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Tran v. Delavau LLC

May 18, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bartle, C.J.


Plaintiff, Sung Tran, an Asian-Cambodian, brings this action against defendant, Delavau LLC ("Delavau"), his former employer, and Alma Dickerson, individually and in her official capacity as the Human Relations Director at Delavau. Tran alleges in the counts remaining that he was discharged from his job in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1967, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (Count II), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 PA. CON. STAT. § 951, et seq. (Count III), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count IX).*fn1

Now pending before the court is the motion of Delavau and Alma Dickerson for summary judgment on these counts.


Pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment should be "rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is material when it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id. After reviewing the evidence, the court makes all reasonable inferences from the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant. In re Flat Glass Antitrust Litig., 385 F.3d 350, 357 (3d Cir. 2004).


The following facts are either undisputed or viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.

Delavau is a contract manufacturer and packager for the pharmaceutical, food and nutritional industries. Dickerson Decl. ¶ 3. It operates through the following seven production departments: granulation, chemical weighing, blending, compression, coating, sorting and packaging. Id. Delavau's maintenance department is responsible for the maintenance, repair and installation of production machinery in each of the seven production departments. Id. The machinery found in each production department varies and, therefore, the skills and knowledge necessary to support each production department is unique to that department. Id. Maintenance department employees are assigned to support two or more production departments with similar machinery. Id. The maintenance department is organized into three teams, and there is "very little interchange" among the employees of the separate teams. Id. One team supports the granulation, chemical weighing, and blending departments, another team supports the compression and coating departments and the final team supports the packaging and sorting departments. Id.

Maintenance employees are assigned to one of the following four classifications depending on their training, knowledge and skill: Mechanic B, Mechanic A, Intermediate Engineering Technician, and Master Engineering Technician. Id. at ¶ 4. Those employees classified as a Mechanic B have the least training, knowledge and skill, while those classified as a Master Engineering Technician have the most training, knowledge and skill. Id. There are a range of wages within each classification or tier. Id. Employees within a tier or classification are compensated, within the range for that tier or classification, according to their skill, knowledge, training or qualification to perform the work. Id. Delavau "places great emphasis on training" and requires their employees to document the training relevant to their team's mission. Id. An employee's seniority is not a factor in his wage.

Warehouse Employees' Union Local 169 ("Local 169"). represents Delavau's production employees and those employees classified as Mechanic B and Mechanic A for collective bargaining purposes. Id. at ¶ 5. Employees are permitted, under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, to protest employment actions by filing "grievances." Id. Alma Dickerson, Delavau's Human Relations Director, manages the investigation and resolution of all grievances on behalf of Delavau. Id.

Tran began working at Delavau on September 28, 1998 as a machine operator in the compression department. Compl. ¶ 11. In July of 1999, he was promoted to operator foreman and in 2002, to Mechanic B in the compression and coating departments.

In February, 2002, while employed as a Mechanic B supporting the compression and coating departments, he filed a grievance under the Collective Bargaining Agreement because he believes he was "being discriminated against because of not getting equal pay as fellow worker for same job classification." Dickerson Decl., ¶ 6. According to Ms. Dickerson's investigation of this grievance, the fellow worker referenced in Tran's grievance was Maurice Bigelow, a Mechanic A. Id. He was earning $13.00 an hour and $1.80 per hour more than Tran, a Mechanic B, because he was working in a more skilled position. Id. The two men also worked in different departments. Id. Bigelow was supporting the granulation, chemical weighing and blending departments, while Tran was supporting the compression and coating departments. Id. Furthermore, Bigelow had HVAC certification and training. Id. Dickerson denied Tran's grievance. Id.*fn2

An incident occurred in July, 2002 involving Tran, his production supervisor, Duc Lam, and their wives. Tran brought an answering machine into work to play a message left for him by Mr. Lam's wife in which she called Tran "honey." Compl., ¶ 27; Ex. 3 to Delavau Mot. for Summ. J., Oct. 29, 2008 Tran Dep. Tr. ("Ex. 3"), p. 64. Tran wanted a co-worker to verify that the message was left by Mr. Lam's wife. Id. Tran played the message for Mr. Hungpham, a production supervisor, who confirmed it was Duc Lam's wife. Id. Thus, Tran confronted Duc Lam and told him "You try to destroy my marriage the way you do." Id. at 65. Tran demanded that Duc Lam's wife apologize to his wife about the message and a physical altercation nearly erupted between the two men. Id. Tran received an "Employee Warning Notice" on July 11, 2002 in connection with this incident and was suspended from work for three days as a result. Id. at 67.

In August, 2002, Tran was promoted to Mechanic A and he remained in the compression and coating department. Compl. ¶ 19. Eight months later, on October 21, 2002, Tran filed an employment discrimination and retaliation claim with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). He alleged that he was suspended from work for three days in retaliation for filing a grievance in February, 2002.

In Count II of this claim, Tran asserted he was being discriminated against and was being paid less than Delavau mechanics, Alfonso Simmons, Craig Christmas, and Maurice Bigelow. By this point, Tran's hourly rate had increased to $13.20 per hour. Dickerson Decl., ¶ 7. According to Tran's claim, Craig Christmas and Maurice Bigelow, both African American, were earning $13.00 an hour. Simmons was earning $15.00 an hour and was employed as a Mechanic A from July 29, 2002 through September 9, 2002 in the granulation, chemical weighing, and blending departments. Id. According to Ms. Dickerson, Delavau valued Simmons' certification as an electrician. Id. This certification allowed Delavau to utilize him in all seven departments in connection with electrical issues. Id.

In April, 2004, a meeting was held in which Tran, Dickerson and Ron Dukes, Tran's supervision, met to discuss Tran's position within Delavau. Id. Tran was, at this point, working as a Mechanic A in the compression and coating departments and was seeking a promotion. Ex. 3, p. 48. In this meeting, Tran was told he needed additional training and certification in hydraulics and pneumatics in order to be promoted to an Intermediate Engineering Technician. Dickerson Decl., ΒΆ 7. The job qualifications for an Engineering Technician in the compression and coating departments include a basic knowledge of hydraulics and pneumatics, controls logic and basic testing with certification. At the meeting, Dickerson offered Tran a temporary promotion to Intermediate Engineering Technician provided he agree to take the required training. Id.; Ex. 3, p. 50. Tran refused both the ...

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