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Lempa v. Rohm and Haas Co.

December 29, 2009

EDWARD LEMPA PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROHM AND HAAS COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jones II, J.

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction and Procedural Background

Plaintiff Edward Lempa ("Plaintiff"), a former employee of Defendant Rohm and Haas Company ("Defendant" or "RH"), has sued RH for a severance benefit offered under a Severance Benefit Program ("SBP") contained in the RH Retirement Plan ("Plan"). Plaintiff, who retired from RH in March 2003, filed his complaint in May 2005, contending that he was constructively discharged in order to prevent him from receiving a SBP benefit in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. and the age discrimination provisions of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. C.S.A. § 951, et seq. Plaintiff also pled breach of contract claims in the first complaint. In an Order dated March 20, 2007, the Hon. R. Barclay Surrick granted a motion to dismiss the contract claims as preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), because the SBP benefit was part of an ERISA plan. In that same Order, Judge Surrick granted leave for Plaintiff to amend his complaint by adding a claim under Section 510 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1140, for unlawful interference with benefits. Plaintiff filed his amended complaint on April 20, 2007. On May 9, 2007, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint to add a breach of fiduciary duty claim under Section 502(a)(3) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3). In both the existing Section 510 claim and the proposed Section 502(a)(3) claim, Plaintiff sought the SBP severance money as part of his relief.

On May 23, 2007, Defendant filed an opposition to Plaintiff's motion to add the Section 502(a)(3) fiduciary duty claim. On May 25, 2007, Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff's existing Section 510 claim. On December 7, 2007, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. On April 28, 2009, this matter was transferred to the docket of Judge C. Darnell Jones II. On July 6, 2009, the Court denied Plaintiff's motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, leaving only the three existing counts in the amended complaint. On July 14, 2009, the Court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss Count III (ERISA section 510 claim) of the amended complaint, leaving only the ADEA and PHRA age discrimination claims. Briefing has concluded, and now before the Court is Defendant's pending motion for summary judgment on those remaining claims (Docket No. 34).

Upon close and careful consideration of the parties' lengthy briefs and statements of facts, the Court concludes that there are no disputes of material fact that would present a genuine issue for trial, and finds that Defendant is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Accordingly, for the reasons discussed infra, the Court will grant the motion.

II. Facts

The Court will detail the facts it has concluded to be undisputed. Many of these facts come directly from (or are not contradicted by) Plaintiff's own deposition and relevant exhibits. This case involves a lengthy factual scenario, and Plaintiff asserts a number of disputes of material fact. Upon close examination, however, the Court does not find such to exist. In fact, the Court finds that in an effort to zealously advocate on his own behalf, Plaintiff has artfully characterized some of the facts to appear material and genuinely in dispute, yet, an in-depth analysis indicates such disputes do not exist. Additionally, Plaintiff has relied upon allegations and argument without specific record support. "A party will not be able to withstand a motion for summary judgment merely by making allegations; rather, the party opposing the motion must go beyond its pleadings and designate specific facts by use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing there is a genuine issue for trial." In re IKON Office Solutions Inc. Securities Litigation, 277 F.3d 658, 666 (3d Cir. 2002).*fn1

Nevertheless, where Plaintiff has claimed that a particular material fact is indeed in genuine dispute, the Court will address such assertion in a footnote. If the Court does not discuss a fact at all, it is because the Court has concluded that such fact is irrelevant or immaterial and thus not worthy of discussion.

Plaintiff was born on July 27, 1941. (Pl. Dep. at 4).*fn2 He began working for RH in May 1967. On February 25, 2003, Plaintiff informed RH that he intended to retire, and subsequently retired effective March 31, 2003. (Pl. Dep. at 5). At the time of his retirement, Plaintiff was sixty-one (61) years old and had thirty-five (35) years of service with RH.

Plaintiff worked in different jobs and at different sites during his RH employment. In 1994, Plaintiff transferred from the Philadelphia Plant to a salaried Electrical/Instrumentation ("E/I") technician position at the Bristol Plant. In late 1999, Bristol Plant Maintenance Manager Curt Diehl ("Diehl") asked Plaintiff to assume a temporary foreman position supervising E/I mechanics. (Diehl Dep. at 56-57).*fn3 In or about May 2000, Plaintiff was promoted to E/I shop foreman in the Bristol Plant Maintenance Department with foreman responsibilities over the E/I mechanics. (Pl. Dep. at 38). In connection with that promotion, Plaintiff received a $2000 annual salary increase. (Pl. Dep. at 49). From May 2000 until March 2003, Plaintiff worked as the E/I shop foreman at the Bristol Plant. There was a separate mechanical shop at the Bristol Plant, which included pipe fitters, machinists, and riggers that was supervised by a mechanical shop foreman, Fred Gillen. (Pl. Dep. at 38-41). Until October 2002, the two Bristol Plant maintenance shop foremen reported to Diehl. The Bristol Plant, which manufactured chemicals, organizationally also had a Production Department, which at all material times was supervised by Production Manager Todd Salerno ("Salerno"). Plaintiff understood that in his job as E/I shop foreman, his customers were the Production managers in need of E/I maintenance. (Pl. Dep. at 79-80).

The SBP is provided under the RH Plan (Pl. Dep., ex. 14). Article XI of the Plan provides for a special Involuntary Early Retirement Pension benefit for plan participants who retire on an "Involuntary Early Retirement Date" before December 31, 2003, and it is that benefit that is commonly referred to as the SBP. (Pl. Dep., ex. 14 at p. 37). Section 11.2.1 of the Plan makes clear that eligibility for the SBP is contingent upon certain qualifying events, specifically "job elimination, reduction in workforce, restructuring, reorganization or other similar nonperformance related reasons (including, but not limited to, redefining the essential functions of a position)." (Id.) The SBP calculation is described in Section 11.1.2 of the Plan, which provides for a cash lump sum payment calculated by multiplying a percentage (4% for each year of service up to a maximum of 100%) by the participant's annual salary. (Id.)

A Summary Plan Description ("SPD") for the Plan was issued to employees in May 2002. (Pl. Dep., ex. 13). The SPD presents the SBP eligibility requirements as follows:

The "SBP", or Severance Benefit Program, provides a special benefit to you if you are 100% vested in your benefit and if you also meet all of the following requirements: ... you are formally notified that your employment with the Company is being terminated for a non-performance related reason, including but not limited to:

- job elimination; - a change in the essential requirements of your position; - reduction in workforce; or

- Company reorganization or restructuring. (Pl. Dep., ex. 13 at p.12). Accordingly, eligibility for a SBP depends on RH taking the aforementioned specified action and not on the desire of any particular employee to obtain special benefits. (Id.) Specifically, the SPD states, "You are not able to 'volunteer' for the SBP -- you must be informed by management that you are scheduled for termination for any of the above reasons." (Id.) The Plan documents identify conditions that would render a participant ineligible to receive a SBP. (Pl. Dep. at exs. 13, 14). ...


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