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George v. Wilbur Chocolate Co.

April 28, 2010

CHARLES GEORGE PLAINTIFF
v.
WILBUR CHOCOLATE CO., INC. DEFENDANT



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court is Defendant Wilbur Chocolate Co., Inc.'s ("Wilbur") Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 23). Defendant is seeking judgment as to the age discrimination claim brought against it in Plaintiff Charles George's ("George") single-count Complaint. For the following reasons, Wilbur's motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

This civil action arises out of employment decisions made by Wilbur in regard to George's employment with Wilbur and his eventual termination. The facts giving rise to this action took place over approximately four months. The facts of this case, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving Plaintiff,*fn1 are as follows.

Plaintiff, a fifty-nine year old man (Wilbur SMF*fn2 ¶ 1; George SMF*fn3 ¶¶ 1, 67), applied for and was hired as a chocolate operator on September 4, 2007. (George SMF¶¶ 21, 68-69.) When Plaintiff's employment commenced on October 1, 2007, he was assigned to a packing position.*fn4 (Wilbur SMF ¶¶ 2, 26; George SMF ¶¶ 2, 26.) Unhappy as a packer, Plaintiff immediately inquired about permanent assignment to a chocolate operator position,*fn5 but Wilbur informed George that it was still looking for a position to which to assign him. (Wilbur SMF ¶ 25; George SMF ¶¶ 24-25.) Initially, George worked as a packer for approximately three to four weeks. (Wilbur SMF ¶ 28; George SMF ¶ 28.)

On November 1, 2007, Defendant began training Plaintiff for a dry ingredient handler position.*fn6 (Wilbur SMF ¶ 30; George SMF ¶ 30, 74.) Although an open handler position was advertised, Plaintiff did not bid on the position because Defendant indicated that it might permanently staff Plaintiff in that position without an application.*fn7 (Wilbur SMF ¶¶ 31-32; George SMF ¶¶ 31-32.) Plaintiff soon discovered he could not meet the demands of the dry ingredient handler position as a result of his fear of heights; dry ingredient handlers must be comfortable working at the top of vats and tanker trucks. (Wilbur SMF ¶¶ 37-40; George SMF ¶¶ 37-40.) Defendant reassigned Plaintiff back to the packing department, where he worked for another month. (Wilbur SMF ¶¶ 41-42; George SMF ¶¶ 41-42.)

Following Plaintiff's second stint as a packer, Defendant began training Plaintiff as a lab assistant on December 3, 2007. (Wilbur SMF ¶¶ 43-44; George SMF ¶¶ 43-44, 75.) Plaintiff was subsequently informed that the position was temporary because Kris Mills, a permanent employee, properly bid on and was awarded the open permanent lab assistant position. (Wilbur SMF ¶ 45; George SMF ¶ 45.) Although Mills held the official lab assistant title as of December 2007, she did not start working in the lab until January 2009. (George SMF ¶ 88). In the meantime, Matt Haar, Plaintiff's lab supervisor, noted that Plaintiff was progressing satisfactorily in the lab and could continue to fill the position in Mill's absence. (Wilbur SMF ¶ 46; George SMF ¶¶ 46, 76, 89-91.) However, when discussing Plaintiff with management, Haar reiterated that Plaintiff's assignment to the lab was temporary, and that Defendant needed to make a decision regarding Plaintiff's employment status before his probationary period expired, taking into account Plaintiff's lack of positional flexibility. (Wilbur SMF ¶ 46.)

On January 17, 2008, Haar notified Plaintiff that he was terminated effective immediately. (Wilbur SMF ¶ 53; George SMF ¶¶ 53, 87.) According to Defendant, Plaintiff was terminated because management did not believe he would succeed in positions at the plant other than the temporary lab assistant position. (Wilbur SMF ¶¶ 55-56; George SMF ¶¶ 55-56.) Prior to his termination, Plaintiff admitted that he was unable to perform "some" positions available to him at the plant because of his fear of heights*fn8 and his preference to avoid "heat situations." (Wilbur SMF ¶¶ 47-49; George SMF ¶¶ 47-49.) Plaintiff inquired about other possible positions, but Defendant did not respond to Plaintiff's query. (George SMF ¶ 56.) That evening, Plaintiff contacted the President of his Union to inquire about his termination. (Wilbur SMF ¶ 58; George SMF ¶ 58.) The Union President told him "that the supervisors were not happy with Plaintiff, and because Plaintiff was a probationary employee,*fn9 there was nothing the Union could do for him." (Wilbur SMF ¶ 59; George SMF ¶ 59.) However, Haar had informed management eight days before Plaintiff's termination that Plaintiff was a successful lab assistant, that he "could do the lab job," and that there was "no reason to let him go." (George SMF ¶¶ 90-91.)

Plaintiff testified that two probationary co-workers, thirty-six year old Jason Alwine, a process operator, and thirty-three year old Grady Reicker, a tanker tester, received permanent assignments within two weeks of their start dates. (Wilbur SMF ¶¶ 64-65; George SMF ¶¶ 64-65, 78-79.) Thus, Plaintiff claimed that he was terminated as a result of his age. Plaintiff further averred that Defendant terminated him from a job that was earmarked for a younger woman. (George SMF ¶ 59.) Also, Plaintiff claimed he never received a performance review. Nonetheless, there is no indication that any Wilbur employees received more feedback than Plaintiff during their probationary periods. (Wilbur SMF ¶¶ 61, 63; George SMF ¶¶ 61, 63.)

After his termination, Plaintiff cross-filed an age discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.*fn10

(Compl.*fn11 ¶ 11.) Plaintiff filed this action for age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") of 1967, Pub. L. No. 90-202, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 612, et seq., on August 15, 2008.

II. STANDARD Summary judgment should be granted if the record, including pleadings, depositions, affidavits, and answers to interrogatories, demonstrates "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." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In making that determination, the "evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The question is whether "the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52. It is not the role of the trial judge "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial," id. at 250, because "[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge." Id. at 255. At "the summary judgment stage, in other words, 'all that is required [for a non-moving party to survive the motion] is that sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve [at trial] the parties' differing versions of the truth.'" Jackson v. Univ. of Pittsburgh, 846 F.2d 230, 233 (3d Cir. 1987) (quoting First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968)).

III. ANALYSIS

The ADEA prohibits an employer from "discharg[ing] any individual or otherwise discriminat[ing] against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's age." 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). "When . . . a plaintiff alleges that he suffered age discrimination predicated on disparate treatment, liability under the ADEA depends on whether age 'actually motivated the employer's decision.'" Monaco v. Am. Gen. Assurance Co., 359 F.3d 296, 300 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins, 507 U.S. 604, 610 (1993)). Where a plaintiff has not provided direct evidence of age discrimination, as is the case here, the plaintiff must advance circumstantial evidence of discrimination that satisfies the three-step burden shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 793 (1973)." Fakete v. Aetna, Inc., 308 F.3d 355, 357 (3d Cir. 2002). Under McDonnell Douglas, Plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Fasold v. Justice, 409 F.3d 178, 184 (3d Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). If the Plaintiff is successful, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate ...


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