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Rouse v. II-VI Inc.

July 24, 2008

AMBROSIO ROUSE, PH.D., PLAINTIFF,
v.
II-VI INCORPORATED, BRUCE GLICK, INDIVIDUALLY, CSABA SZELES, INDIVIDUALLY, KERRY COURTNEY, INDIVIDUALLY, CARL JOHNSON, INDIVIDUALLY, MARLENE ACRE, INDIVIDUALLY, FRANCIS KRAMER, INDIVIDUALLY, DEFENDANTS.



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 are the Defendants' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Document No. 57), the Defendants' Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 58), the Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 59), the Appendix to the Defendants' Statement of Facts in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 60), the Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 63), the Plaintiff's Opposition to the Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Document No. 64), the Exhibits in Support of the Plaintiff's Opposition to the Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Document No. 65), and the Defendants' Rely to the Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 66). The Defendants' motion for summary judgment has been extensively briefed and is ripe for resolution. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

Background

Plaintiff Ambrosio Rouse, Ph.D. ("Rouse"), is a black male who was born on October 6, 1960. Rouse Deposition, p. 4. He is a citizen of Panama. Id. On January 31, 2000, Rouse commenced his employment with eV Products, which is a division of Defendant II-VI Incorporated ("II-VI"). Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 2. He was hired as a surface processing engineer. Id., ¶ 3. As such, Rouse's primary responsibilities concerned scientific research and the development of II-VI's products. Id. He later became an R&D surface processing scientist. Id. As a II-VI employee, he was entitled to 1,500 shares of II-VI stock, a performance-based bonus, profit sharing for retirement, health insurance, life insurance, relocation benefits and vacation benefits.*fn1 Id. at ¶ 4.

At the commencement of his employment, Rouse was required to sign several documents. One such document was a confidentiality/non-compete agreement. Def. Exh. B, p. 2, ¶ 6. He signed the agreement on January 31, 2000. Def. Exh. C, p. 1. The agreement included the following language:

The employment relationship of the parties hereto may be terminated by either party upon thirty (30) days written notice to the other party at any time, with or without cause. The Employer shall continue the payment of wages and benefits through such period although the parties hereto agree that the Employer may request the Employee to stop performing any duties on behalf of the Employer. In any event, the Employee shall remain an employee of the Employer through the end of such thirty (30) day period.

Def. Exh. C, p. 4, ¶ 10. When Rouse signed the agreement, he also signed documents dealing with II-VI's policies regarding conflicts of interest, causes for dismissal, safety orientation, and abuse of drugs and alcohol. Def. Exhs. D, E, F & G.

II-VI has a manual that enumerates several of its policies. The one in effect when Rouse commenced his employment with II-VI was dated July 1, 1997. Def. Exh. I. Rouse received a copy of the policy manual. Rouse signed a stock option agreement on February 4, 2000. Def. Exh. II. On March 31, 2000, he signed a letter of assurance. Def. Exh. J. The letter of assurance stated that, absent prior authorization from the United States Bureau of Export Administration, he would not export or release any technical data or products of II-VI to the governments or nationals of Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Estonia, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Krygyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Libya, Lithuania, Macau, Moldova, Mongolia, North Korea, Romania, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan or Vietnam. Def. Exh. J.

At all times relevant to this case, Defendant Csaba Szeles ("Szeles") was Rouse's direct supervisor, and the one who appraised his performance. For the period covering January 31, 2000, through January 31, 2001, it was determined that Rouse had performed at the level expected of him. Def. Exh. L. For the next period, which spanned from January 31, 2001, through January 31, 2002, Szeles reported as follows with respect to Rouse's performance:

He fell a bit short on his first technical goal mainly because of insufficient dissemination of polishing proven development results. It is recommended that he puts [sic] more emphasis to the dissemination of his results in written reports, overview presentations and tutorials to the eV organization. He also need [sic] to continuously improve on research planning and project focus. Good progress in technical areas. Need [sic] improvement for communication and project management.

Def. Exh. M. These observations were recorded on March 1, 2002. Id. In an email to Szeles dated May 6, 2002, Defendant Bruce Glick ("Glick"), who was the Division Manager, expressed concerns about Rouse's performance. Def. Exh. K.

Szeles evaluated Rouse's performance for the following year on June 27, 2003. On that occasion, Szeles opined that Rouse needed to significantly improve his performance. Def. Exh. N. The performance appraisal was supplemented with a detailed examination of Rouse's performance signed by both Szeles and Rouse. Def. Exh. O. In addition to deficiencies related to specific scientific tasks, Szeles indicated that Rouse exhibited "insubordination to team goals," a "desire for individual projects and successes," "poor planning," and a "typical superficial 'chasing a dream' approach." Def. Exh. O, p. 5.

Rouse responded to these criticisms in writing. Def. Exh. P. After addressing the specific points raised in the performance evaluation, Rouse indicated that his disagreements with Szeles were attributable to the "intense passion" that they both shared for science. Id. Records at II-VI indicate that, because of the economic condition of the company, Rouse received no salary increase on January 31, 2003. Def. Exh. A. However, a notation dated April 30, 2003, indicates that his salary was not increased due to "performance issues." Id.

Around this same period of time, Rouse was chastised by Szeles for unilaterally emailing a report to II-VI personnel. On January 31, 2003, Rouse forwarded to II-VI employees a report concerning "polishing and detector performance." Def. Exh. Q, p. 1. In an email to Rouse dated February 3, 2003, Szeles objected to Rouse's decision to release the report without a thorough review and discussion by the R&D group as a whole. Id. Szeles indicated that the eV organization's employees would be left with the impression that Rouse performed his research independently of the R&D group. Id. Alternatively, Szeles stated that Rouse's release of the report would lead to a misperception that the conclusions expressed therein represented the collective views of the R&D group, which was not the case. Id. Szeles concluded the email by saying that he and Rouse needed to discuss Rouse's "personal aspirations," "car[eer] objectives" and "work style," and how they were able to fit in with "the goals and operations of the eV team." Id.

On January 28, 2004, Rouse emailed Szeles a power point visual aid concerning process cleaning. Def. Exh. R, p. 1. Szeles apparently needed the information for a presentation that he was about to give before a manufacturing audience. Id. In a responsive email dated February 4, 2004, Szeles indicated that Rouse's draft, which was otherwise more extensive than necessary, did not include the specific information that was needed. Id., pp. 1-2.

Rouse, Szeles and Glick had discussions on May 6, 2004, and May 14, 2004. Szeles and Glick documented their displeasure with Rouse's alleged lack of competence to function as a scientist for II-VI, which they indicated had been reflected by his comments during the discussions. Def. Exhs. S & T. On May 19, 2004, Rouse was informed that his employment with II-VI was being terminated. Def. Exh. KK. The employee separation record of II-VI indicates that Rouse's 30-day severance ended on June 18, 2004. Id.

On August 2, 2004, Rouse filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging that he had been terminated because of his race (i.e., black) and his age (i.e., 43). Def. Exh. Z. In the EEOC charge, Rouse stated that he had been informed of his discharge on May 19, 2004, at a meeting with Glick, Szeles and Human Resources Representative Kerry Courtney ("Courtney"). Id.

While the EEOC was processing his charge, Rouse filed a praecipe for a writ of summons against II-VI, Glick and Szeles in the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County, Pennsylvania. Under Pennsylvania law, this filing constituted the commencement of a civil action. Pa. R. Civ. P. 1007. The writ of summons was issued by the Butler County Prothonotary on May 17, 2005. Def. Exh. AA.

On June 16, 2005, Rouse filed a complaint against II-VI, Glick, Szeles and Courtney in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Apparently, the complaint was amended several times. On Janurary 19, 2006, Rouse filed his fifth amended complaint, which asserted causes of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence with respect to his performance appraisals, negligent supervision, negligent failure to investigate, intentional interference with a prospective employment relationship, negligent retention, negligent training, and negligent failure to provide a safe working environment. Def. Exh. CC.

The EEOC issued a right to sue letter to Rouse on January 31, 2006. Def. Exh. HH. Meanwhile, Rouse's action in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County continued to proceed. II-VI, Glick, Szeles and Courtney filed preliminary objections on February 6, 2006, and an oral argument was scheduled before Judge Judith Friedman. Def. Exh. DD. On March 9, 2006, after the oral argument, Judge Friedman dismissed Rouse's fifth amended complaint in its entirety. Def. Exh. EE. Rouse filed a notice of appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania on April 10, 2006. Def. Exh. FF.

Rouse commenced this action against II-VI, Glick, Szeles and Courtney on April 28, 2006, asserting claims for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") [42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.], the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") [29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.], the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA") [43 P.S. § 951 et seq.], 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). Complaint. Rouse also alleged that the Defendants had committed the torts of tortious interference with a contractual relationship, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraudulent misrepresentation, civil conspiracy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Id. On September 11, 2006, the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Rouse's claims against them.

The Superior Court dismissed Rouse's appeal on October 4, 2006, because of Rouse's failure to file a brief. Def. Exh. GG. In a memorandum opinion and order dated March 30, 2007, this Court disposed of the Defendants' motion to dismiss, which was granted in part and denied in part. Rouse v. II-VI Incorporated, 2007 WL 1007925, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23679 (W.D.Pa. March 30, 2007). After receiving leave to amend his complaint, Rouse filed an amended complaint in this action on July 10, 2007. Amended Complaint. Carl Johnson ("Johnson"), Marlene Acre ("Acre") and Francis Kramer ("Kramer") were added as defendants. Rouse also added a claim under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") [29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq.].

On August 17, 2007, the Butler County Prothonotary informed Rouse that his action in the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County was about to be terminated, since the docket had shown no activity for a period of two years. Def. Exh. BB. One month later, Rouse filed a Statement of Intention to Proceed, thereby forestalling the termination of that action. In an order dated November 16, 2007, Judge Marilyn Horan stated that if Rouse did not file a complaint within 30 days, his action in Butler County would be terminated. Def. Exh. LL.

The Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment in this case on November 30, 2007. This motion has been extensively briefed and is the subject of this memorandum opinion.

Standard of Review

Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

[Summary Judgment] shall be rendered forthwith if 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 judgment as a matter of law.

In interpreting Rule 56(c), the United States Supreme Court has stated:

The plain language . . . mandates entry of summary judgment, 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. In such a situation, there can be "no genuine issue as to any material fact," since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the non-moving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323 (1986).

An issue of material fact is genuine only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The court must view the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists rests with the movant. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The "existence of disputed issues of material fact should be ascertained by resolving all inferences, doubts and issues of credibility against the moving party." Ely v. Hall's Motor Transit Co., 590 F.2d 62, 66 (3d Cir. 1978) (quoting Smith v. Pittsburgh Gage & Supply Co., 464 F.2d 870, 874 (3d Cir. 1972)). Final credibility determinations on material issues cannot be made in the context of a motion for summary judgment, nor can the district court weigh the evidence. Josey v. John R. Hollingsworth Corp., 996 F.2d 632 (3d Cir. 1993); Petruzzi's IGA Supermarkets, Inc. v. Darling-Delaware Co., 998 F.2d 1224 (3d Cir. 1993).

When the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party's burden can be "discharged by 'showing' -- that is, pointing out to the District Court -- that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. If the moving party has carried this burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who cannot rest on the allegations of the pleadings and must "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Petruzzi's IGA Supermarkets, 998 F.2d at 1230. When the non-moving party's evidence in opposition to a properly supported motion for summary judgment is "merely colorable" or "not significantly probative," the court may grant summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-250.

Discussion

A. Res Judicata and Collateral Estoppel

In support of their motion for summary judgment, the Defendants contend that Counts 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 of the amended complaint are barred by the doctrine of res judicata, and that Count 16 is barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel.*fn2 Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment, pp. 5-10. Counts 7 and 8 assert discrimination and retaliation claims under § 1981.*fn3 Amended Complaint, ¶¶ 113-125. Similarly, Counts 9 and 10 assert discrimination and retaliation claims under § 1985(3). Id., ¶¶ 126-137. In Count 11, Rouse claims that Glick, Szeles, Courtney, Johnson, Acre and Kramer tortiously interfered with his contractual relationship with II-VI. Id., ¶¶ 138-141. Count 12 is based on a theory of breach of contract, while Count 13 is based on a breach of fiduciary duty theory. Id., ¶¶ 142-148. In Count 14, Rouse alleges that the Defendants committed the tort(s) of fraudulent misrepresentation and/or fraudulent inducement. Id., ¶¶ 149-151. Count 15 is premised on a theory of civil conspiracy. Id., ¶¶ 152-154. In Count 16, Rouse avers that the Defendants committed the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Id., ¶¶ 155-159. For the reasons that follow, none of these claims need be addressed on the merits.

Although the doctrine of res judicata has its origins in state law, the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution incorporates it as the law of our Union. Riley v. New York Trust Co., 315 U.S. 343, 349 (1942)("By the Constitutional provision for full faith and credit, the local doctrines of res judicata, speaking generally, become a part of national jurisprudence, and therefore federal questions cognizable here.")(emphasis in original). That constitutional provision, however, speaks only in terms how "each State" is limited thereunder. U.S. CONST., art. IV, § 1. Thus, the Constitution itself does not require a federal court to honor the res judicata effects of a judgment rendered by a state court. Nevertheless, when a judgment is rendered by a state court, federal courts are statutorily bound by the doctrine of res judicata by virtue of 28 U.S.C. § 1738, which provides:

§ 1738. State and Territorial statutes and judicial proceedings; full faith and credit The Acts of the legislature of any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States, or copies thereof, shall be authenticated by affixing the seal of such State, Territory or Possession thereto.

The records and judicial proceedings of any court of any such State, Territory or Possession, or copies thereof, shall be proved or admitted in other courts within the United States and its Territories and Possessions by the attestation of the clerk and seal of the court annexed, if a seal exists, together with a ...


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