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Novak v. Posten Taxi

November 4, 2009

JOSEPH NOVAK, PLAINTIFF
v.
POSTEN TAXI, INC., BILL COOK, JOHN KATORKAS, AND BO KELLER, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is Defendant Posten Taxi's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 50) and Defendant John Katorkas's motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. 72). Having been fully briefed, the matters are ripe for disposition.

Background

This case arises from Plaintiff Joseph Novak's employment with Defendant Posten Taxi. Plaintiff worked for the defendant on a part-time basis for about twelve years. (Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Doc. 51) (hereinafter "Defendant's Statement") at ¶ 1).*fn1 Defendant terminated this employment in April 2005. (Id. at ¶ 2). Defendant frequently reprimanded plaintiff for his behavior towards customers during his employment with the company. (Id. at ¶ 4). At some time in April 2005, defendant dispatched plaintiff to pick up customers and take them to the Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport. (Id. at ¶ 6). Plaintiff's passengers worked for Blue Cross/Blue Shield. (Id.). When he found out his fares' employer, plaintiff confronted them about the insurer's rates and new charges he had received on his most recent bill from the company. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-8). One of the passengers took offense at plaintiff's tone. (Id. at ¶ 9). She called Defendant Posten Taxi as soon as she arrived at her destination to complain about plaintiff's conduct, contending that plaintiff had been belligerent. (Id. at ¶¶ 10-11). After receiving this call, defendant ordered plaintiff to return to Posten's office immediately. (Id. at ¶ 12). When plaintiff arrived at the office, defendant terminated his employment. (Id. at ¶ 14). Defendant's stated reason for this termination was plaintiff's belligerence towards his passenger. (Id.).

In his deposition*fn2, plaintiff testified that he engaged in a "discussion" with this passenger during the ride to the airport about the insurance coverage provided by Blue Cross/Blue Shield. (Plaintiff's Deposition (hereinafter "Plaintiff's Dep.") (Doc. 51-2) at 51-2). Plaintiff had a bill from Blue Cross/Blue Shield in his pocket when he picked up the passengers; his payments had gone up by fifteen dollars. (Id. at 54). He wanted to know "why . . . the Blue Cross and Blue Shield keep going up so high, because the people can't, you know, afford to pay for it." (Id.). The passenger explained to plaintiff that "we got medical expenses" and, in any case, "if you want something in this world and you want the best coverage, you got to pay for it." (Id. at 55). At this point, plaintiff insists, "she got smart." (Id.). He responded by informing the passenger that "Ma'am, . . . if you didn't have customers like me, my wife and other people, you wouldn't have a job." (Id.). After plaintiff made this comment, the passenger "didn't say another word." (Id.). Plaintiff contends that he spoke to this passenger "[i]n a nice way. Not screaming. Nice. And when she started to scream back at me -- . . . I didn't say another word all the way to the airport." (Id. at 57). Despite this attempt at cordiality, plaintiff admits that this passenger called his supervisor and complained that plaintiff "was very belligerent." (Id. At 52). When he returned to Defendant's office after dropping off this fare, his supervisor informed him that he had been fired because he had been "belligerent." (Id. at 62).

Plaintiff contends that his termination was motivated by defendant's desire to eliminate employees older than forty. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 18). He alleges that Posten's insurance company wrote it a letter advising Posten to fire its older drivers. (Id.). Posten denies that it ever received such a letter, and no such document has been produced in this litigation.*fn3 (Id.). John Katorkas, Posten Taxi manager, submitted an affidavit averring that the company had never received any such letter. (See Doc. 36). Plainitiff admitted at his deposition that he had never seen such a letter, though he insists that it exists.*fn4 (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 18). Plaintiff also testified that he was aware that defendant employed many workers older than forty, including some as old as seventy.*fn5 (Id. at ¶ 19).

On May 12, 2008, plaintiff filed a complaint in this court, along with a motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docs. 1, 2). The court granted the in forma pauperis motion. (Doc. 4). Plaintiff alleges that defendant violated his right to be free of employment discrimination on the basis of his age pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621, and retaliated against him for complaining about this discrimination. After a discovery period, Defendant Posten Taxi filed the instant motion. Later, after being served with the complaint, Defendant Katorkas filed his motion to dismiss. The parties briefed the issues, bringing the case to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

Because plaintiff brings this case pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621, this court has jurisdiction pursuant to pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.").

Legal Standard

Defendant Posten Taxi seeks summary judgment on the claims against it. 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.

Defendant Katorkas seeks to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). When a defendant files a motion to dismiss pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6), this court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." McTernan v. City of York, 564 F.3d 636, 646 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n. 7 (3d Cir. 2002)).

A plaintiff's complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). The Supreme Court has confirmed that although FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2) does not require " 'detailed factual allegations'," it does require plaintiff to plead sufficient facts to " 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests[.]' " Id. (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Neither mere "labels and conclusions" nor "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" are sufficient to withstand a motion under FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). A valid pleading under "[Rule 8] requires a 'showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n.3). As a threshold matter, the plain statement of the facts forming the grounds of the plaintiff's complaint must "possess enough heft to 'sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.' " Id. (citing ...


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