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Robinson v. Matthews International Corp.

March 20, 2009


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



In this memorandum opinion, the court considers the motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 27) filed by defendant Matthews International Corporation ("Matthews" or "defendant") against all claims asserted by plaintiff Stephen W. Robinson ("Robinson" or "plaintiff") under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000 et seq. ("Title VII") and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§621 et seq. ("ADEA"). The claims include allegations of discrimination based upon sex and age, constructive discharge and a Pennsylvania common law claim of wrongful discharge. After reviewing the record and the submissions of the parties, viewing all disputed facts in plaintiff's favor and drawing all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor, the court concludes that because there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute, defendant's motion will be granted.

Factual Background

The factual background is derived from the undisputed evidence of record and the disputed evidence of record viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.*fn1 See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) ("The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.").

Plaintiff's Employment With Defendant

On January 3, 2000, plaintiff began his employment with the York Group, Inc. ("York Group") as the bronze segment controller in its Kingwood, West Virginia plant. (Joint Statement of Material Facts ("JS") ¶ 1.) Plaintiff remained as the bronze segment controller when defendant acquired the York Group on June 24, 2001 and continued in that position until September 1, 2002, when he was promoted to a position in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (JS ¶ 2.) In June 2002, plaintiff was approached by defendant's chief financial officer at the time, Edward Boyle, who asked plaintiff if he would be interested in the position of operations controller for the casket division, located in defendant's North Shore office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (JS ¶¶ 3, 5.) In August 2002, plaintiff was offered the promotion and began working as the operations controller on September 1, 2002 . (JS ¶¶ 3, 4.)

While acting as operations controller, plaintiff had accounting responsibility for a variety of plants in the casket division, including the Marshfield, Missouri metal assembly plaint; the Lynn Metal Assembly plant in Indiana; the Richmond stamping plant in Richmond, Indiana; York Technologies in Indiana; Elder Davis ( a cremation plaint in Indiana); Anniston Stamping in Alabama; additional plants in Columbus, Mississippi and the York Wood Plant in York, Pennsylvania. (JS ¶ 6.)

In early summer 2004, defendant decided to consolidate the responsibilities of the financial controller, Jenna Silkwood ("Silkwood"); the operations controller, Robinson; and the manager of financial analysis, Larrry Elewski ("Elewski") into one division controller position. (JS ¶ 7; Bartolacci Dep. 7:21 (Dec. 4, 2007).)

On November 5, 2004, Joseph Bartolacci ("Bartolacci") met with plaintiff and advised him that his position and the position of finance controller were being eliminated effective at the end of the year. (JS ¶ 8.) At the meeting, Bartolacci offered plaintiff the wood plant controller position in York, Pennsylvania. (Id.) Bartolacci told plaintiff at this meeting, that his performance was unacceptable and that plaintiff lacked credibility with his peers. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that this was the first time any supervisor expressed dissatisfaction with his job performance. (Id.) The wood plant controller position offered to plaintiff was a demotion with reduced responsibilities, a $30,000 wage cut and involved a 225 mile commute one way. (JS ¶ 9.) The wood plant controller position was only responsible for the plant in York, Pennsylvania. (JS ¶ 9.)

Defendant told plaintiff that it would be his decision whether to relocate to York. (JS ¶ 10.) Defendant claimed that the plant controller position could be successfully performed from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and that plaintiff was aware that he could perform the work from Pittsburgh. (Id.) Defendant alleged that Ed Hunt, another plant controller who reported to plaintiff, and fulfilled his plant controller duties for the plant near Richmond, Indiana while residing in the Pittsburgh area. (Id.) Plaintiff claimed that he would need to travel extensively to support the York wood plant while residing in Pittsburgh. (Id.) Plaintiff claimed the job could not properly be done without relocating. (Id.)

After considering whether he would accept the wood plant controller position for a couple weeks, plaintiff communicated to Bartolacci that he would not accept the position. (JS ¶ 11.)

Plaintiff's doctor had specifically restricted his sitting or traveling time to thirty to forty-five minutes. (Id.) Plaintiff believed he could not support his family on the salary reduction and relocation would end his wife's full-time employment. (Id.)

Plaintiff continued to work for defendant into early January 2005, which allowed for 500 shares of defendant's stock to vest in plaintiff and for plaintiff to train his replacement, Jim Kenna ("Kenna"). (JS ¶ 13.) On January 31, 2005, plaintiff was terminated. (JS. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff was fifty-one years old at that time. (JS ¶ 16.) Plaintiff received the severance pay he was entitled to pursuant to the employee handbook. (JS ¶ 14.) Defendant provided plaintiff with a career counselor and plaintiff was able to find other employment in five and one-half months. (JS ¶ 12.)

Facts Surrounding the Division Controller Position

a. Defendant's Reason for Filling the Division Controller Position

In 2004, every division of defendant had one person designated as the financial leader of the entire division. The only exception was the casket division of the company, which had four financial leaders - a division controller, an operations controller, a financial controller, and a manager, financial analysis. (JS ¶ 56.) For other divisions of defendant in 2004, the following individuals performed similar functions to that of the division controller of the casket division: bronze division, William Bonomo; cloverleaf division, Stephen Turchick; cremation division, Andrew Kalinyak ("Kalinyak"); graphics division, Keith Williams; and marking products division, Lou Seventi. (JS ¶ 57.) While plaintiff was serving as the operations controller in 2003, David Beck ("Beck") moved to the position of corporate controller, leaving the position of division controller for the casket division vacant. (JS ¶ 58.)

In order to lower the cost associated with having three employees performing a job that could be performed by one individual, defendant, in 2004, decided: 1) to eliminate the positions of financial controller, operations controller, and manager, financial analysis; and 2) to hire a division controller to perform all three tasks. (JS ¶ 58.) At that time, plaintiff was operations controller, Silkwood was financial controller, and Elewski was the manager, financial analysis. (Id.)

b. Candidates for the division controller position

Defendant had a policy of attempting to fill positions from within the company when appropriate. (Nicola Dep. 20:12-16 (Dec. 4, 2007).) In late summer or early fall of 2004, a decision was made by defendant not to consider Robinson for the position of division controller. (Bartolacci Dep. 7:21 (Dec. 4, 2007.) Stephen Nicola ("Nicola"), the person responsible for filling the division controller position, considered Robinson and Silkwood candidates for the division controller position, but decided not to hire either one. Nicola did not think either was the appropriate candidate to fill the position. (Nicola Dep. 24:14-21 (Dec. 4, 2007).) Nicola believed that Robinson was not an appropriate candidate, because Robinson did not possess sufficient leadership, initiative or analysis skills for the position of division controller. (Nicola Dep. 29.) Nicola considered Mark Benvenuto ("Benvenuto") an appropriate candidate for the position. (Nicola Dep. 25.) Kalinyak was also considered an appropriate candidate at that time. (Id. 40.)

Defendant first offered the division controller position to Kalinyak, who did not accept. (JS ¶¶ 60, 63.) Kalinyak, forty-seven years old at the time, was employed as defendant's division controller of its cremation division and had never received a score below the above-standard "commendable" rating on any performance appraisal from 2003 through 2004. (JS ¶¶ 61, 62.) Kalinyak did not participate in a formal application process for the position, but was offered the position by defendant. (Kalinyak Dep. 23 (Nov. 28, 2007).)

Defendant offered the position to Benvenuto who also declined the position. (JS ¶ 67.) Benvenuto, thirty-six years old at the time, held the position of manager of external reporting and financial accounting. (JS ¶¶ 64, 65.) Benvenuto never received a score below the above-standard "commendable" on a performance appraisal in 2003 or 2004. (JS ¶ 66.) Benvenuto did not participate in a formal application process for the position, but was offered the position by defendant. (Benvenuto Dep. 23-24 (Nov. 28, 2007).)

Next, defendant offered the division controller position to Kenna who accepted. (JS ¶¶ 68, 69.) Kenna, thirty-six years old at the time, did not possess a post-graduate degree. Kenna had a bachelor's degree in accounting, and experience in general accounting and operations while employed with All-Clad Metalcrafters, LLC and Bake Line/Atlantic Baking Co. (JS ¶¶ 70,71.) Kenna had audit experience while employed at E.G. Conley. (Id. ¶ 71.) Kenna applied for the job through a headhunter. (Kenna Dep. 4:3-5 (Nov. 29, 2007).)

Robinson, fifty-one years old at the time, was considered a candidate for the job, but was rejected early in the process. (Nicola Dep. 24.) Robinson earned a Masters of Business Administration ("MBA") degree with double specializations in finance and management from Marshall University in May 1994, and had a bachelor's degree in management and marketing. Plaintiff's experience included working: 1) four years in the payroll department at Union Carbide Metal Division; 2) one year as the second highest ranking person in the accounting department of American Electric Power; 3) nearly fourteen years as the top person in the accounting department with a staff of eleven direct reports at American Electric Power; 4) less than one year as controller of Anderson Mavor USA; 5) four years as controller for Swanson Industries in charge of the accounting department who reported directly to the president and Chief Executive Officer of the company; and 6) several years as the bronze segment controller and casket division operations controller for defendant. (Id. ¶ 71.)

c. The ad

Plaintiff was registered with to receive email notification for controller-type jobs. (JS ¶ 72.) On August 13, 2004, plaintiff learned through a email notification about the availability of a division controller position that did not specify the employer. (JS ¶ 73.) Plaintiff did not apply for the position at the time because he was comfortable with the position he held with defendant and was not aware that his current position was being eliminated. (JS ¶ 74.)

Allegations of Previous Age Discrimination by Defendant

Plaintiff testified that he was aware of employees of defendant who were over fifty and despite good performance were being replaced by younger workers. (JS ¶¶ 77, 78.) Plaintiff identified Peter Nazare as one individual who suffered discrimination on the basis of age as he was terminated with no notice and replaced with Mark Proudfoot, an individual under the age of forty, who had no experience at the time he replaced Peter Nazare. (JS ¶ 78.)

Plaintiff also identified Joseph Givens and Fred Turnley as other workers who suffered discrimination. (JS ¶ 78.) Besides plaintiff's observations, plaintiff adduced no evidence in support of these allegations. (Id.)

Plaintiff's Sex Discrimination Claim

a. Qualifications: Sarbanes-Oxley compliance coordinator

Silkwood's position of financial controller was eliminated at or around the same time that plaintiff's position of operations controller was eliminated. (JS ¶ 80.) Silkwood had been employed by defendant since defendant acquired the York Group in 2001. (JS ¶ 81.) Silkwood was fifty-seven years old at the time that her position was eliminated. (JS ¶ 82.) Defendant offered Silkwood the position of Sarbanes-Oxley compliance coordinator ("S-O coordinator"). (JS ¶ 83.)

The S-O coordinator position was responsible for the effective coordination of all phases of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-204, 116 Stat. 745 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 15 U.S.C.) ("Sarbanes-Oxley"), including compliance testing and essential duties involving the review of the accounting process documentation and the coordination of external audit compliance. (JS ¶ 84.) It required five to ten years of external audit and business experience, and listed a certified public accountant ("CPA") credential as preferred. (Id.) The position required knowledge of Sarbanes-Oxley requirements and familiarity with § 404 of Sarbanes-Oxley. (Id.) The job also required a reasonable knowledge of generally accepted accounting principles ("GAAP") as well as internal and external contact with many persons to coordinate Sarbanes-Oxley work and perform audits. (Id.)

Defendant alleges that as a CPA, Silkwood was particularly qualified for the position due to her past auditing experience in performing auditing functions from 1981-1991 for the CPA firm Cummings & Company, including the design and performance of audit testing procedures. (JS ¶ 85.) She performed audits from 1991-1998, after starting her own CPA firm and worked for AuditForce, Inc. as a professional consultant. (Id.) Silkwood had knowledge and was trained about Sarbanes-Oxley and its requirements. (Id.)

Plaintiff is not a CPA and did not perform any audit functions while working for defendant. He, however, testified that he had handled "anything involved" with accounting functions when he worked for American Electric Power. (JS ¶ 86.) Plaintiff testified that although he was not more qualified than Silkwood, he could perform the job she was awarded as well as she could. (JS ¶ 88.) Plaintiff had no ...

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