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Ramanna v. County of Beaver

September 11, 2008

RALPH P. RAMANNA, JR., THOMAS E. LLEWELLYN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COUNTY OF BEAVER AND BEAVER COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Ralph Ramanna, Jr. ("plaintiff" or "Ramanna") and plaintiff Thomas Llewellyn ("plaintiff" or "Llewellyn") filed a complaint on December 16, 2005 alleging that they were terminated by the defendants County of Beaver and Beaver County Sheriff's Department ("defendants") in December 2004 because of age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. ("ADEA"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. §§ 951 et seq. ("PHRA"). Pending before this court is a motion for summary judgment ("Doc. No. 23") brought by defendants. After considering the joint statement of material facts, and the submissions of the parties, the court will grant summary judgment in favor of defendants for the reasons stated below.

Facts

Plaintiffs in this case were both lieutenants of the Beaver County sheriff's department. (Joint Combined Statement of Material Facts ("Comb. Stat.")¶ 3.)*fn1 Llewellyn was 61 years of age and the oldest employee in the department when he was terminated from his position of lieutenant. (Affidavit of Thomas Llewellyn ("Llewellyn Aff.") ¶ 2.) Ramanna was 57 years of age when he was terminated from his position of lieutenant. (Comb. Stat. ¶ 24.) At the time of the layoff, plaintiffs were the only lieutenants who were eligible to retire. (Id. ¶ 53.)

The employees of the sheriff's office, except for office personnel, fall into three categories: 1) senior staff; 2) lieutenants; and 3) deputies. (Id. ¶ 2.) The senior staff of the Beaver County sheriff's department are administrative employees whose responsibilities include management, supervision, and the administrative oversight of the department.*fn2 (Id. ¶ 11.) The position of lieutenant is a non-union, salaried, management level, supervisory position in the sheriff's office. (Id. ¶ 4.) Lieutenants perform the following duties on a regular basis: service of civil process, service of warrants, prisoner transfer, answering citizen complaints, making arrests, traffic stops and traffic citations, patrol of county parks and other facilities, and courthouse security. (Llewellyn Aff. ¶ 3.) One of the lieutenants was responsible for running the central booking center at the Beaver County Jail, rather than performing the above-listed duties. (Comb. Stat. ¶ 7.) The deputies in the Beaver County sheriff's office are union employees, are paid hourly, exercise no managerial discretion, have no supervisory responsibilities, and the terms and conditions of their employment are controlled by a collective bargaining agreement. (Id. ¶¶ 8-10.)

In December 2004, plaintiffs were notified that their positions were being eliminated effective January 1, 2005. (Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiffs' claims of age discrimination assert that younger or less experienced, less tenured employees were treated more favorably than plaintiffs, in that they retained their employment. (Id. ¶ 25.) Llewellyn was the oldest of the five lieutenants working for the sheriff's department at the time of the reduction in force. (Id. ¶ 49.) At the time their positions were eliminated, Llewellyn was 61 years of age and Ramanna was 57. (Id. ¶ 24.) The remaining lieutenants were aged 53, 54 and 58. (Id. ¶ 24.) Ramanna was the most senior, tenured employee of the sheriff's office at the time of his termination, having served the department for thirty-two years. (Id. ¶ 51.) Ramanna served twenty years as the chief deputy and three months as the acting sheriff, within these thirty-two years of service. (Id. ¶ 51.) In addition, all the full-time deputies retained were significantly younger than plaintiffs. (Pls.' Facts ¶ 7.)

The elimination of plaintiffs' positions with the sheriff's department took place within the context of a county-wide reduction-in-force. (Comb. Stat. ¶ 13.) As a way of balancing the 2004 budget, the county commissioners issued a directive to all elected officials and department heads to reduce their budgets by 6%. (Id. ¶ 16.) The sheriff met his budgetary obligations for 2004 by eliminating twelve or thirteen part-time deputies from the department pursuant to the reduction in force, representing a reduction of about 50% of the part-time deputies. (Id. ¶ 17.) Late in 2004, the sheriff was instructed by the county commissioners that additional cuts would be necessary for 2005 and they directed the sheriff to cut an additional 6% out of his 2005 budget. (Id. ¶ 18.) After consulting with his senior staff on at least two occasions in the fall of 2004, the sheriff decided to eliminate two lieutenants from the management ranks in order to reduce the size of the sheriff's department in accordance with the reduction in force. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) The sheriff claims that he made his decision because his office was top heavy with supervisors. (Id. ¶ 21.)

The selection of plaintiffs as the two lieutenants whose positions were being eliminated in the force reduction came as the result of discussions held in staff meetings attended by the senior staff. (Id. ¶ 23.) The sheriff asserts that he did not consider eliminating two deputies from their jobs in order to replace them with either Ramanna or Llewellyn because he thought this would result in an unfair labor practice and the filing of a grievance against the sheriff's office.*fn3 (Id. ¶ 27.) In the context of the county's reduction in force, the sheriff asserts that plaintiffs were selected for termination from the pool of five lieutenants because their conduct on the job compared less favorably in the eyes of the senior staff than that of the three remaining lieutenants. (Id. ¶ 28.) The sheriff claims that his senior staff and he took the conduct into account relevant strengths and weaknesses of all five lieutenants in making their ultimate determination, although none of the lieutenants was considered a "bad" employee. (Id. ¶¶ 28-29.)

There were two main factors that the sheriff claimed led to the decision to eliminate Ramanna's position. One factor was Ramanna's alleged resistance to authority and changes in the office. (Id. ¶ 30.) The sheriff claims that since the inception of his tenure, Ramanna was viewed by his superiors as resistant to authority and changes in the office, difficult to work with and supervise, and lacking in interpersonal and management skills. (Id. ¶ 30.) While he was never disciplined for this conduct, the sheriff asserts it was a definite factor when called upon to make his selection of which of the five lieutenants to keep. (Id.) The other factor cited by the sheriff was Ramanna's recent driving record, which included four job-related car accidents over a period of about eighteen months. (Id. ¶ 31.) In December 2004, the sheriff believed that Ramanna demonstrated poor judgment by involving his service vehicle in four accidents while on department business in the two years preceding his termination. (Id. ¶ 45.)

The sheriff cites two particular incidents that led to the selection of Llewellyn as one of the lieutenants to be terminated. The sheriff believed that Llewellyn demonstrated poor judgment by flushing drug evidence seized from a crime scene down a toilet in violation of department policy and by failing to prevent a deputy under his direct supervision from taunting a prisoner, removing his restraints, and engaging in physical contact and failing to take appropriate measures to report the incident or discipline the deputy. (Id. ¶¶ 43-44.) With respect to Llewellyn's involvement in destroying evidence from a drug arrest by personally flushing the drugs down a toilet, department policy prohibits the destruction of evidence in the absence of a court order, which Llewellyn failed to seek and obtain prior to flushing the drugs. (Id. ¶ 32-34.) Llewellyn was never disciplined for this incident and asserts that he had personally informed both the sheriff and Chief Deputy Matthews ("Mathews") that he had been ordered by Captain Short to destroy certain evidence, at which time he offered his resignation to the sheriff. (Id. ¶ 68.) Llewellyn claims that Matthews told him that he was doing a fine job, that he should continue with his regular duties and that he would not be disciplined in any way for the incident. (Id.) Llewellyn maintains that the policy which he allegedly violated was not adopted until after this incident. (Id. ¶ 67.)

With respect to the second incident the sheriff cited in choosing Llewellyn for termination, that incident occurred when Llewellyn allegedly failed to supervise a deputy who taunted a prisoner into a fist fight in a cell. (Id. ¶ 37.) The deputy being supervised by Llewellyn removed the prisoner's handcuffs and challenged him to a fight. (Id. ¶ 38.) Llewellyn observed the entire incident and assisted in subduing the prisoner, but made no immediate effort to file a report or discipline the deputy. (Id. ¶ 39.) The sheriff thought the deputy's removal of the prisoner's handcuffs violated the department's Use of Force and Prisoner Restraint Policies, designed to minimize the amount of contact needed to control a situation, and imposed a three- day suspension on the deputy, which was later reduced. (Id. ¶¶ 40-41.) During the grievance procedure where the deputy's suspension was reduced, the arbitrator noted Llewellyn's failure to recognize the seriousness of the incident as a reason for reducing the level of discipline for the deputy. (Id. ¶ 42.) Llewellyn testified that this policy was not adopted until after the incident. (Pls.' Facts ¶ 23.)

The sheriff's department does not have a system of performance evaluation for the lieutenants working for the sheriff's office. (Pls.' Facts ¶ 21.) At least one other lieutenant had received discipline from the sheriff at the time the decision was made about who would be laid off. (Comb. Stat. ¶ 69.) One of the five lieutenants working in the office at the time of the reduction in force, Lieutenant Cogan, was disciplined with a suspension of five days and a verbal warning from the sheriff after he failed to respond to a library's report of a suspicious package. (Comb. Stat. ¶ 69.) The sheriff's department explained that the lieutenant received this discipline because he did not write an incident report about the matter. (Id. ¶ 69.) The sheriff considered the facts underlying this lieutenant's discipline to constitute a failure to follow the sheriff's "philosophy," but he did not select this lieutenant for termination because he otherwise "pretty much conformed to the sheriff's philosophy."(Id. ¶ 70.)

Ramanna was never disciplined by the sheriff, except for possible verbal discipline relating to the four automobile accidents. (Id. ¶¶ 71-72.) The sheriff did not know whether all the accidents at issue were the fault of Ramanna. (Pls.' Facts ¶ 28.) Ramanna was not written up or disciplined for any of the accidents. (Comb. Stat. ¶ 77.) No serious damage was done to vehicles involved in the accidents, nor were there any injuries. (Pls.' Facts ¶¶ 29-31.) During his deposition testimony, Captain Harold Thomas Shane ("Shane"), one of the sheriff's senior staff members, made reference to Ramanna being "old school." (Shane Dep. 12:10, May 1, 2007.) The relevant testimony from Shane's deposition is as follows:

Q: Was that the only reason for Lieutenant Ramanna?

A: No. There were other decisions - - other cases that were brought up. For example, it was, in my opinion, that Ralph was more of the old school where he didn't like the changes that sheriff DeLuca was making.

Q: What changes are you referring to?

A: Well, when we would have a meeting, then it would be said that as a team, as the management team for the office, this is what we're going to do. Instead of being a team player and saying, look, this is what we want you to do, directing to the deputies, it would be referred back to as this is what the sheriff wants you to do. Not necessarily what I want you to do, but this is what the sheriff wants you to do. So it's not - - it wasn't good to team cohesiveness, more taking the sides of the deputies.

(Id. 12:7-25.)

The sheriff did not offer the plaintiffs positions as deputies when making the decision to eliminate the two lieutenant positions. (Comb. Stat. ¶ 83.) The sheriff did not offer deputy positions to Llewellyn or Ramanna because the sheriff believed the collective bargaining agreement, which covered the deputies would prohibit his doing so. (Id.) The language of the collective bargaining agreement relied upon by the sheriff read as follows: "[I]n the event of reduction in force part-time deputies shall be laid off first beginning with the most junior deputy. This application of seniority shall extend also to the reductions in regular scheduled work hours." (Id. ¶ 85.) Captain Shane explained the way this process would work. (Id. ¶ 83.) He testified that the collective bargaining agreement referred to by the sheriff did not prohibit the lieutenants from "bumping" down into the deputy ranks, but indicated "that if such a 'bump' was made, the lieutenant that bumped down would lose his seniority and become the next in line for further layoffs." (Id.) The sheriff did not seek a legal interpretation of the contract provisions in the collective bargaining agreement and relied upon his own understanding of the agreement to provide the basis of his decision not to offer the bump down to the lieutenants. (Id. ¶¶ 86, 87.) Both Llewellyn and Ramanna were qualified for the lower level deputy positions. (Id. ¶ 92.) The sheriff did not discuss the possibility of "bumping down" the two lieutenants to deputy positions with his senior staff in deciding to eliminate the lieutenant positions. (Id. ¶¶ 89, 90.) The sheriff has, in at least one case, moved a lieutenant back to a deputy position at the employee's request, while at the same time placing another deputy into the lieutenant position. (Id. ¶ 91.)

Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment may be granted if, drawing all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, "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." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c). The existence of some disputed facts between the parties will not defeat a motion for summary judgment unless there is a genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-248 (1986). A party opposing a motion for summary judgment must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 248. In determining whether the dispute is genuine, the court's function is not to weigh the evidence or determine the truth of the matter, but only to determine whether the evidence of record is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. at 249.

Discussion

On September 10, 2007, defendants brought the present motion for summary judgment, asserting that it is entitled to summary judgment on the following two theories: (1) plaintiffs did not establish a prima facie case of age discrimination because plaintiffs failed to show that they were terminated while other similarly situated and significantly younger employees were retained; and (2) there are no genuine issues of material fact that suggest that the legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for termination given by defendants were a pretext for age discrimination under the ADEA and PHRA. Plaintiffs argue that there are genuine issues of material fact about the establishment of a prima ...


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