at 36:14-25, 38:17-24; Hammond Dec. ¶ 16.) Ron Hammond ("Hammond") is the CEO and founder of Triad and was plaintiff's direct supervisor throughout his employment. (Hammond Dec. ¶ 1.) During his employment, plaintiff also interacted with his counterpart, Petersburg warehouse manager Dennis McGovern ("McGovern"), who oversaw the Petersburg warehouse in Petersburg, VA. (Hammond Dec. ¶ 8.)

Hammond and McGovern claim to have provided plaintiff with extensive training. Plaintiff stated that at the beginning of his employment Hammond gave him direction on a regular basis. (Affidavit of Craig R. Borrelli ("Pl.'s Aff.") ¶ 6.) Plaintiff also stated that any initial advice he received from McGovern came from informal conversations rather than formal training. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 7.) Most of plaintiff's training was conducted by the former warehouse manager, Lou Paliani ("Paliani"), who trained plaintiff for a couple of weeks at the beginning of his employment. (Id.) Plaintiff, however, stated that he never received any formal training. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 6.)

b. Plaintiff 's Duties as Neville Island Manager

Plaintiff's duties as the Neville Island Manager included supervising his direct reports, suggesting improvements for efficiency, managing inventory, maintaining the integrity of the steel, maintaining the safety of the facilities and machinery, overseeing incoming and outgoing shipments, and providing support to the sales department. (J.S. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff's supervisory duties included evaluating the performance of his direct reports, scheduling, and ensuring that his direct reports correctly and safely operated the equipment. (Pl.'s Dep. at 39:14-22, 40:14-20, 41:8- 11, 58:19-23; McGovern Dec. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff's responsibilities regarding inventory management included ensuring the accuracy and quality of all shipments. (Pl.'s Dep. at 62:24-63:7.) Specifically, plaintiff was responsible for ensuring that materials were properly recorded, put away, and shipped. (Id.) Plaintiff was also responsible for maintaining the integrity of the steel during unloading, moving, organizing, storage, processing and loading. (Pl.'s Dep. at 68:24-69:9; Hammond Dec. ¶ 32.) Plaintiff's safety responsibilities included ensuring the safety of employees, customers, visitors, and personnel.(Pl.'s Dep. at 43:7-11, 44-13-20, 46:23-47:1, 57:3-11; McGovern Dec. ¶ 13-15; Benlock Dec. ¶ ¶ 8-9; Gibson Dec. ¶ 5; Hammond Dec. ¶ 33.)

Triad held plaintiff responsible for the maintenance of the entire Neville Island warehouse structure, including the roof, walls, bathroom, break room, and tool room. (Pl.'s Dep. at 43:17-21, 44:10-12, 44:21-22, 196:16-197:5; McGovern Dec. ¶ 15; Benlock Dec. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff was also required to maintain the Neville Island warehouse equipment and machinery by overseeing periodic maintenance, inspection, and repair of all machinery and equipment. (Pl.'s Dep. at 47:10-22, 48:23-49, 50:16-51:3, 52:4-10, 53:4-54:2, 54:5-12, 54:17-56:9, 56:23-58:11; Hammond Dec. ¶¶ 34-35; Declaration of Michael Benlock "(Benlock Dec.") ¶ 11; McGovern Dec. ¶ 13.)

Plaintiff's role in managing the supply of steel in the warehouse required plaintiff to ensure the efficient flow of the Neville Island warehouse operations through scheduling and overseeing inbound and outbound shipments. (Pl.'s Dep. at 152:14-153:5-20, 157:18-158:7; McGovern Dec. ¶¶ 5, 16; Hammond Dec. ¶¶ 37-38; Declaration of Scott Lynch ("Lynch Dec.")¶ 8; Rimer Dec. ¶ 6; Ritson Dec. ¶ 6; Gibson Dec. ¶¶7-8; Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 12.) By monitoring outgoing shipments, plaintiff was responsible for ensuring that outgoing shipments accurately reflected customer orders and that no damaged steel was shipped to customers. (Pl.'s Dep. at 43:24-25, 44:3-9, 69:10-70:10, 70:24-71:20; McGovern Dec. ¶¶ 3, 17; Benlock Dec. ¶¶ 3, 7, 12; Lynch Dec. ¶ 7; Gibson Dec. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff interacted with and provided support to the sales department by timely providing guidance to the sales force regarding inventory and capabilities (Lynch Dec. ¶¶ 3-5; Lynch Dec. Ex. A; Declaration of Ron Maltin ("Maltin Dec.") ¶¶ 3-4.)

Allegations Regarding Plaintiff 's Deficient Performance

a. Background

In early 2003, Ritson and Rimer complained to Hammond about plaintiff 's performance. (Hammond Dec. ¶¶ 41-42.) Hammond stated that subsequently he began to visit the Neville Island warehouse regularly and actively to seek feedback from his management team regarding plaintiff 's performance. (Id.) According to Hammond, this feedback revealed deficiencies in plaintiff's performance. (J.S. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff stated that he did not see Hammond on a regular basis at the Neville Island warehouse, and denied the existence of an ongoing investigation of plaintiff's performance. (Id.)

b. Defendant's Allegations

Defendant identified the following deficiencies with respect to plaintiff's work performance:

(1) failure to supervise because plaintiff arrived to work late and left work early; (2) failure to contribute to business operations because plaintiff fell asleep in a meeting; (3) failure to manage properly the inventory; (4) failure to maintain the integrity of the steel product; (5) failure to maintain a safe Neville Island warehouse and Yard because plaintiff left debris in the Yard that could cause dangerous conditions and because he allowed silt to buildup in the channel which disrupted barge traffic; (6) failure to maintain the Neville Island warehouse structure; (7) failure to maintain the Neville Island warehouse equipment and machinery; (8) failure to manage properly the flow of operations at the Neville Island warehouse; (9) failure to manage properly incoming and outgoing shipments -- specifically, failing to ensure the quality of the material shipped which resulted in customer complaints. (J.S.¶¶ 23(a) - (i); Pl.'s Dep. at 129:3-13.)

The final alleged deficiency was plaintiff's failure to interact properly with the sales department. (J.S.¶ 23(j).) During plaintiff 's employment, Triad installed a new phone and data line system and provided plaintiff with a cell phone. (Id.) Triad contends that the new communication equipment was put in place to attempt to remedy plaintiff 's failure to communicate with the sales department. (Hammond Dec. ¶¶ 75-77; Benner Dec. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff stated that these systems were necessary improvements to the facility and were not put in place to correct any alleged deficiencies with respect to plaintiff's performance. (Pl.'s Dep. at 187:5-13.)

c. Plaintiff 's Performance

Plaintiff admitted to certain performance problems that occurred in the spring of 2003 when his prescription drug use inhibited his work performance. (J.S. ¶ 23-23(j).) In the spring of 2003, plaintiff fell asleep during a meeting. (J.S. 23(b); Pl.'s Dep. at 129:3-13.) Plaintiff and his wife discussed this incident with Hammond. (J.S. ¶ 71.) Plaintiff apologized to Hammond and quit taking the medication. (J.S. ¶ 74.) A month or two after plaintiff quit using the medication, Hammond told plaintiff that he had intended on firing him, but chose not to because of a conversation with one of the salesmen, Scott Lynch, who stated, "what would you want to fire him now for, he is doing a great job." (Pl.'s Dep. at 148:18-21.) By the end of 2003, plaintiff was receiving favorable performance feedback once again. (Id. at 265:6-12.)

Plaintiff did not receive any unfavorable reports about his work until 2003. (J.S. ¶¶ 23(a)-(j).) A memorandum co-authored by Hammond dated July 8, 2002 stated:

Dear Craig,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all your hard work. The first six months of this year has been a more difficult challenge due to the poor economy and the integration of our Petersburg facility. As a company we have been profitable every month this year. The mid year bonus represents what Triad is doing better than our competitors.

In "2002" numerous steel distributors have cut back on their labor force, shut down unprofitable facilities, eliminated all employee benefits and in many cases filed bankruptcy. With the exception of setting limits on company contribution of medical benefits Triad continues to fully support life & disability insurance and 401K matching contributions. As a company we continue to step up to the plate because our employees join management on the front lines.

Profit is the driving force influencing our year end piece of the pie. Hopefully, the remainder of the year will bring continued growth and prosperity to Triad Metals. Fred & I look forward to year-end and sharing with our team members the fruits of our labor.

Once again, THANK YOU.

Sincerely, Ron & Fred (J.S. ¶ 22) (emphasis in original). A request for verification of employment completed on August 13, 2003 by James Benner, controller for Triad, stated that Borrelli's "probability of continued employment was excellent." (J.S. ¶ 22.) Triad noted on the August 13, 2003 request for verification of employment that "[it] is expected that Craig Borrelli's bonus for 2003 should equal [the] bonus given for 2002." (Pl.'s Ex. C.) Plaintiff received a raise in 2003 of an equal percentage and in a greater dollar amount than the one he received in 2002. (J.S. ¶¶ 22, 24.)

In May 2003, McGovern told plaintiff's wife, Diana Borrelli, that the warehouse looked great and that plaintiff was doing well on the job. (Affidavit of Diana Borrelli ("D. Borrelli Aff.") ¶ 21.) In December 2003, Hammond met with plaintiff and noted how much plaintiff had improved since early 2003. (Pl.'s Dep. at 265:6-12.) Hammond explained that if plaintiff kept up the good work during the next year, they would discuss the possibility of plaintiff attaining part of the ownership of Triad. (Pl.'s Dep. at 265:6-15.) Hammond had previously explained that after four years of employment if a manager did a good job, the manager would be considered for a share in the partnership. (Pl.'s Dep. at 265:16-266:1.) Also in December 2003, plaintiff and his wife attended a Christmas party at Hammond's home. (D. Borrelli Aff. ¶ 18.) During the party, Hammond told plaintiff's wife that plaintiff was doing well, and that if plaintiff continued as he was, he would be a partner in no time. (D. Borrelli Aff. ¶ 19.)

Hammond's Alleged Decision to Terminate Borrelli

Hammond stated that based upon plaintiff's alleged performance deficiencies, Hammond made the decision around November 2003 to terminate plaintiff. (Hammond Dec. ¶ 85; Hammond Dep. at 60:16-23.) Hammond stated that at that time he informed three management-level employees of his decision: McGovern, Maltin, and Lynch. (Hammond Dec. ¶ 85; McGovern Dec. ¶ 27; McGovern Dep. at 38:19-22; Maltin Dec. ¶ 14; Maltin Dep. at 22:2-9; Lynch Dec. ¶ 9; Lynch Dep. at 14:23-15:7.)

Hammond states that as a business practice he does not terminate employees during the holiday season. (Hammond Dec. ¶ 86.) For this reason, Hammond decided to wait until after the holiday season to execute his decision to terminate plaintiff. (Hammond Dep. at 60:16-23.) Hammond claims that in waiting to terminate plaintiff, he showed compassion for plaintiff and his family. (Hammond Dec. ¶ 86.) While plaintiff was at home recovering from surgery, he, however, received daily telephone calls from Triad employees concerning work related questions. (Pl.'s Dep. at 242-243.) During one call, when Hammond learned plaintiff was out walking, Hammond commented, "I wish I had time to walk." (Pl.'s Ex. E ¶ 7.) ...

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