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Maresca v. Blue Ridge Communications

May 4, 2009

DAVID G. MARESCA, PLAINTIFF
v.
BLUE RIDGE COMMUNICATIONS, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 40). Having been fully briefed, the matter is ripe for disposition.

Background*fn1

This case concerns Plaintiff David G. Maresca's employment as a cable installer with Defendant Blue Ridge Communications. Maresca's employment with defendant began in October 1995. (Defendant's Statement of Uncontested Material Facts (Doc. 42) (hereinafter "Defendant's Statement) at ¶ 3). Plaintiff worked for the defendant until he was injured in a job-related accident on June 29, 1999. (Id.). After December 19, 2000, plaintiff never returned to active work for the defendant. (Id. at ¶ 4). Plaintiff received total disability benefits from May 2001 until April 2006. (Id. at ¶ 5). Defendant provided plaintiff with group health insurance at its expense during this period. (Id. at ¶ 6).

From May 2001 until April 2006, plaintiff maintained that he was disabled and unable to return to work. (Id. at ¶ 7). On August 18, 2002, defendant, through its insurer or third party administrator, Inservco Insurance Services, Inc., filed a petition for termination or suspension of plaintiff's benefits with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry's Bureau of Workers' Compensation. (See Decision on Pencor Service's Petition to Suspend and Terminate Worker's Compensation Benefits, Issued by Judge Thomas M. Kutz, Exh. 7 to Plaintiff's Dep. (Doc. 40-5), at 1). In an opinion issued in November 2004, the Workers' Compensation Judge denied the employer's request to terminate or suspend benefits, finding that defendant had not met its burden to prove that plaintiff had fully recovered from his June 19, 1999 injury or was "capable of returning to his pre-injury job without restrictions." (Id. at 7).

Plaintiff settled his workers' compensation claim through a compromise and release agreement on April 27, 2006. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 10). Plaintiff received a lump-sum payment of $38,000, which was intended to represent a reduced earning capacity of $93.14 per month for the rest of his work life. (Id. at ¶ 11). Plaintiff never asked defendant to return him to his job or to any other position at the company. (Id. at ¶ 12). After this settlement, defendant sought to end its payments of plaintiff's health insurance benefits. (Id. at ¶ 13). On April 28, 2006, defendant sent plaintiff a letter notifying him that his health insurance benefits had ended because he had been terminated pursuant to a provision in the work agreement between the company and the union that eliminated a worker's seniority after five consecutive years of time off for a work-related injury. (Id.).*fn2 Plaintiff maintains that he signed this agreement in his worker's compensation case because he was in desperate financial straights, and that he did not intend to waive any right to seek re-employment with the defendant. (Id. at ¶ 11). During his deposition, plaintiff testified that he no longer suffered from a disability after April 2006. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 8). He also testified that he was well enough to return to work as a cable installer in February 2005. (Id. at ¶ 9). The parties disagree about whether plaintiff had any right to return to work after he settled his workers' compensation case; defendant insists that plaintiff's union contract eliminated a worker's seniority rights when that worker had spent more than five years receiving workers' compensation benefits. (See Plaintiff's Exh. 5, Answers of Lawerence P. Evans to Plaintiff's Interrogatories (Doc. 45), at ¶ 2).

Plaintiff filed the instant pro se complaint in this court on June 24, 2008. His complaint contends in Count I that defendant terminated his employment in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Count II alleges that defendant violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") when it fired him. The complaint seeks five million dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.

Plaintiff also moved the court for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. 2). The court granted this motion and ordered that summons be issued. (Doc. 3). The defendant then answered the complaint and the parties engaged in discovery. (Doc. 7). At the close of discovery, defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 40). The parties then briefed the issues, 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 ...


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