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Williams v. ISG Plating

February 9, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fullam, Sr. J.


In this litigation, 13 African-American plaintiffs assert discrimination claims against Defendant ISG, which operated a steel plant in Coatesville, PA. ISG has submitted a Motion for Summary Judgment against each individual plaintiff. This Memorandum addresses all of ISG's motions, and it considers common issues of fact and law whenever possible.

ISG acquired the Coatesville Steel Plant on May 7, 2003, after the previous owner, Bethlehem Steel Corporation, filed for bankruptcy protection. ISG purchased the Coatesville Plant pursuant to a Bankruptcy Court-approved sale. When ISG took ownership of the facility, it reorganized the structure of plant-operations and reclassified employees' pay-grades.

With the exception of Mr. Michael Brown, the plaintiffs were all directly employed by ISG during its operation of the steel plant. They were all paid on an hourly basis, and they worked in various operational areas.

All plaintiffs allege racial discrimination. Specifically, they allege that they were denied training and promotions, and that they lost overtime work-opportunities as a result of their race. They also seek to recover for racial harassment that included, among other things, exposure to offensive graffiti, posting of racially derogatory images, and nooses that hung in the plant. In addition to these claims of racial discrimination, one plaintiff, Ms. London, alleges gender discrimination.

Plaintiffs' union, Local 1165, was originally a defendant in this case, but Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed all claims against the union in February 2006. Plaintiffs' remaining claims, which they assert against ISG only, consist of alleged violations of Title VII, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Plaintiffs have elected to pursue each of the 13 cases individually, but the cases have been consolidated for discovery. ISG has moved for summary judgment against each individual plaintiff.

Plaintiffs improperly seek to hold ISG liable for alleged acts of discrimination that occurred before it purchased the steel plant. Plaintiffs ask this Court to apply the Third Circuit's three-factor Rego test to hold ISG liable under the doctrine of successor liability. A transfer during bankruptcy, however, presents a situation in which the Third Circuit does not apply that test. See In re: Trans World Airlines, Inc., 322 F.3d 283, 288--93 (3d Cir. 2003). Because the Bankruptcy Court ordered the "free and clear" transfer of the steel-plant assets, Plaintiffs may not rely on any pre-transfer facts to assert claims against ISG.

The parties also contest whether an individual plaintiff may support a claim of hostile work environment by introducing evidence of harassment that other workers experienced. A plaintiff who alleges the existence of a hostile work environment cannot rely solely on comments and offensive actions that were directed toward others. Caver v. City of Trenton, 420 F.3d 243, 263--64 (3d Cir. 2005). Such incidents, however, may certainly be relevant to a plaintiff's claim in other respects.

Plaintiff Michael Brown

Mr. Brown left the steel plant under a "Transitional Assistance Program" (TAP) before ISG acquired the plant.

Mr. Brown continued to work on the plant-premises, however, as an employee of ISG's subcontractors. During this time, he sought a position with ISG but was denied. Mr. Brown asserts a § 1981 claim, alleging that he was subject to a hostile work environment while on the ISG premises, and that the decision not to rehire him was racially motivated.

As a matter of law, Mr. Brown may not assert a § 1981 claim of hostile work environment against ISG. Unlike other statutes that directly address discrimination, § 1981 protects contractual relationships. Thus, a plaintiff who claims a § 1981 violation must identify an impaired contractual relationship.

Domino's Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, 546 U.S. 470, 476 (2006).

As an employee of ISG's subcontractors, Mr. Brown cannot assert that ISG is liable for interference with his contractual rights. Mr. Brown's relevant contractual rights ...

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