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Chodnicki v. Old Forge Bank

January 21, 2009

JOSEPH CHODNICKI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OLD FORGE BANK, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 31). Having been fully briefed and argued, the case is ripe for disposition.

Background

Plaintiff Joseph Chodnicki was employed as a branch manager at the Defendant Bank's Duryea branch. (Defendant's Statement of Facts (Doc. 38) (hereinafter "Defendant's Statement) at ¶).*fn1 He worked there from December 1996 until March 2006. (Id.). Plaintiff had previously worked for PNC Bank at the same location. (Id. at ¶ 4). Defendant purchased its Duryea Branch from PNC. (Id.).

According to the defendant, after purchasing the Duryea branch, Old Forge came to the conclusion that the staff needed to be reduced for the bank to meet rising costs and decreasing revenue. (Id. at ¶ 5). The plaintiff and another employer were those whose jobs were to be eliminated. (Id.). Defendant claims that it concluded that the two highest hourly salaries should be eliminated to cut costs. (Id. at ¶ 6). Defendant terminated plaintiff's employment on March 15, 2006. (Id. at ¶ 7). At the time of his firing, plaintiff was 58 years old. (Id. at ¶ 8). The plaintiff disputes that a desire to cut costs motivated plaintiff's firing, but instead alleges that defendant discriminated against the plaintiff because of his age and disability. (Plaintiff's Counterstatement of Material Facts (Doc. 40) (hereinafter "Plaintiff's Statement") at ¶¶ 5-6).

At the time of plaintiff's termination, Judith Martinelli, who eventually replaced plaintiff, had been working for defendant since 1996. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 9). She had been employed by the bank's predecessor in interest since 1978. (Id. at ¶ 10). She was 49 years old. (Id. at ¶ 14). Plaintiff had been her supervisor the entire time she worked for the bank. (Id. at ¶ 11). In March 2006, Martinelli served as head teller in the bank. (I.d at ¶ 12). She continued to work under that title for several months following plaintiff's termination, though the parties dispute when she was hired to replace plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 13; Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 13). According to the defendant, while Martinelli assumed some management duties, two male employees, Michael Jake and Richard Casagrande, assumed many branch manager duties during the initial months after plaintiff's termination. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 15). Jake was 53 years old. (Id. at ¶ 20). Defendant asserts that Martinelli assumed plaintiff's duties "several months" after his termination, when defendant determined that Mr. Casagrande could not cover both his previous position and the additional duties assigned him from plaintiff's previous job. (Id. at ¶ 16). Plaintiff insists that the determination to promote Martinelli had been made months earlier, and that evidence indicates that the delay between plaintiff's termination and formal notice that Martinelli had been promoted was a "probationary period" designed to establish that Martinelli could perform the job. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16).

Plaintiff had heart problems during his employment with defendant. (Id. at ¶ 21). At the time he was hired, plaintiff had previously suffered a heart attack and had surgery for a heart condition. (Id.). In July 1998, plaintiff missed work because of a heart attack and angioplasty. (Id. at ¶ 22). Plaintiff also missed work in November and December 2001 due to a heart attack. (Id. at ¶ 23). He missed one day of work in 2004 and four days in 2005. (Id. at ¶ 24). He never told anyone at work that he had a condition that limited his ability to work, and never sought accommodation for a disability. (Id. at ¶ 25).

When plaintiff filed an initial disability discrimination questionnaire, he admitted that his alleged disability did not affect his ability to do his job. (Id. at ¶ 28). Plaintiff contends that he made that admission because his condition was stable at the time. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 28). He also stated on the questionnaire that he had "no limitations or restrictions" on his ability to do work and could perform all of the major functions of his job without accommodations. (Id. at ¶ 29). He also admitted that his employer had not perceived him as disabled and did not mistreat him because of his disability. (Id. at ¶¶ 30-1). Plaintiff does contend, however, that a supervisor made disparaging comments about the bank's aging workforce and the rising cost of providing that workforce with health care. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 27). The supervisor "chided" plaintiff about his weight. (Id.). In his initial filing, plaintiff claimed only that he was restricted in the major life activity of lifting, though the intake worker noted that he had problems with his hands and difficulty writing. (Id. at ¶ 32; Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 33). Plaintiff contends that he suffers from arthritis which makes use of his hands and knees difficult. (See Plaintiff's Affidavit in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Exh. 8 to Plaintiff's Statement (Doc. 40-9) at ¶ 11). Plaintiff later filed a claim for Social Security Disability insurance, stating that he had been unable to work because of his illness beginning on March 15, 2006. (Id. at ¶ 37).

Plaintiff filed his complaint in this court on June 21, 2007. The complaint consists of two counts. Count One alleges age discrimination pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621. Plaintiff contends that he was fired on account of his age, 58, and replaced by a significantly younger worker who had much less experience. Count Two alleges disability discrimination pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101. Plaintiff alleges that he was disabled within the meaning of the Act, was qualified to perform his job, and was terminated by the defendant because of a perception about his disability.

The parties engaged in discovery. At the close of discovery, defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment. The parties then briefed the issue and the court heard argument, bringing the case to its present posture. Jurisdiction

Because this case is brought pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621, et seq, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq., the court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States.").

Legal Standard

Granting summary judgment is proper 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. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

Discussion

Defendant seeks summary judgment on each of plaintiff's claims. The court will address them in turn.

A. Age Discrimination in Employment Act

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits "discrimination against an individual over age 40 with respect to 'compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of an individual's age.'" Billet v. Cigna Corp., 940 F.2d 812, 816 (3d Cir. 1991) (quoting 29 U.S.C. ยง 623(a)). To recover under the act, "'a plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that age was the determinative factor in the employer's ...


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